James Madison and Elia Kazan: Theory and Practice

by Corey Robin on February 19, 2014

James Madison, Federalist 51:

The constant aim is…that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights.


Elia Kazan, on why he named names:

 

Reason 1: “I’ve got to think of my kids.”


Reason 2: “All right, I earned over $400,000 last year from theater. But Skouras [head of Twentieth-Century Fox] says I’ll never make another movie. You’ve spent your money, haven’t you? It’s easy for you. But I’ve got a stake.”

{ 117 comments }

1

Josh G. 02.19.14 at 8:08 pm

I’m not sure it is really reasonable to expect someone to give up his career and his life’s work to defend adherents to a political philosophy that he himself no longer believes in.

The HUAC hearings were a disgrace, but Kazan was at least to some extent a victim of them, not a perpetrator.

2

Corey Robin 02.19.14 at 8:16 pm

“To some extent”? He was doing pretty well and would have continued to do extremely well. And could have been a critical figure in helping to stop them.

But all of that has little to do with the post itself; in fact it has nothing to do with it. The question of the post involves Madison’s notion that the pursuit of private interests is conducive to the public good, and particularly public liberty or freedom. I think the Kazan case is illustrative of some of the potential problems with that notion.

3

MPAVictoria 02.19.14 at 8:16 pm

“The HUAC hearings were a disgrace, but Kazan was at least to some extent a victim of them, not a perpetrator.”

Well if it had been the difference between living in poverty and testifying you might have a point but it seems like Elia Kazan had plenty of money. Wanting to live a life of luxury is not really a great reason for selling out your friends.

4

MPAVictoria 02.19.14 at 8:18 pm

“post involves Madison’s notion that the pursuit of private interests is conducive to the public good, and particularly public liberty or freedom.”

Which is basically an insane point of view. It might be in my private interest to dump nuclear waste in your back yard but that doesn’t seem to support public liberty.

5

yabonn 02.19.14 at 8:42 pm

Still like “A Face in the Crowd”.

6

Steve LaBonne 02.19.14 at 8:44 pm

Which is basically an insane point of view. It might be in my private interest to dump nuclear waste in your back yard but that doesn’t seem to support public liberty.

Rich landowner pretends that the interests of rich landowners are essentially identical to the interests of society as a whole. Same as the 0.1% of today. And same as it ever was.

7

David Kornreich 02.19.14 at 8:49 pm

Unfortunately, I’ve lost my copy of the Federalist; but I will have a go at this; understanding that I could be wrong. It seems that what Madison is getting at here is that my defense of personal rights – say I’m a journalist and am making a stand for a free press – rebound to the public good. Even if you are not a journalist and think I am merely a troublemaker or a hack or a clown, my rights benefit you on behalf of journalists you do approve of. It’s not likely Madison thought anyone’s pursuit of money interests guaranteed the public freedom. I’m sure he knew there were some quite wealthy individuals in say Czarist Russia of the time. And he certainly didn’t think cooperation in any kind of “star-chamber” proceedings did any thing to advance anyone’s liberty.

8

Shelby 02.19.14 at 8:54 pm

This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.

So, Madison was talking about the “checks and balances” in the Constitution, in which different offices had an interest in limiting the authority of other offices. Which has what to do with Elia Kazan? I’m sure there’s a useful point to be made about the breakdown of this balance of power contributing to the HUAC hearings, etc., but it’s not evident in this post.

9

Crickets Chirpping 02.19.14 at 9:18 pm

What a strange example Corey. If the HUAC was owned by Walmart, you might have a point, but considering it was the GOVERNMENT, not private citizens driving the process, you’ve lost me. BTW, wasn’t that an ELECTED government too? So a private citizen is terrorized by a repressive government and you blame … the citizen.

10

Collin Street 02.19.14 at 9:58 pm

Rich landowner pretends that the interests of rich landowners are essentially identical to the interests of society as a whole.

I, um, don’t think it’s a pretense in many cases. There are — as I’ve mentioned — genuine mental/cognitive health conditions that leave people unable to distinguish between their interests and the interests of others.

[It's better for us all if it is medical, because if it's medical it's treatable/managable. If it's not medical then it's a freely-made choice and our options for discouraging this attitude are rather more limited.]

11

Corey Robin 02.19.14 at 10:22 pm

Shelby: Madison’s argument is that individual office-holders have entirely personal (or private) interests in holding onto their power and position. Out of that motivation comes: a) a desire and usually effort to oppose anyone intruding upon that power and position; b) and since individuals who thus intrude tend to come from other branches of government, the result will be that those intruding individuals will be checked. Power checked = protection of freedom or “public rights.”

I didn’t think it required any elaborate explanation to extrapolate that argument, which is about personal motivation, to other political contexts. In Kazan’s case, protecting his own power and position, his own private interests, led him not to oppose the intrusions of government — which, contrary to what others in this thread seem to believe, was not impossible — but to cooperate with them.

I gather you want to make much of the fact that Kazan wasn’t in the government and therefore his is an irrelevant case. But I don’t think Madison’s psychological argument about motivation hinges upon an individual being an office-holder; he’s merely applying it to the case of an office-holder.

That said, if you want to see precisely how his argument did work out among office-holders, how a private interest in defending one’s position in power in one branch of government works out in practice — spoiler: it doesn’t necessarily lead to checking power of other branches; it can also lead to cooperating with power of other branches — you might want to check out this law review piece I did back in 2004.

http://www.webcitation.org/64TegBPZi

12

Corey Robin 02.19.14 at 10:29 pm

David: “my defense of personal rights – say I’m a journalist and am making a stand for a free press – rebound to the public good.”

Note that those are two different things. A journalist can defend her personal rights by doing everything she needs in order to keep her job. So she’ll do whatever her editor tells her, she’ll practice self-censorship, she won’t offend, etc., all for the sake of her personal rights as a practicing journalist. She can also, in the name of those interests, stand for the interests of the media as an institution, which may include freedom of the press.

Madison essentially conflated all of those things: a defense of one’s position and a defense of one’s institution, and a defense of an institution’s autonomy or freedom.

My point is that in practice the defense of one’s position often looks more like the practicing journalist I mentioned above: who does as she’s told so long as she can keep her job. That doesn’t mean resisting intrusion but cooperating with it, accommodating it.

You’re saying Madison didn’t want that to mean cooperation with a star chamber; you’re right. But he didn’t think non-cooperation would result from a principled opposition to repression but from a self-interested defense of one’s own power/position.

The point of the post is that he’s wrong. Hence the title “Theory and Practice.” Madison is the theory, Kazan is the practice.

13

GiT 02.19.14 at 10:45 pm

Is Madison really saying that private interests just check others to the benefit of the public interest? Seems to me he’s talking about policy – the goal is to structure the pursuit of private interest in such a way as to benefit public interest. He’s describing how offices of power are divided as a matter of policy. Because men aren’t angels, we ought to aim to have our institutions work a particular way. He’s not making a claim about all pursuits of private interest – in fact he’s working under the assumption that pursuit of private interest often is bad. Hence, “if men were angels, …. if angels were to govern men….”

14

Salem 02.19.14 at 10:45 pm

But all of that has little to do with the post itself; in fact it has nothing to do with it. The question of the post involves Madison’s notion that the pursuit of private interests is conducive to the public good, and particularly public liberty or freedom. I think the Kazan case is illustrative of some of the potential problems with that notion.

But Madison is not saying that any pursuit of private interests is conducive to the public good. He’s not saying, for instance, that if I murder my wife out of jealousy, that that serves the public good. Rather, he is saying that in a just commonwealth, the rules are set up in such a way as to align my private interests with the public good.

Now, apply this to Kazan. Clearly, it’s true that Kazan’s private interests inclined him to testify before HUAC. But this is not some co-incidence or conspiracy; at the time, most Americans thought that HUAC was serving the public good, and so, in their view, it was quite right that private interests should line up that way. This is indeed why deliberate private action – pressure on Hollywood, the blacklist, etc – caused Kazan’s interests to be aligned that way. And when public opinion turned, so the interests turned.

Now, is democracy an imperfect keeper of the public good? Surely (although HUAC didn’t exactly spring from nowhere). But to the extent that we want a democratic process that inspires people to a higher calling rather than narrow interest… well, the popularity of McCarthy, HUAC, etc didn’t follow from voters’ small-minded self-interest. The millions of American citizens who supported these things did so in a high-minded attempt to defend the nation, and freedom itself. It doesn’t get much more high-minded than that! Unfortunately, these good intentions did an awful lot of harm, which to me is another argument in favour of Madison’s point. Wild and free-floating attempts at do-gooding lead to HUAC, the Terror, Jeffrey Sachs, etc, because where’s the feedback between an ordinary American and Russian espionage? Far too easy to be exploited by a charlatan like McCarthy. People pursuing their own self-interest, when governed by mutually advantageous laws? That’s the basis of civilisation.

15

Corey Robin 02.19.14 at 10:59 pm

Salem: “Clearly, it’s true that Kazan’s private interests inclined him to testify before HUAC. But this is not some co-incidence or conspiracy; at the time, most Americans thought that HUAC was serving the public good, and so, in their view, it was quite right that private interests should line up that way. This is indeed why deliberate private action – pressure on Hollywood, the blacklist, etc – caused Kazan’s interests to be aligned that way. And when public opinion turned, so the interests turned.”

I won’t touch on the argument that HUAC and McCarthyism were emanations of the democratic will; I think most historians see it as a much more elite-driven affair, though it involved extensive collaboration at the lower levels. That was the real machinery of McCarthyism, and it was driven by an amazing amount of personal self-interest.

But let’s assume it was a democratic movement of the sort you believe it was. Madison’s argument is not contingent on the notion that the public good — or “the public rights,” as he calls it, which is much more focused on the question of liberty — is whatever the people, or the majority, think is good. Quite the opposite. To say that the result of Kazan’s pursuit of his private interest is the public good — as the majority defines it at that time — when the public good is in fact inimical to liberty is merely to resolve Madison’s argument into its opposite. Remember he was seeking to stop majoritarian tyranny (again, setting aside the dubious assumption that HUAC and McCarthyism represented majoritarian forms of tyranny): that was the public good for him. To say that Kazan was fulfilling the public good is to turn Madison’s argument on its head.

Also, public opinion didn’t turn. Eventually the blacklisters and red scarers won; that’s all. There was no more need for repression.

16

Sash 02.19.14 at 11:04 pm

So what’s the alternative you are advocating? In the extreme counter example, what would happen under a system with a unified government (perhaps under one individual) that also happened to control all of the material resources? Doesn’t sound terribly inviting to me. Now I happen to think we have too much divided government and too many elected officials (particularly on the state and local levels ). It’s clear, to me anyway, that a society with some division of power (ie, control over people and resources) has a better chance of enjoying liberty ( however construed) that one without such division. But there are no guarantees.

17

Andrew F. 02.19.14 at 11:10 pm

I think Shelby and others have the better of the argument here.

The portion of Federalist 51 you cite is about how to set government up so that it preserves an existing distribution of power among its component parts. To quote the first sentence, TO WHAT expedient, then, shall we finally resort, for maintaining in practice the necessary partition of power among the several departments…?

Madison’s argument requires not simply that a person’s interests be intertwined with the power of his office, but also that the respective parts of government be sufficiently similar in power and sufficiently independent to effectively balance one another.

In the case of Kazan, the HUAC and Kazan clearly were not sufficiently similar in power for them to act as checks on one another, any more than the Executive would have sufficient power were a Congressional Committee able to require the President to testify on a whim and then discharge him of his job if dissatisfied.

I think I understand the point that you want to make. And it’s a good point. But it’s actually one quite compatible with Madison’s argument, as your point merely highlights characteristics of systems that do not conform to Madison’s prescriptions. A Madisonian can say, “yes, you’re right, there is a possibility of X type of collusion in this system. Let’s fix that by moving some power here… some interests there….”

18

roy belmont 02.19.14 at 11:18 pm

Shelby at 8:54 pm-
Which has what to do with Elia Kazan?
Except for the phrase “through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public”.
Which has exactly I think what you were asking about to do with Elia Kazan what.
The realer topic is submission to power as necessitated by self-interest.
Degrees of greed, degrees of conscience.
Cowardice has a greater explanatory imperative than heroism, consequently more words.

19

novakant 02.19.14 at 11:37 pm

There was a lot more to Kazan’s reasoning than naked self-interest (or cowardice) and the OP is quite misleading in reducing the case to it – it’s a complex story and anybody actually interested will find out that Kazan is simply not a good example for the point that the OP wants to make.

20

Shelby 02.19.14 at 11:51 pm

As Andrew F. indicates @16, Madison referred to a general principle – private interests, properly structured, can protect public interests – and applied it to the federal balancing of power among different offices and branches. Madison certainly did not claim, or even suggest, that this will always happen, especially outside the context of intragovernmental conflict.

Ultimately it seems to me a trivial point – look, here’s something vaguely akin to Madison’s suggestion that didn’t work out right! The point would be better made by, e.g., noting an instance of Congress’s deference to an executive of the same party. Lord knows there are plenty of instances of a congressman or senator getting a plum from the White House; if you want that ambassadorship, you don’t ruffle the Prez’s feathers.

21

Bloix 02.20.14 at 12:55 am

“In Kazan’s case, protecting his own power and position, his own private interests, led him not to oppose the intrusions of government — which, contrary to what others in this thread seem to believe, was not impossible — but to cooperate with them.”

Kazan bel;eved that cooperating with “the intrusions of government” was the right thing to do. He hated the Party and its members. He hated what they tried to make him do – to lie to his friends and colleagues, to manipulate them in order to carry out Party instructions, and he hated that when he refused to do it, the Party humiliated him, leading him to resign in 1936:

“The Group Theatre said that we shouldn’t be committed to any fixed political program set by other people outside the organisation. I was behaving treacherously to the Group when I met downtown at CP [Communist Party] headquarters, to decide among the Communists what we should do in the Group, and then come back and present a united front, pretending we had not been in caucus…I was tried by the Party and that was one of the reasons I became so embittered later. The trial was on the issue of my refusal to follow instructions … The trial left an indelible impression on me… Everybody else voted against me and they stigmatised me and condemned my acts and attitude. They were asking for confession and self-humbling. I went home that night and told my wife “I am resigning.””

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/navasky-chap7.html

So Kazan didn’t leave the Party because of some doctrinal difference or because he became disillusioned with the Soviet Union. He left because he came to hate the CPUSA, and in particular he hated the American Communists in the theater and film community who humiliated him in a party “trial.”

Perhaps he gave their names in part because he wanted to save his family and his career. But he also hated their fucking guts and thought many of them were evil people who deserved what they got. He said openly that he believed that cooperating with the HUAC was the right thing to do because it helped to destroy the Communist Party in America.

So there was no conflict for Kazan between what he saw as his private interest and what he saw as the public interest. He clearly felt some remorse in causing harm to some specific individuals who were still his colleagues. But he didn’t think he was acting against the public good by testifying – quite the reverse, in fact.

Ever see On the Waterfront? That’s what Kazan thought about “opposing the instrusions of government.”

22

Corey Robin 02.20.14 at 1:08 am

Kazan’s a complicated figure; I’ve written about the complexities of his position elsewhere. I wouldn’t dispute it, not by a long shot. But these elements that I’ve highlighted in the OP were definitely there. Also, his loathing of the CP, which is not in doubt, is not the same as thinking that naming names was a good thing. If you actually read all of Navasky’s book, it’s very clear that to the end — or at least to when Navasky wrote the book — he felt very ambivalent about naming names. To act as if he thought it was an unambigously good thing or right thing to do is just wrong.

On whether Madison’s statement applies outside of government or not, here is the whole paragraph in which Madison makes his claim: “This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, **might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public**. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other — that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. **These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State.**”

The principles he’s talking about he derives from “the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.” It’s a general principle, which he then applies, as he makes clear in the last sentence, to the “distribution of the supreme powers of the State.”

The argument he’s making about the state, in other words, is derived from a more general observation about human affairs.

23

Corey Robin 02.20.14 at 1:11 am

Oops, I see that Roy Belmont made a similar point to what I just said. Also, don’t forget that this is the eighteenth century when Mandeville’s argument about the pursuit of private vices leading to public benefits was fairly common and influential. So while I don’t know what Madison’s position on Mandeville was, it would make perfect sense for him to say that he’s applying a more general notion that’s out there vis-a-vis human affairs to the specifics of government.

24

Salem 02.20.14 at 1:46 am

Madison’s argument is not contingent on the notion that the public good — or “the public rights,” as he calls it, which is much more focused on the question of liberty — is whatever the people, or the majority, think is good. Quite the opposite. To say that the result of Kazan’s pursuit of his private interest is the public good — as the majority defines it at that time — when the public good is in fact inimical to liberty is merely to resolve Madison’s argument into its opposite.

You’ve totally misunderstood me – democracy is entirely oblique to my argument. My point is that the notion of the public good is uncertain and frequently contested. Any society, however (un-)democratic, needs to have some means of identifying and ascertaining the public good, in order that actions can line up to meet it. Madison is not saying that in every situation and every society good will always flourish out of private interest. Otherwise he would scarcely have bothered with a constitution. Rather he is saying that, when people set up their organisations properly, they order them so that private interest will lead to public good, and that this applies equally to the local YMCA as the federal government.

But it’s not always clear – whether to democratic voters or wise philosopher kings – exactly what the public good is. We can see, in retrospect, that HUAC went too far. But equally, had there been no response to the espionage and treason orchestrated and carried out by American Communists, that would have not gone far enough. So when you say that this notion of the public good “is in fact inimical to liberty,” my response is that most wise and thoughtful people of the 1940s and 50s thought HUAC was conducive to liberty, at least as compared to the alternatives.

Remember he was seeking to stop majoritarian tyranny (again, setting aside the dubious assumption that HUAC and McCarthyism represented majoritarian forms of tyranny): that was the public good for him. To say that Kazan was fulfilling the public good is to turn Madison’s argument on its head.

HUAC wasn’t America at it’s finest, but you become absurd when you call it tyranny. The consequences Kazan would have had to face were social and professional. To repeat, this was no majoritarian tyranny, but society working as it ought, through a web of non-coercive action, to promote the sincerely held (if sometimes mistaken) notion of the public good.

25

W R Peterson 02.20.14 at 2:06 am

Madison seems to me to be thinking of a kind of Invisible Hand of the Government-place.

He seems to be thinking of the collective effect of a whole system, where the sum of all the noisy signals indicates the trend.
I don’t think he is making a universal claim where every instance must tend in the same direction.

The example of Kazan doesn’t disprove a system claim any more than a cold day disproves global warming.

26

GiT 02.20.14 at 2:27 am

Not sure I’m following the use of the Madison quote.

The “inventions of prudence” are the “policies” whose “constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices … that each may be a check on the other.”

He observes this (the policy) in “the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public.”

Presumably, this is because both systems share “the defect of our better motives” i.e. the fact that they are not reliable.

So he’s tracing a particular kind of institutional design that one can observe in public and private as a remedy to people pursuing their private interest to the detriment of a corporate interest. Then he’s saying we’ve used this in designing the Constitution.

Sure, this is Mandeville, but not some version of Mandeville where private vice inherently leads to public benefit: “Private Vices *by the dextrous Management of a skilful Politician* may be turned into Publick Benefits”.

I don’t see how the Kazan incident impedes on the ‘policy with an aim to divide and arrange by dextrous management of a skilful Politician’ recommendation.

27

adam.smith 02.20.14 at 2:51 am

Like many here, I don’t really buy it. I don’t understand where the opposing interests are here. Kazan (or the part of Kazan’s thinking exemplified by the quotes) wanted to save his ass. McCarthy wanted to witch-hunt. Kazan was only a member of an “institution” with divergent interest from McCarthy or the Senate committee in a very lax sense of the term. The interaction between any industry and the Senate is surely not designed in a way that “one constantly check the other”? And even if—surely the artists dragged in front of HUAG had little political power compared to McCarthy.

I’m not super familiar with the history of HUAC and McCarthyism, but wasn’t one of the things that brought the thing to a halt the famous “have you no sense of decency” exclamation buy the lead council for the US Army i.e. an organization with much more significant clout.
I’m not sure I buy that checks&balance are an effective deterrent against tyranny of the majority, but wouldn’t actual institutional failures to provide such checks – take Congress’s handing over of all types of authority (to go to war, to invade privacy etc.) to GWB – be a much better example of that than someone trying to save his ass?

28

Bruce Wilder 02.20.14 at 3:06 am

The conflict of private interests serves the public interest, in Madison’s argument.

Madison’s political philosophy seeks an institutional scheme, which preserves conflicts of interest against attempts to organize a persistent dominating coalition. When conflicting interests can not simply be overwhelmed, then political debate, deliberation and persuasion take place.

Bloix @ 20 relates Kazan’s experience with such a dominating coalition within the Party.

Later McCarthy’s experience, in which he provoked another Power — the Dept of the Army — to defend itself and its institutional prerogatives seems like a vindication of Madison’s design.

Where I would fault Madison is in his emphasis on vertical, rather than horizontal class. He imagines that the Great and Good will lead, but does not worry that they might dominate. A great farmer will lead the farmers, a great artisan will lead the artisans, a great merchant will lead the merchants, in conflict with the other vertical interests. The idea that a studio head will threaten a man’s livelihood, in cooperation with a rogue political power is not part of his scheme. It was, arguably, not part of his experience — he lived in a time of small business organization, and routine deference to great men in the community.

He doesn’t have to contend with problems of the oppressed many confronting and restraining the few and powerful. The mob is more feared. The rich are not a single club, with a shared vision and a proprietary interest in an apparatus of private hierarchy.

29

Corey Robin 02.20.14 at 3:28 am

Salem: “But equally, had there been no response to the espionage and treason orchestrated and carried out by American Communists, that would have not gone far enough. So when you say that this notion of the public good ‘is in fact inimical to liberty,’ my response is that most wise and thoughtful people of the 1940s and 50s thought HUAC was conducive to liberty, at least as compared to the alternatives.”

I’m afraid we’re either in trolling territory now or you just don’t know much about HUAC and the early Cold War. HUAC had no virtually role in exposing espionage or treason in the CP. Much of that, such as there was, was done by and through the FBI. HUAC was far more concerned with the presence of the CP in all facets of American life, not with treason, and with removing any presence of the CP in American life. As for most wise and thoughtful people. Well, not really.

Adam.Smith: “I’m not super familiar with the history of HUAC and McCarthyism, but wasn’t one of the things that brought the thing to a halt the famous ‘have you no sense of decency’ exclamation buy the lead council for the US Army i.e. an organization with much more significant clout.”

Three points. First, by McCarthyism, historians generally don’t mean the career of Joseph McCarthy. As I argued in several earlier blog posts, McCarthy was a Johnny (or Joey?) Come Lately to McCarthyism. Most Communists had been redbaited and purged not only from government but from many facets of American life by the time he came on the scene. HUAC had been going strong for over a decade (and for several years in the postwar era) before anyone had ever heard of McCarthy. McCarthy was really almost a sideshow to McCarthyism. IMportant to separate him out.

Second, the Joseph Welch comment did put an end to McCarthy’s career. But what put an end to McCarthyism is simply that it succeeded in doing what it was supposed to do.

Third, as I mention in one of the comments above, most institutional actors did not check the forces within Congress that sought the purge. I don’t have time to get into it all here, but there’s a very strong case to be made that institutional actors pursuing a Madisonian logic actually wound up not resisting red-baiting and purges but cooperating with them precisely in order to preserve their institutional autonomy. (That the Army ultimately checked McCarthy is not really the victory so many assume it is. It was a defeat of the man but not the movement.) Truman is a perfect example of this. He did not want to implement the executive orders requiring the investigations and purges, but he did it in order to preserve the autonomy of the executive branch. So institutional autonomy is preserved, but freedom is not. That’s the problem with the Madisonian logic. I was extending it to Kazan, in the spirit of Madison’s own extension of the argument beyond the sphere of the state. But if you don’t want to go there, just look at how Truman responded to Congress or how the Senate responded to the House.

Bruce Wilder: “Where I would fault Madison is in his emphasis on vertical, rather than horizontal class. He imagines that the Great and Good will lead, but does not worry that they might dominate.”

Where are you getting that from? Madison’s very skeptical about enlightened leadership. Unlike Hamilton. He thinks leaders are often as much prone to knavery as are, well, knaves. In Federalist 10, the whole point is that you can’t depend on the Great and the Good; they’ll just reflect the same prejudices as their constituents. That’s why you have to fragment factious majorities, make it impossible for them to cohere and act.

30

Daniel Tompkins 02.20.14 at 3:48 am

I don’t know Federalist well enough to comment on Madison’s comment. The interaction of private and public is clearly a worthwhile topic, but I fear the choice of Kazan reduces and cheapens the choice. (I do value Corey Robin’s responses, above.)

Kazan was not merely, and perhaps not at all, providing a “sentinel over the public rights.” He was trying (in part) to keep his job.

Is it really the case that no one above has noted that this meant, quite knowingly, actively deprived many others of their own jobs, forcing exile and suicides, ruining lives? Why this has not been mentioned is perhaps itself interesting. The great defense lawyer Victor Rabinowitz nailed this in a 1993 letter to the East Hampton Star about Kazan and Budd Schulberg, arguing that their main aim was income preservation, whatever the cost to others was high:

“Those of us who were fighting the House Committee … needed friends badly in the mid-50s, and we got support from Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Zero Mostel and a few others who stood on principle and refused to respond…. We would have preferred the support of Schulberg and Kazan, but they preferred to play it safe and join in the witch hunt.

“Victor Navasky … reports that Schulberg has been leading a decent and constructive life in recent years. That’s fine, and I’m glad to hear of it, but he played an ignorble and inexcusable role in 1954.”

“P.S. ‘On the Waterfront’ was a fine movie, but John Ford’s ‘The Informer’ was a great one.”

I await the demonstration that Kazan’s testimony did any harm at all to Stalinist totalitarianism. The greatest harm he inflicted was not on Stalin — really! — but on his own former friends, and others who might, perhaps, have signed the wrong petition in in 1938 (check the Sidney Hook – Slochower letters at Hoover for examples of Hook’s manic pursuit of evil position-signers 50 years after the event). By ’54, many of the “named” had moved away from the party and into very respectable work — Charles Trinkaus, Daniel Thorner, Moses Finley and others among historians. The latter two were forced into exile, and were, ironically, under attack as “anti-Marxists” by the ’70s.

That was the real face of victimhood, whatever nobilizing gauze Schulberg and Kazan provided.

Dan Tompkins
pericles@temple.edu

31

roy belmont 02.20.14 at 4:32 am

Bloix at 12:55 am “I do remember that any number of times in the course of the investigations Kazan would say he had been [in the Communist Party], he was not now, he wanted no part of the Communists, but if they wanted him to give names, he’d tell them where to get off. He told me that as late as six weeks before he testified.

Kermit Bloomgarden quoted in the first link of the OP. In a pretty detailed remembering of Kazan at the time of his waffling conscience displayed.
Hatred or no, he buckled. Greed or no, he buckled.
There may be a moral scale where hatred is superior to greed as a motive for betrayal, but it’s got to be pretty finely calibrated.
though I guess you could make a case for snitching off people you hate as not being technically betrayal.

Madison seems to be saying the antagonistic balance of disparate self-interests will lead to the public good.
Corey Robin seems to be saying that on the other hand, self-interest in an unequal power dynamic may lead to collaboration. With authority. Even when it’s tyrannical. Especially when it’s tyrannical.

Salem 24-
this was no majoritarian tyranny, but society working as it ought, through a web of non-coercive action, to promote the sincerely held (if sometimes mistaken) notion of the public good.

It wasn’t “majoritarian tyranny”, of course, it was the tyranny of a minority who had hijacked democratic institutions through fear and intimidation, who were backed and fueled by a minority of self-interested powerful men. Who were themselves afraid. Of losing their wealth and power. To a more just society
Psychopaths can have sincerely held beliefs, delusional minds can be sincere as well. Sincerity’s nice, even important, but ultimately it’s no more than an empty doorway, outside of which is nothing but outright deceit. Inside there’s a demand for something more than just meaning well.
The blackening ripples of HUAC and McCarthyism were as coercive as a truncheon in the fist of a colossus, and they lasted, visibly, into the 70′s. And like any heinous act operating on the whole of society, the reiterative diffusion of it is with us still.
To characterize that as “mistake” is a ghastly misuse of the word.

32

Bruce Wilder 02.20.14 at 4:37 am

Corey Robin: Where are you getting that from? Madison’s very skeptical about enlightened leadership. Unlike Hamilton. He thinks leaders are often as much prone to knavery as are, well, knaves. In Federalist 10, the whole point is that you can’t depend on the Great and the Good; they’ll just reflect the same prejudices as their constituents. That’s why you have to fragment factious majorities, make it impossible for them to cohere and act.

Your ear is tuned so differently from mine, I fear you will misunderstand anything I write. I would have thought a distinction as stark as that between vertical and horizontal class could not be bulldozed by you, but I would be wrong. Yes, Madison thinks the Great & Good will ” just reflect the same prejudices as their constituents. ” That is a vertical class relationship — the Great merchant will represent the interests of all merchants. I am using the phrase, “Great & Good” somewhat ironically — I don’t think it is ever used non-ironically — and as a way of expressing Madison’s implicit acceptance of deference as a normal and immutable fact of political life. I did not intend to make a claim about virtue, or attribute one to Madison. I emphasized, as I think you did not in the original post and some commenters also did not, that conflict of private or personal interests and ambitions protects the public interest, in Madison’s argument.

I think it is worth noting that Madison’s vision does not take much notice of horizontal class conflicts or private hierarchical organization, but those are important facts of life in the 21st century. He’s not commending the apprentices’ union to confront the master coopers or smiths.

33

Corey Robin 02.20.14 at 4:45 am

Bruce Wilder: You’re right, I did misunderstand you. My apologies. I have no idea what you mean by my ear being tuned differently. Often I simply don’t understand what you’re saying at all (perhaps that’s what you mean), which is why I rarely comment on your comments. In this case, however, I just misunderstood you.

34

adam.smith 02.20.14 at 5:00 am

Thanks Corey for the response especially details on McCarthy. I’m still not convinced by the extension to Kazan, but this:

I was extending it to Kazan, in the spirit of Madison’s own extension of the argument beyond the sphere of the state. But if you don’t want to go there, just look at how Truman responded to Congress or how the Senate responded to the House.

I find quite convincing as an (empirical) critique of Madisonian checks&balances and also an interesting avenue for more theoretical exploration (that has, no doubt, also been done at least to some extent.

35

Tim Chambers 02.20.14 at 5:32 am

What’s missing from all of this discussion is that the United States was the primary aggressor throughout the Cold War period. The Soviet Union never had the capacity to seek world domination. That it made a prison of eastern Europe was certainly a great tragedy. But I sincerely doubt the Nato countries could have withstood the influx of refugees if they hadn’t, and would have installed the sort of wall that we have on our southern border to keep the migrants out. Agreed, they are not equivalent. But it is hard to believe the U.S., considering all it has done in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere is any less of a malefactor. We could easily have done without the witch hunts and the Cold War, and we’d be much better off today than we are if we had.

36

The Temporary Name 02.20.14 at 5:46 am

Weren’t Madison’s “private interests” the interests of the landowner class only and therefore more-or-less synonymous with business interests?

37

Nick 02.20.14 at 6:51 am

Its basically Mandeville’s grumbling hive. Everyone’s motives are suspect so design institutions that play these motives off against each other in ways that, despite the intentions of the individuals grasping for power or wealth, support the public good. Its got a bit of a circularity problem: what are the true motives of the institutional designer? But the basic premise is quite attractive.

38

Plume 02.20.14 at 7:02 am

This must run in America’s DNA. It points so obviously to the idea that someone’s personal pursuit of wealth will somehow benefit all of society; that someone’s decision to manufacture yet one more crappy, useless, soon to be obsolete item for our landfills is automatically good for society; that the invisible hand of the markets will guarantee that every individual’s pursuit of their own selfish interests will redound to the health and glory of the whole.

In short, bullshit.

This belief is perhaps at the heart of all of our troubles, this delusion, this excuse for rapaciousness.

For more than two centuries, this sophistry has been at the core of American philosophy and rationalizations . . . boiled down succinctly by JK Gailbraith:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

39

GiT 02.20.14 at 9:00 am

” It points so obviously to the idea that someone’s personal pursuit of wealth will somehow benefit all of society”

No, it points to the idea that personal pursuit of private interest can benefit society under certain institutional constraints. No one is saying pursuit of personal interest is always good for everyone, not even glibertarians.

40

Ze Kraggash 02.20.14 at 11:19 am

So, Madison’s prescription is similar to Willie Stark’s cynical formula: “You got to make good out of bad. That’s all there is to make it with.” So, is there an alternative?

41

rwschnetler 02.20.14 at 11:23 am

@38 : Plume it is very clear of what you think of capitalism. What is your solution? Socialism (in one of it’s various forms), communism, anything else?

42

Wonks Anonymous 02.20.14 at 3:18 pm

It wasn’t just the Army that McCarthy ran up against. It was also the CIA. Hoover’s FBI was using him in part to go after his rivals there.

Regarding whether HUAC and/or McCarthy were majoritarian phenomena, I’m curious as to what polling data from that time period is available.

43

jake the snake 02.20.14 at 3:34 pm

Until or unless we come up with a better system than has been devised yet, I think we will have to work for the best application of a mixed system that we can.
Though I cannot speak for Plume.

44

jake the snake 02.20.14 at 3:44 pm

Off-topic, but this made me think about a correlation between the CPUSA and the Tea Party. Certainly not in ideology or structure, but in intent and somewhat in method.
By this I mean that both are minority movements intent on restructuring the country into their ideology. The CPUSA toward an extremely unlikely future and the Tea Party toward a mostly imaginary past. I would have used the SDS, but the SDS never had anything like the political or institutional support the Tea Party does.

45

Corey Robin 02.20.14 at 4:05 pm

Wonks Anonymous: Samuel Stouffer wrote a book at the height of the purges, Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties. It’s an intensive analysis of the polling data of the time. Michael Rogin’s first book McCarthyism and the Intellectuals is also a great study of public opinion in Wisconsin, with lots of polling data. And if memory serves one of Nelson Polsby’s very first articles was a study of public opinion and McCarthy.

46

Daniel Tompkins 02.20.14 at 4:09 pm

I’m not an expert but I’ve been impressed by Rogin and Polsby. Quick references:

The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Specter. by Michael Paul Rogin
Review by: Wilson Carey McWilliams
The Journal of Politics, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Nov., 1968), pp. 1154-1156

“Rogin’s work completes the demolition (begun by Pollack and Nugent) of the thesis that Populism prefigured the doctrines and the political support of McCarthyism.”

Nelson Polsby, “Toward an Explanation of McCarthyism.” Political Studies 8 (1960) 250ff. Also in his book, Political Promises (1974)

The above piece is briefly summarized in:

Nelson Polsby, “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”
PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 83-87

Nick Kristof might have considered work like this before issuing his blast.

Dan Tompkins
pericles@temple.edu

47

Sebastian H 02.20.14 at 4:32 pm

Madison didn’t think anything was a cure all. Trying to construct his argument as if he did is poor scholarship and bad reading.

48

Plume 02.20.14 at 5:10 pm

@rwschnetler 41,

I’ve detailed some ideas in other threads, but I don’t think Corey and others would appreciate another long off-rail discussion.

Suffice it to say: Going with my own alternative is far less important than changing our system to something that puts all the people and society first, and profits and the personal accumulation of wealth — nowhere. Real, actual, living democracy, which includes the economy is key. A system that leaves no one behind. As in, literally, no one.

IMO, the conservative ideal focuses all its love on the top 1%; the liberal ideal on the top 20% — with a nod toward the plight of the rest, but no effective response. As in, none. A system that leave 80% in the dust is a failure, especially when it leads so many people to ignore that bottom 80% and declare victory as they sacrifice that vast majority. One that constantly pats itself on the back for being the best possible system, when it so clearly has never, ever shown that to be the case. Not even remotely.

While Madison and the founders also largely ignored that bottom 80%, and were ruling class themselves, life was different enough then (simple enough, perhaps) so that “the people” actually could self-provide to a degree that became impossible for most later. America became a nation before capitalism had really taken off, before primitive accumulation overwhelmed the colonists here . . . though it was definitely being practiced violently against Native Americans and slaves.

So when Corey connects Madison with HUAC, I get it. I got it right away. The idea that we should assume that our personal pursuits will somehow redound to society’s benefit . . . . and, I know, no one is saying “always” . . . that we should assume this is the case even some of the time . . . is either hubris, rank egotism or rationalized selfishness. We need a system that fulfills the needs of all before we worry about individual egos.

Ironically, if you do that, if you start from the system with social justice baked in and then go backward, you make it far more likely that people can and will reach their personal heights . . . than if you just let random chance from the individual out try to do that work for the whole.

49

Plume 02.20.14 at 5:21 pm

In short, if you do the hard work of building a just system, real “freedom” and real “liberty” extend to all, and will be longer lasting and sustainable.

Keeping it at the level of randomness and chance, by privileging the individual above all else, will always, always limit real “freedom” and real “liberty” to those who play whatever game rules at the moment.

In America’s case, that game is business. So, right off the bat, people who choose business over, say, the arts, social work, teaching, math, science, carpentry, fire-fighting, oceanography, working with animals, etc. etc. . . . are already waaaaay ahead in the race. They are also already a tiny minority. And then those who make it among that tiny minority . . . . are yet a smaller minority still. So “freedom” and “liberty” becomes the domain of the few, with the rest, with people who choose other pursuits, being left in the dust to one degree or another.

In any system that privileges the financial elite of its day, you will always have some form of plutocracy. In any system that privileges economic matters above all else — or worships them like we do — is going to produce economic apartheid and plutocracy. All the fine talk about democracy is smashed to pieces on the rocks of reality, if you don’t also democratize that economy.

Better yet, never let any “economy” take that kind of hold over a society. Jefferson, I think, saw this. And Madison to a lesser extent.

50

Salem 02.20.14 at 5:39 pm

I’m afraid we’re either in trolling territory now or you just don’t know much about HUAC and the early Cold War. HUAC had no virtually role in exposing espionage or treason in the CP.

On the contrary, I fear you are trolling me. When did I say that HUAC was responsible for exposing most of the espionage or treason? A congressional enquiry is rarely the best place for such work (although they did bag Hiss). I have this weird issue where whenever I point out the problems in one of your posts or comments, you always respond with something oblique or non-responsive. As you are far too intelligent to be misreading me, I wonder what your purpose can be.

However, for the avoidance of any doubt, it was clear by 1947 that there was significant Communist infiltration, treason and espionage taking place, and that CPUSA specifically was at the heart of it. In this context, it was quite appropriate for there to be Congressional investigation, not only of specific allegations of spying, but of CPUSA’s activities generally. Given the disproportionate amount of CPUSA members in Hollywood, and the allegations already being made, HUAC were quite right to investigate. Frankly I find it hard to see anything objectionable in the boycott of the original Hollywood Ten – their actions were disgraceful and mendacious, not least to their fellow actors/writers/producers who had originally supported them. Things only start to go wrong later, when you get the snowballing effect of accusation and suspicion, and things move ever more remote from the genuine threat to the nation, and more into demagoguery and exploitation. But fundamentally, free people so conducting themselves as to create social and professional consequences to espousing Stalinism, is Madison’s ideas working, not failing.

To be even clearer – I support BDS’s attempts to create consequences within Western civil society for the Israeli government’s actions. I regret the (so far slight) negative effect on innocent Israelis and Palestinians, but I don’t sweat it if it makes life marginally harder for Hillel Weiss. Hopefully, BDS will eventually become more influential, and the consequences more powerful – were this to happen, the unintended damage would also become greater, and eventually BDS might go too far. But someone who only emphasises this point is looks suspiciously like an apologist for the Israeli government, not an honest broker.

51

Plume 02.20.14 at 6:14 pm

This is pure nonsense:

However, for the avoidance of any doubt, it was clear by 1947 that there was significant Communist infiltration, treason and espionage taking place, and that CPUSA specifically was at the heart of it. In this context, it was quite appropriate for there to be Congressional investigation, not only of specific allegations of spying, but of CPUSA’s activities generally. Given the disproportionate amount of CPUSA members in Hollywood, and the allegations already being made, HUAC were quite right to investigate.

It is clear that by 1947, the activities of communists in America had been blown out of all proportion and to a hyperbolic, hysterical degree. The “red scare” was trumped up into cloud cuckoo land, as is usually the case when the America right gets busy manufacturing enemies for capitalists and the MIC.

It was never appropriate for Congress to investigate people practicing their First Amendment rights in America, which he CPUSA was doing. Our Constitution (and BOR) protects holders of dissident views. Unfortunately, our Congress (and president) and the police state it can kick into gear, all too frequently ignore all of that.

“Treason”? I’d say HUAC was engaged in that.

52

stevenjohnson 02.20.14 at 6:52 pm

Were Madison and Hamilton really so different? The strenuous efforts of Sean Wilentz to argue that Madison never really agreed with Hamilton (Rise of American Democracy, denying the “Madison problem”) tend to convince me that Madison broke with Hamilton only after 1) Hamilton’s concrete program was not going to favor the endless rule of planters over the noble yeomanry and 2) Jefferson was the one he had to play ball with in Virginia. So far as Bruce Wilder’s horizontal class division goes, that seems to me to imply Madison included northern mercantile and manufacturing interests in his vision of the elite. Couldn’t Madison’s greater suspicion of elites be more a greater suspicion of those other guys? Madison couldn’t or wouldn’t get along even with George Clinton.

53

Random Lurker 02.20.14 at 6:54 pm

@Salem

“However, for the avoidance of any doubt, it was clear by 1947 that there was significant Communist infiltration, treason and espionage taking place, and that CPUSA specifically was at the heart of it. “

I’m not an expert of the period, but this sounds as hyperbole.
Could you give some example?
In other western nations communist parties existed and were legal.

54

js. 02.20.14 at 7:00 pm

In other western nations communist parties existed and were legal.

Also in various non-Western democratic countries, of course. (Just reinforcing the point that CPs/Communists are hardly intrinsically treasonous.)

55

Plume 02.20.14 at 7:02 pm

Stevenjohnson,

Jefferson differed radically with Madison there, as he despised those Northern mercantilists and financiers in general.

How much of this was due to actual philosophical principles is contestable. Jefferson was profligate in his personal finances and always in debt. He wanted very nice things and very expensive things around him and went into debt to get them. He also left his children and their children under massive debt burdens.

Regardless . . . I also think you underestimate Madison’s love for funk. I think he would have gotten along just fine with George Clinton.

56

Plume 02.20.14 at 7:08 pm

js. 54,

True. In fact, given American communists’ work on civil rights, workers rights, consumers rights and human rights in general, they would be the opposite of “treasonous.”

All too often “treason” in America is defined as whatever goes against the capitalist system, the military industrial complex, the police apparatus, etc. etc. The ruling class in general. Or, in regional conflicts (like the American South), the prevailing ruling class in that region, which in our history has typically been white supremacist and overwhelmingly male.

Dissent against that ruling class being classified as “treasonous.”

57

Corey Robin 02.20.14 at 7:16 pm

Random Lurker: There actually was espionage which the Venona transcripts and a lot of other scholarship makes clear. What Salem is fudging — either deliberately or because he doesn’t know — is that the FBI was well on top of all of this, and that the public hearings were very much a sideshow having to do with a lot of other political forces. The use of the word “infiltration” is interesting. Espionage is illegal; infiltration is not. There were in fact many Communists in the labor unions, in Hollywood, in certain public schools in some cities. Were they committing treason or espionage? Of course not. Were they transforming American culture? Of course (or at least they were trying to). Some limited agencies of the federal government targeted the first; the rest — which was the vast apparatus of the machinery that we call McCarthyism — were targeting the second.

58

Plume 02.20.14 at 7:31 pm

Corey Robin,

Distinctions with differences . . .

Yes, is there a fundamental difference between communist attempts to sway public policy, and the work of the Koch brothers or the tea party? The former would be considered “treasonous” in an autopilot, all too reflexive way . . . while the latter is all too often seen as quite normal and natural. Just “business as usual.”

To me, the first is to the benefit of the country, while the second is highly detrimental to the vast majority of Americans. And this is obviously so, from my pov.

59

Salem 02.20.14 at 8:24 pm

“However, for the avoidance of any doubt, it was clear by 1947 that there was significant Communist infiltration, treason and espionage taking place, and that CPUSA specifically was at the heart of it. “

I’m not an expert of the period, but this sounds as hyperbole.
Could you give some example?
In other western nations communist parties existed and were legal.

Known Communist agents within government during this period included Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Julius Rosenberg, Julian Wadleigh, Theodore Hall, John Abt, Lee Pressman, Nathan Silvermaster, Laurence Duggan, Noel Field and Elizabeth Bentley. And CPUSA played an integral role in setting up and managing these spies; Earl Browder, the CPUSA General Secretary, was a Soviet recruiter, Abt was the chief counsel, etc etc. There was a general CPUSA attempt to infiltrate the US government. Did they actually manage to sway US policy to Soviet advantage, undermine Yalta, or (in the hysterical phrase of the time) “lose China”? Unlikely. But there was ample reason for investigation.

And of course CPUSA existed, and remained legal, just as did Communist parties in other countries.

What is most despicable about Robin’s rhetoric is that many of his claims were made at the time; oh, the FBI is all on top of this, a witch-hunt drove Laurence Duggan to his death, Julius Rosenberg is a persecuted innocent, etc, but these were (1) always exploded by the evidence and (2) frequently made in obvious bad faith. The existence of so many Communist agents within government was a huge embarrassment for the executive, partly because it made them look incompetent, and partly because it emphasised FDR’s overtures to American Communists in the 1930s. Many wanted to try and sweep it all under the carpet, but of course Congress wasn’t willing to play that game, and HUAC provided constant emphasis on that point forcing the executive into action. Hiss, for example.

Remember, the height of the problems were in the late 1940s, but this post is about Kazan testifying in 1952. Why was HUAC still ongoing at that time, long after it had served its purpose? In part because of the opportunism of McCarthy and his ilk. But in part because of the obstructionism, bad faith and disloyalty of a subset of political actors, which, having been repeatedly torn to shreds, convinced the public at large that if there was smoke, there must be fire.

60

Plume 02.20.14 at 8:39 pm

Salem,

You sound deeply paranoid, and you’re reading that paranoia back into history. Calling Corey Robin’s posts “despicable” tells us a great deal about your point of view, and that it’s based on hysteria, not evidence.

61

novakant 02.20.14 at 10:05 pm

HUAC wasn’t America at it’s finest, but you become absurd when you call it tyranny. The consequences Kazan would have had to face were social and professional. To repeat, this was no majoritarian tyranny, but society working as it ought, through a web of non-coercive action, to promote the sincerely held (if sometimes mistaken) notion of the public good.

You know, that’s is actually a good description of how the Stasi worked.

62

rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 1:46 am

Plume @ 48 and 49 : You wrote 640 words but nothing at all substantive. I would like to know what is your solution. Your previous posts and the ones on this thread is all to aspire to but nothing in the way of specifics. And we can be a good person/community independent of the external environment. My question to you is how do we get to your utopia and how does it look like.

63

Plume 02.21.14 at 2:33 am

rwschnetler 62,

You counted the words in my posts?

Uh, well, ok. And you apparently found nothing of substance in anything I’ve written, right? Which means it’s a waste of my time to try to respond to you. You’ve already made up your mind to dismiss 100% of what I post here, which is your prerogative, of course.

If you wish to put someone on trial for holding dissident views, anti-capitalist views, anti-status-quo views, you’re going to have to find someone else. I choose not to appear before your court of inquiry.

64

rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 3:00 am

Plume @ 63:

How on earth do you get to ‘If you wish to put someone on trial for holding dissident views, anti-capitalist views, anti-status-quo views, you’re going to have to find someone else. I choose not to appear before your court of inquiry.’?

If you don’t know, just say it.

What I am really interested in is to find somebody that really believes in socialism that can explain exactly how it will work. How the political system will look like, ownership, can you go back to a capitalism if the ‘socialist party’ was defeated in a general election, who decides what is good for the community and how do they decide, will movement in and out of the system be allowed and so on.

65

adam.smith 02.21.14 at 3:05 am

rwschnetler is a troll. Their question has nothing whatsoever to do with this thread, which, while wide reaching between the Federalist papers and McCarthyism, has no bearing on the feasibility of Socialism, Communism, or Anarchy. Ignore them.

66

Plume 02.21.14 at 3:17 am

If I don’t know — what? My own theory? My own alternative to the present system?

I know it backwards and forwards and have written about it extensively here, much to the annoyance of at least a few readers. But you’ve already dismissed 100% of what I’ve written — though I don’t think you’ve actually read much of it — so why should I bother responding to you further on the topic?

As for your questions. All of that depends upon where and when socialism comes into being, in what form — there are a multitude — and who competes with socialist theory in that particular time and place. Since it has never, ever been implemented in any modern nation, all we have is theory to go on right now, and there is great diversity when it comes to that theory.

. . .

Hopefully, someone at CT will start a thread on the subject, so further discussion will be “on topic,” etc.

67

Plume 02.21.14 at 3:18 am

adam.smith,

Good advice.

I’m looking forward to more discussion of Madison and HUAC. I actually like the juxtaposition from the OP.

68

rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 3:54 am

Let’s go back:

Robin @2: … The question of the post involves Madison’s notion that the pursuit of private interests is conducive to the public good, and particularly public liberty or freedom. I think the Kazan case is illustrative of some of the potential problems with that notion.

The question is private as opposed to public. The HUAC is irrelevant according to the poster.

I assumed (which was wrong) that Plume was able to say how an ideal world will look like where the public good is more important than the private. That is why I asked the original question.

And Adam.Smith, if you want to shutdown a discussion by calling them a troll. then you are an idiot.

And Adam.Smith you come up with that I am a troll. Mate, I think you are and idiot.

69

Bruce Wilder 02.21.14 at 4:30 am

rwschnetler: What I am really interested in is to find somebody that really believes in socialism that can explain exactly how it will work

Well, young Diogenes, you certainly didn’t need a very bright lamp to discover that our Plume is no practical socialist.

70

rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 4:32 am

Bruce, you made my day.

71

Plume 02.21.14 at 5:05 am

Bruce Wilder 69,

Au contraire. I’m a very practical and pragmatic (eco)socialist. But our conversations have been about alternative visions, not practical and pragmatic realpolitik. There is a huge difference.

And it’s always been absurd to ask one person for a detailed plan for the implementation of a theory like socialism — or alternatives that build upon it like my own. Did capitalism arise that way? Was it built to order, following the direction of one person’s “vision”? No one asks people for a detailed plan for capitalism, even though we live and breathe under its auspices, and have to deal with its radical, epic immorality and failure. It’s rank hypocrisy to expect far more from those who seek alternatives than from those who support the status quo. Why don’t you and Herr Schnetler tell us how capitalism will ever be more than economic apartheid, “working” for the tiny few at best?

Explain how the system we have now can be fixed to actually work for the benefit of more than just a few. And please provide “substantive” detail, as well as pragmatic, practical steps toward a workable system, since that’s the standard you set for those of us who oppose the capitalist system.

IOW, after you Alphonse.

72

notsneaky 02.21.14 at 5:55 am

You know, that’s is actually a good description of how the Stasi worked.

No, it’s really not.

73

rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 6:57 am

Plume @71:

And it’s always been absurd to ask one person for a detailed plan for the implementation of a theory like socialism — or alternatives that build upon it like my own. Did capitalism arise that way? Was it built to order, following the direction of one person’s “vision”? No one asks people for a detailed plan for capitalism, even though we live and breathe under its auspices, and have to deal with its radical, epic immorality and failure. It’s rank hypocrisy to expect far more from those who seek alternatives than from those who support the status quo..

On what planet are you on? As I said before, I am interested in alternative solutions but would like to know from people that believe on those alternatives how it will work.

74

adam.smith 02.21.14 at 7:15 am

I am interested in alternative solutions but would like to know from people that believe on those alternatives how it will work.

on the off chance that you actually care and aren’t just trolling, CT had a whole seminar on Erik Olin Wrights Envisioning Real Utopias last year.
http://crookedtimber.org/?s=utopias
Of course, if you were actually interested as you say you are, it’d be so easy to find mountains of writing on socialists, anarchist, communist etc. visions for society by a lot of very smart people. The fact that you’re too lazy to look for that and instead just blurt this out in a middle of a discussion on something entirely different suggests that you’re just interested in the provocation.

75

rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 7:46 am

adam.smith @ 74:

Let’s see:

1. Robin@2 (the original poster) says:The question of the post involves Madison’s notion that the pursuit of private interests is conducive to the public good, and particularly public liberty or freedom. I think the Kazan case is illustrative of some of the potential problems with that notion.

2. Plume@38 (the first time she/he post on this thread):This must run in America’s DNA. It points so obviously to the idea that someone’s personal pursuit of wealth will somehow benefit all of society; that someone’s decision to manufacture yet one more crappy, useless, soon to be obsolete item for our landfills is automatically good for society; that the invisible hand of the markets will guarantee that every individual’s pursuit of their own selfish interests will redound to the health and glory of the whole.

In short, bullshit.

This belief is perhaps at the heart of all of our troubles, this delusion, this excuse for rapaciousness.

For more than two centuries, this sophistry has been at the core of American philosophy and rationalizations . . .

Here we have somebody with an alternative viewpoint so let me ask what that would be, in post 41, maybe he or she can discuss what will work better. No?

And you come up with :
The fact that you’re too lazy to look for that and instead just blurt this out in a middle of a discussion on something entirely different suggests that you’re just interested in the provocation.

Really? I think you can do better than that.

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rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 7:50 am

From ‘In short … rationalizations..’ is still part of Plume’s quote

77

Suzanne 02.21.14 at 10:21 am

#1 writes: “I’m not sure it is really reasonable to expect someone to give up his career and his life’s work to defend adherents to a political philosophy that he himself no longer believes in.”

Kazan wouldn’t have been giving up his career or his “life’s work.” He was the favored director of three leading playwrights in the American theater of the time and the top American theater director, period. But increasingly Kazan’s ambitions were aimed at making movies. He wanted work in Hollywood and he could not get that work if he didn’t name names. So he did. He wasn’t called upon to “defend” Communists, but he did betray innocent people who had once made the the error of letting him in the door, people who would be denied the ability to do their “life’s work” — and often, any work at all — because they were named by Kazan and others.

Kazan, I think, wasn’t really a political person and in another era it’s unlikely he would ever have flirted with radical politics. He wasn’t around the Party very long. His “hatred” of the Party as he described it seems exaggerated. My hunch is that he knew naming names was the wrong thing to do on a pretty basic level, but he talked himself into it.

I don’t mean to suggest Kazan had a simple or easy choice in front of him. His generation was unfortunate in that they were confronted with one of those do-or-die moments, when the wrong choice has consequences that last a lifetime. It’s worth remembering, however, that at the time Kazan and the other friendlies had it made. They were snubbed by some, but their careers thrived and they were celebrated. The people they named were mostly fired or jailed or went into exile. They didn’t have any way of anticipating that a couple of decades later the landscape would shift dramatically and as they aged their testimony would become a monkey they’d never get off their backs.

In re: “On the Waterfront.” Not exactly surprising that Kazan and another friendly witness, Budd Schulberg (Schulberg, among other things, named his old friend Ring Lardner, Jr., to the Committee, having himself recruited Lardner into the Party) would together make a picture that promoted the virtues of snitching…..

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Random Lurker 02.21.14 at 12:17 pm

Thanks to Salem and to Corey Robin for the explanation on CPUSA and espionage.

@Salem
I did read wikipedia articles on most of the guys you cite. I would define this situation as: there was a spy circle, some of whose members were top ranking members of the CPUSA, and which was able to put some members in the administration.
This is different from saying that the whole CPUSA was a spying network and in fact, as you say, the CPUSA remained legal.
However the testimonies requested were not, apparently, “is X a spy”, but “is X a communist?”, and if the answer was yes, then X was blacklisted, could lose his job etc.
In short people were punished by the government for being part of a legal organisation – which means that the organisation was legal in name but not in pratice.
Suppose that tomorrow we discover that some high ranking Republican, say, Bush or Cheney, is really part of an evil cabal of the oil industries, and passes top secret material to the oil industries (who then use it for their own purposes, maybe against the USA) either personally or by placing oil people in the administration.
Such an unthinkable behaviour could be classified as spying, and those people could be imputed of treason; however I don’t think that everyone who ever was part of the Republican party during his life would be blacklisted.
In fact if people were to be punished for being Republicans, this would be a real blow to the concept of democracy: the distinction between being part of the Republican party, and being part of a spy circle with close ties to top republicans would be very important. This is because parties are a really important part of how democracy works, so this difference would be very important.
However apparently this difference wasn’t important in the case of the CPUSA, apparently because the CPUSA wasn’t and isn’t seen as an important part of how democracy works. Why did this happen? In large part, I suppose, because the CPUSA was too weak to defend itself.

It sems to me that your view about the CPUSA is a direct consequence of the fact that, as Corey Robin says, McCarthysm largely succeeded, so you don’t see the CPUSA as legally and morally equivalent to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, so you downplay a form of political repression that you would never accept if applied to the Republicans or to the Democrats.

Also, at 24 you said “To repeat, this was no majoritarian tyranny, but society working as it ought, through a web of non-coercive action, to promote the sincerely held (if sometimes mistaken) notion of the public good.”.
Here the key word is non-coercive, because obviously if it was coercive it would be a majoritarian tyranny (ask any libertarian).
However I don’t see how you can define blacklisting as non-coercive.

@rwschnetler 64
What I am really interested in is to find somebody that really believes in socialism that can explain exactly how it will work. How the political system will look like, ownership, can you go back to a capitalism if the ‘socialist party’ was defeated in a general election, who decides what is good for the community and how do they decide, will movement in and out of the system be allowed and so on.

This rather OT but, since you asked, and note that I’m not proposing Plume’s system but a more soviet-like one (though hopefully more democratic).
1) How the political system would look like
I see no reason not to have a political system similar to what we have now, a democratic multiparty system. A proportional one if I can choose.
In this system there wouldn’t be a socialist party, the same way that in capitalist systems there isn’t a “capitalist party”. This happens because in a capitalist system every party is “capitalist”, including socialist ones (unless they are “revolutionary” parties).
Since many choices about the economy are supposedly taken through the political system, it is likely that many parties would represent local or special interests, and/or cultural groups (Christian party, feminist party, green party, pro-industry-polluters-more-plastic-toys party, pro-rustbelt party etc).
Since the soviet experience shows that socialist system can easily turn in dystopic tyrannies, I think that most spontaneous associations should be strongly protected, maybe taking the status of political partyes.

2) ownership
I think that the ownership of the means of production (factories, natural resources, evidently a strict control of finance) is supposed to be of the state.
Since the state has a very big role in administering the economy, the administration should be splitted in many subparts each under democratic controls of sort.
Consumption goods on the other hand are privately owned.
There is obviously the problem of where to place the boundary (eg. are houses consumption or capital).

3) can you go back to a capitalism if the ‘socialist party’ was defeated in a general election
As I said, I don’t think that in a socialist system there should be a “socialist party”.
Can you go back to capitalism? Well of course in pratice this is always possible (the soviets did), however I don’t think this would be possible as a routine choice, the same way the USA cannot become a monarchy simply because a monarchist party wins one election.

4) who decides what is good for the community and how do they decide,
Well the democratic system as it already happens, what’s the problem?
If, on the other hand, you refer to economic choices and micromanagement, I believe in some form of “market socialism” where bosses of varius administration subunits are quite free to do what they prefer, but are subjected to some market constraint.
So what would be the advantage VS. capitalism if we have a market socialism that is really so similar to the world we already live in?

The whole point is that in a capitalist system, unemployment is used as a tool of social control (if you don’t raise your hat in front of the boss you lose your job and your lunch), and this has some economic implication on how the capitalist economy works (basically, by planning through the differential among rates of profit of varius industries). A market-socialist economy should be able to break the linkage between the mechanism of industry allocation (through profit rates) and social control through unemployment.
This is expecially important since in various periods known as “crises” the social control aspect of capitalism goes berserk and becomes destructive.

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rwschnetler 02.21.14 at 12:52 pm

Random Lurker @ 78:

Appreciate your answer. Still don’t think it is OT (I think Corey Robin pointed out the question is private versus public good, but anyway).

80

novakant 02.21.14 at 1:13 pm

No, it’s really not.

Why? In the vast majority of cases the Stasi method was to threaten the victims with “social and professional” consequences, i.e. ruining their lives, and that was usually enough to make them comply. The threat was constantly reinforced by turning friends, family and colleagues against each other thus creating a climate of fear and paranoia. Such tactics were in both cases much more efficient than overt despotism and brutality.

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Plume 02.21.14 at 2:39 pm

adam.smith @74,

Well said:

Of course, if you were actually interested as you say you are, it’d be so easy to find mountains of writing on socialists, anarchist, communist etc. visions for society by a lot of very smart people. The fact that you’re too lazy to look for that and instead just blurt this out in a middle of a discussion on something entirely different suggests that you’re just interested in the provocation.

I’ve noticed that a frequent response to criticism of the capitalist system is for someone to (angrily, all too often) demand that the critic describe in infinite detail an alternative, how to implement it, when and where, etc. etc. All the steps and everything in between. And they must jump through these hoops in the very small spaces of an online forum.

And this seems to be a requirement for them, a payment of sorts, for any further criticism on the issue. If one can’t do this, then they should apparently just shut up and clap louder for the existing system.

Sorry, but this particular socialist won’t play that game.

That said, I agree whole-heartedly with your idea expressed above. I am no expert on the subject. Far, far from it. I have my own ideas about how things should work and a way to get there. And I have other ideas about systems that fall short of that, but at least move in that direction. But if someone really wants to learn how it might work, there are better people to read, like Gar Alperovitz, Noam Chomsky, David Harvey, Richard Wolff and John Bellamy Foster for starters.

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Plume 02.21.14 at 2:51 pm

Random Lurker,

You make great points above. To be consistent, HUAC would have brought in Republicans and Democrats, whose actions have repeatedly gotten thousands of Americans kills, and millions of citizens in foreign lands. Wars, covert and overt, coups, embargoes, sanctions and so on . . . that they crafted, voted for, implemented, etc. The destruction wrought against the American people and innocent civilians overseas by members of the two major parties dwarfs anything the CPUSA could ever even imagine, much less do. But its members were on trial, and not the two major American parties.

And that’s not even touching upon things that might be thought of as a bit more indirect, like allowing massive pollution, which also kills and sickens us; taking virtual bribes from corporations to further their careers and the bottom lines of those corporations; setting up obvious conflicts of interests with the military industrial complex, which actually provide incentives to go to war again and again; allowing the worldwide contagion of cigarettes to spread, or actively helping it to; either failing to prevent harmful pharma from hitting the markets, or actively promoting them; endlessly backing Capital over Labor, etc. etc.

There are a thousand and one things that members of both major parties do that in any objective sense should be thought of as “anti-American.” No one was on trial for their membership in the Republican or Democratic parties.

I don’t support putting people on trial for membership of any party, including the CPUSA. I’m adamantly opposed to that. But to be consistent, if one is done, then include the two major parties, too.

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stevenjohnson 02.21.14 at 4:54 pm

Plume: George Clinton ran for president against Madison. Perhaps this was a friendly stalking horse operation? Or perhaps not?

If Madison had kept Clinton as vice-president, that would have been a sure sign of political friendship, of course.

84

Wonks Anonymous 02.21.14 at 5:00 pm

Corey, thanks for the cites.

Plume, if you think the CPUSA was analogous to the two major parties, your perspective is distinct enough it’s hard to know what to say. I asked in the Pete Seeger thread how our view of HUAC would be if they were investigating pro-Hitler bundists. It’s not a completely idle hypothetical, since when it started in the 40s that was indeed one of its activities. Would you say “A political party like any other, just exercising first amendment rights, nothing to see here”? If someone was blacklisted on the revelation that they were a Nazi, would you regard that as unconscionable? Would it be wrong to “name names” to HUAC about such membership? I’m not arguing here that the party should have been prohibited or even that the Smith Act should have been enacted.

“No one was on trial for their membership in the Republican or Democratic parties.”
Literally speaking, nobody was on trial for membership in any party. CPUSA was legally permitted to operate and even field presidential candidates (Gus Hall four times).

85

Harold 02.21.14 at 5:04 pm

By the time Kazan testified, most of the people who had toyed with, or even supported communism in the 30s and early forties had, like himself, become disillusioned and left the party. Democracy and freedom of thought and association had worked as they should. Now, years later, these people and their acquaintances and families were being terrorized retroactively for thought crimes. I don’t know much about Kazan, but having courage was a luxury that few in those days could afford, especially recent or second generation immigrants who saw themselves as particularly vulnerable to exclusion.

It is my impression, as regards private property, that with no income tax, pensions, or even the kind of institutions we have today (not to speak of government) to distribute (let alone re-distribute) resources, wealthy people were the only form of social safety net that existed. So, yes, it was thought that private property benefited the public good, or had the potential to do so. The vast majority of people lived a subsistence existence and were lucky even to have employment as servants and unpaid apprentices.

I believe (but can’t remember where I read this) that Locke justified property (in the form of agricultural land) on the grounds that there would be more food for everybody if more land was cultivated. He wasn’t thinking of manufactured and consumer goods. And of course, he thought the food should not be hoarded and left to rot, but consumed by those who were hungry.

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SamChevre 02.21.14 at 5:05 pm

McCarthysm largely succeeded, so you don’t see the CPUSA as legally and morally equivalent to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party

That pretty much sums it up; I see the CPUSA as more of an equivalent to the KKK than an equivalent to any of the law-abiding parties.

87

JW Mason 02.21.14 at 5:09 pm

Plume, if you think the CPUSA was analogous to the two major parties, your perspective is distinct enough it’s hard to know what to say.

Actually, Wonks, in the context of Crooked Timber comments, I’m pretty sure it’s your perspective — that the Communist Party was, basically, like the Nazis — that is the distinct one. While the perspective that regards the CP as, basically, a legitimate political party, is the norm.

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SamChevre 02.21.14 at 5:15 pm

Plume @ 81

I’ve noticed that a frequent response to criticism of the capitalist system is for someone to demand that the critic describe in infinite detail an alternative, how to implement it…

Right. The key thing is that in a rights-based capitalist system, a lot of questions don’t arise. When you say, “for the benefit of the community”, you need to have some idea–at least a sketch–of “who counts as part of the community” and “who decides what counts as a benefit”; if you’ve ever been on so much as a neighborhood email list, it’s obvious that those questions don’t have self-evident answers. (Do people who shop in the neighborhood but don’t live there count as part of the community when talking about parking? Should the park have benches and tables, so people can sit and have picnics, or be open, so people can play soccer.)

89

Harold 02.21.14 at 5:30 pm

If the pro-Hitler Bundist had been treated like the former members of the Popular Front, then the whole WASP establishment, large segments of the Catholic Church, and the British Aristocracy would have ended up blacklisted.

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Harold 02.21.14 at 6:48 pm

In my previous post should have said that in Madison’s time private property (after Locke) was regarded as a public good because it was the only social safety net that then existed and referred to land = food.

91

Plume 02.21.14 at 8:18 pm

SamChevre #86,

Similar to the KKK? How so.

American communists were at the forefront of the civil rights, workers rights and human rights movements. The KKK was opposed to all of these things.

American communists were key, along with socialists, in organizing the famous March on Washington. The KKK adamantly opposed that march and everything it stood for.

The philosophy of American communists was/is anti-racist. The KKK’s was obviously founded on racism.

American communists practiced non-violence in their protests and organizing efforts. The KKK practiced lynching and other severe forms of violent oppression.

And the KKK and communists despised each other.

If two ferociously oppositional entities, with absolutely nothing in common between them — including levels of power within American society — could be said to be “equivalent,” then that word has no meaning.

92

Plume 02.21.14 at 8:37 pm

Wonks,

Personally, I’m not interested in defending political parties. I’m much more interested in discussing political philosophies independent of any parties. But if you want to concentrate on America political parties, and compare deadly harm or destruction created, supported or extended by those parties . . . then the CPUSA doesn’t rate so much as a whisper. Unlike the Dems and the GOP.

There were, of course, many changes to the early American political (party) landscape, with the modern GOP coming into being in the 1850s, etc.. But, basically, from roughly 1800 on, the major political parties were complicit in, supported, defended or actually directed the following:

1. Slavery and its spread
2. Genocide of Native Americans
3. Endless wars against Native peoples, broken promises, broken treaties
4. Endless wars against foreign foes
5. Dozens of coups or attempted coups against legitimate foreign governments
6. Training of opposition troops in the hopes of overthrowing governments not to their liking
7. Child labor, indentured servitude, sweat shops, deadly workplace conditions
8. Violent union busting, laws privileging capital waaaay over labor, tax deals and subsidies privileging capital over labor, etc.
9. Jim Crow and discriminatory practices against minorities, women, LGBTs
10. Little to no effective regulation of massive pollution of our air, water and land.

For starters.

In short, the Democratic and Republican parties in America have the blood of millions on their hands. The CPUSA? No blood.

93

Bloix 02.21.14 at 9:00 pm

#85 – the difference between Kazan and the others is that he left the party very early, in the mid-30′s, not because he became disillusioned with the Soviet Union but because he disliked the CPUSA. He came to believe that the CPUSA was a bad organization and that its members had treated him shabbily. And he belonged for only a brief period – less than 2 years.

So he didn’t feel the ambiguity that many did – people who had given years of work to the CP and left only with reluctance, people whose closest friendships were with other CP members.

Kazan didn’t want to hurt some individuals who were still his colleagues but he very much liked the idea of fucking with the CP. He wasn’t about to jeopardize one penny of income to protect — as he saw it – the assholes who had humiliated him in 1936.

The way he resolved this to himself was that he named names only of people who had already been identified to the committee by others as CP members. That way, he rationalized, he wouldn’t cause any individuals any greater harm.

I think that the idea that people refused to testify purely on principle is probably true in only a very few situations. Almost all the people who refused to testify were either CP members or had been and were still close to the party (e.g., Lillian Hellman, who had quit the party but was still the lover of Dashiell Hammett, who remained a member), or were not party members but were strong public supporters of the Soviet Union (e.g. Paul Robeson). I think that almost everyone who refused to testify did so to protect themselves and their close friends and family. Some, perhaps, refused to testify to protect the CP. And maybe someone refused to testify purely to defend the constitution, but if so I expect it was rare.

94

SamChevre 02.21.14 at 9:01 pm

I use a different metric than you do.

“Where they had power, were directly and intentionally murderous,” in my metric, is not much mitigated by “in this particular geography and timeframe, didn’t have enough power to kill anyone, but did cheer on mass murderers elsewhere.”

95

Ze Kraggash 02.21.14 at 9:23 pm

Plume:

But, basically, from roughly 1800 on, the major political parties were complicit in, supported, defended or actually directed the following

Perhaps it’s because people animated by greed and lust for power tend to climb all the way to the top of the pyramid; the philanthropic types stay near the bottom. Madison proposes his solution (however imperfect): to accept this as a fact of life, and to create a structure where they are forced to check each other. What is yours?

96

Plume 02.21.14 at 9:27 pm

Sam Chevre,

No. American communists didn’t cheer on mass murderers elsewhere . . . and actual communists, as opposed to political dictators who called themselves “communist” but weren’t, were not directly or intentionally murderous in other nations.

Or here.

Communist philosophy, principles, beliefs and worldview are all against that. Their core beliefs are directly opposed to that.

The NAZIs, OTOH, had as a part of their core belief system, their weltanschauung, the need to exterminate ethnicities and minorities they deemed as sub-human. The KKK also had/has deep core beliefs that lead easily to murder and torture and oppression of minorities, for the same reasons. Entrenched racism and white supremacy guides both ideologies, in theory and practice.

Communist theory is directly, ferociously opposed to that. Communist theory actually requires the absence of the state itself, or any ruling class, or any class period, so there is no centralized power strong enough to conduct mass murder or oppression. It can’t exist under real communism. There is no “state.” All centralized power has been diffused and redistributed back to every single human being in that society, equally, with everyone holding equal say, equal voice, equal power. There actually can not be a communist dictator in an actual communist society, nor any class oppression, etc. etc.

Think wars, torture, inquisitions waged in the name of Jesus or Christianity. Anyone can claim a name or a rationale. But if one’s actions bear not the slightest resemblance to the actual principles, philosophy or beliefs of that name, it’s absurd to call it X, Y or Z.

97

js. 02.21.14 at 9:28 pm

I see the CPUSA as more of an equivalent to the KKK

I’m just curious whether you think this holds for communist parties generally, so that communist parties in other countries are as evil as the KKK or a relevantly similar organization for the country in question, or whether you think the CPUSA was particularly evil. It’s a curious position one way or the other.

98

Wonks Anonymous 02.21.14 at 9:31 pm

So do we agree that HUAC investigating suspected members of a political party, former members “naming names”, and the named subsequently being shunned/blacklisted/fired for their political affiliations are not bad things per se? Plume indicates one’s opinion on this should be determined by one’s evaluation of CPUSA’s political philosophy, but others like Corey Robin were emphasizing the injustice of depriving others of their livelihood in the absence of something like a basic guaranteed income.

I was not thinking about the political philosophy of any group. Both CPUSA and pro-Nazi groups (in America) were electorally insignificant, and I would view them as essentially arms of a foreign government at odds with that of the US. Congress investigating them is entirely to be expected.

99

Wonks Anonymous 02.21.14 at 9:33 pm

js, yes I see communist parties varying across time & place. There can even be multiple communist parties. But CPUSA in particular was essentially an extension of Moscow.

100

Plume 02.21.14 at 9:36 pm

Ze Kraggash 95,

But he didn’t create one that forced checks on power. Just checks on some aspects of organized governmental power. Parts of government checking other parts of government. His error, and that of virtually all of the founders with but a few exceptions (Paine comes to mind), was not to check the power of Capital, or business/economic interests in general.

Of course, they couldn’t have prophesied the eventual coup of economic power over pretty much all life-spheres and government, as capitalism was still in its infancy. But later elected officials didn’t have (and don’t have) that excuse.

Any system that leaves out checks on financial, economic, business, industrial interests — in short, capitalists — is doomed to be overwhelmed by forces far more powerful than any government. So, as we focus on checking government, or having government check itself, we miss the majority of the problem, and we actually enable greater power concentration in the private sector.

Chomsky’s “private tyrannies,” etc.

Real democracy, including the economy — especially the economy — is the only real antidote.

101

Plume 02.21.14 at 9:44 pm

Wonks,

It’s not just its core philosophy at issue. It’s really about the actions of the CPUSA. What did they actually do to warrant any investigation. Not what they might do, as projected from right-wing fever-swamp dreams. What did they actually do.

As mentioned, the actions of the two major parties includes sending hundreds of thousands of Americans to their deaths in totally unnecessary wars, along with the deaths of millions of innocent civilians overseas. Add to that the other things I mentioned, and you can also throw in the fact that America now incarcerates the most people in the world — in large part to keep private contractors happy.

The two major parties have oceans of blood on their hands. The CPUSA, nada.

But you think the CPUSA that was a legitimate target of a witch hunt?

102

SamChevre 02.21.14 at 9:52 pm

I’m just curious whether you think this holds for communist parties generally, so that communist parties in other countries are as evil as the KKK or a relevantly similar organization for the country in question, or whether you think the CPUSA was particularly evil.

I’m not terribly concerned about names. Whether the CPUSA, or the “communist” rulers of the USSR from which it took orders, were “really communist”, is no part of my concern.

Any party–socialist, communist, populist–that is in vocally in favor of slaughtering its non-violent opponents until they stop opposing it is particularly evil. The Russian Communists were such a party, as were the German National Socialists, as was the American KKK.

103

SamChevre 02.21.14 at 9:56 pm

It’s really about the actions of the CPUSA. What did they actually do to warrant any investigation.

Took orders from, and spied for, the nation that had killed the most people in the preceding 20 years.

That actually does seem like a problem.

I think the issue is that you are looking narrowly at the CPUSA, rather than its sponsor and director, the USSR. It’s like asking how many Indians the Navy killed–the fact that they were part of the US Armed Forces and the Army did the killing doesn’t leave their hands clean.

104

js. 02.21.14 at 9:58 pm

So, any CP anywhere that was aligned with the USSR (or really I suppose with any Communist regime), all such Parties were morally equivalent to the KKK, and members of such any such Party anywhere in the world were in a moral position equivalent to those of KKK members. This is the position you want to hold?

105

js. 02.21.14 at 10:00 pm

My 104 is a response to SamChevre’s 102. Also, meant to ask:

Do you know many CP members from anywhere in the world? (Or, for that matter, KKK members?) Or are they just some weird exotic species to you?

106

bob mcmanus 02.21.14 at 10:04 pm

How does Sam feel about Trotskyists, Schachtmanites, or the Johnson-Forest Tendency?

107

Plume 02.21.14 at 10:08 pm

SamChevre,

Any party–socialist, communist, populist–that is in vocally in favor of slaughtering its non-violent opponents until they stop opposing it is particularly evil. The Russian Communists were such a party, as were the German National Socialists, as was the American KKK.

As were the American Democratic Party and the GOP. Why do you keep silent about our own history of mass slaughter, slavery, genocide and endless wars? And it’s not just in the past. It’s continuous.

Took orders from, and spied for, the nation that had killed the most people in the preceding 20 years.

See above. Also, the Soviet Union has been defunct for more than twenty years. America is now the nation that has killed the most people in the previous 20 years. And we bested the Soviet Union in the 50s and 60s on that count. More than 3 million killed in Vietnam, and 2-4 million in Korea.

As for the battle for the worst of the worst in the 30s and 40s, here’s a good article about Stalin versus Hitler, from nybooks.com

108

js. 02.21.14 at 10:12 pm

Actually, disregard my 105. It’s besides the point and doesn’t affect the argument one way or the other.

109

Plume 02.21.14 at 10:14 pm

I’d also appreciate it if someone could post an article, as independent and “objective” as possible, regarding the degree to which the CPUSA followed Moscow. And, who exactly did the following, etc. etc.

It seems more than absurd to condemn the entire party, and assume anyone and everyone in that party walked in lock step with Moscow. From what I’ve read in the past, it was far more indirect, infrequent and scattered than that, and the percentages involved were small within the party.

But I haven’t looked into this closely for a long time. What’s the latest on the degree of complicity?

110

Suzanne 02.21.14 at 11:00 pm

@93: From your telling one would gather that Kazan acted as much out of personal spite as principle. I suppose it’s always nice to be able to kill two birds with one stone….

“The way he resolved this to himself was that he named names only of people who had already been identified to the committee by others as CP members. That way, he rationalized, he wouldn’t cause any individuals any greater harm.”

“Rationalized” is indeed the mot juste. My understanding is that you had to name at least one person who hadn’t been named (publicly) before, but even if Kazan offered up people who’d already been so named , such people could still be hurt by successive namings, because each such identification reminded everyone afresh of that person’s infamy. Jobs found were quickly lost, etc.

111

stevenjohnson 02.22.14 at 3:20 pm

“SamChevre 02.21.14 at 9:56 pm
‘It’s really about the actions of the CPUSA. What did they actually do to warrant any investigation.’

Took orders from, and spied for, the nation that had killed the most people in the preceding 20 years.

That actually does seem like a problem.”

Guessing that means that since 1935, which means that Conquest, Rummel, White, Snyder et al. have done their work well: It is now official fact that Stalin killed more people than Hitler. The Red Scare, US wars in Korea and Vietnam, and interventions in Lebanon, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Dominican Republic, the Congo, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, and all the others too numerous to list, and assassinations like that of Patrice Lumumba, all of this is justified.

It is so grand to see how the moral commitment of the Crooked Timber collective and its participants to reasoned debate impelled by moral decency and truthfulness works out in practice.

112

Plume 02.22.14 at 7:13 pm

Stevenjohnon @111,

I think American governments clearly have more blood on their hands over time, directly and indirectly. Though this is a battle for the most horrific, the worst of the worst, etc. So no one “wins.”

But the key here, IMO, is for Americans to stop believing (on autopilot) that we are always already the “good guys” and anyone we fight must be the “bad guys.” We need to remember that those we oppose — at least the majority — are thinking the same thing from their point of view. Is there any doubt that the people of the Soviet Union or China, for instance, saw/see us the way we see them?

We all need to get off the merry-go-round and take a good, cold-eyed view of it from the outside, instead of from within. As long as we ride the rides, oblivious, we’re going to keep making horrific, tragic decisions that get all kinds of people killed — in the name of our “exceptionalism.” And we’re really not exceptional at all. We’re just one among hundreds of “hegemons” throughout history, though we’re probably better at hiding our sense of superiority behind nonsensical rhetoric about “liberty and freedom” than most. It’s nonsensical because it’s always been “liberty and freedom” for the few, not the many and certainly not for all.

Marketing and public relations all but started in America. It’s no wonder that we became the best at selling our status as hegemon — to the rest of the world, but especially to ourselves.

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notsneaky 02.22.14 at 7:27 pm

Guessing that means that since 1935, which means that Conquest, Rummel, White, Snyder et al. have done their work well: It is now official fact that Stalin killed more people than Hitler.

Come on. Wasn’t it just pointed out to you repeatedly and recently that at least Snyder says the exact opposite? I don’t know if you’re just having a hard time mentally registering that or just don’t care whether the things you write actually correspond to reality.

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Plume 02.22.14 at 9:20 pm

Stevenjohnson,

forgot to respond to this:

Plume: George Clinton ran for president against Madison. Perhaps this was a friendly stalking horse operation? Or perhaps not?

If Madison had kept Clinton as vice-president, that would have been a sure sign of political friendship, of course.

Sorry, I was kidding around. Was referring to a completely different George Clinton, of P-Funk fame.

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Shatterface 02.22.14 at 9:34 pm

Communist theory is directly, ferociously opposed to that. Communist theory actually requires the absence of the state itself, or any ruling class, or any class period, so there is no centralized power strong enough to conduct mass murder or oppression. It can’t exist under real communism. There is no “state.” All centralized power has been diffused and redistributed back to every single human being in that society, equally, with everyone holding equal say, equal voice, equal power. There actually can not be a communist dictator in an actual communist society, nor any class oppression, etc. etc.

Except to get to that mythical stateless society it is necessary to go through the dictatorship of the proletariat.

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Plume 02.22.14 at 10:04 pm

shatterface,

But that “dictatorship of the proletariat” is not what most people assume it is. Marx was referring primarily to the Paris Commune of 1871, and not to any idea of an actual dictatorship. His transitional state was to be fully democratic, not “dictatorial.”

A very good article on the subject, here:

Excerpt:

From Bakunin’s perspective, the most important revolutionary act aimed at the destruction of the institution of the State: “We think that the necessarily revolutionary policy of the proletariat must have for its immediate and only object the destruction of States.”37 The State, by establishing the right of inheritance, creates economic classes and thereby introduces an “unnatural” dimension in human relations, a perversity, as it were, that can only be maintained through force which, by means of the military and the police, the State monopolizes. When the State is abolished and coercion is removed, people can immediately revert back to their “natural” condition and recapture their “natural” freedom. No transitional period is required. The dictatorship of the proletariat, as another State, would only serve to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Operating within his historical, materialist framework and placing economics first, Marx countered this analysis by arguing that the State, far from creating economic classes, was itself created by them, by the clash of opposing class interests. The ruling class, in order to consolidate its economic privileges, uses the State to create laws which enshrine its monopoly on wealth in a cloak of legal legitimacy, and it establishes a military apparatus that is prepared to implement these laws by brute force.

Consequently, from Marx’s perspective, classes could persist beyond the destruction of the bourgeois state, although with some difficulty, and the bourgeoisie could survive even after its property has been expropriated. People who have enjoyed privileges are molded by them, they tend to view their elevated position as “natural,” and accordingly seldom relinquish their assets voluntarily. As history as proven, they will often fight tenaciously to reinstate them. Hence, according to Marx, if the proletariat is truly determined to succeed, it must be prepared to use decisive force, if the situation demands. Therefore the working class must establish its own coercive apparatus, i.e. state, so that it can defend its interests and enforce a genuine form of majority rule. Otherwise it will find itself at the mercy of a counterrevolution.

In criticizing Marx’s program of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Bakunin raises this challenge: “If the proletariat is to be the ruling class, one may ask whom will it govern? There must be yet another proletariat that will be subjected to this new domination, this new state.”38 Here Bakunin’s reaction stems from his belief that the State itself is the creator of classes so that whoever controls the state is identified with the ruling, capitalist class while those being victimized by it are the equivalent of the proletariat. But for Marx, as we just saw, the proletarian dictatorship is not aimed at any section of the working class but at the former bourgeoisie, which simply does not disappear overnight.

Bakunin, however, proceeds: “There are about forty million Germans. Are all forty million going to be members of the government?”39 And Marx responds: “Certainly, because the thing starts with the self-government of the commune.”40

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Collin Street 02.22.14 at 11:03 pm

Except to get to that mythical stateless society it is necessary to go through the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Sure. Hysterisis is a real thing. You have to over-correct, and then trim back later. You want to argue the details of what Marx said and you’d be beyond me, because my background is not that strong, but the basic concept shouldn’t be controversial, anyone who’s ever been involved in any sort of organisational restructure must have encountered it.

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