Tuesday, April 1, 2008

California considers dropping anti-Communist laws

By Joel Wendland

Here is an interesting item from The Mercury News:
SACRAMENTO—Sen. Alan Lowenthal thinks it's about time that California removes some of the last vestiges of the Cold War from its laws.

The Long Beach Democrat has introduced a bill that would scrap statutes allowing teachers and other public employees to be fired for being members of the Communist Party.

The measure, scheduled to be considered Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, also would drop a requirement that representatives of organizations seeking to use school facilities sign a form stating they do not have communist affiliations.

Lowenthal said the measure would drop old laws that were adopted at the height of the Red Scare following World War II and that have been found unconstitutional by the courts.

"Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the threat between us and communism just isn't there...," he said in an interview. "They are not a danger to our liberty, and the courts have uniformly said that."

Further into the article, the California lawmaker argues for keeping portions of the statute that ban advocacy of the violent overthrow of the government. A spokesperson for the senator pointed out that the Communist Party rejects AND denounces the use of violence and terrorism. Thus prejudicial laws that targeted Communists or anyone for perceived political beliefs are outdated.

The US working class has learned from its history in the civil rights movement, workers' struggles for unions, and in other advocacy struggles for rights, the environment, health care, and more, that violent tactics are not successful and are morally questionable. Instead, they give the authorities a basis on which to respond in a violent manner, to divide the people, and to set progress back.

Militant struggle does not mean violent struggle. Building broad coalitions of different communities and forces for social progress, direct non-violent action, peaceful but loud and colorful street protests, lobbying and election campaigns, boycotts and strikes, town hall forums and teach-ins, sit-ins and civil disobedience, and letter-writing are preferred tactics of struggle by most progressive groups of all political stripes.


stimbox said...

California residents should email or write to Senator Lowenthal and thank him for his courage. Also write your state senator and ask them to support SB 1322.

Anonymous said...

I agree that eliminating this law, which was used to carry out purges in the past, is important. particularly given what is happening to the federal judiciary.

However, it is important to remember two points. The courts declared such laws unconstitutional in a series of decisions decades ago,long before the destruction of the German Democratic Republic and the disemberment of the USSR. The real threat to "our liberties" came from the perpetrators of such laws and those who went along with them.
As a final point, such laws were not only a violation of the Bill of Rights but of centuries of Anglo American legal tradition. They were bills of attainder, which are laws aimed at a specific individual or group which denies that individual or group equal protection under the law, which of course, as many critics noted at the time, is the foundation of open dictatorship, which anti-Communists claimed that they were fighting but subjecting CPUSA members to such crude repression.
Keeping such laws on the books is dangerous. Having a Supreme Court which will preserve and protect such laws in the future is equally dangerous. That is another of the many, many reasons why John McCain has to be defeated.
Norman Markowitz

Norman Markowitz

Harold said...

I wonder why this is called a Communist Party if it's so dead-set against violence of any sort. The tactics listed can be effective, but in some cases, they simply perpetuate rule by the bourgeoisie. As one astute author (Peter Gelderloos, author of How Nonviolence Protects the State) has written in the past year or so, violent struggle has had many successes, and they cannot be overlooked. The State has shown time and again that it will not be swayed (much) by public opinion, so if we expect a Socialist or Communist Society to come about without any violence, I think we're deluding ourselves.

I'm not saying we should go fire-bomb City Hall, but at some (advanced) point in the struggle, selective violence may be necessary. Denying that, or closing our eyes to the possibility, is another form of American exceptionalism, and is absolutely contrary to Marxist principles.

Joel said...

Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Please name any act of violence that has overthrown bourgeois rule in the US.

Harold said...

Violent struggle has not overthrown the bourgeoisie in the U.S., in that you are correct. But that does not mean that armed struggle, of varying degrees, has not been successful in winning people's victories, for example in India. Gandhi is propped up for his non-violent struggle, but armed struggle was also very successful in bringing down British colonialism in India. Armed revolutions have won successes for the people, in the way of independence and freedom from imperialism and colonialism, in nations across the globe (namely our own). In most cases, one form of bourgeoisie rule has been replaced by another, but again, this does not mean that bourgeois governments cannot be taken down by violent struggle.

In accordance with Marxist materialism, we can only assess whether armed struggle will be necessary at any given time by looking closely at the material conditions of the time. Obviously, at this point in time, in the United States, it would be quite an egregious error in theoretical as well as practical philosophy to posit that armed struggle is what the working class needs in order to take power, in the from of the means of production, from the bourgeoisie. What I'm saying is that we have to be remain open to the possibility.

It is simply my opinion that at some point in time, armed struggle will be required to establish what Lenin called the dictatorship of the proletariat; I think the history of our country, as well as the direction that it (as the remaining superpower) is currently taking world politics point towards the eventual necessity of some sort of political violence (which is different than terrorism, despite the right-wing rhetoric that claims otherwise). But that can only be speculation, because as I said, we can only deduce the correct tactics according to the material conditions of the time.

Harold said...

I should also say that I wholly agree that eliminating these laws in California is a major step forward in the "war of ideas." True Communism has never been a threat to people's liberty, and if the struggle is carried out correctly, it never will; it will only fight for the liberty of the people, including the former bourgeoisie.

Anonymous said...

Although this is distraction from what was the major point of Joel's article, there should be I think two levels to this discussion.
First, there are the various laws that were passed, culminating with the Smith Act of 1940, which made it a major crime to "teach or advocate the violent overthrow of the government" which was not only loosely defined and not only used to try, convict, and imprison the National leadership of the CPUSA in the infamous Smith Act Trials, but also was an openended attack on the right of revolution period.

The CPUSA in these political trials made the point that it advocated the peaceful transition to socialism and challenged the prosecutors taking of quotations from Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, which had nothing to do specifically with anything specific that the CPUSA was doing, and were also taken out of context, to indict the CPUSA.
Ironically, given Harold's first point(and I am really not saying this to put down Harold) the Justice Department then argued the the formation or re-formation of the CPUSA as a Communist Party in 1945 from the Communist Political Association that Earl Browder had established in 1944(or rather Browder and his supporters in the CPUSA leadership) constituted a crime under the Smith Act, since any Communist party anywhere was a criminal organization teaching or advocating the violent overthrow of the government.

These convictions were upheld by a cold war influenced Supreme Court, although there were eloquent dissents by progressive Justices who made the point that the conviction was based on statements and quotations from documents, including the Communist Manifesto, which were more than a century old and had nothing specifically do with any act in the U.S.
The CPUSA and Marxists generally(this is the second level)didn't advocate violent armed uprisings, but saw revolutionary violence as developing out of the intensification of the class struggle. Avoiding revolutionary violence, which was often a provocation on the part of the ruling classes, but understanding the working class movement may use revolutionary violence to defend itself(because it would have to) in a revolutionary situation in which it would be faced with the violent attacks on the capitalist class, was in general Communist theoretical position, even though in practice there were revolutionary armed uprisings in many parts of the world
Communists have participated and involved themselves in armed insurrections in many parts of the world, rightly and wrongly, when conditions, usually repressive open dictatorships, were the basis of that.
In the U.S. Communists have always, unlike some other groups, fought to both preserve and extend capitalist democracy, so as to both advance the revolutionary process, empower the working class, and make it less, not more likely that the capitalist class will employ violence against the working class movement, because the strength of the working class movement would make that to dangerous.
Again, this is very far off the point, which is the elimination of a California law which does on paper what the Justice Department did after WWII, take the Smith Act, which itself was indefensible as it was written, and apply it to the CPUSA as a bill of attainder.
Norman Markowitz

Harold said...

I agree with Norman that "revolutionary violence develop[s] out of the intensification of the class struggle." Every attempt should be made to avoid it, but if provoked (i.e. attacked), the working class retains the responsibility (though not the right, by law) to use revolutionary violence to defend itself.

I don't understand how fighting to extend and preserve capitalist democracy advances the revolutionary process. Capitalism has revealed itself to be an extremely powerful yet inherently flawed system; I understand that Communists should make the best of the system that is in place, in order to take small steps in advancing the interests of the working class (within the capitalist framework), but we should be careful, I think, not to make too many concessions to the ruling class, because it has shown time and again that it will employ violence, either directly (Iraq) or indirectly (New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina) to advance its own interests and oppress those that it deems expendable. In short, it won't matter if Communists have "played nice" as the movement grows - if the ruling class senses a growing movement that will at some point pose a threat, it will use violence or any means necessary to protect the state.

Though not involving Communists per se, in the 1980s the Reagan administration (or was it Bush I?) had contingency plans drawn up that would have suspended the Constitution and imprisoned in concentration camps (for which the venues were set) working class folks that opposed a U.S. war in Nicaragua. Ultimately, the war on Nicaragua never came about (at least, not overtly), so those plans were scrapped, but if we just realize that these were the intended consequences of working class resistance to a war in Central America, we can see that the State will, as I said, employ any means necessary to achieve its objectives.

Joel said...

I suggest that violence actually preserves the power of capitalists as it legitimates their authority.

And having been a veteran of the US military, I feel that the hatred and dehumanization it takes to actually participate in violent acts is not productive or ethical; neither does it produce an outcome on which the basis of a humanistic society like a socialist society can be made.

Romanticizing violence as self-defense is equally unconvincing.

Harold said...

I don't think anyone is romanticizing violence; as previously stated, every effort should be made to avoid it, for reasons that you have given. But if the working class is attacked, how should it then respond? Allow itself to be destroyed? Turn and run, which in essence may destroy it?

If the means are there, and the situation presents itself in which violence is the only viable option, the working class must not discount the possibility of the use of violence, obviously doing all it can in the process to avoid causing wanton death and destruction, as the ruling class does.

I agree with you that the use of violence preserves the power of capitalists and legitimates their authority. I only think it would be viable in self-defense at an advanced stage of struggle.

the Jaded Prole said...

The battle of ideas -- the ultimate battle -- is in and for the hearts and minds of the vast majority of our class.

As conditions created by capitalism become harsh and the illusions perpetuated by this system cannot be sustained in reality, working people develop class consciousness and with our guidance, revolutionary consciousness. As George Meyers once explained it to me -- we have no other choice.
In those conditions, government repression flames that consciousness, violence on the part of our class on the other hand frightens off our fellow workers who may side with "keeping order" out of fear and the battle of ideas may be lost along with the Revolution.

On the other hand, at an advanced level of struggle when the vast majority of our class is actively mobilized, defensive violence may be appropriate in order to repress a dangerous and defeated class. Up until then creative and militant non-violence can be much more effective in that observing worker's sympathies will be with our own interests and the movement will continue to grow to critical mass (of the critical masses).

Harold said...

Well said, Prole.

Let me ask this, to clarify my understanding of something that you brought up...

Once the "dangerous and defeated class" (the former ruling class) has been adequately defeated and no longer rule in any manner, and a classless society has been created, it is my understanding that it is the task of Communists to integrate those individuals from the former ruling class into the masses, to become an inclusive society. Is that your understanding as well, or do I misunderstand. Obviously (at least to me) that makes sense...

Sincere thanks to Joel, Norman, and everyone else that has read or participated in this discussion.

the Jaded Prole said...

Harold, I think dogmatism is a problem in that we do not know the future dynamics but if history is any lesson, I like the Soviet approach in which members of the former ruling class get three choices:

1) Join the effort to build the new society. Their skills are needed and they can opt for well-paid position within the new system, though they need to be watched initially.

2) Exile. They can leave with enough wealth to reasonably transition but the vast majority of their ill-gotten wealth returns to the People. This is not true for the most dangerous types who would only organize insurgents from outside the country.

3) Stay and undermine the revolution through hoarding and obstructive activities and face People's Justice.

Failure to take this approach risks the fate of Allende, Mosadegh, the Sandinistas and others. The ruling class is a vicious and dangerous entity that doesn't die easily.

Anyway, at this point all this is speculative. The struggle today is just to raise class-conscious resistance to the barbarism of capitalism.