Communism was the absolute defining political issue of the 20th century in America. Today communism seems like a failed political ideology, a cute thing that hippies like along with pot and drum circles. But in the 50s and 60s communism was the most evil thing imaginable, like aids spreading terrorists who block cell phone signals. Hoover in particular had spent his entire life fighting communism and saw it as the greatest threat our country had ever faced. Many of our parents or grandparents had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school, ducking and covering under their desks to protect themselves from the communist threat. Growing up like that, you can imagine the fear and rabid hatred that people had for the ideology.
This isn't a story of "Evil US government subverts wiretapping power to go after peaceful protestor". This is a case of the government executing the will of the people at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back their actions seem evil, but in historical context the FBI was doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing: fighting communism with everything they had. It may sound silly to us, but back then that was the only fight that mattered. The FBI and the public didn't see it as wiretapping a private citizen, but as a part of a decades long political struggle.
Recently on HN people have been acting like the government can dominate the world through wiretapping. As if the NSA can find out a few secrets and people will bow their heads and be silent. Government wiretapping found a true dirty secret involving MLK and threatened to reveal it if he didn't change what he was saying. Did he stop? No. Did he slow down for a single second? Fuck no. True political reformers aren't cowed by blackmail and intimidation. As long as we have leaders like Martin Luther King, democracy will live forever.
What communist leanings? My understanding is that he had none, and that this was just made up by people who disliked King for other reasons. A bit of Googling corroborates this , but if there's evidence I'd be curious to hear it.
If King's "communist leanings" didn't exist then they could hardly have been "the main reason for wire-tapping him" or indeed the reason for anything at all. Something non-existent can't provide any "historical context" either.
I think the context you're trying to draw leads in fact to the opposite conclusion. "Suspicion of communism" then equals "suspicion of terrorism" now, and what the story shows is how easily these powers become abused. "Suspicion of X" is a self-confirming charge after all.
Edit: I also think you're really stretching things to argue that Hoover going after King was "the government executing the will of the people".
1. http://www.snopes.com/history/american/mlking.asp. The email circular at the top of that page indicates the quality of thinking among some people who like to believe in King's "communist leanings". Thanks to Google I've just learned that there's a whole world in which this is still a thing: http://www.martinlutherking.org/thebeast.html.
Which was a fairly common practice at the time. Anyone expressing a political opinion that ran contrary to the ruling class was flagged "communist".
The idea that Hoover's FBI was somehow 'executing the will of the people' rather than the will of J. Edgar Hoover seems pretty tenuous.
Pretty weak, or non-existent? Unless I'm missing something, that Wikipedia page doesn't contain weak evidence, it contains no evidence.
Marin Luther King, Jr. leaned "communist" in the sense that he was an opponent of the Vietnam war and a proponent of social and economic equality.
The US has a history of branding dissidents as traitors. It's no different than today when the government repeatedly uses "because terrorism" to justify any action it takes.
Having not lived during the Cold War nor studied it, I don't have a perspective on what that is like. But I find it difficult to understand the idea that a political ideology like Communism ought to be "illegal."
Let me help:
Basically, every communist (Read: Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist/etc) party that existed during the 20th century took its orders from the U.S.S.R. The authoritarian form of Marxism practiced by the Bolsheviks would never fly with the population of the United States, so the Soviets would use the sympathies of American communists to leak info and sabotage national defense programs.
This meant that every communist was a de facto U.S.S.R spy in the eyes of the USA.
The above document is a report to President Truman in 1946 about the ideological underpinnings that would go on to cause the cold war.
I don't know whether you're accepting this at face value or just pointing out it was the justification offered for treating people with certain political leanings as people without rights.
But regardless it's worth pointing out that factoids like that are what give anti-Communists a bad name, as it's very, very wrong, particularly post WW2. Note that I'm saying that as someone who is very much on the anti-Communist side.
A little of both, I was going to point out the existence of opposition communists, but they seemed too minor to merit mention.
Unless of course you want to show me the non-trotskyists who weren't in the pay of the U.S.S.R? I admit my knowledge of the various communist parties is pretty flimsy.
: This is why I qualify most of my statements with things like "pretty much" or "most of" or "almost every", guess I slipped up here.
EDIT: "pay" is probably the wrong word there, maybe "under the ideological command of" would be a better description.
But, to name a couple... Spain, Italy, and the rest of the Eurocommunists (which probably should include Australia); Japan and it's very peace and anti-nuclear oriented party; China and its affiliated Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Mao Zedong thought-style parties, which killed more USSR troops in armed conflict than the USA ever did; the Khmer Rouge, which was effectively a murderous pariah state only supported by the PRC (ultimately being replaced by a leftist Soviet and Vietnamese-affiliated government); India with its half a dozen of Communist sects that I can never keep straight in elected office; Yugoslavia with its market socialism and Non-Aligned foreign policy.
There are even oddities like Albania, which took an ultra-pro-Soviet position that outpaced the Soviet Union's CP (it argued that it was turning too far away from Stalin). And ideologically the Cuban Communist Party had few moorings, mostly providing a gloss for nationalism until it actually achieved power.
Even in the USA, although CPUSA was effectively defined as the group of people with slavish devotion to the USSR, it constantly shed members or purged them, who formed their own groups that were anti-Soviet in principle, though many still grudgingly thought it was the lesser of two evils when it came to foreign policy. And the UK Communist left was infamous for its variety of views leading to a "one person, one party" system.
I'd say the biggest issue with your claim, though (aside from ignoring truculent Trotskyites, whose level of influence has persistently remained stuck at zero) is it ignores the China-USSR split. This isn't to the credit of those Communists who weren't on the USSR's side; they were the cheerleaders of the Khmer Rouge, Cultural Revolution, and Shining Path. Most USSR-affiliated ones, by contrast, steadfastly supported parliamentary tactics because they were more likely to rebound to Soviet benefit.
It was a very real and relevant split.
You're right, I was thinking of western Communist parties, but you already covered those. Have an upvote.
Are you kidding me?
Maoist parties (prevalent in Western Europe, especially with younger people) were against the USSR.
The New Left was anti-USSR.
In the UK too, the prevalent notion was anti-USSR.
As were tons of other communist party genres (like those based on the "Frankfurt School" of thinking, or those influenced by "Worker's councils" etc etc).
Not sure about here in the USA, but after the 1965 the USSR was not supporting this communist party:
> EDIT: "pay" is probably the wrong word there, maybe "under the ideological command of" would be a better description.
The biggest obvious exception are Maoists, who were quite numerous Communists but very much not under the ideological command of the USSR.
If they were honest, they would have allowed discussion and dialog rather than the McCarthyite witch hunts and branding communism as AIDs-spreading terrorists strapped with nuclear suicide bombs.
They didn't even trust in their own ideology to survive a rigorous examination, and that's why they turned to demonization.
Basically any tin-pot dictator who wanted our support could declare themselves "anti-communist" and they had it. And many, many did so. No matter how obvious it should have been that we did not want to support their actions.
I'd liken it to religious fanatics who seem incredibly fearful of other religions. If they're so sure they've got "the way," then their beliefs should be able to stand up to scrutiny or comparison with other belief systems.
No, the foreign policy actions were very rational. It's not like they got duped by some dictator posing as "anti-communist".
They knew what they were getting and what they were supporting (as all historical accounts and de-classified documents show).
They just wanted to gain influence to those parts of the world (for resources, trade routes, military bases etc) at any cost.
But you're right, they're still out there causing havoc.
That's totally wrong. Especially in Hoover's time.
Tons of countries with ruling communist parties had broken ties with USSR or were independent in the first place, if not outright hostile (like China).
And there were also lots of non ruling communist parties, especially in Western Europe and UK, that were anti-USSR, anti-Stalinist, etc.
In the US, the so-called New Left, was decidedly anti-USSR too, (which is one of the reasons for the "New" moniker).
And that's before we add other communist parties, that were in "war" with USSR, like the Trotskyists.
1) A witch-hunt in the context of McCarthy-ism.
2) The possibility that KGB spies could turn said person into an agent using the person's "Communist leanings."
I'm not saying that I agree with it, but I don't think that Communism was ever "illegal" in any sense (I could be wrong).
Paranoia is "the unreasoning fear that others are out to get you". Only in this case, there was an element of truth to this. In the mid 50's Nikita Khrushchev spoke at the United Nations, banging his show upon the desk as he said "We will bury you!" The threat from the USSR was real.
A case in point is the mythology you mention - Khrushchev's shoe-banging incident was separate from the famous 'We will bury you' line and 'We will bury you' means something significantly less aggressive in context rather than when excerpted and literally translated into English.
"Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in"
This is an expression of the Communist belief in Communism's inevitable supremacy as a political system all over the world, by 'historical necessity' - it's not Khrushchev threatening the Russians are about to come over, crush their enemies, see them driven before them and hear the lamentations of their women.
I discovered recently that this conflates two different events
This claim needs a bit of elaboration, especially since people have called everything from SDS to the Mattachine Society to SCSC to the Black Panthers to the Union of Concerned Scientists to Greenpeace to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament "Communist-leaning."
The broader point is true: McCarthy in his factual assessment that many US institutions, including parts of the government, were infiltrated by agents of and at least in some respects directed from Moscow, was right, although his overall package was very much broken.
The "witch-hunt" term needs to go away. The government was lousy with communists and soviet agents. McCarthy was ultimately not very helpful, as the media has found it very easy to use him to make the anti-communists look like the real villains.
| Real communism was pretty close to being illegal
| as it explicitly calls for revolution, in contrast
| with social democracy.
Democracy => Socialism => Communism
| The "witch-hunt" term needs to go away.
| the media has found it very easy to use him to
| make the anti-communists look like the real villains.
That part isn't actually true. It's arguably and intuitively incompatible, but it's not certainly incompatible. This is a really important difference that keeps getting swept aside by ideological rants. If you're going to make the Constitution your basis for law or morality, you need to (1) know exactly what it says and (2) have a very strong sense of its history of interpretation.
I would recommend that you avoid this line of argument, though, for two reasons. One, it's not portable to other countries. "Incompatibility with the U.S. Constitution" is a bad reason for China or the UK to not become a surveillance state. This forces you into an American-centric position that's basically blind to international nuance. Two, the Constitution can and will be changed, and the reasoning for doing so is never going to be "compatibility with the Constitution".
It is rare that I would recommend a libertarian perspective, but this is a case where it would behoove you to study how they come to their positions. I recommend the libertarian one because it's simple-minded enough to take little effort to understand their reasoning process.
Poverty: i.e. talking about the economic injustice that perpetuates racism. That is... how we won't all be free until poverty is eliminated. Simple-minded people can't figure out that one can be against poverty without being a communist.
Vietnam: He started asking, "Hey, why are so many black people being sent to Vietnam to die?" Well, since we were fighting communism in Vietnam anyone against the war must be for communism, right? (wrong, but that's how simple people think)
Ironically he wasn't a communist... at all. In fact, he often started public speeches (like this one http://depts.drew.edu/lib/archives/online_exhibits/King/inde... ) with a diatribe against communism. Listen to the first few minutes of that speech, it is both hilarious (he opens with some jokes) and serious.
In a democracy where we have constitutionally protected rights, why should one need the courage of MLK to do the right thing. Also, why go through the pain of following a constitution if we define right/wrong by "the will of the people at the time".
It's just a lot of power to give to a few. Fear of MLK had a lot more to do with him being black than communism too, think about that. You think there is a reason the batman shooting and Sandyhook weren't called terrorism? Did you observe that outright odd exchange between Romney and Obama on whether Bhengazi was "terror?"
That's because today it's basically illegal to be liberal, so the only openly liberal folks left are super fringy. The reason why communism seems this way today has less to do with the fact that the US triumphed over communism, and more with the fact that the US triumphed over freedom.
A black pastor fighting for civil rights had "communist leanings"? LOL. A "commie" was just what the government used to call everyone in favour of change, regardless of what relation he had with communism, or if he had any at all.
If the "Dixie Chicks" had spoken against Bush back in 1960, they would have been labeled "commies" too. In fact, they were called that even in 2004.
>Hoover in particular had spent his entire life fighting communism and saw it as the greatest threat our country had ever faced. Many of our parents or grandparents had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school, ducking and covering under their desks to protect themselves from the communist threat.
Let's not do the old trick of pining it to somebody's whimsy ("one bad apple"). Those ideas were spread in all government, not because of some irrational fear of communism, but because they wanted to protect their and their buddies interests. Anything pro-worker, pro-civil rights, or anti-war, was labelled communist -- in a similar way to today's Fox News commentary.
But the same tactics were employed far before the nuclear bomb, Hoover, or even USSR even existed. Even in the 19th century, workers demands and ethnic groups fighting for equality were met with similar tactics, police brutality and government spying.
>This isn't a story of "Evil US government subverts wiretapping power to go after peaceful protestor". This is a case of the government executing the will of the people at the time.
No, it's not. It's a case of a government that continually crashed the people and their will, to support the interests of the few (industrialists, corporations, etc).
Check the history of the labour movement in the US for more details. I'd also recommend Howard Zinn's "A people's history of the United States".
>Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back their actions seem evil, but in historical context the FBI was doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing: fighting communism with everything they had.
No, history doesn't absolve crimes. If it did then the SS did what they supposed to be doing to: fighting jews with everything they had (Godwin's law be damned). And why should they "fight communism with everything they had"? Wasn't the US supposed to be a free country, with freedom of speech and freedom to adhere to any ideology you wanted to?
> As if the NSA can find out a few secrets and people will bow their heads and be silent.
To say that it doesn't have a significant influence is not credible.
How do you know that it was the will of the people of the time to persecute communists? There was no referendum.
In any case there are important protections in the US system to prevent 'mob rule' and the persecution of people for ideological purposes. These override "the will of the people at the time".
Also - "I thought i was doing the right thing" should (and generally does) not get you off the hook for any crime.
How does that make it any different? It was not illegal to support communism.
Before 1967, the Fourth Amendment didn't require police to get a warrant to tap conversations occurring over phone company lines. But that year, in two key decisions (including the Katz case), the Supreme Court made clear that eavesdropping — bugging private conversations or wiretapping phone lines — counted as a search that required a warrant.
Well I've thought about it. And I think it's fair to say the USG has never respected the 4th amendment less than it does today.
The current official policy, which has spanned at least two and possibly three presidential administrations, is to use a huge network of government employees and private sector labor working together to spy on virtually every single person in the country, continuously, for years. And this time, it's been sort of an open secret, endorsed and defended as legal from the highest levels, and known to Senators and rank-and-file FBI agents alike. We, the ordinary citizens, were the last to know.
I think it's much more accurate to describe the current surveillance as an activity of "the government," and I think the scale, the audacity, the hubris involved makes it clear that an awful lot of "the government" views the fourth amendment as an outdated relic that must be stamped out or revised away into meaninglessness.
I think the difference between the two examples is extreme and obvious. They are actually more different than they are alike.
Istanbul has been in the grips of a military crackdown of a peaceful protest about a park. In Syria, something like 90,000 people have died fighting an authoritarian regime, with no end in sight. In Iran, people won't even vote in the election (where voting is compulsory) because they know that the elections are rigged. On the other side of the coin, in the UK, you're subject to government surveillance in every public space. It's a trade-off, and the choices aren't as clear as you might believe if you limited your knowledge to what you read on Reddit and HN.
My point is that you have to be pretty cynical to suggest that the USA -- where we let the Occupy protesters linger in front of federal buildings until they were nothing but de facto homeless encampments -- has been on an endlessly downward slippery slope. We live in one of the most free and privileged countries on earth, and it's important to keep a sense of perspective on these things.
I don't necessarily like that the NSA is tracking phone calls, but I'm also keenly aware of the fact that they aren't dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night, and that we don't have cars exploding daily in New York City. All things considered, we have it pretty damned well.
There's not a monotonically nondecreasing level of freedom, though.
It's like 100 98 98 97 96 130 (ITAR limited) 125 120 120 119 90 (Patriot) 89 88 140 (default to HTTPS) 135 135 133 etc.
Well, if we do nothing but maintain the current level of freedom, we're doing pretty well, historically speaking.
That said, I don't think we're on a downward slope at all -- that's just techno-nerd catastrophic thinking. The problem is that technology races forward and allows new forms of communication, our sense of entitlement increases, as does the power of anyone (governmental or private) to be intrusive. It's a constant battle against change itself, not necessarily against the surveillance state.
For example, the supreme court said that phone call metadata was collectable without a warrant in the 70s. The fact that Reddit just became aware of this fact is not a fundamental change in reality, or an example of things getting worse -- it's just an indication of how technology has changed this generation's expectations of what "privacy" means.
While ssh replacing rsh, SSL-by-default, no crypto export restrictions for (almost all) commercial software, certain legal decisions (mainly in the 9th), etc. were steps forward. This is all independent of what reddit/hn people generally know about the situation.
"auto-updating" client software and the cloud have advantages and disadvantages at the same time.
I can't? Most of those things don't affect US citizens. Drone warfare arguably saves lives (you'd rather that we send soliders to do the same things?). The other things present vague, hypothetical risks (when they present risks at all), and tangible, quantifiable benefits.
Look, I'm not saying that I agree with everything that's in the Patriot Act, or that I think that the US government should have a blank check to bomb citizens via remote-controlled helicopter. But when you look at the actual risks to citizens, you find that they're pretty theoretical. The people who are objecting the loudest usually have the least reason to object (which is, ironically, part of the problem -- organizations like the ACLU have traditionally had a very tough time proving harms to citizens, and as a result, their lawsuits keep getting tossed).
But if you're going to push me to be the devil's advocate, I can quite comfortably go to the argument I made before: we don't have cars blowing up (or people walking into cafes with bombs strapped to their chests) in our cities on a regular basis, and we manage to achieve that level of safety without needing the intrusiveness of the security state of even a "reasonable", western democracy like Israel. Empirically, then, we're doing OK. A lot of the teeth-gnashing going on here is breathless exaggeration from people who have such peaceful lives that they have literally nothing better to worry about.
There are short-term benefits that you're talking about, but long-term costs that you seem to be ignoring as well.
Wake up and smell the coffee. The slippery slope is real, and there are clear patterns here that you'd be wrong to ignore.
It is, in fact, a logical fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope.
And the fact is that there the arc of freedom in this country has been bending towards more freedom. You are more free today, more insulated from arbitrary government action, than you were in say 1970 (Kent State shootings), 1950 (McCarthyism), 1942 (Japanese internment), 1862 (civil war), or 1800 (post-revolution paranoia).
It might be a slippery slope, but it's a slipper slope on a hill we're slowly climbing up.
Sidebar: It's not.
That said, this White House petition makes me nervous since we still don't know the extent of what Snowden leaked.
But here we are, over 10 years after 9/11, and an enemy who simply does not pose any existential threat to the U.S. And yet no limits have been passed on Patriot act powers.
Wait, what? Even if you meant to say Khrushchev, that's extremely one-sided..
After provocative political moves and the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime (Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose), in May 1962 Nikita Khrushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.
and from the section "Responses considered":
The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the missiles would seriously alter the military balance, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed. He was convinced that the missiles would not affect the strategic balance at all. An extra forty, he reasoned, would make little difference to the overall strategic balance. The US already had approximately 5,000 strategic warheads, while the Soviet Union had only 300. He concluded that the Soviets having 340 would not therefore substantially alter the strategic balance. In 1990, he reiterated that "it made no difference ... The military balance wasn't changed. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."
But yes, if you consider that in a way it was a rather benign thing done to defend an ally, and compare that with the panic and hypocritical indignation about it, then the paranoia was understandable indeed; I can understand how and why it was engineered, that is.
What I find most amazing about this story is that the House would actually do something to serve as a check on executive power.
you're thinking of politicking.
"...the jury ruled that Loyd Jowers and others, including unspecified governmental agencies, were all part of the conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King Jr."
Well, DUH, of course he was. Even minor players in the civil rights movement were wiretapped. And tons of others besides. And those findings were used to: to blackmail, to plan police reactions, to spin, etc.
An evil chapter in the FBI's history.