Archive | Communism

Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

Issue number 5 of this year’s Connecticut Law Review is an excellent symposium on firearms law, policy, and culture. The lead article is from Nicholas Johnson, of Fordham: Firearms Policy and the Black Community: An Assessment of the Modern OrthodoxyJohnson (who is my co-author on the Second Amendment textbook Firearms Law and the Second Amendment) details the long and honorable history of Black Americans’ use of arms for lawful self-defense, especially against white racists. Johnson observes that in the late 1960s, Black political leadership abruptly shifted from the community’s traditional support for armed self-defense into being quite hostile to gun ownership.

The Johnson article is a short version of his forthcoming (Jan. 14, 2014) book Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson (Jan 14, 2014). I very highly recommend the book. It goes far beyond the Connecticut article. The subject of race control and gun control has been a subject of increasing scholarly attention ever since Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond’s 1991 Georgetown LJ article, The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration. Having followed the subject carefully for the past two decades, I am amazed by how much original research that Johnson brought to the book, and by the rigorous analysis he provided for the most difficult questions.

In the Connecticut symposium, response essays are offered from leading “pro-gun” scholars (Cottrol & Diamond, Don Kates & Alice Marie Beard) and from leading “anti-gun” scholars (Michael DeLeeuw, David Kairys, Andrew McClurg [my co-author on another gun textbook], and William Merkel).

My own contribution to the symposium is an article titled Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense. (SSRN link here; Conn. L. Rev. link here.) My article observes that the Black political leaderships’ sharp turn against self-defense [...]

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Question for Supporters of the Boycott of Ender’s Game

If you think people should boycott the movie Ender’s Game (discussed by co-blogger Dale here) because of Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay marriage remarks, do you also think that people back in the 1940s and 50s were justified in threatening to boycott movies if Hollywood employed Communists as screenwriters? Do you the studios were justified in responding to that boycott by blacklisting known Communists (and all or almost all [historian Ronald Radosh told me 98%] of them were in fact members of the Communist Party, USA)? Do you think there should be a similar blacklist today for writers like Card who express homophobic views?

UPDATE: I see some commenters are distinguishing between a boycott and a blacklist. But the whole point of boycotting an artist’s work on political/ideological grounds is to encourage a blacklist, even though no one is calling is that. You boycott an artist’s work, those employing the artist lose money, so they learn no to hire that artist or those who express similar views again. Thus, an informal blacklist. A commenter points out that this sort of scenario doesn’t involve formal collusion. So would the “blacklist” have been okay if each individual studio had done it without consulting their peers?

To put my own cards on the table, I think boycotts and blacklists are perfectly appropriate (though in a free society it’s best to give each other a little slack for the sake of social peace), and I think the blacklist of the Communists was fine to the extent it was a response to justified public hostility to Communists and Communism (remember, we’re talking about Stalinists when the blacklist started) and not to implicit threats of government action. It was, in my understanding, overwhelmingly the former. [Added: We now know that anti-Communist activists of the day were [...]

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Victims of Communism Day

Today is May Day. Since 2007, I have advocated turning this date into Victims of Communism Day (though I should note that I didn’t invent the idea). In my very first post on the subject, I outlined the rationale for this step:

May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day….

The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.

In this 2009 post, I discussed the issue of why the relative neglect of communist crimes matters. In a post last year, I defended the choice of May 1 against other possible alternatives, such as November 7 and August 23, the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. To briefly summarize, May 1 is better than November 7 because it does not primarily focus on any one country. It trumps August 23 for the same reason, [...]

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Communism, The Americans, and the Nature of Evil

The Americans, FX’s new TV series about KGB sleeper agents living in America in the early 1980s, has drawn mostly rave reviews. I have a somewhat mixed reaction. On the positive side, I thought that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are extremely effective in the lead roles of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, KGB agents who were inserted into the United States at a young age so they can pose as “ordinary” Americans while carrying out their espionage missions. While it is easy to dismiss this scenario as fanciful spy fiction, the KGB and its post-Soviet successors really did use sleeper agents of this type.

My main criticism of the portrayal of communism in much of Western popular culture and intellectual discourse is that it tends to ignore or downplay communist crimes and atrocities, as most recently evident in the fawning obituaries of the late British communist historian Eric Hobsbawm; a lifelong Nazi sympathizer would never have been so lionized by mainstream media and academia. To its credit, The Americans avoids this mistake. The Jennings’ superiors and the KGB generally get a uniformly negative portrayal. If anything, the KGB agents portrayed in the series actually commit more violent crimes and assassinations than actual KGB operatives in the United States did (in part because such activities greatly increased the chance of agents’ getting caught).

My biggest reservation about the series is that a key part of its premise breaks down if you think about it carefully. What makes the show work is that the Jennings (unlike their superiors) are in some ways sympathetic, and often portrayed as basically good people who happen to be in the service of an evil cause. The problem here is that, by the time the series starts in 1981, they have already lived [...]

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Evolving Christian Attitudes Towards Personal and National Self-Defense

A forthcoming issue of the Connecticut Law Review will feature a symposium on an article by Prof. Nicholas Johnson (Fordham) about the changing attitudes of the Black leadership towards firearms. In brief, Black leadership was historically very supportive the right to keep and bear arms, and particularly concerned that Blacks be able to have firearms for defense against white racists. The leadership’s attitude changed quite strongly in the late 1960s, and has remained anti-gun ever since. Johnson suggests that among the explanations for the change is that civil rights successes turned that leadership into powerful participants in the government, rather than outsiders.  Thus, the leadership adopted a more establishmentarian approach.

The symposium will have a variety of articles responding to Johnson. My own article observes that the change in attitude of the Black leadership parallels a change in much of the American Christian leadership about the legitimacy of defensive violence–at both the personal and the national level. For the Christian leadership, opposition to the Vietnam War was the proximate cause, but the change persisted long after the war had ended. Here’s the abstract:

This Article analyzes the changes in orthodox Christian attitudes towards defensive violence.

While the article begins in the 19th century and ends in the 21st, most of the Article is about the 20th century. The article focuses on American Catholicism and on the Vatican, although there is some discussion of American Protestantism.

In the nineteenth and early in the twentieth centuries, the traditional Christian concepts of Just War and of the individual’s duty to use force to defend himself and his family remained uncontroversial, as they had been for centuries. Disillusionment over World War One turned many Catholics and Protestants towards pacifism. Without necessarily adopting pacifism as a theory, they adopted pacifism as a practice. World War

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Ronald Coase on China’s Transition to Capitalism

Legendary Nobel Prize-winning economist and legal scholar Ronald Coase has just published a new book, How China Became Capitalist, coauthored with political scientist Ning Wang. It’s incredible that Coase is still publishing books at the age of 102! He puts the rest of us academics to shame.

Coase and Wang summarize their thesis in this article in the Cato Policy Report:

No one foresaw that the “socialist modernization” that the post-Mao Chinese government launched would in 30 years turn into what scholars today have called China’s great economic transformation. How the actions of Chinese peasants, workers, scholars, and policymakers coalesce into this unintended consequence is the story we tried to capture. Today, we don’t need to present any statistical data to convince you the rise of the Chinese economy, even though China still faces enormous challenges ahead. Many Chinese are still poor, far fewer Chinese have access to clean water than to cell phones, and they still face many hurdles in protecting their rights and exercising their freedom. Nonetheless, China has been transformed from the inside out over the past 35 years. This transformation is the story of our time. The struggle of China, in other words, is the struggle of the world.

Against conventional wisdom, we take the end of 1976 as the start of post-Mao reform and argue that China basically became a market economy by the end of the 90s before it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. In the new millennium, the Chinese economy has kept its growth momentum and become more integrated with the global economy. As an account of how China became capitalist, our book focuses mainly on the first two decades of reform.

As a property scholar, I was particular interested in Coase and Wang’s emphasis on the crucial importance of [...]

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Eric Hobsbawm and the Neglect of Communist Crimes

I was going to comment on the passing of Eric Hobsbawm, the famous historian and longtime apologist for communism. But co-bloggers Jonathan Adler and David Bernstein have already said most of what I could have said. I also recommend this column by Jeff Jacoby.

I will add only that Hobsbawm’s career is yet another example of our neglect of communist crimes, demonstrated in this case by a willingness to excuse their apologists. Had Hobsbawm been a comparably dedicated and unrepentant apologist for the Nazis or even for a run of the mill right-wing authoritarian regime, he would not have been a respected member of the intellectual establishment on both sides of the Atlantic, and his books would not have been required reading for undergraduates all over the English-speaking world.

If Hobsbawm had been, say, a physicist or a zoologist, his defenders could at least claim that his political views were irrelevant to his work. But he was a historian specializing in modern European and British history, and his communist outlook clearly influenced the work that made him famous. That is not to say that the work was entirely without intellectual merit. But the degree of that merit was greatly reduced by its adherence to a worldview that was not only morally perverse but permeated with empirical and logical fallacies.

UPDATE: Some commenters point to Martin Heidegger as a right-wing counterpart to Hobsbawm. The analogy is only partially correct. Heidegger did indeed praise the Nazis while they were in power. But after Hitler fell from power, he didn’t continue to defend them, and tried as much as possible to minimize his pro-Nazi past. Unlike Hobsbawm, Heidegger did not continue to defend his preferred totalitarian regime for decades. He also didn’t support neo-Nazi groups after the war, in contrast to Hobsbawn, [...]

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Comment on Eric Hobsbawm

From a Facebook friend: “What really galls is that the same people who fawn over this guy no doubt buy into Naomi Klein’s demonization of Milton Friedman.”

Because being a libertarian who once gave economic advice to Pinochet is evil, but being a life-long Stalinist reflects “good intentions” (or, better, yet, just shoot the Stalinism down the old memory hole, so that it doesn’t appear at all in a lengthy obituary).

UPDATE: As a reminder, Friedman wrote in 1975, the same year he advised the Chilean government, “I approve of none of these authoritarian regimes—neither the Communist regimes of Russia and Yugoslavia [to whom, along with China, he also gave advice] nor the military juntas of Chile and Brazil. . . . I do not regard visiting any of them as an endorsement. . . . I do not regard giving advice on economic policy as immoral if the conditions seem to me to be such that economic improvement would contribute both to the well-being of the ordinary people and to the chance of movement toward a politically free society.” [...]

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On Hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) may well have been a great historian, but we should also not forget that he was a moral midget or, in Jeff Jacoby’s words, a “dogmatic leftist creep.” A lifelong member of the Communist Party and apologist for Soviet oppression, Hobsbawm maintained that a Communist revolution would be worth the sacrifice of 15 to 20 million lives. This is something else worth remembering about the man. [...]

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U.S. Complicity in Katyn Cover-Up

Newly declassified documents reveal that the U.S. government concealed evidence that the Soviet Union was responsible for the Katyn forest massacre of several thousand Polish POWs. In all, over 20,000 Poles were killed in mass executions. The USSR had consistently denied responsibility for the killings until 1990. The newly released documents show U.S. officials were aware the Soviets were to blame as early as 1943, but kept quiet so as not to strain relations with the Soviets.

Documents released Monday and seen in advance by The Associated Press lend weight to the belief that suppression within the highest levels of the U.S. government helped cover up Soviet guilt in the killing of some 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in the Katyn forest and other locations in 1940.

The evidence is among about 1,000 pages of newly declassified documents that the United States National Archives released and is putting online. . . .

Historians who saw the material days before the official release describe it as important and shared some highlights with the AP. The most dramatic revelation so far is the evidence of the secret codes sent by the two American POWs — something historians were unaware of and which adds to evidence that the Roosevelt administration knew of the Soviet atrocity relatively early on.

The declassified documents also show the United States maintaining that it couldn’t conclusively determine guilt until a Russian admission in 1990 — a statement that looks improbable given the huge body of evidence of Soviet guilt that had already emerged decades earlier. Historians say the new material helps to flesh out the story of what the U.S. knew and when.

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The Gulag Museum and Russia’s Historical Memory of Communism

During my recent visit to Russia, I visited the Gulag Museum in Moscow, one of the few recent Russian efforts to accurately portray the horrible atrocities of communism. The mass murders and other crimes of communist regimes have often been neglected in both Russia and the West. In recent years, that neglect has deepened in Russia, because of Vladimir Putin’s efforts to whitewash the record of the Soviet regime in order to legitimize his own government and promote Russian nationalism.

The Gulag Museum, established by Gulag survivor Anton Antonov-Ovseenko, is an admirable effort to counter these trends. There are several interesting exhibits, and I certainly recommend it to visitors to Moscow who are interested in the subject and can read Russian. But I also have some serious reservations about the Museum and its approach to the subject matter.

First, the Museum simply lacks the resources and scale to do the subject justice. Most of the exhibits are primarily photos attached to bulletin boards, often with not very detailed explanations. If you are not already familiar with the relevant history, it’s hard to grasp the true scale and horror of what happened just by looking at the exhibits in the Museum. This problem is not so much the fault of the people who run the Museum as that of Russian government and society, which have been unwilling to devote enough resources to create a facility truly worthy of the subject. In contrast with Germany’s extensive efforts to document and publicize Nazi crimes and make the younger generation of Germans aware of them, Russian endeavors to acknowledge the horrors of communism are comparatively piddling.

The second problem with the Museum is more easily remedied: Far too much of the material in the exhibits focuses on Stalin’s purges of communist party [...]

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North Korea’s Gulags

CNN has a good story on North Korea’s system of prison camps, modeled on the Gulags of the Soviet Union, but possibly even worse:

Watching the public execution of his mother and older brother, Shin Dong-Hyuk thought the punishment was just. They had planned to escape the North Korean labor camp they were being held in until Shin overheard them and reported them to the prison guards.

Just 14-years old, Shin says he felt no guilt in condemning them to death. One of the very few North Koreans to be born inside one of the brutal prison camps, he says the concept of family that exists in the outside world did not exist in Camp 14….

Those, like Shin, who have tried to escape a North Korean political or hard labor camp and have survived to tell the tale, talk of starvation, torture, betrayal and executions. By informing on others, many say inmates could hope for more food or less beatings. Horrific heart-breaking accounts of being quite literally worked to death have emerged over recent years…

Human rights group Amnesty International believes up to 200,000 prisoners are being held “in horrific conditions in six sprawling political prison camps.”

In its annual human rights report released last week, it said, “The combination of hazardous forced labor, inadequate food, beatings, totally inadequate medical care and unhygienic living conditions, resulted in prisoners falling ill, and a large number died in custody or soon after release.”

As the article mentions, South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission recently published a 381-page report on North Korean labor camps.

North Korea’s communist regime is probably the most oppressive government in the world today. I previously blogged about it here, here, and here. But at least the late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il tried [...]

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Alternative Dates for Victims of Communism Day

Most of the commentary on my latest post advocating the transformation of May Day into Victims of Communism Day has been positive. A few people, however, have argued that some other date is more appropriate than May 1. Some claim that it is wrong to use May Day because of its former status as a labor union holiday in pre-communist days. I responded to this argument in a update to my original post:

I don’t deny that May Day has a pre-communist history. However, for many decades it was and still is the major holiday of international communism. To try to disssociate it from that history is much like trying to separate the swastika from the Nazis on the grounds that it was once an ancient religious symbol unrelated to Nazism. Many of those who celebrate May Day since the fall of communism in the USSR are either communists themselves or radical leftists sympathetic to communism. Not all are, of course. But the communist connection is is clear and recognized around the world. No other date – including the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact is so clearly symbolic of communism as an international phenomenon…. Nations that wish to commemorate “workers’ rights” should do so on some date not associated with brutal totalitarian dictatorships, as the US and Canada have done by creating a separate Labor Day.

In my very first post on the subject, I noted the possibility of using November 7, the anniversary of the communist seizure of power in Russia. However, I also noted that this alternative is inferior to to May Day because it focuses primarily on one communist nation, whereas in reality the crimes of communism were international in scope. Bad as they were, communist atrocities in the USSR were outstripped in magnitude by those in [...]

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Victims of Communism Day

Today is May Day. Since 2007, I have been commemorating this day here at the Volokh Conspiracy as Victims of Communism Day. Various other websites and blogs have promoted the same concept. In time, we hope to make this a worldwide commemoration similar to Holocaust Memorial Day. I explained the rationale for this idea in my very first post on the subject:

May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day….

The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Camobodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.

Since I wrote that post, historian Frank Dikotter has unearthed new evidence solidifying China’s status as the communist regime with the most extensive record of mass murder. This makes it all the more preferable to choose an international rather than Russia-centric date for Victims of Communism Day.

For those interested, I also wrote [...]

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Trivializing Communism

I don’t agree with everything that CNN columnist John Avlon writes in his denunciation of Republican Rep. Allen West for claiming that some 80 Democratic House members are “communists.” But this part is right on target:

The ghost of Joe McCarthy’s ulcerous accusations hung over a disturbingly casual comment this past week by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Florida.

When asked by a constituent at a town hall, “What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists?”

“That’s a fair question,” West replied. “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party….”

The number West picked out was apparently based on the number of congressmen affiliated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This is an organization of the most liberal members of Congress, but to call them communists is a slander splashed with blood.

Communists, of course, murdered more than 100 million people in the past century, if you add up the rough total of butchery by Vladimir Lenin (Soviet Union), Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union), Mao Zedong (China) and Pol Pot (Cambodia)….

A military man of West’s rank understands the magnitude of his misstatement. So I’m assuming that he was sincere in the accusation.

To equate liberals in Congress with communists is like equating conservatives in Congress with fascists…

To this day, many in the West have a tendency to ignore or downplay the true magnitude of communist crimes. I discussed the harm that neglect causes in this post. However, accusing garden-variety liberals of being communists doesn’t help matters. It merely serves to trivialize communist atrocities by using them as a tool of cheap political rhetoric. Unfortunately, West’s comment is far from the only example of such trivialization of communism in recent conservative political rhetoric.

I don’t agree [...]

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