PEOPLE POWER IN OHIO & THE NATION

Cleveland

David Moberg, in “Lessons for Labor” [Dec. 27], did a nice job of reviewing the role of labor in the 2004 election. His point that a “flood” of staffers to battleground states is “ultimately no substitute for home-grown networks” is right on the money, as is his notion that we need to engage in ongoing political education. In my experience coordinating efforts by the Communications Workers in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, I believe this might have made a real difference in many “red” counties that we lost by narrow margins.

Unfortunately, much of the current debate about labor’s structure ignores these points. If we move to the more consolidated “rationalized” structure that some are suggesting, we sacrifice many of our existing “home-grown networks,” replacing them with larger, more staff-dominated structures.

While there is much talk about “resources,” it is forgotten that our most plentiful resources are human ones–our members. Developing volunteer activists at the local level who are involved in organizing and political action as well as collective bargaining is not easy, but it is possible, in my experience. If labor spends energy on that task rather than on searching for a quick-fix structural solution, we’ll be much further along by 2006.

SETH ROSEN

Administrative Assistant to the Vice President
CWA District 4


BRINGING IN DEFUNCT

New York City

William Greider’s interesting “Defunct Economists” [Dec. 20] takes my teacher, Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson, to task for having taken “so long” to admit that the “antiglobalization protesters in the streets…[are] not entirely wrong” when they protest free trade (a lead component of globalization). But it is important to understand exactly what Samuelson has argued.

Samuelson argues that if China experiences changed productivity, this could immiserize the United States. Not surprisingly, this can happen because this “exogenous” external development may reduce US gains from trade. But this does not mean that the United States should abandon free trade. If it did, its losses would only increase further. It would be much as if, on being hit by a hurricane, Florida were to decide not to trade with the rest of the United States. All international economists today understand this; so does Professor Samuelson.

But if Samuelson is not arguing that protectionism will moderate the downside effect on US national income of external developments in the world economy, what is his position on the altogether different question of whether the freeing of trade will also help our workers’ real incomes? Here, the co-author of the celebrated Stolper-Samuelson theorem on the subject has long been explicit that free trade (compared with protection) could harm workers as a class.

The question here is, however, an empirical one: Have our workers been harmed by the progressive freeing of trade barriers in the postwar period? The answer of many economists (including my distinguished MIT student Paul Krugman) is that the culprit is technical change that economizes on unskilled labor rather than trade with the poor countries. Greider’s facts are not in serious doubt; his anti-trade diagnosis is.

JAGDISH BHAGWATI


GREIDER REPLIES

Washington, DC

I think it’s sweet of Professor Bhagwati to come to the defense of his old teacher. I also suspect Bhagwati is one of those former students Samuelson is scolding for overselling the wonders of free trade.

WILLIAM GREIDER


COMMIES–GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

San Francisco

In his review of my book Washington Gone Crazy, Mike Marqusee seriously misrepresents my work [“Patriot Acts,” Dec. 13]. I would like to set the record straight. Marqusee wonders, “How was the Communist Party ‘unique’ in its challenge to this system?” and then states, “The party was first and foremost a political entity.” He accuses me of not having any “feel for the left as a shifting milieu, for grassroots activism or for the labor movement.”

A good deal of the book is concerned with just these issues. The Communist Party was a unique challenge precisely because it was not primarily a political entity but rather simultaneously a political entity and a conspiracy.

Grassroots members may have joined the party for its avowed political purposes but they seldom stayed long or had any impact on the party’s policies or direction; these were indisputably the province of the leadership cadre, which on all important issues took orders from Moscow and secretly cooperated with Soviet intelligence in the United States.

Marqusee seems to have missed Chapter 12, which tells the story of two grassroots party members and their involvement in the labor movement: Angela and Estolv Ward, who gave their hearts and souls to the CIO and faced physical danger in organizing workers during World War II at Basic Magnesium Inc. in Nevada, which brought them into conflict with Pat McCarran and the AFL. The Wards were stalwart organizers–too stalwart in fact for the party, which had pledged not to abide any wartime strikes that might impede the Soviet Union’s war effort. When the BMI workers voted to strike, the Wards supported them and were severely chastised by the party as a result. Much of the Wards’ story prefigures the later, much more famous, strike by the same union that is celebrated in the film Salt of the Earth (including the wives of miners taking to the picket line)–with the exception that the party opposed the manifest will of the workers. Perhaps this is why the story has never made it into the secondary, often partisan, scholarly literature on American Communism, a literature Marqusee accuses me of ignoring, although a glance at my source notes shows I draw upon it when needed.

Later in the book I describe the Wards’ suffering during the McCarran and McCarthy years. I don’t think any fair reader would categorize my portrayal of the Wards as knaves or dupes, as Marqusee accuses me of doing. They were brave, principled radicals, and I admire their conviction (if not convictions) and courage.

Which brings me to Marqusee’s second major distortion: my treatment of the evolution of the American left. When, precisely, did the Communist Party get the right to stand in for the American left? A major theme in my book is the struggle for the soul of the left, as embodied in Pat Jackson’s journey from fellow traveler to anti-Communist, a trip repeated by, among others, Paul Douglas, Reinhold Niebuhr, Norman Thomas and Dwight Macdonald. None of them ever gave up their socialist politics, but all of them finally realized that the Communist Party was the enemy of democratic socialism. There was such a thing as left-wing anti-Communism, although it was usually referred to as the non-Stalinist left. Being shorn of illusions is not the same thing as being disillusioned.

One of the goals of my book was to disentangle anti-Communism from McCarthyism and show the diversity of possible responses to the totalitarian nature of the Communist Party, which achieved a rare success in nurturing the myth that there were no Communists in Washington and that the party had nothing to do with spying. Any honest accounting of the McCarthy years has to include some reckoning with the party’s true nature. I state this premise in my opening pages: “There actually were Communists in Washington. But it was the hunt for them that did the real damage.”

MICHAEL YBARRA


MARQUSEE REPLIES

London

Michael Ybarra does indeed portray the Wards as admirably principled grassroots militants, and his account of their experiences is one of his book’s strengths. However, the fifteen pages concerning them (in a 763-page book) do not compensate for the overall weaknesses in his treatment of the CPUSA and the broader left. For example, it was not merely the CP but the CIO as a whole that enforced the war-time no-strike pledge and left the Wards and the workers in the lurch–but in Ybarra’s account the party shoulders the bulk of the blame. His handling of “front organizations” (the National Lawyers Guild) and “fellow travelers” (Vito Marcantonio) is one-dimensional. His account of the CIO Political Action Committee of 1943-44 dwells on the role of CP personnel and says little about Sidney Hillman’s own agenda. The strike wave of 1946 is dealt with in two sentences. There are pages about Lee Pressman but no references to Gastonia, Scottsboro, the Fur and Leather Workers Union, Harry Haywood, Hosea Hudson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes or Woody Guthrie, to name but a few.

I made clear in my review that the CPUSA was an authoritarian and sectarian outfit, that it was subordinate to Moscow and that a small number of its members engaged in espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Those bitter realities must be addressed, but they do not come close to justifying Ybarra’s assertion that the party represented a “unique threat to American liberty”–an assertion fraught with problematic and largely unexamined historical and political assumptions, as is his use of the word “conspiracy.”

To assign the party’s role as a spying machine equal historical weight with its political, social and cultural roles is simply unreal. Here Ybarra, like the anti-Communists he admires, concedes too much to McCarthyism’s central thesis.

Italy, India, France and Britain (where, unlike in the United States, ideologically motivated Soviet agents achieved positions of real eminence within the security apparatus) are among numerous democracies whose experience suggests that the existence of Communist parties is not inimical to “liberty.” Are we being asked to believe that there’s something peculiarly vulnerable about the American version?

Nothing in my review suggested that the CP could “stand in for the American left.” But neither can liberal anti-Communism be made to stand in for the “non-Stalinist left.” As an ideology the anti-Communism championed by Ybarra suffered from a built-in tunnel vision. It identified Communists not as political opponents but as servants of a malevolent force who had to be excluded from the circle of liberal tolerance. It placed unremitting combat with the Communist movement–conceived as a world conspiracy–at the heart of policy. That led to Vietnam and a host of cold war atrocities.

I am all for casting a withering eye on the history of the CPUSA and the left as a whole. I am also for casting a withering eye on the history of cold war liberalism–as riddled with cynical opportunism and apologetics for tyranny and mass murder as was American Stalinism.

Finally, there’s no doubt that Ybarra’s book aims “to disentangle anti-Communism from McCarthyism.” My point was that he has not succeeded in this aim.

MIKE MARQUSEE