Front Page Titles (by Subject) Part IV: Communism and America - Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov
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Part IV: Communism and America - Frank Chodorov, Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov 
Fugitive Essays: Selected Writings of Frank Chodorov, Compiled, Edited, and with an Introduction by Charles H. Hamilton (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1980).
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Communism and America
Let's Teach Communism
This article first appeared in analysis (September 1949) and was reprinted as chapter 8 of One Is a Crowd.
This is a defense of our universities. As they open their doors for another year of business they teach under a widespread suspicion of teaching communism. The suspicion is unsupported by fact; it is pure witchcraft. There is reason to believe that some in the faculties advocate communism, but none teaches it. The distinction is important. To illustrate the point, in the field of religion there are many who are intellectually incapable of comprehending Christianity, and therefore of teaching it, but who are quite adept at advocating (preaching) it. So with communism; it is a pattern of ideas following from basic assumptions, and unless one has made a critical examination of these assumptions one is incapable of evaluating the superimposed ideas. Our colleges are debarred from examining the basic assumptions of communism because, as I will attempt to show, these basic assumptions are part and parcel of what is called capitalism, the going order, and it would hardly do to bring this fact to light.
If it is the business of universities to expose students to ideas, they are not doing the job properly if they neglect to include in their curricula a course in communism, simply because as a system of thought, a philosophy, communism is in the ascendancy these days. A graduate ought to be thoroughly at home with the ideas he has to live with, he ought to understand the basic postulates of his ideological environment. It might be difficult to dig up professors able to brush aside the seductive phrases of communism so as to get to its roots, seeing how the subject is beclouded with war hysteria, and expedience might tell against the introduction of such a course of study. This is regrettable. For, lacking the opportunity to investigate communism, the students will come away from their education with the popular notion that it is indigenous to an “enemy” nation or an “inferior” people. To illustrate the kind of course I have in mind—this is not an application for a job; perish the thought!—I present herewith a few samples of communist theory that are equally the marrow of current “true Americanism.” At random, we will begin with a conception of wages.
It is an axiom of communism that wages are a fraction of production given to the workers by those who own the means of production. Boiled down to its essence, this idea can be expressed in three words: capital pays wages. But, is that so in fact? If we define capital as the tools of production, this conception of wages becomes silly, for an inanimate object is incapable of paying anything. If, as the communists do, we include in the definition the owners of capital, we are faced with another reductio ad absurdum: competition between these machine owners for the services of machine users automatically fixes the level of wages; capitalists are without the means of affecting the ups and downs of that level.
The capitalist, of course, speaks of the wages he “pays.” But, he is quick to point out that the wages do not come out of his capital, but are derived from the sale of his products; if the market does not absorb the output of his plant he ceases to be a “payer” of wages. This means that the envelopes he hands out to his employees are filled by the consumers, and these are, in large part, the workers themselves. Thus, the employer of labor is labor, and the wage earner is the wage payer. It follows that the general level of wages is determined by the general level of production—leaving out, for the moment, any purloining—and neither capital nor capitalist has any part in fixing it.
It follows also that political power can in no way affect an increase in wages; nor can capital by itself do so. Wages can go up only as a result of increased production, due to an increase in population or improvement in the skill and industry of the current population. That elemental fact will be admitted even by professors of economics, and it is possible that some legislators will recognize it. Yet, if you dig into some standard economics textbooks or examine the labor legislation of our land you will find ideas that stem from the communist notion that capital pays wages and that the hardheaded capitalist keeps them low. A minimum-wage law, for instance, is based on that notion; the law assumes that cupidity is at the bottom of the marginal worker's low income; the capitalists must be compelled to disgorge. All of which is silly, for the legally enforced increase is simply passed on to the consumer, unless it can be absorbed by increased production arising from technological improvement. Yet, in the course I suggest, it would have to be pointed out that minimum-wage laws—that all legislation dealing with labor-employer relations—are concessions to the communist conception of wages.
Our immigration-restriction laws pay homage to this idea, for these laws, translated into economics, simply say that there are just so many jobs that capitalists have at their disposal, that any increase in the working population will lower the wage level by simple division; the idea that the immigrant makes his own wages is rejected offhand. Birth control is likewise advocated as a means of raising the wage level, and Malthusianism borrows all its economics from communism. And, if you go to the bottom of our “social welfare” enthusiasm you will find the capital-culprit notion.
Space does not permit an examination of all the facets of current thought traceable to this basic bit of communism, but it is evident that the proposed course could do quite a job on it.
This brings us to the communist indictment of private property. The inherent power of capital to fix the level of wages will be used by its owners to defraud the laborers. They will see to it that the laborers receive just enough to keep them alive and on the job, retaining all above that level for themselves. Here communism introduces the doctrine of natural rights, although it denies that doctrine vehemently later on; it says that the laborers have an absolute right in all that is produced by virtue of the energy put into production; energy is a private possession. If this is so, then what the capitalist keeps for himself amounts to robbery. The word generally used is exploitation. This iniquitous arrangement brings on a host of evil social consequences and should therefore be stopped. How? By outlawing private capital. Everything that is produced should belong to the community as a whole (which, by the way, is a flat denial of the original right of the laborer to his product), and the state, acting for the community, must be made sole owner and operator of all capital. The state, particularly when manned by communists, will have no interest in exploitation and will pay wages in full.
The holes in that indictment are many and serious, and we can leave it to our professor in communism to point them out. It would then be incumbent on him also to point out that capitalism, in practice, accepts the indictment in large chunks. A number of institutions have grown up under capitalism that are obviously concessions to the charge brought against it by communism. The absorption by the state of large parts of the electric power business was facilitated by moral fustian about the “power trust,” while political participation in the banking, housing, insurance, and several other businesses is justified on the inadequacies, if not villainies, of private capital. Thus, while capitalism carries on its word battle with communism, it pays its adversary the high compliment of accepting its doctrine in practice.
Our professor of communism could, and should, emphasize this point by an analysis of taxation, particularly the direct kind. Income taxes unequivocally deny the principle of private property. Inherent in these levies is the postulate that the state has a prior lien on all the production of its subjects; what it does not take is merely a concession, not a right, and it reserves for itself the prerogative of altering the rates and the exemptions according to its requirements. It is a matter of fiat, not contract. If that is not communist principle, what is? The professor would have to point that out. And he should, in all conscience, show that the considerable amount of capital now owned and operated by the “capitalistic” state was siphoned out of pockets of producers by means of taxation.
But right here the professor would find himself in a mess of trouble. On the other side of the hall the professor of taxation and the professor of political science would be telling their students that the right of property is conditional, not absolute, that the owner is in fact a trustee answerable to society as a whole. They would deny that this is a concession to communist principle; but it is. The professor of philosophy would pitch in with an outright rejection of the theory of natural rights, asserting that what we call rights are but privileges granted to his subjects by the sovereign. The board of trustees would also take notice; the university and its supporters hold a lot of government bonds which are dependent on the power of taxation, and it would hardly do to question the propriety of this power. And, if the professor presumed to point out that communism is quite consistent in advocating taxation as a means of destroying private capital, he would have the whole house of respectability on his head.
A few more topics that our course in fundamental communism should touch upon—and then we can close up shop.
Reverting to the concept of natural rights—basic in capitalistic thought—we find that its taproot is the will to live. Out of this primordial desire for existence comes the idea that no man may lay claim to another man's life. How does that idea line up with military conscription? It doesn't, and the only way you can logically support conscription is to invoke the communist principle that the right to life is conditioned by the needs of the state.
Take the subject of monopoly. Communism makes much of it, although by a strange twist of logic it sees in state monopoly all the virtues lacking in private monopoly. Capitalism, in theory at least, equally condemns monopoly, on the ground that any restriction of competition lowers the general level of production and is a deterrent to human aspirations. An examination of the anatomy of monopoly reveals that its vital organ is the power to restrict production, and the source of this power is the state. Without some law favorable to its purpose every monopoly would disintegrate. Hence, the very fact of monopolies under a regime of capitalism—sometimes called “free enterprise”—lends support to the communist assertion that the state is a committee managing affairs for the benefit of monopolists.
In discussing monopolies the class would most certainly hit upon the topic of exploitation; that is, any legal means for getting something for nothing. Having disposed of the untenable proposition that the ownership of capital is in itself a means of exploitation, the professor, being a man of intellectual integrity, would be compelled to admit that the object of monopoly is exploitation, and that the state, in establishing the special privileges which spawn monopolies, is the guilty one. He might go so far as to declare the state—even the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—the only exploitative factor in any economy.
And so on and so on. In dissecting communism and exposing its vital parts to view, this proposed course would demonstrate the unpleasant truth that capitalist practice too often squares with communist theory. That might prove disquieting to the established departments of law, social science, history—to say nothing of the mahogany office up front. It might also disturb the students, inured as they are to a quasi-communist quasi-capitalist environment.
Under the circumstances, no college could entertain the idea of introducing into its curriculum a course in communism, and the charge that they are teaching the subject is unfounded. That they make concessions to communist theory in many of their courses is true, but that is a requirement put upon them by the as-is capitalism. And I might add that I have no fear of being asked by any college president to offer the proposed course.
Commies Don't Count
This appeared in analysis (December 1946).
The Chamber of Commerce of the United States is as fretful as a rooster whose harem is being eyed by a rival. Its agitation is recorded in a report, “approved unanimously by the board of directors,” titled Communist Infiltration in the United States, with the subtitle, in red ink, Its Nature and How to Combat It. The thing is well done and is worth the quarter asked for it; that is, if you are not familiar with what is going on along those lines.
When you read this pamphlet you get the idea that these communists are a pretty bad lot, unscrupulous, ruthless, lying, and altogether Machiavellian. No doubt they are. I would not know; the few communists I have come into contact with have irritated me with their stupid vulgarity and I therefore try to avoid them. They do not concern me. Why does the Chamber of Commerce of the United States interest itself in them? The pamphlet suggests purely patriotic motivation. It warns the reader that what the communists hope to impose on him violates the institutions collectively called Americanism. One wishes the Chamber had supplemented its report with a detailed description of the Americanism it is anxious to preserve. Lacking such a description, we must supply one from our knowledge of the inclinations of all chambers of commerce which flourish or have flourished in these United States.
WHAT THE COMMIES WANT
Putting that aside for the moment, let us consider what these communist fellows want. Their ultimate aim, about which they are unequivocal, regardless of the methods by which they hope to attain it, is to establish a committee of men who by virtue of their control of the political machinery of the country would order the private and public affairs of all citizens. They claim that such a committee would bring to us that full measure of happiness for which men have always yearned. That the claim is subject to doubt is unimportant; the goal of centralization of power is what we are concerned with. The Chamber of Commerce says that this in itself is very bad.
Considering the nature of political power, we must agree with the Chamber. Political power has always been the instrument by which those who control it have feathered their nests at the expense of those upon whom that power is imposed. In economic terminology this process of getting something for nothing is called exploitation. The seed of exploitation is the human inclination to satisfy desires without expending labor, and we must conclude that all humans, you and I, are exploiters at heart. The crude, uncertain and dangerous method of exploitation is taking by force; the sophisticated method is taking by means of a recognized privilege. The privilege way is better because it achieves regularity through common adulation of the law, on which the privilege is based, and has the further advantage of being supported by the physical force at the command of the political power which created it. Thus, the veterans could overpower the artisans and merchants of the community and take the goods they want; or, they can apply to the Congress, using their votes as a bribe, for a regularized grant of goods.
The communists claim that their kind of committee will not use political power in this historic way. It is a claim which we must, on the basis of all the evidence, dismiss out of hand; it is predicated on the assumption that the communist is sui generis, different in kind from all other men. That partakes something of the miraculous, and until the miracle is seen we shall have to assume that the communistic political committee will operate as all political committeemen have always operated; they will take care of themselves and their friends. The only difference between it and the others is that its exercise of power will be without limit, and that means that the committee will dispose of the entire national output as they see fit. All privilege will be centered in those who control political power. In that respect it will be different from the American procedure, wherein various pressure groups share in the munificence of political power. It will be monolithic rather than pluralistic exploitation.
In either system those who produce the goods and services by which they hope to live are defrauded; assuming, of course, that the producer has a right to enjoy the products of his labors. The difference between the two seems to lie in the extent and incidence of fraud. That's all.
The unhorsing of privilege can be effected only by a revolt against political power per se, and for that enterprise the people who make up chambers of commerce show no passion. They engage in no movement for the abolition of taxes, without which the state would fold up, and one is justified in assuming that they do not wish this to happen; the state has proven itself a valuable ally. They make no demand for the abolition of all subventions, but, rather, are feverishly lobbying Congress and the local politicians for every conceivable tax aid their cupidity can invent. The purpose and practice of every organization of businessmen—industrialists, bankers, farmers, and now laborers—have been to secure from political power some economic advantage for its members. Hence, the current fretfulness about the communists must be laid to the fear of competition in the control of political power.
COMMUNISM VIA AMERICANISM
The essence of communism is the concentration of political power. That will come about, is coming about, in the historic American way; that is, by the outright sale to political power of big chunks of social power in return for privilege. It is a matter of trade pure and simple. This bargaining between privilege and power is so characteristic of our public affairs that it must be accounted an essential of Americanism. The very inception of our centralized government was attended by an urgency to transform worthless Continental money, held largely by patriotic speculators, into purchasing power by means of federal excise and tariff taxes. Tradition has conveniently obscured the fact that our Constitution was framed by the “rich and well-born,” on the doctrine that only such are entitled to govern. For about a hundred years thereafter a favorite Americanism was the granting of monopoly land privileges to various groups whose support at election time was the quid pro quo; the more important groups got title to the more important forest and mineral resources; the less influential, like the Grand Army of the Republic, had to be satisfied with homesteads. The rise of railroad empires is a prime lesson in Americanism, while the protective tariff swindle runs it a close second. More recently, centralized power has battened on various “relief” grants, such as handouts to the indigent, parity prices for farmers, aid to educational institutions, and so on; by all of which the membership of American chambers of commerce has profited.
Looking ahead just a little bit, perhaps not more than a year or two, we can discern a development in Americanism which will bring us to the brink of the communistic goal. Industry will force the politician into business by demanding of him a guarantee against capital losses, if not an assurance of dividends. The present situation in the coal industry is a signpost. The industry was taken over by the government when its owners refused to operate it at a loss. The government then concluded the contract with the labor union, and since the owners have refused to assume this obligation, the operation of coal mines became a sovereign function of government. Meanwhile, be it noted, the stocks of the corporations taken over by the government have maintained comparable market values. That is to say, the capital of the coal companies has not been impaired; the owners know that the government cannot force them to absorb losses incurred by its operation; and if they recover their business, any deficit due to operations in the interim will be made up by a tax grant. That is why the stocks of these corporations hold up.
HOW IT WILL COME ABOUT
Time was when Americanism shook at its foundations at the mere suggestion of government intervention in the field of business, except as a benefactor. But now this step is looked upon with complacency, if not as good Americanism. An airline company actually invites the government to take over its business when the squeeze between fixed rates and wage demands leaves nothing in the way of a return on capital. That seems to be the latest in Americanism. The next step is as straight as the crow flies. Industry will proposition government as follows: regulate us, fix prices, fix wages, if you will, but for the sake of 100 percent Americanism guarantee us some rate of return, or at least assure us against losses. It is not outside the range of possibility that the government will respond by establishing insurance of stock values, similar to the insurance of bank deposits. This will facilitate a transition to the British scheme of translating stocks into government bonds. Either as guaranteed stocks or as bonds, the support comes from taxation. Therefore the holders have a vested interest in government and, having in mind the preservation and perpetuation of their incomes, must skill themselves in the business of politics. They will perforce become the controlling committee. Thus the communistic goal of centralization will be achieved by means of on-the-barrel Americanism.
The commies don't count. That miserable crew of Moscowled slaves have neither the strength nor the skill to push themselves into a position of predominance. They present no competitive force. But they may, and probably will, hasten centralization by creating a fear of it. We have an historic precedent to go by. In 1786, Captain Daniel Shays, a soldier of the Revolution, organized the debt-ridden farmers of Massachusetts and marched them against the government of the commonwealth. This violence galvanized the privileged classes into action against the dissatisfaction which was current throughout the colonies, and the result was a demand for strong government. There is reason to believe that the cause of Hamiltonian centralization was advanced by “Shays' Rebellion,” and that but for the clamoring of the mob for relief from taxation and mortgaged indebtedness, the substitution of the Constitution for the Articles of Confederation might not have been effected. Whenever the mob starts acting up, the privileged citizenry comes to the aid of political power. Never have these people asked for a decomposition of political power. That being so, the clamoring of the Chamber of Commerce against the threat of communism is more of a portent of centralization than the antics and the slogans of the commies.
How to Curb the Commies
“How to Curb the Commies” appeared in the May 1949 issue of analysis.
The trial of the communists in a New York court may have some educational value. The “sensational” evidence will be informative to those completely ignorant of Marxist-Leninist doctrine. That such ignorance should obtain, however, is not the fault of the communists, for they have made it a point these past hundred years to inform the world of their revolutionary intentions. They never made any bones about it. Their profuse literature is, as a whole, a call to arms; not only is the proletariat urged to get into the proper revolutionary frame of mind, but broad outlines as to strategy and even tactical details are offered in their manuals. The communistic cabal has never been secretive. Hence, one having the slightest acquaintance with their literature cannot get excited about the court “revelations”; the best the newspaper accounts offer in the way of interest is the counterespionage of the FBI, which brings the story up to the true-detective level.
From what has thus far transpired it seems that the communists look upon the trial as another opportunity to advertise their wares. They never miss a point. Should the accused be judged guilty (which they fervently hope), an attempt will be made to turn the higher courts into publicity agencies, and if in the end the eleven should be sent to jail they will serve the cause of communism by their martyrdom. The dupes, the proletariat now contributing liberally toward the cost of the defense, will be properly fired by such a turn of events. Hence, the juridical affair, whatever its outcome, must be put down to the profit side of their grand campaign.
As the defendants assert, the evidence being adduced indicates that their ideas are on trial, that they are being prosecuted for harboring thoughts deemed inimical to the public welfare. Even if it is proven that they have conspired to overthrow the government by force, the fact remains that conspiracy itself is only an idea. People of like mind agree to do this or that, but until they act, separately or in concert, the agreement remains an idea. If the communists are convicted of conspiring to bring about revolution, the judgment is long overdue, for ever since Marx gave them the Communist Manifesto, in 1848, the communists have been at it—by their own admission.
The case against the communists involves a principle of freedom that is of transcending importance. It is the right to be wrong. Heterodoxy is a necessary condition of a free society. When two people are in disagreement, both may be wrong, but both cannot be right. The very fact that I reject communism indicates that it is, from my point of view, erroneous; if I judged it to be sound, I would accept it. It would then cease to be “wrong” and would become “right.” However, the important thing is not the wisdom I display in the choice of ideas but the right to make a choice. It is important to me, for the freedom of selection is necessary to my sense of personality; it is important to society, because only from the juxtaposition of ideas can we hope to approach the ideal of truth.
Whenever I choose an idea and label it “right,” I imply the prerogative of another to reject that idea and label it “wrong.” To invalidate his right is to invalidate mine. That is, I must brook error if I would preserve my freedom of thought. When I presume to be in possession of “absolute truth,” and maintain that those who disagree with me not only are in error, but are wickedly or sinfully so, I lay myself open to similar judgment; in the end, then, the “absolute truth” becomes a matter of power to constrict thought.
If there is anything characteristic of America, and for which Americans can be thankful, it is that it is an area in which thought has been permitted to run riot. To be sure, our history is not free of political efforts to put limits on what people may think. Men have been legally punished for holding theological concepts at variance with those of the ruling group; for being atheists; for objecting to war; for believing that they have a right to buy and sell in the open market; for condemning slavery; for advocating birth control; for teaching the theory of evolution; for harboring art values that in the eyes of the law constituted obscenity. In every case, the authorities sought to get at ideas by inflicting punishment on those who held them; in every case, freedom of thought was the issue. It is to the credit of the American genius for freedom that ultimately the right to think as one wishes prevailed, even though too often some were made to suffer for it. Somehow the citadel of thought has held firm, and the right to be wrong has added something to human dignity.
The issue is up again. Is it wise, is it safe, to punish those who advocate communism? Granted that this doctrine is in itself a vicious denial of human dignity, the issue is not the doctrine but the right to hold it. If men are punished for espousing communism, shall we stop there? Once we deny the right to be wrong we put a vise on the human mind and put the temptation to turn the handle into the hands of ruthlessness.
But, it will be asserted, a primary tenet of communism is this very denial of free thought; if its advocates come into power they would do harm to all who entertain ideas contrary to their “line.” That is true. On that point too the communists have been explicit; their insistence on the “absolute truth” of their doctrine puts any divergence from it in the category of sinful and dangerous error, not to be tolerated. It is known that when they are in power they are more ruthless in attacking unorthodoxy than was the Holy Inquisition. It is also a known fact that their doctrine undergoes the mutations dictated by political exigency and is therefore orthodox only as it serves those in power. The danger, to those who hold freedom as the highest good, is not the ideas the communists espouse but the power they aspire to. Let them rant their heads off—that is their right, which we cannot afford to infringe—but let us keep from them the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.
This is hardly a difficult job; in fact, the tactic by which they hope to climb to power is extremely vulnerable. In the lingo of prizefighting, they telegraph their punches. They have never made a secret of the fact that their plan of attack on society consists of the use of the labor movement, and particularly its strike technique, to foment riots, to attack property and violate life, so that under cover of confusion they may take over the reins of government. Hence, the curbing of the communists can be effected by the exercise by the government of the only function for which it has any competence, the only justification of its being: the protection of life and property. If this function, this duty, were punctually and relentlessly performed at all times, and especially during strikes, the communists would be as harmless as a high school debating team.
Illustrative of the way a few policemen, instructed to do their duty, can frustrate the communist method is the story of a recent taxicab strike in New York. There is no evidence that the communists had a hand in this affair; nevertheless, it demonstrates how to reduce their offensive method of harmlessness. A self-appointed union leader went through the usual procedure of stirring up trouble: meetings, a demand, a strike vote, a call upon the 12,000 operators to quit work. It was all done in the apple-pie order characteristic of a commissar-led venture. The city government, however, sensed that it would be politically profitable to do its duty in this case; it decided to protect life and property. Perhaps this decision was dictated by the manifest unpopularity of the strike among the cabdrivers, one-third of whom are in business for themselves and the rest are partially on their own. At any rate, the police protection afforded the operators and their customers reduced violence to a few isolated incidents. Life and property were safe. Within a week all the city's taxicabs were doing business as usual, and the strike instigator was reported to have skipped town.
Contrast this taxicab strike with the 1934 rumpus, also in New York. At that time a “liberal” mayor of the city, courting the labor vote, did not proffer protection of life and property. Even within sight of policemen (who were reported to have turned their backs upon such incidents), taxicabs were overturned and drivers were beaten up. Hoodlums invaded their homes and applied persuasive treatment. The engineers of the strike achieved their purpose, of course, but only because the city government was derelict in its duty. Had they been communists, bent on the major strategy, had the strike involved a number of industries and a couple of hundred thousand workers, they could have taken over the government, lock, stock, and barrel.
The strike, regardless of all rationalization, is an organized attack on life and property. It is a miniature war. Theoretically there can be a peaceful strike, but actually there is no such thing. Violence is an essential part of its technique. Those workers who would prefer to continue working are intimidated or beaten into conformity by shock troops, often mercenaries in the pay of the leaders. The right to work, which is the right to live, is denied to all who would take the jobs vacated. Meanwhile, the right of property is invalidated in that capital is compelled to remain idle, its value to diminish; the owners are forcibly prevented from employing their capital. The sit-down strike, in which the strikers take physical possession of the plant, is an outright violation of property rights, and the picket-line is a prelude to the destruction of property. The strike, presumably a protest against prevailing wage rates or working conditions, is in fact an instrument of force directed against life and property. So long as it is permitted to operate as such, the government is remiss in its duty.
That is the obvious fact. Whether workers profit by the strike, whether wages are raised or working conditions are improved, is beside the present point, which is that the strike technique plays right into the hands of the communists. Were they deprived of it, their whole revolutionary program would go awry and they could enjoy their palaver to their hearts' content. The menace of communism will not be removed by investigations, by legal prosecution, or by legislation outlawing its advocates; all such measures are dangerous in that they open the way to attacks on freedom of thought. To curb communists the government has all the power it needs or ought to have. If the communists succeed, it will be only because the politicians, by neglecting their duty to society, become their accomplices.