HH: Have a wonderful Labor Day. And I have put together for you the Labor Day special to end all Labor Day specials. This is the 15th year of my broadcast, and I’ve never known what to do with Labor Day. I’ve always known what I wanted to do with it, but I never had the experts and the assets to make it come to pass. And now, I finally do thanks to my friends at Hillsdale College. This is sort of an extended Hillsdale Dialogue in three hours, and you don’t want to miss any of it. It’s an ambitious project, and to do so, I have enlisted, of course, Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and his colleague, Dr. Thomas West, who is one of the extraordinary authorities on Marxism and Leninism, and also Dr. Paul Moreno, who knows the American labor movement. And here’s the plan, so you know from the very beginning. In the first hour, we’re going to talk about Karl Marx. In the second hour, we’re going to talk about Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, and what they did to Marx. In the third hour, we’re going to talk about the American labor movement, not implying that it is an extension of the first two hours, but talking about how it is both unique from those first two hours, but also always at peril from them. And I’m going to begin with the overview by asking Dr. Arnn, who has studied labor forever through the lens of the British system and the life of Winston Churchill whether or not you recall that when you sent me to the British library years ago, you told me to get a reading room card so that I could sit where Marx sat.
LA: Yeah. I once, I used to go do that all the time. And one time, I was in there, and I’d gone up to the typing room in the way back, and I was working, and I didn’t get the message to clear out. And I walked out, and I noticed everybody was gone. I was like five minutes late. And down there, there was a bunch of guys, and it looked like a scene from the Godfather – guys in overcoats and fedoras, and then one of them turned around and took his hat off, and darned if it wasn’t Mikhail Gorbachev.
LA: And so I looked appropriately down on him, and he had come to see the place where Marx wrote Capital.
HH: Interesting. I didn’t hear that before. And that is, there’s a lot to talk about Marx, but Dr. West, what do you make of my project today, and the order in which I’ve laid it out?
TW: It makes sense to me. It seems to me that you’ve got, you have Marx, the philosopher of communism, and he lays out the big picture of where it needs to go and why, and then you’ve got the practitioners – Lenin and Stalin, who tried to implement it, and did their best, I would say. And then of course, the American labor union, as you rightly say, labor movement, is influenced by Marx, but fundamentally distinct from it. I think that’s right.
HH: And so on Labor Day, we’re going to talk about the man who wrote the most about labor and capital, and has fundamentally disfigured American thinking and international thinking about it. I begin by noting that all the Hillsdale Dialogues are available at www.hughforhillsdale.com. All of the online courses that Hillsdale offers are available at www.hillsdale.edu, including the opportunity to sign up for Imprimus, the monthly speech digest of Hillsdale, which is absolutely available to you for free, and you ought to go and do that. And I also want to begin by saying just a word about Dr. West, who is no slouch when it comes to Marxism and Leninism. And in fact, I have to ask you, Dr. West, you’ve devoted a lot of your life to this. And people should know that Dr. West is a professor of politics at Hillsdale College. He started there in 2011 after a long and distinguished career at the University of Dallas. He’s also a director and senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and has written extraordinarily broadly in the field of political theory. But you threw yourself into Marx, and I’ve got to ask at the beginning of that, why.
TW: Well, of course, when I first got into that, that was at the height of the Cold War, somewhere in the late 70s. And the Soviets were at that time taking over country after country around the world. It got to the point where I actually was tempted to cancel my subscription to the newspaper so I could just close my eyes to the whole world, it was that bleak.
LA: Are you feeling that way again lately?
TW: It hasn’t quite gotten to that point, but that was during the Carter years especially when I got into that. And I wanted to know. I’d done a lot of work on Greek philosophy, and done a lot of work on the Germans – Hegel and people leading up to Marx. And I hadn’t done much Marx. And I got into it. I had a teacher at Dallas, Leo de Alvarez, who had himself been a big student of that topic over the years. And he and I worked on this together, and I was a student of his on that topic, and very much appreciate his guidance.
HH: And Dr. Arnn, I’ll turn to you to embarrass our guest, Dr. West, today. Maybe some people out there don’t know his contribution to modern American conservatism, but they are substantial and enduring.
LA: Yeah, well, Tom is, he and I are intellectual siblings. That is to say we studied with the same people. Tom has got a theoretical mind, and he couples that with a blunt clarity that makes him a joy to read and a misery to argue with. So he’s like that. And he’s, you know…
HH: That’s sort of the opposite of me.
LA: Yeah, there you go. That’s right, there you go. He, and when he writes on something, he tries to get to the nub of it, so it’s always good to read him on something he’s written about, and it’s quite a few things as you rightly point out. You know, he and his wife are translators of, leading translators of four Platonic dialogues, at least four. And so yeah, and he, that means if you want to know about a thing, the way he writes about the thing is he tries to take it apart and make its argument the way it’s made. And that’s what offends people, and that’s what informs people.
HH: Now in the second segment, in the second hour today, we will dive in to Dr. West’s authoritative treatment of how Lenin and Marx are related. But I want to keep focused on just Marx in the first hour. And to begin that, Dr. West, we are in the midst of a little Marxist boomlet around the person of Thomas Pickety, the bestselling and most unread book of the year. Why are we doing this again? Isn’t Marxism as discredited as Ptolemy?
TW: Yeah, if only. No, I think the temptation Marx himself experienced, and that’s how he became a Marxist, but also for us as late as now, is that in the modern world, modern Western world, starting somewhere, and I mean modern in the sense of somewhere in the 1700s, it became widely believed among educated people that Christianity could no longer be believed in. And it became also widely believed that the traditional natural law ideas associated with classical philosophy or John Locke couldn’t be believed in, either. And so the question became where to we do from there, how do we somehow capture a meaning for human life in the absence of God, and in the absence of natural law? And Marx gave an answer. He said I can tell you that all of history is leading towards this wonderful state in which all human problems are going to be solved. You are going to love it. And the intellectuals just, they always, there is a strain of messianism without God that is deeply ingrained in our intellectual culture not just today, but over the past two centuries.
HH: Why don’t we develop an immunity to it, though, because Thomas Pickety is arriving in 2014 on bookshelves everywhere, but we’ve been inoculated. We’ve received a series of inoculations, whether we call them the Soviet Union or Cuba or North Korea, whatever. We ought to know better than this.
TW: We should know better, but you know, think about the way people today typically defend capitalism. They’ll say something like it’s more efficient, people get more money, it’s something that’s productive of conveniences. In other words, people will make material arguments on behalf of capitalism. But what the Marxists do, and what Marx-related thinking does is to say that’s all low and disgusting and materialistic, and we have a grander vision. We think that humanity has a higher destiny than simply material indulgence. And we’ve got this grand thing in which all human beings can become siblings, brothers and sisters together. We don’t need to have politics. We don’t need to have selfishness. The big thing is selfishness. The thing about capitalism, it involves a certain legitimacy of people pursuing their own interests. And the Marxists are saying we can get beyond that. And until defenders of capitalism can come up with an argument that’s based on an idea of justice, and ideal, they’re not, they’re going to keep losing this argument to the left.
HH: But Larry Arnn, and a minute to the break, we have done that. Repeatedly, we’ve made those arguments. But they don’t seem to endure.
LA: Well, that’s because the problem is very deep, and that means that our arguments need to be deeper than they typically are. I mean, you know, why do I like to work in the college? Well, first of all, what a great thing. But then the other reason is, what Tom just said was fundamental understanding of the nature of man and God and beast, and the nature of everything, was altered. And we are watching that play out. And it’s going to play out until we go back to the beginning and think all that stuff through again, and see the madness that comes from the road that we’re traveling on.
— – – – –
HH: It’s appropriate to play the Internationale, or maybe it’s not. It’s Hugh Hewitt on a special Labor Day edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show, brand new, three part, three hour Hillsdale Dialogue with my friends from Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu, as they regather at the campus in Michigan for another extraordinary of excellence and thinking. And they are helping us launch our school year by doing a Labor Day edition devoted to the works of Marx, of Lenin and Stalin, and the different, very different path of American labor history. Joining us in that endeavor, Dr. Larry Arnn will be here for three hours. The first two hours, Dr. Thomas West, his colleague at Hillsdale will be here, Dr. Paul Moreno will join us, a historian in the American labor movement in hour three. Don’t miss any of this, and they’re, all of them, every Hillsdale Dialogue we’ve done for the past two years available at www.hughforhillsdale.com. And all of Hillsdale courses are available at www.hillsdale.edu. Briefly for the benefit of our audience who are just walking in, Marx lived, Karl Marx, from 1818-1883. He was born a German, but he moved to London about the age of 30 or 31 in 1849, spent the rest of his life there. His big two works are the Communist Manifesto and Capital, which Dr. Arnn referred to having been written in the British Library, the reading room of the British Library, this beautiful room that Larry Arnn coaxed me into 20 years ago. And I couldn’t believe that so much damage had been done in such a beautiful setting. But let’s start, Dr. Thomas West, what ought people to know about dialectical materialism and the core of what Marx believed, because I think he got to it fairly young in his intellectual life, didn’t he?
TW: He did. He was making the basic arguments as in the 1840s that he then built on through the rest of his life, and died in the 1880s. So yeah, but the basic claim Marx is making about reality is that the real, the fundamental thing that happens in life is production, production of goods and services for human life. He basically, and he made that claim, because he’s a materialist. And so what that means is that the whole realm of ideas, ideas about right and wrong, that he’s saying is a byproduct, epiphenomenon, on top of the basis, the economic. And then he says, and then, so once you start with that, and then you’ll understand that human history is nothing more than a movement between different ways of producing things, each of which leads to a different kind of class structure, based on who’s owning and who’s not owning the goods. And that in turn has generated this transformation of the human condition, especially through capitalism. Marx saw capitalism as being both a good and a bad thing – good because of invented, these technological miracles that enable the great wealth, but bad, because it’s simply another form of selfishness institutionalized. So his point was that once you get to the end of this cycle of this history, there’s going to be this vast explosion in which the class structure, the class struggle, will be destroyed and will be replaced by complete equality in which we will all agree basically to work and to produce, and we’ll no longer have to have politics in the older sense of oppression.
HH: So Dr. Arnn, I’m not sure he was aware of, you’ll have to tell me if he ever read the Federalist Papers, but he is basically arguing with Madison that men can be angels, right?
LA: Yeah, it takes, well, first of all, his argument is really that they’re on their way there, that you can’t understand, Marx was extremely hostile to what we mean by angels, if we mean something Divine or semi-Divine. But what he thinks is we’re on this process, right? It’s running, and the only thing that’s changed in history is now we know that. Now our understanding of the historical process opens up an opportunity. We can seize the moment. We can take charge. We can run the thing. And so angels have to go, by the way. It’s not just property, meaning here’s a thing to understand. The first thing I can find that Winston Churchill ever wrote about Marx is in a novel where there’s a villain, two villains, actually, and they have a conversation. This revolutionary hero, who’s really just Winston Churchill just put to fiction, is all well enough. He’s a democrat, and he wants freedom, but what does he know of the community of property, community of goods I the think the guy said. And the other one replies, or the community of wives, this man says. I’d like the president’s wife, because she happened to be a beautiful woman. And so you see what the point is. Churchill understands, and he wrote this when he’s 24 years old. He sees the hostility of Marx to the family, because the family, you know, and in Marx, the family, the women and children in the family are the wage slaves of the wage slaves, which is what the men are. And they have to have their liberation. You have to bust that up. And the reason you have to bust that up is it makes everything unequal, because you know, I’d love to say, it’s one of my favorite things to say, I got lucky in my birth. I could have been born to some rich wastrel. Instead, I was born to a schoolteacher, and he liked to read books. So that went on in our house. And so you know, not everybody is born that way.
LA: And I didn’t earn that. And so you have to level that. You have to break that up. And that, it seems to me, but Tom knows more about this than I do, but it seems to me that that operates just like property in Marx. It’s another thing that has to be revolutionized, and religion is a third.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask Tom West. I’m familiar with the life of Marx through the world of Paul Johnson and his book, Intellectuals. And he’s a thoroughly repugnant, distasteful human being. And I know that you and Paul Johnson depart in your understanding of what happens after Marx. But I assume you agree with his depiction of him. How could someone get purchase so widely as Marx did with such a revolutionary idea and set of outcomes, and from such a distasteful person.
TW: Well, I don’t think that people were thinking, people who read Marx didn’t really know about him personally. What they knew about was his ideas. And this was, the context in which Marx was writing was this period of immense optimism and immense confidence in the power of modern science and the modern world to sweep everything a that was old and fossilized and ancient, and put in its play some kind of a grand vision. This is the same period that that novel, Frankenstein, was published. You know, the idea of recreating humanity, and at the same time, there was, also, on the pessimistic side, there were people who had doubts about it all. But the predominant strain of that period, the 1840s and 50s, was we can solve all human problems. And this, there’s a background for that. It is especially, you can find in the writings of Hegel, because he’s talking about how all of human history is leading towards in increasing human freedom. And what Marx did was to take that basic idea, which was widely accepted in Europe, and to radicalize it, and to do exactly what Larry said. He said that’s, we’ve got to take Hegel’s idea and apply it to the family, to private property, to religion. We’re going to get rid of religion, we’re going to abolish the family, and we’re doing to deny any right to own anything of one’s own.
— – – —
HH: Dr. West, the Communist Manifesto, 1848, Capital, 1867. These are the two big contributions that people know Marx for, and for the term dialectical materialism. Can we start with the Manifesto? And my gosh, when I first read it, it was turgid, and it hasn’t gotten any better in the 40 years since. What made that work?
TW: What made it work? What do you mean? Why did people like it?
HH: Yeah, it just is so, it’s just completely unreadable.
TW: Okay, you’re right, but you know…
LA: Do you recall that Tom said this guys takes off on Hegel?
HH: Yeah, well, I’ve got to say…
TW: Thank you, Larry.
HH: You know, I just made my law students read David McCullough’s book, 1776, as a way to start a 1st Amendment seminar, and Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, basically everything that’s written by everyone for seven years is wonderfully inspiring. And it gets you to marching. And you reup for six months after you’ve been retreating from New York for six weeks. And it’s because the rhetoric is great. But the Communist Manifesto is awful.
TW: So I don’t, so Hugh, I don’t understand why you’re not caught up in its grand vision. I mean, he’s telling you we’re going to abolish all suffering. We’re going to get rid of all party struggle, we’re going to get rid of the evils of the family, and where women are trapped, where children are made to work for their parents without pay, and we’re going to get rid of religion. It’s the John Lennon vision. You need to get on board, Hugh.
HH: Well, I’m just thinking when you…
HH: Imagine. Well, the music and all the culture that flowed from it is a very attractive culture. But the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, these are not terms, we know what they mean now, but no one else knew what they meant then. How did he persuade people? I mean, did people sit around reading this and say that he’s, it’s so dense that it must be deep?
TW: But he’s, look, what he says about the bourgeoisie, meaning the people who are the capitalists, people who own property in our time, he says that they, the bourgeoisie, on the one hand, they’re just, they’re exploiting their workers down to the point where they’re going to be on the verge of starvation. And on the other hand, he’s saying they’ve done all these great service for humanity. So it’s actually kind of an interesting and engaging argument. He’s saying the bourgeoisie have destroyed the noble illusions which formally accompany every political and social order. We’ve gotten rid of the idea that some men are destined by God to rule and others have to submit. The bourgeoisie have conquered nature, has made it possible to live in Texas with air conditioning. That’s what he’s talking about, is we’ve now…
LA: And by the way, that’s prescient (laughing)
TW: 1843. Yeah, so he figured this stuff, he figured out the basic character of all that, and you know, people read that, and they went yeah, that’s right, that’s all happening. That’s all true. When I teach this, when I talk to students about this, and I’ll make those arguments about capitalism, they’ll be going yeah, that’s actually happened. It has dissolved the illusions. And of course, if they’re conservatives, they’re going to go that’s terrible. But if you’re a lefty, you’re going to say that’s good. That means we can really make progress and get rid of all this old fashioned stuff that’s holding us back from having one humanity at one with itself, and getting rid of all that suffering and all that exploitation.
HH: And I get that part. It’s just that the intellectual history element of the Hillsdale Dialogues is always trying to trace how things travel, what roads did they move down. And I just don’t know how he could possibly have persuaded anyone, and Larry Arnn, I’ll turn to this, unless the tinder was dry. This was pre-Churchill. This is Randolph Churchill’s era. Was the tinder that dry?
LA: Well, so Winston Churchill entered Parliament in 1900, and so did the Fabian, the Labour Party founded mostly by people in the Fabian Society. So socialism became a political force in the same year Churchill did. And here’s their account. They think that we’re extending the franchise, so everybody’s going to vote in Britain, and that happened in Britain long after it happened in the United States.
HH: Okay, hold onto that thought until we come back.
HH: Churchill and the socialists arrive at the same time, which is roughly 50 years after the Manifesto publishes.
— – — –
HH: When we went to break, Dr. Arnn, you were saying 50 years after Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto with Engels, there arrived in Parliament the same time as young Winston Churchill the Fabian socialists.
LA: So was the tinder dry, was your question.
LA: Was how the world prepared…in their view, was that it was prepared in economics and in politics by capitalism and by democratic politics, and that it would lead inevitably to socialism, which by the way, for quite a long time in Britain, it did. They were right about that. Churchill lost those battles, and won them a bit toward the end. But the second and deeper way it was prepared was this. What Tom said is very important to understand. People were looking for a project. They didn’t have the project of serving God, and they didn’t have the project of living as good people as nature intended. All that was imperfect and superseded, and now we’re called to go way beyond that. We can make everything right. And I mean, you know, listen to Obama’s speeches when they get to their most radical, and that’s what he’s talking about, right? We can make everything right. There isn’t any reason why anybody should have differences from anybody else that they regard as onerous. So the truth is, Marx was exciting and riveting, because Marx had a major political plan, and it was easy to see how you could attach that to a division in politics that Aristotle, as far back as that, regards as fundamental, and that is the difference between the few rich and the many poor. That can become a project to overcome that, and it can gain political support in the way those politics have always gained political support.
HH: Now Dr. West, I have in front of me Marx and Lenin, your famous essay on this subject. And the preface to one publication of it, I believe by Dr. Arnn, says that Marx’ view from the very beginning anticipated with relish the violent extremes of communism in practice. And when people pick up Das Kapital, I don’t think they pick it up with the same foreboding that they pick up Mein Kampf, but I think they’re the same book with different turgid language, because both of their authors intended to remake everything, which always means breaking all the china, and that china means a lot of blood, right?
TW: Well, the different, the thing is this, that the two books you mentioned that Marx is famous for, Capital and the Manifesto, they don’t, they avoid that really nasty violent language that Marx was very enamored of, in fact, in some of his lesser known writings. And particularly in some of his youthful writings of the 1840s, he talks there, one of his main themes there is we need to get beyond, away from the idea that philosophy is all about trying to understand the world. He says no, the point is to change it, not to understand it. And he says we need to get away from the idea that the point of philosophy is criticism. From now on, we’re going to criticize with weapons, meaning we’re going to stop talking, and we’re going to start smashing people. He, Marx and Engels used to exchange letters in which they would talk gleefully about we need to bring back 1793, meaning the French Terror, in which people were executed without trial, in which there were thousands of people, innocent people murdered on behalf of the revolution. Marx had a streak, had a violent, had a nasty, violent streak that not as well known, actually, to readers today, because they’re not, it doesn’t, it appears in these various occasional writings that actually turned out to be, in retrospect, quite fundamental for Marx’ thinking.
HH: So when he writes Capital, is he intentionally disguising that? Or is that just a lesser priority?
TW: That’s just not the theme at that point. I man, Capital’s meant to be an analysis of why it is that once you create this capitalist system, it will inevitably self-destruct and lead into by a process of automatic, by an automatic process, lead into this revolution.
HH: This automatic process is dialectical materialism. Can you explain to people in the three minutes left in this segment just a summary of what he means by it?
TW: Well, what that means is that the capitalists are going to constantly invest too much money in projects that will not create enough wealth for them to keep going, and they will then, you will create these huge depressions, economic crises and so on. He was, that was the idea, that it would self-destruct. There would also be, by some impoverization of the working class, nobody would be around to buy their goods.
LA: Yeah, so let me add to that. It’s dialectical. That means like a dialogue. There’s two things interacting with each other, and they cause conflict and make the action, and in fact, produce the third thing. And the second thing is it’s material. That is the way people get their living, the way they produce what they need to exist, is the driving force. We are essentially creatures of our material needs.
HH: And to all those who deny that right now in their cars, or to those who denied it in the 1840s or 1870s, or right up through the arrival of the socialists, to what does he reply? That you’re delusional?
LA: Well, you mean…
HH: To the priests.
LA: Isn’t the answer to that that you have to account, and certainly, it’s true that people are inquisitive, and they have these needs, and they spend a lot of their time needing them. Certainly, it’s true that they are formed in important ways by the work they do. But then you’ve got to account for motherhood and faith and duty and honor and love and beauty, right? In other words, those things in the classical account, and in the founders of America’s account, those are things that beckon to the human being irresistibly, and call him up to something better. And that means that the truth of the matter is we’re a mixed being, right? We’re not angels, and we’re not beasts. We’re in the middle. And so we have both things in us, and Marx’ philosophy is powerful because of its focus and reduction of the phenomenon to one aspect of it.
HH: A minute to the break, Dr. West, did he ever doubt himself? Did his friendship with Engels, for example, suggest to him that friendship is possible? Well, I’ll ask that after the break. I hear the music. I miscalculated.
— – – – – –
HH: Dr. West, I was saying did Marx ever doubt himself? Did the good things in his life, his friendship with Engels, I mean, Engels kept him from starving, to his marriage, to anything? Did he ever doubt that we were other than material beings?
TW: He never doubted it, and you know, he was completely devoted to this materialist explanation of history that we’ve just been talking about. But you’ve got to think about where Marx’ initial insight came from. And as I mentioned earlier, it came out of Hegel. It came out of a philosopher, not out of life, not out of the material circumstances of his background. He read a book that caught his imagination about how human history is the story of increasing freedom. That was Hegel. And it was that, really, I think in the most deep sense, that animated Marx throughout his life, in spite of his claim later that it’s really all a matter of analyzing our material economic circumstances. And so in it head, really, in the way he actually lived himself, he cared about truth and justice.
HH: So obviously…
TW: He cared about community. But he didn’t allow himself to think that that was what was animating what his theory was.
HH: Now two minutes left to this hour. You obviously think it’s important to teach, you are still teaching Marx to the students at Hillsdale. But why is that necessary after the convulsions of the last 150 years?
TW: Well, you mentioned Pickety. You’ve got one of our, one of the most celebrated postmodern writes, this guy named Zizek, who everybody seems to think is a wonderful guy, and people are throwing thousands of dollars at him to give talks. And he’s an open Marxist, and in fact, openly celebrates Stalin, Stalinism, violence, is invited to, right here in Michigan, to Calvin College recently to give a talk.
HH: What? What?
TW: Oh, yeah. This is the kind of thing that goes on now. That’s a highly-respected figure in modern American academic life. He’s a European, but he’s constantly over here making lots of money.
LA: Well, you know, we might have him here sometime. We’d just have somebody to argue with him.
HH: I’m just, I am sometimes astonished by what I learn about modern American academia. I’m just too practical. When we come back into Hour number two, we’ll talk about the transition. But when your students, have you ever produced any Marxists out of Hillsdale?
LA: I can’t think of any.
HH: Pretty hard to do if you’re surrounded by the other good books, right? To stay a Marxist, you have to stay alone in your Marxism.
LA: Well, the main, so one time, I was asked why, Rush Limbaugh asked me this one time. He said how do you make the students conservative? I said you know, I don’t. And he said you can’t do that, especially if they’re any good. He said are they? And I said yeah, mostly. And he said why. And I said well, if you take up the reading of an old book on the view that it’s valuable, you’ve already discarded the modern left.
HH: Hour number two of the special Labor Day special, don’t go anywhere, America.
— – – – –
HH: This hour, a little bit different, and it’s Stalin and Lenin. And I’ve got to tell you, gentlemen, at the beginning of this, it’s unlike any other Hillsdale hour I’ve done, which I always take great joy in But I don’t want to make them at all attractive. I feel like we’re walking through a cemetery, a vast cemetery of millions and millions of people, and I go back to my college commencement. At the front of the audience was Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the rain at Harvard yard, telling everyone that these guys had won, that they had beaten us down, and Mao was still in his chair, and there were millions to be killed yet in Cambodia. It was just, it’s an awful group of people to talk about. And so Dr. West, I’ll start with you. When you pick up Lenin and Stalin, is it possible even to communicate to students the awfulness of what they wrought?
TW: Well, I think that’s what gets the students’ attention is when they realize it’s not just talk, it’s not just academic chatter. This is the real world. And this is something, this is some big deal that happened in the 20th Century, and whose ideas, as you pointed out in the last hour, are in some ways still with us.
LA: Yeah, if it’s a cemetery, Hugh, it’s full of vampires, because these guys are waking up.
HH: Oh, you’re right. It’s the zombie…Lenin born in 1870, dies in 1924. He gloms onto Marx, and I’ll let you take it away from there, Dr. West. What does he do with Marx? How does he bend it? And we’ll come to Stalin later on in the hour.
TW: Well, the big thing that, by the time Lenin got interested in this, and serious about it, say, 1890s, he had to see that Marx’ initial predictions were not coming true in some respects. Marx was predicting the self-destruction of capitalism in Europe, and the opposite had happened. In Europe, capitalism had gotten stronger and stronger during the years that Lenin had grown up, and the workers were not all that revolutionary as it turned out. But there was an opportunity that presented itself in Russia that, where the workers, or at least some people in Russia, some workers, were more revolutionary, more willing to take action, and to turn against the system. So it was an opportunity that was available there. And Lenin had to explain that. Why would we then go, why would we go to Russia for this revolution when it was supposed to happened first in the more advanced Western countries? So that was one of the changes he had to make in the doctrines. He had to say look, this is not working in that way, and so we have to explain why is it that in what we would now call the third world that the opportunities for revolution are better than in the first world.
HH: Now it’s interesting, he was born into what we would basically call an upper middle class family. His brother was also a radical. His brother engaged in revolutionary politics. I think he tried to kill the czar and was himself executed as a result. So he’s one of the classic sort of weathermen of 120 years ago going all SDS on the czar. Larry Arnn, you mentioned in the last hour Winston Churchill’s career is taking off the same time Lenin is. When did Churchill become aware of his archenemy, or one of his two archenemies?
LA: Well, I’m going to read you three things that Churchill wrote about Lenin that are wonderful. And the answer is he was aware of all that very early. He was, he probably learned of Lenin in the early days of the Russian Revolution, because Lenin was a non-entity, mostly, until then. But he caught on in a hurry. And it’s interesting how Lenin and his team got into St. Petersburg and began to make their list of people to kill. I’ve actually been in the house where they first staging. Churchill writes about it, see, the Germans picked Lenin up in Switzerland and put him in a train, and took him to Russia so he could distort Russia. It was a war measure. And you should hear Churchill write about this. He says the Germans were in the mood, which had opened unlimited submarine warfare with the certainty of bringing the U.S. into the war. Upon the Western front, they were beginning to use the most terrible means of offense at their disposal, including poison gas. Nevertheless, it was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grizzly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed train, a sealed truck on a train, like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia.
HH: Wow. It’s like making him the modern Ebola.
LA: Yeah, that’s it.
HH: They sent him from Switzerland. That’s very well put. What else did he say about him?
LA: Well, he said, he analyzed, he writes in the World Crisis, all these readings are from that, and that’s Churchill’s history of the First World War, a tour de force, and everybody should read that. And in the last volume, which is called the aftermath, I’m sorry, in the penultimate one which is called the Eastern Front, he writes this description of Lenin. Implacable vengeance, rising from a frozen pity in a tranquil, sensible, matter-of-fact, good humored, integument. His weapon? Logic. His mood? Opportunist. His sympathies? Cold and wide as the Artic Ocean.
LA: His hatreds? Tight as the hangman’s noose. His purpose? To save the world. His method? To blow it up. Absolutely principles, but readiness to change them, apt at once to kill or learn, dooms and afterthoughts, ruffianism and philanthropy, but a good husband, a gentle guest, happy, his biographers assure us, to wash up the dishes or dandle the baby, is mildly amused to stalk as to butcher. The quality of Lenin’s vengeance was impersonal. Confronted with the need of killing any particular person, he showed reluctance, even distress. But to blot out a million, to proscribe entire classes, to light the flames of intestine war in every land with the inevitable destruction of the well-being of whole nations, these were sublime abstractions.
HH: Wow. So Dr. West, when you write at the beginning of Marx and Lenin, your famed essay, that it’s a question. Was the Lenin-led Russian Revolution of 1917 a Marxist revolution? And beyond that, is the post-Lenin Soviet Union, including that of Stalin, faithfully executing Marx’ vision and testament? What’s the answer for the radio audience that can’t read Marx and Lenin?
TW: Well, what I argue there is that yes, fundamentally, what went on in the Soviet Union was built entirely on Marx’ legacy. That didn’t mean there hadn’t, that there, I’m not saying there were no changes. There were circumstances that had changed that had to be adjusted. Marx himself, had he been around in 1917, would have seen that. But basically, the basic idea of Marx, the fundamental thought, which was to abolish everything private, to do away with all private property, private relationships, private everything in the name of this grand vision of perfected humanity, and using the means, as Churchill just, in the quote we just heard, using the means of blowing up the world if need be to get there. That’s the authentic Marx.
HH: Now he didn’t, Lenin did not merely implement. He added to, did he not? And I think he added, if I recall correctly, specificity and sophistication as to the means by which revolution could be leapfrogged and a country transformed.
TW: Right. One of his early discoveries was that the working class wasn’t as revolutionary as Marx had initially thought it would be by then. And so what that meant was not that you’d change your project, but rather that you therefore have to put more power into the party, and take it away from the actual workers. People today, and I remember when I was younger, when you’d talk about the Soviet Union, they’d talk about how you know, the Soviets were dishonest, they took power out of the hands of the workers and gave it to the party. That was the whole point. Even Marx, early on, had said that the workers had to be shaped and formed into a class, and that was the task of the party. Marx himself never expected the workers to spontaneously figure that out.
HH: But Lenin, Lenin was the fire stick that made it.
TW: He did it, yeah.
HH: I’ve only been to Moscow once, and I went all that way for the purpose of going into his tomb to assure the SOB was still dead, and it was closed that day, so I’m not sure. But he hasn’t made quite the comeback that Marx has made, has he, Tom West?
TW: No, the failure, the actual failure of the Soviet Union as a nation, as a project, has led people predominantly to be silent on that. And so but Marx, you know, people can say well, you know, that wasn’t the real Marx, that wasn’t the authentic thing. There’s always another way to resurrect Marx from the dead by claiming that all the previous experiments in Marxism were not authentically done.
HH: And Larry, in the rise of the Islamist terrorists, and actually in the Arab terrorists of the 60s and 70s, Lenin lived on, because he very much invented, or was one of the inventors of the ideology of terrorism.
LA: Well, the idea, well you know, modern mass, scientific tyranny, invented in the 20th Century especially in Stalin’s Russia, and Hitler’s Germany, those tools are now known, and they’re adaptable to more than one thing.
HH: And do you place most of the onus, 10 seconds, on Lenin or on Stalin?
LA: Both. I’ll say something about that after the break.
HH: All right. We’ll be right back.
— – – – –
HH: This is being originally broadcast in 2014, a year in which Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine twice, a year in which there was an Olympics in Russia, to being the year followed by just incredible killing. It’s also being broadcast for the first time, the first Labor Day, and I hope to use it many Labor Days in the future, in a week where Americans are found to have joined a revolutionary movement called ISIS, and have been killed in its pursuit in the Middle East, in Syria. And so we see ideology and terrorism just blossoming all around us, in the original homeland of it, Russia, and all across the globe. And before the break, I asked Dr. Larry Arnn, who owns this – Lenin or Stalin. And you were going to say what?
LA: Well, first of all, I recommend two books. One’s by the great Robert Conquest, his tour de force. It’s called The Harvest Of Sorrow. And he gives the story of the Ukrainian farms, and Georgia, and those areas, and the starvation and the collectivization and the death of millions.
TW: 30 million.
LA: Yeah, 30 million. But in the early in that book, he quotes from a speech by one of the Bolshevik leaders named Karl Radek at the military academy. And he says that, and this is in 1922, so it’s early days, and Lenin’s still the man. And he says in the speech, he says you know, we’re surprised, well, he doesn’t say we’re surprised. He says Conquest claims that Lenin and the others were surprised at the workers, didn’t like what they were doing. And Radek delivers the reaction. He says the workers may not be ready for what’s to be done. And in that case, the party has to make the decision. And he claims that’s the first time they announce that doctrine. But of course, the doctrine is implicit in the whole thing, right? In other words, a great good is to be achieved, and that good is only known to people who are capable of scientific knowledge in the new meaning of science. That is to say science is making and remaking and creating out of whatever the will is. And so they mustn’t be allowed to get in the way. And if you want to see how that plays out, one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, and greatest on this subject, is Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler. And he was a communist, and he writes this story of one of the guys who’s in St. Petersburg. You know, there’s a famous picture of all the guys lined up with Lenin, you know, who were injected like a bacillus plague into Russia by the Germans. And they’re all in a row, and Lenin’s in the middle, and Stalin’s one of them, and Beria and Trotsky and Bulganin, and all these guys. And Stalin eventually killed nearly all those guys.
LA: And became the boss. But when they were killed, they all went in public trials and confessed to crimes that they hadn’t committed. Bulganin, the last of them, spent two days explaining why all of the confessions were true and sincerely meant. And they all knew when they were, after they’d confessed, they’d get to smoke cigarettes and eat well for two or three days and have some sunshine, and then they were going to walk down a dungeon in a prison, a dark dungeon, with one man behind them, and that at some point undetermined, so there’s no special ceremony, he’s going to shoot him in the back of the head and leave him there. And that’s, they know their fate. And that method of execution, you see, is meant to emphasize that it’s a non-event. And in Darkness At Noon, this Rubashov, who’s the main character, he reveals why he did that, because he had adopted and inflicted on others the doctrine that the individual is nothing, and the party is everything and infallible. And so when they finally got him worn down by his interrogation, they put that point to him, and they put the point to him, and they put the point to him that he had done that himself to his own beloved woman that he had loved above all things, and let her be executed. How can you call yourself a man without subjecting yourself to the same thing? And the point of the book is although none of the men had committed the crimes that they said that they committed, on the other hand, the confessions were also, in that powerful sense, true. And that, you have to understand, is the nature of the despotism. It overcomes every human impulse. Every natural human impulse is its specific enemy.
HH: Then it released, and we’ll talk about Stalin after the break. But Dr. West, it releases to China where Mao actually perfects the system, doesn’t he?
TW: Well, yeah, in the sense of the absolute submission to the personality to the party…
TW: That’s it.
HH: And so he is the, well, maybe Pol Pot is the ultimate practitioner of this, but now it ought to be 100% discredited. But it’s not. That’s what’s, why does it, I’ve asked this three times, I’ll try again. Why can it, how can it endure in the wake of, or North Korea is the perfect example, in the wake of all that it has produced?
TW: Well, of course, first of all, don’t underestimate the tools of despotism. We have perfected those in modern times, the ability of a government to snoop and spy on its own people and ferret out anything they’re doing that’s against what the government wants. That’s…but it’s, again, I think it’s craving, this longing that people have in their hearts for something pure, high, noble, grand. Larry talked about that earlier. Marx, in a way, denies that, but in a way relies totally upon that longing. That’s what people want, and that’s why people are willing to sacrifice themselves over and over again for this goal.
HH: Unfair question, because it’s modern, but do you think Putin is motivated by the same desire? Or is he simply a raw amasser of wealth? I mean, that’s a difference from what you’re talking about.
LA: No, he’s…people, it’s very rare for people to be like him and get where they are unless they’re interested in power more than wealth. He likes to dominate. He doesn’t seem to me, and what do I know, but he doesn’t seem to me to have that, he’s a nationalist, but he doesn’t have that set of universal doctrines that can set an international movement marching the way the Marxists did. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But he’s just a despot, right, and that’s a type. And he does have all the modern, you know, like in the classic works, you’ll see that like Aristotle, for example, says the tyranny can’t last a long time except by one tool, and that is it has to knock down everything high. And so it’s essentially, if it persists, degrading to people. Well, what is the art of the despotism of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany except that they figured out what you love, and they’re very good at that, and they use that as a tool to command you and make you do degrading things. In 1984, another book in the, and the more famous book, actually, in the genre of Darkness At Noon, what is he made to do at the end except urge his torturer not to do it to him, but to do it instead to his beloved? So the truth is, and see, here’s the case, right? Human life is imperfect. And it’s bound to continue to be. But on the other hand, we are gaining strength through science all the time. We can do more, boundless wealth, all of that. And so the temptation grows to think we can perfect everything if we’ll just try a little harder.
HH: And boy, the record of the last hundred years tells us that is a false, false hope.
— – — –
HH: Right now, I’m going to ask Dr. Thomas West, Lenin dies young, 53 years old, 1924. And he’s leaving behind Stalin and Trotsky, his comrade in arms, and a bunch of these other people that Larry was just talking about in the last segment. And Stalin quickly eliminates them all. Were the ideological differences that have been much mocked, you know, Life of Brian, Monty Python, Splitter Splitter, Trotskyite, Leninite, you know, all the different things, did they really matter that much? Did they really believe things that were that significantly different from each other?
TW: No, they didn’t. And in fact, Stalin was a master at adopting the position of one faction against the other, and then turning right around and adopting the position of the people he had just murdered to beat the other faction. What they all agreed on was that Russia had to be transformed from the top down, and turned into an industrial powerhouse, and ultimately, a military powerhouse so that they could lead the revolution throughout the whole world. This was the goal, to transform the world. You mentioned Putin earlier. Putin’s really a different animal. I think the United States, people in the United States, I think, often misunderstand Putin. He’s not fundamentally motivated by that Marxist vision of transforming humanity. He’s just a Russian patriot. He’s an evil guy, but he’s a patriot. He wants what’s good for his country. People like Stalin and Trotsky and Bukharin, they wanted what was good for the communist movement worldwide.
HH: Well put.
TW: And of course, Russia was the center of that.
HH: Now in an essay sent to me via you, Bolshevism and Stalinism by Stephen Cohen, it begins every great revolution puts forth for debate by future scholars and partisans alike a quintessential historical interpretive question. Of all the historical questions raised by the Bolshevik revolution and its outcome, none is larger, more complex or more important than that of the relationship between Bolshevism and Stalinism. So unpack that. Again, people can’t read Cohen at length. Why is it that important, and what’s the answer?
TW: I think what’s important about Stalin, to understand about Stalin is that he was, deep down, he thought he was going to be the guy who would be the messiah of humanity, save the whole human race from its condition of being stuck in this world of selfishness and degradation. I mean, everything he does, and I mean, how, you’ve got to think about what is it that a man has to be able to think about himself to be able to order the murder of tens of millions of people at the stroke of a pen? This is a man who thought he was doing good throughout his entire life. Now strange, there’s a novel by Solzhenitsyn called The First Circle, In The First Circle.
TW: And he’s got a picture of Stalin in there, psychological picture. Stalin is an old man having a conversation with himself. Brilliant. And he picks up on that. He sees Stalin as a man who’s really nasty and evil, and conniving and so on, but deep down, he thinks he’s saving humanity. And that’s what, that’s the real different, I think, between him and a guy like Putin.
LA: In this conversation in Solzhenitsyn, by the way, he imagines himself kind of like St. Peter, and maybe he’s going to go up to the Heaven. And you have to, like the stunning thing when you go to the Kremlin, I’ve only done it in recent years, is the Kremlin is the court of the czars, and their archbishops. And so it’s full of the most beautiful churches. And the communists ruled that country from that place without every tearing down those churches.
LA: And so he was living amidst these spires that were monuments to Jesus Christ. And Solzhenitsyn at least portrays Stalin as having thoughts that he was walking down the same line as Jesus Christ and his apostles.
HH: You know, I have only been there a couple of times. Quarrel with me if I’m wrong. I don’t think anyone goes to Russia today to see anything that was built or done by any of the Soviets. I don’t think there’s a thing that they built or did that would attract a cultural tourist. Am I wrong, Dr. West?
LA: Well, maybe. Tom wants me to answer that. Maybe they’ll start when Chernobyl is opened up and you can visit that.
HH: That’s in the Ukraine, though. That’s in the Ukraine. And maybe dead Lenin. But I don’t think they created anything of beauty.
LA: You know, I’ll tell you the counter example that proves your point, the court hall, the main one on the Kremlin, is one of the most beautiful rooms on Earth, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. And they have a large photograph of it in there of what it was like in Stalin’s time, because the Supreme Soviet met in it for a while, and they painted over all of the gold and all of the beautiful blues that are in there into a dull purple.
HH: Oh, my gosh.
LA: And now they’ve restored it, and you can compare the room.
HH: I’ll be right back.
— – – —
HH: This is right in your wheelhouse, Arnn, so I’ll throw it to you. On a few occasions, three great men, and great defined not with a moral component but with a significance component – Stalin, Churchill and FDR got together. And you know, I wish we could have recorded these conversations, because they represent the confluence of very different points of view, with FDR being the least intellectual of the three, but also the most powerful of the three in the long run. Do you think they ever talked high theory?
LA: Well, first of all, there are extensive records about them talking, and lots of the meetings were recorded in minutes. But also Churchill himself, you know, because he wrote about everything he did, he wrote a lot about his conversations with Stalin. And here’s the most dramatic, you know, he wrote in the Second World War that one of his most popular books, he wrote that he questioned Stalin about Ukraine, and about the collective farms and the famines. And he said yeah, those peasants just wouldn’t agree, and they had to be made, I’m paraphrasing. And Churchill said that he heard, and he named some number, and Stalin said no, no, and he admitted to another number. And if memory serves, the number he admitted to was eight million. And Churchill recorded that and thought that was very indicative. And another thing that’s really wonderful is that there’s a long letter that Churchill wrote to Stalin, and in the Churchill archive, there are three versions of it. And he wrote a long protest against what Stalin was doing in the second half of the war. And he made a diatribe against Karl Marx, or he made an argument against him, and invited Stalin to reconsider all that. And then he wrote on that not sent. And then a second version, shorter, some of that remaining, not sent. And then the third version that was sent, and all that remains is a paragraph that’s just these words, I was never any good at Karl Marx.
HH: (laughing) So Dr. West, is Stalin, in the final analysis, is he just a progressive with visions of humanitarian grandeur as was hinted at in the last segment? He thought he was Jesus without all the hoopla. Or…
LA: Or with it.
HH: Or with it. And the progressives of today are just different, because they’re not coming out of the ashes of a Leninist revolution armed with CHEKA. Or is he something different entirely?
TW: No, what I’m saying, he’s really a Marxist, meaning he’s a guy who’s not just progressive in our contemporary liberal sense. He’s a guy who wants to wreck and destroy all private property, private business, everything’s going to be collectivized. The reason why he had to murder 30 million peasants by starving them to death, and some of them just shot and sent away to the gulag, was because he thought that in order to save humanity, we all had to become, I mean, get away from people having their own farms. That was the bottom line question.
HH: So why did everyone have to repudiate him? Why did Khrushchev have to give a secret speech when it was done? Why did they have to walk away from Stalin and dismantle the gulag if in fact he was just a Marxist and here was the next generation of Marxists?
TW: Well, the thing about Marxism is, as Marx himself said, is we’ve got the goals. But then the question turns into a matter of tactics and strategy. So this is one of the things I mentioned earlier about Lenin in the last segment, is that Lenin took Marx’ idea of the party, which is going to shape the workers and shape the movement politically, and then got into the question of how do we organize the party and how do we get that party structure? And basically, what Lenin said about that was you’ve got to limit the power of the party just to the people at the very top of the party. You can’t even trust the party. What Stalin did was to say I see where that’s going. The logical end to that is only one person in the whole country can be trusted.
HH: Yeah, sure.
TW: That’s me.
HH: And that Mao had to do the same thing right.
TW: So I mean, that’s not progressivism in the way we’re used to it in America. Progressives actually are okay with private property as long as it’s properly managed and properly controlled from the top down in the state. They’re not trying to kill off capitalists in this country. In fact, our whole progressive structure of government is based on crony capitalism from top to bottom.
HH: Does that erode eventually? I’ll ask that of Larry Arnn. Does that break wall erode eventually?
LA: Well, that’s a question about the future, and Churchill said though imminent, it is obscure. But I will tell you what his prediction was. So some rough parallel, there is between the American progressives and the Fabian socialists in Britain. And the political parties in America are not that different from the ones in Britain now. What he thought was the difference between the Fabians and the communists is real. That is they mean gradualism and evolution and gentle methods. But what he said is they’re going to run up against reality. And then he said famously, and more than once, historians pretend it was a single mistake, but it wasn’t. He said that they will not be able to realize their ultimate aims without the use of a secret police, yes, I mean a gestapo. And what did he mean by that? He meant that in the end, you’re never going to get the equality that they’re after unless you assail all of the sources of it, and though the main ones, in my opinion, are property and family and faith. And those have to be constrained, and of course, moves to constrain those things are underway heavily in the United States today. And I think, you know, I think that the tension here, because it is the same thing, right? On the one hand, there are these utopian hopes, and on the other hand, they’re not constrained, really, by anything outside our will. Our will is all. One of our professors here, Kevin Slack, has written to point out that modern liberals believe that they’re all big followers of nature. You know, they’re doing the natural thing. But what is the natural thing? The natural thing is for us to seize control of events and govern ourselves in the world toward constant improvement. And that is hostile to those three sources of, as I say, of independence, and really of the scope for the individual to lead a human life.
HH: But when it collapses, and I guess I’ll save this for the last segment with Dr. West and Dr. Arnn, and then pick up with Paul Moreno next hour. When it collapses, it collapses suddenly. And it’s revolting. People shoot everyone. They go and they get Ceausescu. They go and they find every secret policeman they can in East Germany, and they put them over the light poles, because nobody wants it. And so last question for Dr. West when we come back is why in the world would anyone continue to want to be known as a Marxist? Stay tuned.
— – – –
HH: Last question, how does it endure? It’s the same question I ask. In Cuba, you know, hopefully by the time this airs next, both Castro brothers will have gone to meet their reward, and it will immediately revert. It will almost overnight become an extension of United States capitalism, I think. So why in the world does Pickety sell one book, much less a hundred thousand?
TW: We’ve talked throughout our discussion of this We’ve talked about how the workers and the peasants, who were originally thought to supposedly going to support this movement, turned out not to be very interested in it. But we haven’t said much about who is interested in it. And the answer to that is intellectuals are interested in it. Marxism has always been a movement of an elite group of intellectuals who are deeply dissatisfied with their society, either because, and as far back as Plato, he pointed out the one thing that human beings who have ambition will always want is power. And if they’re not running things, they’ll cook up reasons why they need to be running things. So you put that together with the lack of, our current lack of having a higher purpose that’s being affirmed anywhere in our society, and you’ve got some kind of a substitute for the idea of God, or the idea of honor, or the idea of nature.
HH: And it’s more of a…
TW: It’s in this grand vision, and that’s what these intellectuals just, they gravitate to it and sign on.
HH: It’s more of a question for Dr. Moreno, but it sets up the transition beautifully, so I’ll ask you. George Meany was the most virulent anti-communist, anti-Marxist that there was. He helped Nixon get elected in ’68. He wanted nothing to do with it. How did Meany develop out of a labor movement devoted to a quality of the working man, but retain within him the intuitive hatred of Marxism?
TW: That period of American history, that earlier 20th Century, progressivism, those guys, they didn’t want anything to with Marxism.
LA: Yeah, the Fabians in Britain, too.
TW: Dewey, yeah…
LA: In the government, in the 1945 Labour government, a great man, in many ways, there were others that were, too, was Ernest Bevin, who was a dock worker, and he was meaner than hell, and he hated communism. And like most of them, I think the guy meant well, you know? And they all thought it’s all going to go great, you know? It’s kind of like in the election of Obama, what did we all think, or what so many thought. We’re in the crazy minority. They all thought now we’ve got it all fixed. Everything’s going to be super. And that’s, you know, and that means a different kind of movement might grow out of a successful country than grows out of a place like Russia, which was dysfunctional and despotic.
HH: Excellent idea. Dr. Thomas West, you leave us now. Thanks for an amazing couple of hours of conversation. I continue on with Dr. Larry Arnn and his colleague, Paul Moreno, when we return on this Labor Day to talk about organized labor in America. Don’t go anywhere.
— – – – –
HH: This hour with Dr. Larry Arnn, and his colleague, Dr. Paul Moreno, who is sitting in now for Tom West’s chair, on American labor and why it did not go crazy in the way that communism did. And Paul Moreno holds the Grewcock chair in the American Constitution at Hillsdale College. He’s a member of the James Madison Society at Princeton University. He wrote From Direct Action To Affirmative Action: Fair Employment, Law and Policy In America, and Black American And Organized Labor. He’s a labor historian. Dr. Moreno, welcome, it’s great to have you on Labor Day.
PM: Thank you, Hugh, great to be on the show.
HH: And Dr. Arnn sitting in at the Hillsdale studio, you by phone. Let me ask you at the beginning, I read your Organized Labor in American Law. It’s an amazing piece. I’ve been looking for something like this for years, but I’ve never actually trusted anyone to teach me the history of American labor. Is that a widespread problem?
PM: Oh, absolutely. The whole field of labor history really only began in the 1960s, and most of its founders were pretty explicit that they, you know, that they had an agenda. They wanted to use history for political purposes. So you’re quite right to be suspicious about stuff that’s labeled labor history.
HH: Now I don’t often do this, but I want to read two-thirds of a paragraph you wrote just to give people your overall theory. A composite account of American labor goes something like this. Unions were outlawed as criminal conspiracies before 1842. Even after courts recognized their legal existence, their methods – strikes, picketing, boycotting, were useless, because laissez-faire, free labor formalism, hid the overwhelming economic power of employers behind a façade of equality. Courts then subverted the 14th Amendment from its purpose of protecting black civil rights and turned it into a shield for the property rights of big business. In the gilded age, courts fashioned the labor injunction to recriminalize unions. Worse, still, when Congress enacted antitrust laws to curb big businesses, judges used them to crush organized labor. Judges also vitiated Congressional and state acts to exempt unions from injunctions and antitrust laws. When Congress finally acted in the 30s, either it did so primarily to dampen truly radical working-class activism, or the federal courts and administrators de-radicalized Congressional intent. In either case, national labor relations ended up as a net loss for organizing labor. Union power eroded after World War II and collapsed after 1980, largely due to political and legal disadvantages. So I want my audience to know at Hillsdale, you have great clarity about how labor in America developed, and the obstacles which it faced.
PM: Well, yes, and I find it’s really important to, you can’t leave a field like labor history. It’s an important thing for people to know about. And I think one of the things we have to do as historians is take on the accepted narratives that the left has been producing mostly since the 1960s.
HH: And so Larry Arnn, when you talk to people about unions, how do you, what tone do you strike with them and their role in American history?
LA: Well, first of all, there’s a principle, right? I think people have freedom of association. And so if they want to join, and join together, they can do that. That’s fine. Freedom of association also means you don’t have to associate. And so I’m against compelled unionism, and especially when unions are politically active. I don’t think anybody ought to have to join a union to get a job. And on the other hand, if a bunch of workers want to join, and talk to their employer together, I’ve always thought that was okay, and better than okay, it’s a right, I think. And so that’s what I think. I don’t know. Paul, what do you think?
PM: Yeah, absolutely, and I think the crucial word there is coercion or compulsion. And I think when most people think about collective bargaining, they think about it as a voluntary thing. They approve of it. But when you get down to the details of how collective bargaining actually works in most states, you know, Michigan recently just became a voluntary union state. That’s where the controversy really begins.
HH: We call them right to work states, and for the benefit of the audience, Paul Moreno, would you explain what that means?
PM: Sure, under the Wagner Act back in 1935, the basic rules were an employer had to bargain. This was the compulsory part. He was compelled to bargain with whatever organization was chosen by a majority of his employees. And you were compelled to join the union, if that was one of the conditions that the union negotiated. And so that made it compulsory both on the employer and on a minority of workers who might not want to join any union at all, or maybe not this or that particular union. And since 1947, states have been given the option to opt out of that so that they can’t compel workers to pay dues to support a union that they don’t want to join. And it was mostly states in the South and the West that adopted these right to work laws. And then very recently, Michigan became one of them.
HH: And the result is business flocks to those places that do not compel them to be unionized, and to operate under non-right to work state rules. And there’s a lesson in that, Larry Arnn, about the basic American preference for free association, but with a respect for the associational rights of owners and non-union members.
LA: That’s right, and you know, so in one model of the economy, we’ve been talking about Marx, capital is the inveterate enemy of labor. The privileges of capital make it an economic fact that labor will always be competed down to subsistence wages, whereas capital will benefit greatly. And so if you hold that view of the world, then you want to do things like compulsory unions and make labor into a force with the government behind it, so that it can stand up to capital. And in another view, first of all, people are, they carry the motive forth for their own well-being inside themselves. They work in a free economy, they profit by voluntary transactions where they have to benefit somebody else. In a competitive economy, if some employer is exploitive, then people will work for somebody else. And wages will be set by market conditions, and they will tend to rise as prosperity grows. And so if you look at the world that second way, that’s happy news, because then you can have limited government, and people can make their own way. But if it’s that first way, then you’re going to have to have these great powers that are always capital and labor, with government behind controlling both of them, really, and the individual, what’s he matter to both?
LA: I mean, watch the movie, On The Waterfront.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask Dr. Moreno, you write, and you persuaded me overnight that there’s a gentle pendulum at work here. It’s not a revolutionary pendulum. It’s a pendulum between pro-union, non-pro-union, and that 1919, Boston Police strike, and the Patco strike are two swings of the pendulum, but that generally, labor and its power finds its own level. Is that a fair assessment of your summary?
PM: Yes, I think so, and I think most economic historians have recognized that most of the progress of American labor, you know, rising living standards, the things that have happened in almost all developed economies, haven’t been because of labor unions. They’ve been because of, you know, just the economic progress increasing a substitution of capital for labor so that you can get a lot more with a lot less sweat, and that over the long run, society divides the economy between capital and labor at a pretty steady rate, so that the pendulum of inequality and potential for sort of revolutionary discontent really aren’t that great, haven’t been that great in American history.
HH: You know, you’re actually in the best place in the world to write about this, because Michigan, I remember when I was writing a book about Mitt Romney having to research his father, George Romney, and Walter Reuther and George Romney hated each other. I mean, they hated each other. But you have all this vast archive at your fingertips, don’t you?
PM: Yeah, the fact is the Walter Reuther archives at Wayne State University is where I did some of my research on the issue of race and labor unions.
HH: Now with a minute to the break, would the original union guys, whether it’s Walter Reuther or John Lewis or all the other guys, would they recognize the public employee unions of today as their heirs? Or would they look at them sidelong glances, that they were privileged, white collar entitlement rent seekers?
PM: Well, they might not go that far, but certainly at the time, in the 1930s, all of these guys, and Franklin Roosevelt included, all said well of course you can’t have organization, compulsory unionism in government employment. It’s a completely different situation. There are political issues, there’s the issue of sovereignty involved. So yeah, even the more, the sort of a the spectrum among American labor leaders where somebody like George Meany and the AFL guys were pretty conservative, and Reuther and John Lewis and the CIO were a little more towards the socialist side. But they all agreed on this point, that no, this doesn’t apply to public employees.
— – – –
HH: And I’ve got to say, I love doing this hour, and maybe we need more time for it, because listening to Joe Hill, I realized again there are these massive sort of urban myths about labor, and how it existed in American history, and how it’s interacted, many attempts to coopt it into a revolutionary moment, including in Michigan itself, the Port Huron statement, the SDS statement, the repeated reaction of labor against it, but now the increasing radicalization of public sector unions. So…and I’m a member of a union, by the way. I’m a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and I’ve always enjoyed being an AFTRA union member. I once voted to go out on strike with my collective bargaining unit of three so that I could cross the picket line. But the other two were onto me, and they voted against going out on strike. The movie Cinderella Man communicates it. Dr. Moreno, if you would, can you give the brief history of when it started and those big names that we touched on before the break, and the roles that they played?
PM: Yeah, I mean, if you spent the last couple of segments about sort of European-style Marxist influence, labor movement, the big question for scholars has always been why was there none of that in America, you know, why was there no socialism in America. This is another part of the story of American exceptionalism. And so many intellectuals and historians in the United States, you know, they lament the fact that the United States didn’t have that kind of politically oriented socialist labor movement. Back in the 19th Century, there were attempts to do this. You know, Eugene Debs was probably the most important of the leaders of American socialism, and he attempted in the late 19th Century to establish industrial unions that would represent, you know, all of the workers in an industry, railroads in his case. But the tendency for most of American history has been for what the British called trade unions, but usually skilled workers in smaller segments of the economy who were, who put aside politics for the most part, and focused on what’s often been called bread and butter issues of just wages, hours and working conditions. And it wasn’t until the 1930s, until the Great Depression and the New Deal, that you got a big step forward and the organization of mass production industrial workers. And that was the CIO under John L. Lewis.
HH: And of course, Gus Hall as well, and Gus Hall, I’m from Northeastern Ohio where Gus Hall got famously jailed for blowing up bridges and stuff like that. They tried repeatedly to get in there.
HH: The communists repeatedly tried to take over the trade unions, and they were repeatedly vomited out.
PM: That’s right, and John L. Lewis was able to play a pretty deft political game with them, where he realized that communists could be very energetic, very dedicated organizers. But at a certain point, it was going to be harmful to American labor to be associated with them. And shortly after World War II, in 1949, the CIO expelled about 9 big unions that, I think they had almost a million members, because they were communist-dominated. And so again, people on the left referred to this as the purge of the left-led unions as they called them, but they were, you know, they were communist unions. And they were already, this is, in fact, taking place before World War II when the Soviets were still allies with Hitler, where you had politically-motivated strikes that were trying to impede American preparation for World War II, because these were the orders that Stalin was giving to American communist union leaders. And that could have been a big disadvantage in the Cold War had these CIO unions not been expelled.
HH: What’s…yeah, what’s the best book for a conservative to read on American organized labor so they get the good and the bad, and the controversial and the confusing?
PM: There’s a good scholar named Morgan Reynolds who’s done a lot of good work in this field. Maybe the best theorist is a fellow just passed away. He was a law professor at NYU named Sylvester Petro. And he himself had been a steelworker organizer in the 1930s, and then he became sort of a libertarian, and he just passed away very recently.
HH: There’s so much fascinating to me, like there’s Eric Hoffer, there’s Jimmy Hoffa, there are all these colorful characters who were associated with American labor, but fundamentally, it’s trade unionism, isn’t it?
PM: Yes, the main sort of characteristic of American unionism is. The AFL has always been the larger, you know, more members are members of AFL unions than the CIO, even though the CIO is supposed to represent the mass production workers in autos and steel and the big industries. The AFL always had more members.
HH: Now Larry Arnn, what would the framers have thought of trade unionism?
LA: Well, you know, there were guilds in Europe and things like that, so they had some knowledge of, you know, they weren’t exactly unions, but you know, you have to start with this fact. 90-some percent of the people were farmers.
LA: And they owned their own land, most of them. And you know, they were very much for the rights of property, and they were very much for the wide distribution of those. So they wanted discretion over property to be located in the property owner, and they wanted everybody to have some, and have a chance at some. And you know, one of the great controversies, see, so this is the way issues like this appear in the American Revolution. One of the sparks of the American Revolution is the British draw an arc to the west of the American colonies and say you can’t go out there anymore. And the reason is, they said, trouble with the Indians and the Native Americans, and they can’t, so it was leading them to a lot of complications with the French, among other things. And the Americans just said no. We came over here to get our own stuff, to have our own place.
HH: Yup. I recall with de Tocqueville, I don’t know where it is, but the happiest man he meets in his journeys is a guy with a wagon, a wife, a horse and an axe heading west. He’s got nothing else, but he’s just got a wagon and he’s going to go west and carve a life. And George Washington went out to survey his western lands and found all these squatters on them. So they really don’t run into the problem of a lack of opportunity that labor surplus creates.
LA: Yeah, and there’s a claim, of course, in modern scholarship, that the closing of the frontier meant that American would have to work in a different way now. It’s all settled now, and you know, that blossoms after fifty years into the progressive claim, really that the problem of production has been solved, and now the problems that remain are problems of distribution. And that’s unfair, and the government hast to make it fair.
HH: That’s a dangerous twist to take, then.
LA: Well, it depends. I mean, if your way of doing it, you mentioned it when we were talking earlier before the show of the Homestead Act, then you know, the government’s got a bunch of land and gives it to private individuals. That’s what happened in the Land Ordinance of 1785, too. And if what you want to do is take measures so that entrenched companies, you know, don’t have big advantages over ones that are not entrenched, so that the economy can be open and vibrant, if that’s the aim, then sure, there’s things for the government to do. If on the other hand, you know, what we’ve got now is crony capitalism with a vengeance. And you know, you get on the list of banks that are too big to fail. And on the one hand, you do everything they tell you, and on the other hand, you’re protected.
HH: You’re protected, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to run.
—- – – – –
HH: What’s interesting is my guests from Hillsdale College, Dr. Larry Arnn, Dr. Paul Moreno on this Labor Day as we talk about American unionism aren’t really on either side. They’re on the side of not being caught up in the European Marxist-Leninist debacle, but in following how the American path evolved. Right now, it’s an aside, Larry Arnn, picking up from where we were. Detroit has 78,000 abandoned buildings, and they’re trying to tear them down. I often wonder why don’t they qualify people who are craftsmen and give them to them? Why don’t they homestead Detroit?
LA: Well, you know, you need, for that to flourish, you need conditions of law and order, and stuff like that. And you need liberty for the people who get them to act. And they’re actually struggling to work on those things in Detroit, and God bless them in their efforts.
HH: When you see Governor Snyder, tell him to look at the Homestead Act. Now Paul Moreno, now in our last half hour, we have to turn to the twist that American unionism took, which is to public employment. Now you wrote two years ago, more than, just about two years ago, actually, in the Wall Street Journal how public unions became so powerful. And they are powerful. They’re growing so powerful, in fact, that they’re going to bankrupt California and New York, and they have bankrupted Detroit. Does this self-correct? Or in fact, did the tipping point get passed long ago?
PM: Well, it looks, the rise of public sector unions only became possible when the states began to permit them by law. And Wisconsin was the first of these to do that in 1958. It was ironic that you know, Wisconsin is sort of the battleground for Scott Walker trying to reverse that.
HH: Yeah, he was my guest last week talking about that, yeah.
PM: Yeah, and in a sense, I think it was just at that moment in American history, America was so prosperous, things had been going so well for so long, we had no competition after World War II, we had made adjustment in private sector unionism so that it didn’t seem so dangerous anymore. And I think for a while, the American people thought well, yeah, we can afford to do this. We can let public employees unionize and they’ll still be okay.
HH: What they didn’t realize is that they were bargaining away the money of generations down the road.
PM: Yeah, yeah. In fact, and the incentives for them to sort of defer, for elected officials to defer until the future, the promises that they were making at the bargaining table with the people who had contributed to their own election, I mean, that there was a built-in moral hazard in public sector bargaining.
HH: Larry Arnn, what is your opinion on the Constitutionalism of the federal government authorizing the state governments to breach these contracts, and otherwise expanding the bankruptcy power to encompass state and local governments, because these contracts are killing America.
LA: Well, if the federal government can’t do it itself, and the Contract Clause says it can’t, then it can’t authorize other entities to do it. And most of the state constitutions say they can’t do it.
HH: The Contracts Clause remains in its only form to be applied against governments advantaging themselves vis-à-vis private sector. But this is all public sector stuff. I’m not sure the Contracts Clause was intended to protect public contracts with public entities which are public unions.
LA: Well, okay, but first of all, they ought not to have made these contracts.
LA: And they’re self-dealing when they make them. They’re self-dealing in two respects. One is they’re representing management, but really it’s somebody else’s money. And most of these things have long term consequences that extend beyond the careers of the politicians who make them. And the second respect is these people are very organized in politics. And they, you know, they’re the strongest single force, I think, in American politics today, public sector unions, so they can help them a lot, and hurt them a lot if they don’t do what they want.
HH: And that’s why I don’t think they’re contracts in the sense that the American founders thought of contracts.
LA: So you’d say they’re made under duress, and so they’re not legitimate contracts.
HH: They’re not legitimate contracts, because they are in fact not between two private parties bargaining, and that’s what the Contracts Clause was intended to do, is to stop land getting constantly passed around by virtue of new legislation cancelling previous agreements. And so I think they’re outside of it. But the question nevertheless remains. There’s a federalism question. Should the feds come to save the states from their own folly?
LA: Yeah, well, you do need, you know, you need a mechanism to get out from under these things. And most of the efforts, by the way, are you know, prospective in their nature. The government is not broke, yet. The people of the United States is not broke, yet. And so if you start fixing the things now, they’ll work their way through. And remember what we’re talking about here. I mean, in some states, you can have two careers in government by the time you’re 50, and you can have two pensions. And in some states, you can enjoy one of those pensions why you’re still working for the government.
HH: Oh, and staggering. It is routine, not usual, but routine to find $300,000, $400,000 dollar annual pensions for public employees under the age of 60 that will continue until their death.
— – – —
HH: Dr. Moreno, the, as I said, I’m from a union town. UAW ran Warren, Ohio politics. Northeastern Ohio was a deep blue part of the country because of the UAW and the steelworkers. But they never got greedy. There was lots of corruption, right, like the Teamsters. There would be occasional corruption within unions. But they never tried to kill the entity that fed them. I don’t think that’s true about public unions. I think that they have no incentive not to kill the entity, because they think the entity can endlessly tax the taxpayer. Am I right about this fundamental difference?
PM: Well, that’s going to be a big question in terms of the survival of public sector unions in the future, in that if they really want to stick fast on the point you were just talking about, about these pension promises being non-negotiable, then there are going to be, you’re going to be facing you know, serious, large-scale fiscal problems. And I think then you’ll see the kind of public reaction that you did in Wisconsin. And so unions often face this problem where you know, do we want to make the best deal we can for our senior and retiring people? But if that comes at the expense of new entrants into the union, then you’re not going to exist in the future.
HH: How are private sector unions doing, Paul Moreno, in 2014, the year that this conversation first airs?
PM: They’re about exactly where they were a hundred years ago, before federal law began to try to promote organized labor. So they’re somewhere around 7% of the private sector workforce is unionized.
HH: Isn’t that fascinating?
PM: They, now they did sort of undo themselves in that, because there were places for businesses to go out of a state like Michigan when it was very pro-union. You had capital over the course of time was able to find places that were just more, you know, more friendly to job creation.
HH: Now are you yourself grateful that American labor organized when it did in order to prevent the Wobblies and more radical forces from radicalizing working America during the Depression?
PM: Oh, and even before that in the late 19th Century, where you had you know, anarchists going back to at least the 1880s, and the Haymarket bombings, you had, you did have movements towards syndicalism and socialism in America. So I think the AFL was a very healthy thing in that it did channel the main course of American labor development in ways that were better than those. And also, even though the AFL leaders were sometimes inconsistent about this, they did often say that they just, that they were completely voluntary, non-coercive institutions, that they just wanted the government to leave them alone, to let them organize and use their market power. Again, that was not born out in the way they behaved, but they did at least express a philosophy of voluntarism that I think was good.
HH: Now Larry Arnn, in the last Supreme Court term in the Harris case, Justice Alito came very close, didn’t quite get there, but came very close to saying much of what has passed for law with regards to union dues is unconstitutional, because it’s enforced speech. It’s you’re obliged to pay for the speech with which you disagree. Do you welcome that development, because it will in effect, lessen the amount of speech of working people generally who want the unions to be powerful.
LA: I don’t believe that for a minute that you know, first of all, everybody can talk, right? And they should be able to. But if what you’re required to do is pay your dues, you know, which is sometimes heavy dues, in order to fund political campaigns with which you don’t agree, and you know, it’s always been estimated that the numbers who don’t agree are at least large minorities. And see, that means somebody else, then, is doing the talking. You’re not talking. And so you know, I mean, like you know, I think unions, I know a guy in Kansas City who runs a printing firm that’s more than 120 years old, and his grandfather and granny go way back. They’ve all run it. And they love the union. It’s a means of employee communication, and you surely need that, right? But if what it becomes is a means of extortion, it’s going to be an extortion not just of the owners of the business, and their customers, remember, and their shareholders. It’s also going to be an extortion of the workers.
HH: Well, they’re, and I’m going to try and channel the SEIU here, that’s all true. There’s always a substantial minority that doesn’t want it. But a majority does want it, and the free rider effect is, in fact, we’ll get people saying do all that you do and represent us, but we don’t want to pay for it. We want to be free riders along the way.
LA: Yeah, but, and see, we’re talking about two different issues. A majority wants collective bargaining. That’s one thing. Maybe that majority could bargain collectively. But the second thing is does a majority want to support candidate X and party X, and never the other one, which is what happens?
HH: Yes, that’s what happens. And…
LA: And the point is what about that minority, then, because you’re talking about their civil liberties now.
HH: You are, and so Dr. Moreno, when did unions start to do this? When did they figure out that they could use collective bargaining to influence politics, not merely the conditions of work?
PM: Well, I think it was really most clearly in the 1930s when the CIO established, I think it was the first political action committee, where they realized that their own ability to organize workers depended upon favorable federal legislation. And so that led to the first restrictions on, you know, union campaign contributions, and on the political activity, also, of federal officers, and the Hatch Act in 1939. So this has been a problem for a long time. And the law already provides for, in many states, that workers can be compelled to contribute to that part of union expenses that are actually about collective bargaining. But they can’t be compelled to pay for those things that are political activities.
HH: Yeah, it seems to me the happy medium is an opt in mandate.
HH: …that you can…
PM: Yeah, in fact, that’s, you know, there’s a great variety of this across the states between compulsory unionism and real right to work.
HH: Yeah, to make it easy to say yeah, take a few extra bucks for politics, I trust you, or say nay. But the unions don’t want that. They want to trick some people in, or oblige some people to pay. And that’s what Dr. Arnn is saying. When we come back, our segment turns now to the political crisis in front of us, and wither union membership in this conversation, are they in fact comfortable with the decline of America into American socialism, or are they going to in fact be part of the renaissance of the Republican Party? Our mutual friend, Rick Santorum, wrote a book called Blue Collar Conservatism based on the theory that Reagan Democrats are still out there. They’re still union members, and they’re coming back home. We’ll find out what Dr. Paul Moreno, Dr. Larry Arnn think about that.
— – – – –
HH: Short segment. Dr. Larry Arnn, Dr. Paul Moreno, thank you for doing this special Labor Day segment with me. It’s been a terrific conversation. Rick Santorum has a new book out called Blue Collar Conservatives, in which he argues that union members ought to be with the party of Lincoln. Dr. Arnn, do you think that’s going to work?
LA: Well, I think it’s vital that it work. And you know, the future they say, though imminent, is obscure. And it matters so much who does what in politics. Like it matters so much who the candidates are, and it matters all of that, right? And so my own view is what I believe, I believe, by the way, the alternative is simply insupportable, is that the good sense of the American people is intact, as you said, and that when the arguments are made to them well, then they will understand the choices that are before them. And that includes people who work in manufacturing business, and traditionally unionized businesses, right? If we can go back to that place where the unions were not so politically partisan as they are today, and not so concentrated in the public sector, that would be better.
HH: Dr. Moreno, thank you again. The first famous Reagan Democrat, a union member who crosses over to become a Republican, is actually Ronald Reagan, who leads the SAG in an effort to throw the communists out, and begins his journey. Do you see that happening much?
PM: Well, I think it’s very interesting, this Santorum idea about the party of Lincoln being the party of labor, because there was, there was a big strike just as Lincoln, I think between his election and his inauguration, the Lynn shoemakers were out on strike. And Lincoln said well, I think that’s great. Workers should have a right to organize, and to go out on strike. And really, that’s what the Republican Party is all about, is the freedom to work.
HH: I didn’t know that.
PM: But again, the crucial element is coercion. And I think there are a lot of things we could do in American labor law and policy that are alternatives to the system of compulsory majority unionism. Some other countries do this. I think Australia and New Zealand have pluralistic systems where workers can choose between a number of organizations. So there are a lot of ways in which the system could be reformed.
HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, Dr. Paul Moreno, thanks to you both for a terrific day, and to your colleague, Dr. Thomas West. I would encourage all of you on this Labor Day, enjoy the end of summer. Get ready for a great fall, and make sure that if you are not up to speed on all of the Hillsdale Dialogues, that you get yourself over to www.hughhewitt.com, hit the Hughhewitt.com Hillsdale Dialogue button, and become familiar with all of our conversations dating back to two years when we began with the Iliad up through the one that you’re just hearing today. Also, go to www.hillsdale.edu and sign up for the monthly speech digest, it’s absolutely free, Imprimus. It will bring you all of the great speeches which are delivered at Hillsdale College, and all of the online courses at www.hillsdale.edu. Make this fall, as we head into the election, the fall in which you are going to be as smart as the guy next to you, and the gal next to you, and you can do that via www.hillsdale.edu.
End of interview.