Ethel Rosenberg: Born Bad?
In a number of posts, co-blogger Bryan Caplan has argued that many socialists are “born bad.” I can’t find the references quickly: I’m on a friend’s computer and it just isn’t working the way mine does. Of course, I don’t think Bryan means literally “born bad.” Rather, his point is that many (most?) dedicated socialists don’t go into it with naive conceptions about how peaceful and non-coercive socialism will be but, instead, are fairly realistic that it will be pretty violent–and that is alright with them.
I thought of that while reading a passage on Ethel Rosenberg in Louis Nizer’s The Implosion Conspiracy, written in 1973. It’s about the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage–giving away nuclear secrets to the Soviets. In discussing Ethel’s early life, Nizer writes:
Ethel was now nineteen years old. She led a strike of 150 women workers which shut down New York National Shipping Company. Andrew W. Loebel, president of the company, recruited workers from the welfare rolls of New Jersey and opened the plant the very next day. Ethel and the girls she led caused such a disturbance at the office doors that newspapermen and policemen appeared on the scene to record and quell the disorder.
Though it was hot, Ethel and her army donned raincoats and, linked arm in arm, paraded up and down 36th Street barring and frightening away most of the substitute workers.
When a delivery truck arrived, the driver was dragged from his perch by the girls, who acted like a swarm of bees overcoming a bull. They tore his clothes off and holding him face downward wrote “I am a scab” on his back with lipstick. He was then permitted to drive off, accompanied by a chorus of humiliating laughter by the girls.
Of course we don’t know that Ethel coutenanced this violent behavior against an innocent driver, but I think we can guess. And what we do know is that she and her gang were perfectly willing to physically bar the substitute workers from getting into the business. Didn’t these workers have lives? Didn’t their preferences and their values count? No. What mattered to her and her gang was their wages and their working conditions. And they were quite willing to use violence against others who wanted to work.
The old Communist justification for brutality and murder was “If you’re going to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs.” Put aside the inhumane comparing of killing people to simply breaking eggs. Even with the egg metaphor, a more accurate way of putting it would be, “If I’m going to have my omelette, I’m going to break your eggs.”