Arnold Kling's ex-Communist Mother's Testimony
Arnold Kling, an EconLog mainstay, posted this morning with a link to his mother’s fascinating testimony before a St. Louis meeting of the famous House Unamerican Activities Committee. His mother, Anne Ruth Kling, nee Yasgur, had been a member of the Communist Party during and slightly after World War II. That in itself I find fascinating. My mother, who died in 1969 while I was forming my political views, told me that she sometimes voted for the New Democratic Party, which was (and is) the socialist-leaning party in Canada. There’s no comparison: my mother voting occasionally socialist and Arnold’s mother was a dedicated Communist. On the shock scale, Arnold’s mom wins big time.
I found several things fascinating about the long testimony before a fairly pushy bunch of Congressmen.
First, and Arnold highlights this, rather than plead the 5th Amendment, Mrs. Kling took a more straightforward and understandable approach. She refused to be a snitch. My understanding–and I might be wrong–is that someone typically invokes the 5th Amendment when he thinks there is some reasonable probability that he did commit a crime. But Mrs. Kling was positive she hadn’t. She stated:
I will tell you anything that you want to know about myself and my activities, anything you want to know. I have nothing to conceal. I engaged in no criminal or no illegal activity.
But I am not a tattletale, and I don’t want to snitch on anybody.
I found that refreshing.
The committee’s chief counsel, Frank S. Tavenner, Jr., directed her to answer numerous questions numerous times and each time she stated her reason for not answering. They seemed to back off each time, which surprised me, but Arnold points out that they did charge her with contempt. (Incidentally, Wikipedia claims that Tavenner had earlier defended former Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo before a military tribunal, but the link that Wikipedia provides says that he was a prosecutor, not a defense attorney.)
I found two other things interesting.
First, Mrs. Kling put a high value, as she should have, on her own conscience. She mentioned numerous times that her conscience would not allow her to answer. When you consider that she was a member of the Communist Party, this is deeply ironic. Remember that she joined when Stalin was the world’s most important Communist and the Soviet Communists directed the activities of the U.S. Communists. I think that somewhere in this testimony–although I can’t find it–Mrs. Kling makes clear that she understands that. Of course, if Communism had been implemented in the United States, her conscience would have gotten her into deep trouble.
Here’s another interesting interaction (I’ve corrected a lot of typos):
Mr. Moulder. Mrs. Kling, may I plead with you. I think probably you don’t — I will ask you a question. Do you realize the seriousness and the threat of communism as a world conspiracy which seeks to control all free countries?
Mrs. Kling. Well, do you want a personal opinion on this?
Mr. Moulder. You don’t recognize or see that danger in communism?
Mrs. Kling. Well, what I don’t as an individual see is the value of naming a few people around St. Louis
Mr. Moulder. Our object here is to ascertain information which you possess, that you frankly refuse to give for the reasons which you have stated, which the committee does not accept.
I remind you, and I am trying to impress upon you the seriousness of the threat of communism to our democracy, our Nation and all other free countries. And we are seeking to obtain information from you which would aid our Congress, the Congress of the United States, to be better informed to consider legislation to protect our national security against communism under a world-wide conspiracy of communism.
I am pointing that out to you so that you, as an American citizen, can cooperate with this committee in helping us secure legislation and take other steps that might be necessary to protect our national security.
Mrs. Kling. Well, I appreciate the high purpose of the committee, but as it involves my individual values as to telling on other people— —
Mr. Moulder. But that is the very point. Don’t you think that your own Government and your own country’s welfare and freedom and security is far higher and above the position which you take in connection with individuals, which you take in protecting individuals? Don’t you think that our Nation’s welfare and security is [sic] far more important than that?
Mrs. Kling. I can only answer that a person has to live with himself and with his own conscience. And I couldn’t undertake to name a few people that I may or may not remember as being active 9 years ago when I was a member of the party.
(Representative James B. Frazier, Jr. entered the hearing room at this point.)
Mr. Scherer. Madam, would you take that same position if a very close friend and associate of yours had been engaged in violating the Federal Narcotics Act and come in here before our committee and said you just don’t want to tell what he did insofar as dispensing narcotics?
Would you take that same position if you had that information about him?
Mrs. Kling. Well, I think that involves something criminal. And I don’t feel I was engaged — I never did anything illegal or criminal.
Mr. Scherer. We didn’t say that you did anything illegal. But the courts have held that the Communist Party is not a political party as we know parties, political parties in this country, but that the Communist Party is part and parcel of an international, criminal conspiracy far greater than any conspiracy to violate the Narcotics Act of the Federal Government. It is the greatest criminal conspiracy the world has ever known. It has been definitely established as such by the decisions of the courts. And the Congress of the United States has said so.
So when you say that is a different situation that I presented to you, it is not a different situation at all.
In fact, as I have said, the Communist conspiracy certainly is a far more dangerous thing to the security and welfare of this country than is a violation of the Narcotics Act of this country.
I just wanted to demonstrate to you that the responsibility isn’t upon you any more; it is upon the Congress. If it is in the courts it rests upon the court or the people as a whole. And when you are subpoenaed to come and testify what you know you are relieved of any personal responsibility.
As I tried to explain to you this morning, the whole system of jurisprudence in this country would fail if a witness that is called into court could say that “I don’t want to tell what I know, even what I know about an accident case. I saw an accident happen, but it happened to be a friend of mine and I don’t want to involve him, and I don’t want to tell, therefore, whose fault it was.”
If we followed your reasoning to a conclusion we would have no government at all, no judicial system.
I am done preaching.
Gordon H. Scherer was a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Ohio. Morgan M. Moulder was a Democratic member of the House from Missouri.
Here I agree with Moulder that Communism was a much greater threat than narcotics. (Duh.)
Second, we never find out, not that we would in this context, why Mrs. Kling found Communism attractive. She comes off as an intelligent informed woman. Was she unaware what a moral monster Joseph Stalin was? I don’t know. Fortunately, she got the right husband. Here’s why she fell out with the Communists:
Mr. Moulder. Why did you stop going to Communist Party meetings?
Mrs. Kling. Well, that is a complex question and it involves my personal life. But I will tell you the plain, unvarnished truth about it.
I met a young man with whom I fell in love and he strongly disapproved of my membership and activities. And, well, then I just stopped going to meetings because of that.
Mr. Moulder. Do you now disapprove of the Communist Party activities and its objectives and purposes?
Mrs. Kling. Yes; I believe I do.
Mr. Moulder. And philosophy in this country?
Mrs. Kling. I believe I do; yes, sir.