Lawmakers in the California state assembly narrowly approved Monday repealing a law enacted during the second Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s that banned Communists from holding jobs in government. That period of McCarthyism led to the dismissal of hundreds if not thousands of workers in government positions, education, and unions. The bill must now pass through the state Senate for approval.
The first Red Scare took place in the years following the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917, and was aimed at anarchists, syndicalists, socialists, anti-war activists, and supporters of the Russian Revolution. Fears of Communist espionage and overthrow propelled the country to build up anti-communist hysteria. Such laws were passed federally and in the states.
Now the state of California may finally be rolling back some of those laws.
The repeal bill was sponsored by Oakland Democrat Rob Bonta. “It’s an old and archaic reference” to Communism, Bonta said. The bill is “really just a technical fix to remove that reference to a label that could be misused or abused, and frankly, has been in the past, in some of the darker chapters of our history in this country.”
While Assembly Bill 22 eliminates part of the law that allows public employees to be fired for being a member of the Communist Party, they can still be fired for ties with any organization seeking the violent overthrow of the government.
Some Republicans objected to the repeal vote. Assembly member Randy Voepel, a Southern California Republican, invoked the U.S.’ long-standing position of fear-mongering against North Korea and China, saying communists there are “still a threat.”
“This bill is blatantly offensive to all Californians,” added assembly member Travis Allen, a Republican who represents a coastal district in Southern California, reported AP. A significant number of his constituents are Vietnamese who fled their country once the pro-American puppet government fell in 1975. “Communism stands for everything that the United States stands against,” he said.
The news has also sent the right wing in the state to respond with fury, with many tweeting with anger at the news on Twitter.
Bonta heard his fellow legislators’ comments but was left unmoved by their arguments. “Part of having a functioning democracy and a fair and equitable society,” he said in remarks quoted by the Los Angeles Times, “is to make sure you’re actually basing your decisions to take someone’s job away…based on their actual conduct, their actual behavior and actual proof and evidence, not just some loose label that could be applied overbroadly in a way that is unfair and unjust.”
According to one Communist Party leader in Southern California, “The law didn’t make sense anyway. What authority was legitimately going to set itself up and distinguish between CPUSA members and members of other political formations that have similar programs? Why single out only one group? It smacks of Big Brother and intimidation, and it flies in the face of the First Amendment.”
The Communist Party USA, founded in 1919, has an estimated membership of 5,000 nationwide. Almost a thousand have joined the party since the inauguration of Donald Trump in January.
See also coverage in the Los Angeles Times.
Adapted from Telesur, with additional material by Eric A. Gordon