Getting it right: First they came for the communists!

BY:Joe Sims| October 19, 2017
Getting it right: First they came for the communists!

Editor’s note: Niemöller’s famous poem exists in multiple versions, one of which begin, “First they came for the socialists…” Others, including the original version preferred by Niemöller himself, place the emphasis on communists. At a moment when far-right governments in Eastern Europe are persecuting and outlawing communist parties, the distinction is an important one. Joe Sims, a member of the National Board of the CPUSA, recommends a small correction to a New York Times column by Charles Blow. While Blow’s citation of Niemöller might be inexact, his call for a united front against the fascist danger of the Trump regime is right on.

Great column! But you got the Martin Niemöller quote wrong. It actually begins “First they came for the communists…” and not “First they came for the socialists.” If memory serves, the good pastor’s quote then proceeds along the lines repeated in your excellent op ed. The revisionist substitution of socialist for communist is a product of the Cold War and the artful and awful deceptions of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn, at whose feet both figuratively and literally sat Donald Trump.

It’s important. It was the comrades of Rosa Luxembourg who first stood against and fell victim to Hitler’s Black Shirts. And in this year of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution shouldn’t we remember that main blow against the Nazi hordes was struck by the Red Army?

You might recall also that one of the people mentioned in your column, W.E.B. Du Bois toward the end of his life, became an American communist, a courageous rebuke of and challenge to Cohn and company at the height of their power. It fell to Martin Luther King Jr to point out five years after Du Bois’ death that many speak of Du Bois without mentioning that he was radical all of his life and that he joined the Communist Party. King said, Du Bois was genius who chose to become a Communist.

In this age of alt-facts and official White House mendacity it falls upon truth tellers like yourself to point this truth out in all of its fullness.  It is in this spirit that I submit my fact check to your otherwise profound column.

Full disclosure. I am a card carrying, American communist.


Joe Sims

Photo: Ben Davis was removed from the New York City Council during the McCarthy period because of his membership in the Communist Party.

Photo: a monument bearing Niemöller’s poem at the New England Holocaust Museum.  Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


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