The right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party of America opposed the Russian Revolution. However, those members who disagreed with this policy formed the Communist Propaganda League. In February 1919, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe, Louis Fraina, John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow created a left-wing faction that advocated the policies of the Bolsheviks in Russia. On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported this faction. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled.
In September 1919, Jay Lovestone, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Benjamin Gitlow, Charles Ruthenberg, Mikhail Borodin, William Dunne, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Louis Fraina, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. Within a few weeks it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
The formation of the Communist Party with its emphasis on electoral politics, alienated members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and other militants who believed the road to revolution lay through direct or mass action. These people argued that it was the industrial unions that would be the primary means of organizing and preparing the masses for revolutionary activity.
Charles Ruthenberg was appointed as National Secretary of the party. As the author of The Roots of American Communism (1957) pointed out: "Ruthenberg was the natural choice for National Secretary of the Communist party for two reasons - he was a native-born American, and he had demonstrated his ability to run an organization. Almost no one else qualified on both counts."
Initially, the American Communist Party was divided into two factions. One group that included Charles Ruthenberg, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe and Benjamin Gitlow, favoured a strategy of class warfare. Another group, led by William Z. Foster, William Dunne and James Cannon, believed that their efforts should concentrate on building a radicalised American Federation of Labor.
Ruthenberg argued in an article published in Communist Labor: "The party must be ready to put into its program the definite statement that mass action culminates in open insurrection and armed conflict with the capitalist state. The party program and the party literature dealing with our program and policies should clearly express our position on this point. On this question there is no disagreement."
The growth of the American Communist Party worried Woodrow Wilson and his administration and America entered what became known as the Red Scare period. On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the revolution, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Wilson's attorney general, ordered the arrest of over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists. These people were charged with "advocating force, violence and unlawful means to overthrow the Government". Palmer and his assistant, John Edgar Hoover, found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.
Benjamin Gitlow was one of those arrested. His trial began in New York City on 22nd January, 1920. He told the jury: "The socialists have always maintained that the change from capitalism to socialism would be a fundamental change, that is, we would have a complete reorganization of society, that this change would not be a question of reform; that the capitalist system of society would be completely changed and that that system would give way to a new system of society based on a new code of laws, based on a new code of ethics, and based on a new form of government. For that reason, the socialist philosophy has always been a revolutionary philosophy and people who adhered to the socialist program and philosophy were always considered revolutionists, and I as one who maintain that, in the eyes of the present day society, I am a revolutionist." Gitlow was found guilty on 11th February, 1920 and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. He served over two years at Sing Sing prison.
Charles Ruthenberg was also arrested. In October 1920, Ruthenberg was tried for alleged violation of the state's Criminal Anarchism law, said to have been breached when he was involved in publishing the Left Wing Manifesto written by Louis Fraina the previous year. Ruthenberg was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years. He remained in Dannemora Prison until released on a $5,000 bond on 24th April, 1922.
On his release from prison Ruthenberg wrote in The Voice of Labour: "We know that it was our efforts, our work in the trade unions, our propagandizing, our leaflets, our newspapers, our speakers, our organizers, who to a large extent made possible this Convention. And because of that, we took the liberty of interposing with our organization of the militant self-sacrificing workers who are ready to give their strength and money to this cause, and who can be the motive force pushing it forward and spreading it out and making it a real mass movement. We know that - and we are not hiding it."
The American Communist Party established the Daily Worker newspaper in 1924. It generally reflected the prevailing views of the party. However, attempts were made to make it a paper that reflected the wide-spectrum of left-wing opinion. At its peak, the newspaper achieved a circulation of 35,000.
It was decided that because William Z. Foster had a strong following in the trade union movement that he should be the party candidate in the 1924 Presidential Election. Benjamin Gitlow, was chosen as his running-mate. Foster did not do well and only won 38,669 votes (0.1 of the total vote). This compared badly with the other left-wing candidate, Robert La Follette, of the Progressive Party, who obtained 4,831,706 votes (16.6%).
The Comintern eventually accepted the leadership of Charles Ruthenberg and Jay Lovestone. As Theodore Draper pointed out in American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960): "After the Comintern's verdict in favor of Ruthenberg as party leader, the factional storm gradually subsided... At the Seventh Plenum at the end of 1926, the Comintern, for the first time in five years, found it unnecessary to appoint an American Commission to deal with an American factional struggle.... Ruthenberg's machine worked so smoothly and efficiently that it made those outside his inner circle increasingly restless. Beneath the surface of the factional lull, another rebellion smoldered, with the helpful encouragement of Cannon, who had touched off the anti-Ruthenberg rebellion three years earlier."
On the death of Charles Ruthenberg in 1927 Jay Lovestone became the party's national secretary. James Cannon, the chairman of the American Communist Party, attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928. While in the Soviet Union he was given a document written by Leon Trotsky on the rule of Joseph Stalin. Convinced by what he read, when he returned to the United States he criticized the Soviet government. As a result of his actions, Cannon and his followers were expelled from the party. Cannon now joined with other Trotskyists to form the Communist League of America.
William Z. Foster remained in the American Communist Party and was their candidate in the 1928 Presidential Election. Once again Foster and Benjamin Gitlow did badly and only won 48,551 votes (0.1%). This time it was Norman Thomas (267,478 votes) of the Socialist Party who was supported by those on the left.
On March 16, 1929, Benjamin Gitlow was appointed to the post of Executive Secretary of the party. Max Bedacht and Earl Browder made-up the three men leadership team. By this time Joseph Stalin had placed his supporters in most of the important political positions in the country. Even the combined forces of all the senior Bolsheviks left alive since the Russian Revolution were not enough to pose a serious threat to Stalin.
In 1929 Nikolay Bukharin was deprived of the chairmanship of the Comintern and expelled from the Politburo by Stalin. He was worried that Bukharin had a strong following in the American Communist Party, and at a meeting of the Presidium in Moscow on 14th May he demanded that the party came under the control of the Comintern. He admitted that Jay Lovestone was "a capable and talented comrade," but immediately accused him of employing his capabilities "in factional scandal-mongering, in factional intrigue." Benjamin Gitlow and Ella Reeve Bloor defended Lovestone. This angered Stalin and according to Bertram Wolfe, he got to his feet and shouted: "Who do you think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Zinoviev defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives." Stalin then went onto warn the Americans that the Russians knew how to handle troublemakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."
Jay Lovestone realised that he would now be expelled from the American Communist Party. On 15th May, 1929 he sent a cable to Robert Minor and Jacob Stachel and asked them to take control over the party's property and other assets. However, as Theodore Draper has pointed out in American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960): "The Comintern beat him to the punch. On May 17, even before the Comintern's Address could reach the United States, the Political Secretariat in Moscow decided to remove Lovestone, Gitlow, and Wolfe from all their leading positions, to purge the Political Committee of all members who refused to submit to the Comintern's decisions, and to warn Lovestone that it would be a gross violation of Comintern discipline to attempt to leave Russia."
William Z. Foster, who had already gone on record as saying, "I am for the Comintern from start to finish. I want to work with the Comintern, and if the Comintern finds itself criss-cross with my opinions, there is only one thing to do and that is to change my opinions to fit the policy of the Comintern", now became the dominant figure in the party. Jay Lovestone, Benjamin Gitlow, Bertram Wolfe and Charles Zimmerman, now formed a new party the Communist Party (Majority Group).
By 1929 the American Communist Party only had 7,000 members. Most of these were immigrants living in and around New York City. There were also a large number involved in the arts including Elia Kazan, Erskine Caldwell, John Dos Passos, Howard Fast, Pete Seeger, Clifford Odets, Larry Parks, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Gale Sondergaard, Joseph Bromberg, Richard Wright, Dalton Trumbo, Richard Collins, Budd Schulberg, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Edwin Rolfe, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Paul Jarrico, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie.
The Great Depression helped the party grow and in the 1932 Presidential Election, the party candidate, William Z. Foster polled 102,991 votes (0.3), but Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party candidate, polled seven times that figure. Later that year Foster suffered a heart-attack and Earl Browder became the new leader of the American Communist Party. Foster moved to Moscow where he received treatment for his heart problems. He returned to the United States in 1935, but by this time Browder had established himself as the most important figure in the party.
In the 1936 Presidential Election Browder won only 79,315 votes (0.2%). Norman Thomas did better with 187,910, but the left overwhelmingly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt (27,752,648), as they approved of his New Deal policies.
On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War the Communist Party helped to recruit people to join the International Brigades. Those willing to fight to defend the Popular Front government in Spain established the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the George Washington Battalion and the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. Members who fought against the Nationalist Army included William Aalto, Hans Amlie, Bill Bailey, Robert Merriman, Steve Nelson, Walter Grant, Alvah Bessie, Hank Rubin, Joe Dallet, David Doran, John Gates, Harry Haywood, Oliver Law, Edwin Rolfe, Paul White and Milton Wolff.
The leaders of the American Communist Party did not question the Great Purge of those Bolsheviks who were accused of being followers of Leon Trotsky. As Paul Buhle has pointed out: "The public portrayals of Russia as a virtual paradise for workers and peasants required great credulity, even in the best of times, and the later 1930s were far from the best of times. Stalin's purges of the Old Bolsheviks through the Moscow Trials required ideological overkill from American Communists, which baffled and pained their liberal allies."
The Communist Party also supported the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. It was argued that this was the best way to defeat fascism. However, this view took a terrible blow when on 28th August, 1939, Joseph Stalin signed a military alliance with Adolf Hitler. Browder and other leaders of the party decided to support the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
John Gates pointed out that this created serious problems for the party. "We turned on everyone who refused to go along with our new policy and who still considered Hitler the main foe. People whom we had revered only the day before, like Mrs. Roosevelt, we now reviled. This was one of the characteristics of Communists which people always found most difficult to swallow - that we could call them heroes one day and villains the next. Yet in all of this lay our one consistency; we supported Soviet policies whatever they might be; and this in turn explained so many of our inconsistencies. Immediately following the upheaval over the Soviet-German non-aggression pact came the Finnish war, which compounded all our difficulties since, here also, our position was uncritically in support of the Soviet action."
Earl Browder was the American Communist Party candidate in the 1940 Presidential Election, but the government imposed a court order forbidding him to travel within the country. His campaign efforts were limited to the issuing of written statement and the distribution of recorded speeches. In the election he won only 46,251 votes. Later that year he was found guilty of passport irregularities and sentenced to prison for four years. When the United States joined the Second World War and became allies with the Soviet Union, attitudes towards communism changed and Browder was released from prison after only serving 14 months of his sentence. Membership of the party also grew to 75,000.
In 1944 Earl Browder controversially announced that capitalism and communism could peacefully co-exist. As John Gates pointed out in his book, The Story of an American Communist (1959): "Browder had developed several bold ideas which were stimulated by the unprecedented situation, and now he proceeded to put them into effect. At a national convention in 1944, the Communist Party of the United States dissolved and reformed itself into the Communist Political Association." Ring Lardner, another party member, explained: "The change seemed only to bring the nomenclature in line with reality. Our political activities, by then, were virtually identical to those of our liberal friends."
Howard Fast was another supporter of Earl Browder: "In 1944, Browder, the leader of the party through some of its most bitter struggles during the thirties, had attempted to change the party from a political party that offered candidates in elections to a sort of educational Marxist entity. His move, I believe, was based on the wartime and prewar influence of the party on Roosevelt's New Deal, and on the hope that it might continue."
Except for William Z. Foster and Benjamin Davis, the leaders of the American Communist Party unanimously supported Browder. However, in 1945, Jacques Duclos, a leading member of the French Communist Party and considered to be the main spokesman for Joseph Stalin, made a fierce attack on the ideas of Browder. As John Gates pointed out: "The leaders of the American Communists, who, except for Foster and one other, had unanimously supported Browder, now switched overnight, and, except for one or two with reservations, threw their support to Foster. An emergency convention in July, 1945, repudiated Browder's ideas, removed him from leadership and re-constituted the Communist Party in an atmosphere of hysteria and humiliating breast-beating unprecedented in communist history."
William Z. Foster now became the new leader. Two years later, after being criticised by leaders in the Soviet Union, Browder was expelled from the American Communist Party. He was later to argue: "The American Communists had thrived as champions of domestic reform. But when the Communists abandoned reforms and championed a Soviet Union openly contemptuous of America while predicting its quick collapse, the same party lost all its hard-won influence. It became merely a bad word in the American language."
The American Communist Party lost one of its most important intellectuals when Richard Wright left the movement. William Patterson claims that Wright left the party after a dispute with Harry Haywood: "Although he was convinced that the political philosophy of Communism was correct, he did not see a book as a political weapon. He thought that the creative genius of a writer should be freed from all restrictions and restraints, especially those of a political nature, and that the writer should write as he pleased. Unfortunately, Harry Haywood, then top organizer on the Southside, did not exhibit the slightest appreciation that he was dealing with a sensitive, immature creative genius with whom it was necessary to exercise great patience. He criticized some of Wright's earlier characters sharply and tried to force him into a mold that was not to his liking. Name-calling resulted and Haywood used his political position to get a vote of censure against Wright, who thereupon resigned from the Party."
Wright published an article in the Atlantic Monthly, entitled The God That Failed. He remained a Marxist but as he pointed out in his article, "I wanted to be a communist, but my kind of communist". He added: "I knew in my heart that I should never be able to feel and that simple sharpness about life, should never again express such passionate hope, should never again make so total a commitment of faith."
On the morning of 20th July, 1948, Eugene Dennis, the general secretary of the American Communist Party, and eleven other party leaders, including William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis, John Gates, Robert G. Thompson, Gus Hall, Benjamin Davis, Henry M. Winston, and Gil Green were arrested and charged under the Alien Registration Act. This law, passed by Congress in 1940, made it illegal for anyone in the United States "to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government".
The trial began on 17th January, 1949. As John Gates pointed out: "There were eleven defendants, the twelfth, Foster, having been severed from the case because of his serious, chronic heart ailment." The men were defended by George W. Crockett. It was difficult for the prosecution to prove that the eleven men had broken the Alien Registration Act, as none of the defendants had ever openly called for violence or had been involved in accumulating weapons for a proposed revolution. The prosecution therefore relied on passages from the work of Karl Marx and other revolution figures from the past. When John Gates refused to answer a question implicating other people, he was sentenced by Judge Harold Medina to 30 days in jail. When Henry M. Winston and Gus Hall protested, they were also sent to prison.
The prosecution also used the testimony of former members of the American Communist Party to help show that Eugene Dennis and his fellow comrades had privately advocated the overthrow of the government. The most important witness against the leaders of the party was Louis Budenz, the former managing editor of the party's newspaper, The Daily Worker.
Another strategy of the prosecution was to ask the defendants questions about other party members. Unwilling to provide information on fellow comrades, they were put in prison and charged with contempt of court. The trial dragged on for eleven months and eventually, the judge, Harold Medina, who made no attempt to disguise his own feelings about the defendants, sent the party's lawyers to prison for contempt of court.
After a nine month trial the leaders of the American Communist Party were found guilty of violating the Alien Registration Act and sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Robert G. Thompson, because of his war record, received only three years. They appealed to the Supreme Court but on 4th June, 1951, the judges ruled, 6-2, that the conviction was legal.
Gus Hall, out on bail, fled to Mexico. He was eventually caught in Mexico City, and ultimately served a total of eight years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Robert G. Thompson was another who jumped bail but was arrested in the California Sierras in 1954. He was given an extra four years in addition to his original three.
John Abt and Vito Marcantonio were hired by the American Communist Party to defend it against the Alien Registration Act. Apt also mounted the legal challenge to the McCarran Internal Security Act, which made it illegal to belong to the Communist Party or any of the 200 organizations claimed by the government to be "Communist Fronts". Abt called the McCarran Act as a "blueprint of American fascism". Over the next thirty years Apt represented thousands of individual clients who had lost their jobs because of this legislation.
Justice Felix Frankfurter argued: The particular circumstances of this case compel me to conclude that the trial judge should not have combined in himself the functions of accuser and judge. For his accusations were not impersonal. They concerned matters in which he personally was deeply engaged... No judge should sit in a case in which he is personally involved... At frequent intervals in the course of the trial his comments plainly reveal personal feelings against the lawyers.... Truth compels the observation, painful as it is to make it, that the fifteen volumes of oral testimony in the principal trial record numerous episodes involving the judge and defense counsel that are more suggestive of an undisciplined debating society than of the hush and solemnity of a court of justice. Too often counsel were encouraged to vie with the court in dialectic, in repartee and banter, in talk so copious as inevitably to arrest the momentum of the trial and to weaken the restraints of respect that a judge should engender in lawyers... Throughout the proceedings... he failed to exercise the moral authority of a court possessed of a great tradition.
Justice William Douglas agreed: "I agree with Mr. Justice Frankfurter that one who reads the record will have difficulty in determining whether members of the bar conspired to drive a judge from the bench or whether the judge used the authority of the bench to whipsaw the lawyers, to taunt and tempt them, and to create for himself the role of the persecuted. I have reluctantly concluded that neither is blameless, that there is fault on each side, that we have here the spectacle of the bench and the bar using the courtroom for an unseemly discussion and of ill will and hot tempers."
This decision was followed by the arrests of 46 more communists during the summer of 1951. This included Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was also convicted for contempt of court after telling the judge that she would not identify people as Communists as she was unwilling "do degrade or debase myself by becoming an informer". She was also found guilty of violating the Alien Registration Act and sentenced to two years in prison.
As John Gates pointed out in his book, The Story of an American Communist (1959): "To many in the leadership, this meant that the United States was unquestionably on the threshold of fascism. Had not Hitler's first step been to outlaw the Communist Party? We saw an almost exact parallel."
During the 20th Soviet Communist Party Congress in February, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev launched an attack on the rule of Joseph Stalin. He condemned the Great Purge and accused Joseph Stalin of abusing his power. He announced a change in policy and gave orders for the Soviet Union's political prisoners to be released. John Gates, the editor of the Daily Worker, became a supporter of Khrushchev and at his direction the newspaper printed the full text of Khrushchev's speech. This brought him into conflict with the leaders of the American Communist Party.
Howard Fast explained how he reacted in the Daily Worker to the speech: "We accused the Soviets. We demanded explanations. For the first time in the life of the Communist Party of the United States, we challenged the Russians for the truth, we challenged the disgraceful executions that had taken place in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. We demanded explanations and openness. John Gates pulled no punches, printed the hundreds of letters that poured in from our readers, the bitterness of those who had given the best and most fruitful years of their lives to an organization that still clung to the tail of the Soviet Union."
John Gates also encouraged debate on this issue by devoting one page of the newspaper to their readers' views: "The readers thought plenty. The paper received an unprecedented flood of mail, and even more unprecedented, we decided to print all the letters, regardless of viewpoint - a step which the Daily Worker had never taken before. The full page of letters, in our modest eight pages, soon became its liveliest and most popular feature... Readers spoke out as never before, pouring out the anguish of many difficult years."
In April 1956 Eugene Dennis, published a report on the American Communist Party. As John Gates pointed out that it "was a devastating critique of the party's policies over a whole decade. Like all reports, it was not only his own, but had been discussed and approved by the National Committee members in advance. Dennis characterized the party's policies as super-leftist and sectarian, narrow-minded and inflexible, dogmatic and unrealistic." William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis and Robert G. Thompson, constituted a minority of the leadership that led the attack on Dennis.
Khrushchev's de-Stalinzation policy encouraged people living in Eastern Europe to believe that he was willing to give them more independence from the Soviet Union. In Hungary the prime minister Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. During the Hungarian Uprisingan estimated 20,000 people were killed. Nagy was arrested and replaced by the Soviet loyalist, Janos Kadar.
Some members of the American Communist Party were highly critical of the actions of Nikita Khrushchev and John Gates stated that "for the first time in all my years in the Party I felt ashamed of the name Communist". He then went on to add that "there was more liberty under Franco's fascism than there is in any communist country." As a result he was accused of being "right-winger, Social-Democrat, reformist, Browderite, peoples' capitalist, Trotskyist, Titoite, Stracheyite, revisionist, anti-Leninist, anti-party element, liquidationist, white chauvinist, national Communist, American exceptionalist, Lovestoneite, Bernsteinist".
William Z. Foster was a loyal supporter of the leadership of the Soviet Union and refused to condemn the regime's record on human rights. Foster failed to criticize the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution. Large numbers left the party. At the end of the Second World War it had 75,000 members. By 1957 membership had dropped to 5,000.
On 22nd December, 1957, the American Communist Party Executive Committee decided to close down the Daily Worker. John Gates argued: "Throughout the 34 years of its existence, the Daily Worker has withstood the attacks of Big Business, the McCarthyites and other reactionaries. It has taken a drive from within the party - conceived in blind factionalism and dogmatism - to do what our foes have never been able to accomplish. The party leadership must once and for all repudiate the Foster thesis, defend the paper and its political line, and seek to unite the entire party behind the paper."
Howard Fast, who was a staff journalist on the Daily Worker added: "The Daily Worker published its last issue on January 13, 1958, precisely thirty-four years after its first issue had appeared. I doubt whether there was a day during those decades when the paper was not in debt. It was always understaffed, and its staff was always underpaid. It never compromised with the truth as it saw the truth; and while it was at times rigid and believing of whatever the Soviet Union put forth, it was so only because of its blind faith in the socialist cause. It is a part of the history of this country, and like the party that supported it, it preached love for its native land. It had once boasted a daily circulation of close to 100,000. Its final run was five thousand copies."
John Gates resigned from the American Communist Party on 1st January 1958: "I have come to this decision, after 27 years in the Communist movement, because I feel that the Communist Party has ceased to be an effective force for democracy, peace and socialism in the United States. The isolation and decline of the Communist Party have long been apparent. I had hoped, as a result of the struggle that has been going on in the party for the last two years, that the party could be radically transformed... I have come to the reluctant conclusion that the party cannot be changed from within and that the fight to do so is hopeless. The same ideals that attracted me to socialism still motivate me. I do not believe it is possible any longer to serve those ideals within the Communist Party."
William Z. Foster retired in 1957 and assumed the title of Chairman emeritus of the party and Eugene Dennis became the new leader of the party. Gus Hall was eventually released from prison in 1959. He immediately set about replacing Dennis. During his campaign he accused Dennis of cowardice for not going underground in 1951. Later that year he defeated Dennis for the post. According to Dan Georgakas: "Hall rapidly placed his stamp upon the movement. Like those within the main branch of socialism, he and his fellow Communist leaders chose to remain committed fundamentally to reorienting the liberal wing of the Democratic Party."
Gus Hall was the party candidate in the 1972 Presidential Election but received only 25,597 votes, whereas Linda Jenness of the Trotskyist Socialist Worker Party managed 83,380. Hall improved his vote to 58,709 in the 1976 Presidential Election but one again he was well behind the SWP candidate, Peter Camejo.
Hall was hostile to Eurocommunism as it developed in the 1980s and then to the reforms initiated in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev. Hall resisted the attempts to introduce democratic reforms. In 1989 Hall outmaneuvered his opponents, leading to large numbers leaving the party. Hall did not resign as party chairman until just before his death on 13th October, 2000. He was replaced by Sam Webb as party leader.
We must try to reach the workers with our propaganda - we don't expect to make much of an impression on them at present. Well and good. We shall continue our agitation, confident that the social forces, the economic disintegration of world capitalism since the war-and which can no longer succeed in rehabilitating itself-will compel the masses to listen to our message.
The party must be ready to put into its program the definite statement that mass action culminates in open insurrection and armed conflict with the capitalist state. The party program and the party literature dealing with our program and policies should clearly express our position on this point. On this question there is no disagreement.
Since the beginning of the party there have been two viewpoints represented sented in the Central Executive Committee. The majority members of the committee considered themselves "great theorists." They constantly talked about the word "principle," but never about how to relate Communist principles to the working class movement of this country and to make these principles a living reality in action...
The Executive Secretary (Ruthenberg) and the minority group, on the other hand, stood for a policy which would make the Communist Party in reality the "party of action" which its Manifesto so proudly proclaims it. They endeavored to relate the party to the life struggle of the workers. They sought to inject the party viewpoint in every struggle of the masses. They believed that a Communist Party should be, not a party of closet philosophers, but a party which participates in the every day struggles of the workers and by such participation injects its principles into these struggles and gives them a wider meaning, thus developing the Communist movement.
We have had for two years many struggles and much strife in our ranks. This was inevitable after the great upheaval of the World War and the Russian Revolution that shook all of our organizations to their foundations and put every one of our old theories and dogmas to the acid test. Every one of us was compelled to revise some of his theories and some of his plans. It was no more than natural, I might say it was inevitable, that in the beginning we should have some confusion and some disintegration.
The task is before us. We have a labor movement that is completely discouraged and demoralized. We have an organized labor movement that is unable on any front to put up an effective struggle against the drive of destruction organized by the masters. We have a revolutionary movement which, until this inspirational call for a Workers Party convention, was disheartened, discouraged and demoralized. Our labor unions, upon which the workers build their first line of resistance; and I want to say right here, comrades, that you must face it as the most menacing thing on the horizon - the labor unions of America are being broken up because there is not sufficient unified understanding, because there is not sufficient leadership to save them. And I say that unless we, comrades, unless we, the revolutionary workers - we who know that only on a program of the class struggle can they mass and fight victoriously; unless we organize and prepare to unify and direct them, to lead their struggles, then, I say, the American labor unions will be destroyed and black reaction will settle upon this country. We have a responsibility upon us, and we must find the way out.
Yes, reaction is in full sway in America. Many of our finest spirits, our bravest boys, our best fighters, wear their lives away in the penitentiaries of America. The boys that threw themselves into the struggle during the war, those who did not take down their flag when the persecution became severe, the very cream of the movement, have languished in prison for over two years, and I say it is a shame and a disgrace that we have not made any effective protest against it. It is a pitiful thing that for two years the campaign for the release of our fellow workers and comrades, which should have been carried on upon the basis of the class struggle, which should have been the rallying cry to arouse the workers and inspire an irresistible campaign for amnesty, has been left almost entirely to such as the American Civil Liberties Bureau on the one hand, the Socialist Party's Amnesty Committee on the other, and the IWW lawyers on the third; and there is very little difference among them. Now, I say, we are going to stem the tide. We are going to stop the stampede by putting up a program and plan of action with a set of fighting leaders and give out the rallying cry: Fellow workers, stand and fight! It is better to die in the struggle than to be crushed to death without resistance!
We know that it was our efforts, our work in the trade unions, our propagandizing, our leaflets, our newspapers, our speakers, our organizers, who to a large extent made possible this Convention. And because of that, we took the liberty of interposing with our organization of the militant self-sacrificing workers who are ready to give their strength and money to this cause, and who can be the motive force pushing it forward and spreading it out and making it a real mass movement. We know that - and we are not hiding it.
After the Comintern's verdict in favor of Ruthenberg as party leader, the factional storm gradually subsided. Membership meetings throughout the country "unanimously endorsed" the new leadership and its policies. At the Seventh Plenum at the end of 1926, the Comintern, for the first time in five years, found it unnecessary to appoint an American Commission to deal with an American factional struggle."
The men around Ruthenberg were seasoned veterans, who had never accepted Foster as a "real Communist" and never intended to let power slip out of their hands again. The "big three" in the Chicago national office - the General Secretary, Ruthenberg; the Organization Secretary, Lovestone; and the Director of Agit-Prop, Bedacht - had fought side by side since the formation of the Workers party. In the key New York district, Weinstone went back to his old job as District Organizer, which he decided to rename "General Secretary," as more befitting to his sense of self-importance. The New York Agit-Prop director, Bertram D. Wolfe, was an old-timer who had helped to form the party in 1919 and had recently returned after three and a half years in Mexico. Jack Stachel, head of the New York organization department, was a fast-rising newcomer.
Stachel was born of East-European Jewish parents who had emigrated to New York's East Side when he was still a child. After leaving school at an early age, he had worked at odd jobs and had once belonged to the millinery workers union. Like Weisbord and at exactly the same age, twenty-four, he had switched from the Socialists to the Communists in 1924 and quickly became an organizer for the Communist youth league in New York. The younger members of Ruthenberg's group welcomed him to their ranks, and he soon attracted Lovestone's attention as a hard-working organizer and hard-hitting factionalist. When Lovestone took over the national organization department, he recommended Stachel for the New York organization post. Stachel's unusually rapid rise-within two years-to the second most important post in the most important district indicated a big party career ahead for the dark, saturnine, ambitious young
Ruthenberg's machine worked so smoothly and efficiently that it made those outside his inner circle increasingly restless. Beneath the surface of the factional lull, another rebellion smoldered, with the helpful encouragement of Cannon, who had touched off the anti-Ruthenberg rebellion three years earlier. After Cannon broke with Foster over Gusev's intervention in 1925, he and Ruthenberg suspended hostilities. Soon, however, Cannon began to feel neglected, and the strange bedfellows parted company. By the middle of 1926, Cannon went back to his old habit of voting with Foster and Bittelman in the Political Committee, the three of them consistently out-voted by Ruthenberg's four.
Unable to win by the factional system, Cannon declared war on it. His group was far more personal than Ruthenberg's or Foster's; it was based on a portion of the cadre rather than on the rank and file. His International Labor Defense was no match for Ruthenberg's party machine or Foster's trade-union base. As a result, Cannon was compelled to maneuver between the two larger factions or to make alliances with other discontented elements. While Ruthenberg claimed credit for reducing factionalism, Cannon charged that it was worse than ever before, with the ruling faction passing itself off as the party. Cannon professed to be tired of the game and launched a campaign for a nonfactional collective leadership, or, as it came to be known, a faction to end all factions.
At heart and in their daily action the trade unions are revolutionary. Their unchangeable policy is to withhold from the exploiters all they have the power to. In these days, when they are weak in numbers and discipline, they have to content themselves with petty achievements. But they are constantly growing in strength and understanding, and the day will surely come when they will have the great masses of workers organized and instructed in their true interests. That hour will sound the death knell of capitalism. Then they will pit their enormous organization against the parasitic employing class, end the wages system forever and set up the long-hoped-for era of social justice. That is the true meaning of the trade
Revolutions are not brought about by the type of far-sighted revolutionaries that you have in mind, but by stupid masses who are goaded to desperate revolt by the pressure of social conditions, and who are led by straight-thinking revolutionaries who are able to direct the storm intelligently against capitalism.
The American party reported an increase in average membership from 12,058 in 1922 to 16,325 for the first six months of 1925. After Bolshevization, the total dropped from 14,037 in September to 7213 in October 1925.2 Then it slowly rose again to about 9500 in 1927, and hovered around that figure for the rest of the decade.
Thus the immediate effect of Bolshevization was a decline in membership of almost 50 per cent. It took the party seven years to climb back to the pre-Bolshevization figure, and that achievement in 1932 owed far more to the economic depression than to Bolshevization.
One reason for the seemingly precipitous loss of membership was the abolition in 1925 of the "dual-stamp system," which had permitted husbands and wives to buy a single dues stamp. As a result, the rolls of the party had contained many housewives who were members in name only. About 4000 were estimated to be in this category; but another 3000 members, representing about 20 per cent of the total, dropped out for other reasons, most of them foreign-language members who could not fit into the new set-up. If Bolshevization had attracted many more "American" workers, as promised, this loss might have been shrugged off. But it did not work out that way. For every seven members that went out, only two came in, and the new members were not very different socially from the old ones.
Soon the high cost of Bolshevization in membership was officially recognized and deplored. One leading organizer wrote: "The [Bolshevization] reorganization, however, cost our party a large number of members, and no comrade should shrug his shoulders and say there is no loss to the party, if the members who left should not rejoin." By 1927 even Lovestone, who was chiefly responsible for carrying out the reorganization, admitted that the party had lost "a too great number of members."
If the Workers party membership is revised to compensate for the distortion created by the dual-stamp system, the figures would be closer to 8000 in 1922, 11,000 in 1923, 13,000 in 1924, 12,000 for the first six months of 1925, 7250 for the last six months of 1925, 7500 in 1926, and 9500 in 1927-29. The upward trend between 1922 and 1924 coincided with the party's activity in the Farmer-Labor movement; a sharp drop was caused by Bolshevization, though it was less drastic than it seems, because the foreign-language members who dropped out were the most inactive group in the party; and a small recovery was staged toward the end of the decade.
I am for the Comintern from start to finish. I want to work with the Comintern, and if the Comintern finds itself criss-cross with my opinions, there is only one thing to do and that is to change my opinions to fit the policy of the Comintern.
Everybody was rallying to endorse Stalin. I was not only a personal friend of Bukharin, but I had fundamental agreement with him on international questions, though on Russian questions I had agreement with Stalin and not with him. In that meeting I objected to the American Communist Party lining up. I said, "We will wear no Stalin buttons, and we will wear no Bukharin buttons, and we will not engage in gangsterism against Stalin or Bukharin." I said that Stalin was my leader as leader of the Communist Party; that I respected him, had high regard for his opinion and caliber of thinking.... Saying that, a cable was sent to Moscow. That cable was passed around throughout the International, and that pretty much served as the blot on my political death certificate in my relations with the Stalin leadership.
On the inner Party situation, he (Stalin) said he was opposed to our proposal for the removal of the Lovestone group from power at one blow, that this cannot be done from the top-meaning from here - leaving the implication that it must be done from below - at home. We very soon told him that we were not making such a proposal, but that our proposition was that the Communist International send an Open Letter to our Party criticizing the Right line of the Central Committee and the Lovestone group, and that a convention of the Party be held two months after the presidential elections. He stated that no good could come out of the Lovestone group, that they simply liked to play with policies and mass work. Although he did not commit himself to any particular program, we feel that in him we have a very good friend and supporter. We drew to his attention the fact that Bukharin had not criticized the Right-wing danger in the American Party and he said he would have to read the uncorrected stenogram of the Bukharin speech and that he would have a talk with him the following morning before going on his vacation for a month. We were very satisfied with the interview. How much he will actually intervene in our behalf here is an open question...
Our conclusions from these meetings were about the following lines: That Stalin was decidedly against the Lovestone group and in favor of us, that he will have little influence in the present struggle now, but that
the main support will come after we show him in the next few months that we are a fighting group and are fighting in the Party for our position.
The chairman of the American Commission, Kuusinen, presided. He opened the meeting by reading the report of the commission, embodied in the proposed "Address" of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Then Gitlow read a declaration in the name of the ten American delegates stating that they could not accept the Address because it would promote "demoralization, disintegration and chaos in the Party." This declaration warned that acceptance "would make it absolutely impossible for us to continue as effective workers in the Communist movement."
One after another, leading members of other parties appealed to the Americans to remain faithful to the Comintern and give their approval to the commission's proposals. All the other Americans present, especially the large contingent from the Lenin School which had been efficiently mobilized for the occasion, rose and called upon the delegation to obey the will of the Comintern. As this long proces¬sion of hostile speakers dragged on, the isolation of the ten Americans increased steadily and the pressure on them mounted visibly.
Of all the speeches made before the Presidium voted, the most im¬portant was of course Stalin's. He devoted most of his speech to the evils of factionalism and the virtues of discipline. He conceded that Lovestone was "a capable and talented comrade," but immediately accused Lovestone of employing his capabilities "in factional scandal-mongering, in factional intrigue," and he scoffed at the idea that Lovestone was so talented that the American party could not get along without him. Foster, he added, had not repudiated the "concealed Trotskyists" in his group in time, because "he behaved first and foremost as a factionalist."...
The last American to speak was Gitlow, and he parted company with the other delegates for the opposite reason. As the recently appointed party Secretary, Gitlow had potentially more to lose by the new set-up demanded by the Comintern than anyone else. An irascible man, he could not bow his head with the heartsick resignation of Bedacht or contain his anger with the cold calculation of Lovestone. Instead Gitlow declared that not only did he oppose the Presidium's decision but that he would go back to the United States to fight against it.
Gitlow's outburst brought Stalin to his feet. Usually Stalin spoke so softly that he forced his listeners to lean forward to hear him. Now he shouted in anger. The published version of this speech is comparatively mild and self-controlled, but witnesses agree that it hardly does justice to the fury in his voice and the violence of his language.
According to the official account, Stalin paid tribute to the "firmness and stubbornness" of the eight American hold-outs, but admonished them that "true Bolshevik courage" consisted in submitting to the will of the Comintern rather than in defying it. He assailed Lovestone, Gitlow, and Ella Reeve Bloor by name for acting like anarchists, individualists, and strike-breakers, and concluded by assuring them that the American Communist party would survive the downfall of their faction.
But, according to Wolfe, Stalin also shouted: "Who do you think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Zinoviev defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives."
According to Lovestone, who later called it the "graveyard speech," Stalin warned the Americans that the Russians knew how to handle strike-breakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."
Stalin stepped down from the platform and strode out first. Guards and secretaries flocked after him. No one moved until he had walked down the aisle. But as he reached the Americans, he stopped and held out his hand to the Negro delegate, Edward Welsh, who stood next to Lovestone.
Welsh turned to Lovestone and asked loudly, "What the hell does this guy want?" and refused to shake Stalin's hand.
The American delegates, totally shunned by everyone else, walked out into the gray dawn and bought oranges from a street peddler.
Lovestone still hoped that all was not lost. The cable to the two caretakers, Minor and Stachel, arrived in New York on May 15, the day after the Presidium's meeting. He counted on them, especially on Stachel, to carry out the plan to take over the party's property and other assets, and he wanted to get back to the United States quickly enough to bring the delegation's story to the party membership before the Comintern could mobilize all its forces against him.
The Comintern beat him to the punch. On May 17, even before the Comintern's Address could reach the United States, the Political Secretariat in Moscow decided to remove Lovestone, Gitlow, and Wolfe from all their leading positions, to purge the Political Committee of all members who refused to submit to the Comintern's decisions, and to warn Lovestone that it would be a gross violation of Comintern discipline to attempt to leave Russia. The "loyal" American Communists - Bedacht, Foster, and Weinstone - were permitted to leave Russia immediately. Also dispatched to the United States was a special Comintern representative, the secretary of the American Commission, Mikhailov (Williams), sent secretly to take charge of the shake-up in the American party.
What was there in this singular document, Trotsky's criticism of the draft program of the Communist International, that made such an overwhelming impression on Cannon and Shachtman? Why did the thunderbolt miss so many other American and Canadian Communists?
The document that Cannon and Shachtman read was divided into two parts, the first on the question of socialism in one country, the second on the defeat of the Chinese Communists in 1927. Only a single page was devoted to American Communism; it repeated Trotsky's familiar criticism of Pepper's flirtation with the LaFollette movement in 1924.
Thus Trotsky's appeal was primarily theoretical and international. It demanded an intense concern for the issues in the Russian struggle and for their repercussions on the Comintern's European and Far Eastern policies. Cannon, Shachtman, and Abern had previously revealed only the most superficial interest in such questions. They had blindly followed whatever line had officially emanated from Moscow. Ever since his successful campaign against the underground party in the early nineteen-twenties, Cannon had personified the "Americanizer" who stressed practical work rather than theory, which he had been content to leave to Bittelman and others. Much of his energies had been spent in purely factional maneuvers in which he had disposed of smaller forces than had either Lovestone or Foster. There seemed little in his past to prepare him for Trotskyism.
But Cannon's state of depression before the Sixth World Congress had made him receptive to a new cause that offered hope of escape from the personal and factional impasse. The new cause did not require a fundamental reconsideration or a painful breach with the past. Trotskyism called on all errant Communists to return to the true faith of Leninism, to the faith which had originally brought Cannon into the Communist movement. If Trotsky was right, the Soviet Union was heading toward an economic smash-up, the Comintern toward an inevitable breakdown. Trotsky confidently expected a series of world-wide disasters to wake up the mass of Communists and force them to sweep out the existing leadership to avoid the total destruction of their work and movement. This faith gave him and even his most isolated followers the strength to carry on what might have otherwise seemed a hopeless struggle against impossible odds.
In American terms, Cannon expected the Comintern to ensure the victory of the new "Right," represented by Lovestone, over the new "Left," represented by Foster and Bittelman. He viewed Trotskyism as the most principled expression of the Left, which was bound to come into its own with the reaction against Lovestone's anticipated victory. As an old ally of the Fosterites, he saw Trotskyism in the best position to reap the fruits of their disillusionment.
Cannon was never able to test this theory, because his presupposition proved false. Instead of turning "Right," the Soviet and Comintern leadership turned "Left." This Left turn, inaugurated officially in 1928 and driven much further in 1929, succeeded in cutting the ground from under most of Cannon's potential support. Instead of a clear-cut fight against Bukharin and Lovestone, Trotsky and Cannon faced the far more dangerous enmity of Stalin and his emergent American adjutants, Foster, Bittelman, and Browder.
The Stalinists were capable of outbidding the most extreme Leftists in one period and the most extreme Rightists in another. Quite a few American Communists who maintained contact with Cannon wavered for a time and then used Stalin's Left turn as a reason for deciding against Trotsky's Left Opposition.
Once having made his decision, Cannon never turned back. He thereby extricated himself, by means of Trotskyism, from the onrushing Stalinist tide. But Trotskyism could not give Cannon the means of finding a new revolutionary road; at best, it promised to lead back to an old one. In an anti-Stalinist form, it helped to perpetuate the dependence of all branches and offshoots of the American Communist movement on the Russian revolution and Russian revolutionaries.
By the time I was at college, I became very alert to the question of racial discrimination, and I remember one of my first writing attempts had to do with a lynching. I graduated in 1930 and I went up to the Yale Drama School for two years. By the time I came down from Yale, I was already more radicalized and had begun to read New Masses.
I also read the Marxist classics. I still think it to be the noblest set of ideals ever penned by man. The fact that many of them have been so ill-realized in the Soviet Union today didn't matter. Where else in political literature do you find thinkers saying tat we were going to end all forms of human exploitation? Wage exploitation, exploitation of women by men, the exploitation of people of colour by white peoples, the exploitation of colonial countries by imperialist countries. And Marx spoke of the fact that socialism will be the kingdom of freedom, where man realizes himself in a way that humankind has never seen before. This was an inspiring body of literature to read.
When I joined the Communist movement in 1935 it was based upon the belief that mankind's future was to be found there. Certainly, millions who joined it the world over, like myself, didn't join it for profit. There was nothing to be gained out of joining it: It could be time-consuming. It could prevent you from reading a number of books that you wanted to read or go to a number of films because you were doing other things. But there was a belief that you were working with others toward making the world a better place to live in.
I considered it to be an honour to be a member of the Party, and by the way I haven't changed my mind about that now. I would not be a member of any Communist Party, because of what life has taught me, and especially the American Communist Party, which in certain things I think is absolutely disgusting. Its silence, for instance, on Polish anti-Semitism around 1968 which drove Jews out of Poland is, I think, just disgusting. There's no other word for it.
When I joined the Communist Party it was as if all of a sudden my life had been taken out of a small box and I had plugged into the entire globe internationally. The first thing that impressed me about all the party members that I came in contact with was the range of their conversation and their interests. They seemed to be informed about everything that was going on. They could talk about music. There was a Marxist analysis of music. They could talk about art. There was a Marxist analysis of art. They could talk about the international situation. The meaning and significance of collective security. They were so well informed.
I was a very devoted member of the Communist Party. At the beginning almost without questioning. I never questioned them because I really felt they had all the answers. As I grew older and things developed I learned to question a little bit, but I always felt that on any shortcomings the party had, I felt in essence they are going toward their goal which was a good one and I want to be part of it. So that when people are critical I say yes that's from a mistake maybe, but that's not the important thing. The important thing is the ultimate goal.
In the summer of 1928 in Moscow, in addition to the theoretical and political revelation that came to me when I read Trotsky's Criticism of the Draft Program of the Comintern, there was another consideration that hit me where I live. That was the fact that Trotsky had been expelled and deported to far away Alma Ata; that his friends and supporters had been slandered and expelled and imprisoned; and that the whole damned thing was a frame-up!
Had I set out as a boy to fight for justice for Moyer and Haywood in order to betray the cause of justice when it was put squarely up to me in a case of transcendent importance to the whole future of the human race? A copybook moralist could easily answer that question by saying: "Of course not. The rule is plain. You do what you have to do, even if it costs you your head." But it wasn't so simple for me in the summer of 1928. I was not a copybook moralist. I was a party politician and factionalist who had learned how to cut corners. I knew that at the time, and the self-knowledge made me uneasy.
I had been gradually settling down into an assured position as a party official with an office and staff, a position that I could easily maintain - as long as I kept within definite limits and rules which I knew all about, and conducted myself with the facility and skill which had become almost second nature to me in the long drawn out factional fights.
I knew that. And I knew something else that I never told anybody about, but which I had to tell myself for the first time in Moscow in the summer of 1928. The footloose Wobbly rebel that I used to be had imperceptibly begun to fit comfortably into a swivel chair, protecting himself in his seat by small maneuvers and evasions, and even permitting himself a certain conceit about his adroit accommodation to this shabby game. I saw myself for the first time then as another person, as a revolutionist who was on the road to becoming a bureaucrat. The image was hideous, and I turned away from it in disgust.
I never deceived myself for a moment about the most probable consequences of my decision to support Trotsky in the summer of 1928. I knew it was going to cost me my head and also my swivel chair, but I thought: What the hell - better men than I have risked their heads and their swivel chairs for truth and justice. Trotsky and his associates were doing it at that very moment in the exile camps and prisons of the Soviet Union. It was no more than right that one man, however limited his qualifications, should remember what he started out in his youth to fight for, and speak out for their cause and try to make the world hear, or at least to let the exiled and imprisoned Russian Oppositionists know that they had found a new friend and supporter.
In the period that has intervened since our expulsion on October 25, we have continued to regard ourselves as party members and have conducted ourselves as Communists, as we have done since the foundation of the party, and even for years before that. Every step we have taken has been guided by this conception. Those acts which went beyond the bounds of ordinary party procedure in bringing our views before the party were imposed upon us by the action of the party leadership in denying us the right and opportunity to defend our views within the party by normal means. Our views relate to principled questions, and therefore it is our duty openly to defend them in spite of all attempts to suppress them.
We are bound to do this also in the future under all circumstances. However, we said on October 25, and we repeat now, that we are unconditionally willing to confine our activity to regular party channels and to discontinue all extraordinary methods the moment our party rights are restored and we are permitted to defend our views in the party press and at party meetings. The decision and the responsibility rest wholly with the majority of the Central Executive Committee.
Events since our expulsion have only served to confirm more surely the correctness of the views of the Russian Opposition, which we support. The momentous developments in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and throughout the Comintern have that meaning and no other. Life itself is proving the validity of their platform. Even those who fought that platform, who misrepresented it and hid it from the party and the Comintern, are today compelled, under the pressure of events and forces which overwhelm them, to give lip service to it, to pretend to adopt it. Many of the statements and proposals of the Opposition which were branded "counterrevolutionary" a year ago are today solemnly repeated, almost word for word, as the quintessence of Bolshevism.
Meanwhile their sponsors - the true leaders and defenders of the Russian Revolution - remain in exile, and there is no guarantee whatever that the presently advertised "left course" will mean anything more than a cover for further concessions to the right wing, whose policy directly undermines the dictatorship. The victorious fight of the party masses in Russia and throughout the Comintern against this disgraceful and dangerous course cannot be much longer postponed.
Bureaucratic suppression has its own logic. It begins with the expulsion of individuals and ends with the disruption of the movement. Yesterday we saw the attempt to suppress the views of the Oppositionists who fight the party regime on principled grounds. Today already, in spired resolutions from the party units are making the same demand against the limited criticisms of the Foster group, with the threat of organizational measures after the packed and gerrymandered convention has "endorsed" the regime. Bureaucratism is alien to the proletarian Communist movement. Bureaucratism cannot stand criticism. It cannot stand discussion. Bureaucratism, which is an expression of bourgeois influence, and Lenin's proletarian doctrine cannot live together.
The regime of bureaucratic strangulation, which expels its outspoken opponents and bludgeons the party into silence, has become an international phenomenon of the period. This is the only key to an understanding of its absolutely unprecedented excesses. A real struggle against it cannot be made without an understanding of its international scope. On this, as well as on the other principled questions, the fight of the proletarian Communist elements in all parties unites with the Bolshevik fight of the Russian Opposition under the leadership of Trotsky.
At the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stalin issued a warning against the course he later adopted, and predicted its disruptive consequences. He defended there the refusal to expel Trotsky from the Political Bureau and said: "We are against the policy of lopping off, of bloodletting (it was blood they wanted). It is a dangerous thing. One day you lop off this limb. Tomorrow another, and the next day a third. And after a while, what becomes of the party?"
Stalin forgot these words so full of prophetic significance. He formed a factional combination with the right wing to suppress and expel the left, the Opposition. He gave the signal for the same line in all the parties of the Comintern. As a result, in the recent years we have seen everywhere a strengthening of the opportunist elements, an enormous development and entrenchment of bureaucratism, and wholesale expulsions of the proletarian left - the core of the workers' vanguard. All the little Stalins in all the parties are bolstering themselves up by these means.
As an observer from the sidelines I had long been aware of the Party's propensity for swift and fundamental policy changes. I had seen the Party switch with the advent of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 from advocacy of a united stand against the fascist powers to condemnation of the 'imperilaist war' - a stand with which I totally disagreed. Two years later, when Hitler marched on the Soviet Union, the Party again shifted position and pledged its all to the war effort. But once a member, I do not remember ever questioning 'the correctness of the line', as we would have put it. I was enchanted by the flesh-and-blood Communists we now began meeting, veterans of the 1934 waterfront strike, of the trade union organizing drive of the thirties, of bitter battles between agricultural workers in the San Joaquin valley and hired thugs sent in by Associated Farmers. There were, to be sure, a number of bores and misfits in our organization, but even these seemed to be to some extent redeemed by their dedication to our common cause.
The Party operated on the principle of 'democratic centralism', which meant that all members were required to study, discuss and vote on all matters of policy; once the decision had been taken, each member was bound by it, whether or not he. or she personally agreed with it. It was indeed a matter of conform or get out, but this did not particularly bother me. I had regarded joining the Party as one of the most important decisions of my adult life. I loved and admired the people in it, and was more than willing to accept the leadership of those far more experienced than I. Furthermore, the principle of democratic centralism seemed to me essential to the functioning of a revolutionary organization in a hostile world.
One of the first opportunities to exploit political and social upheaval abroad arose in Spain. When a civil war broke out in that country in 1936, the Communists acted in line with the theory that the Soviet Union should be used as the base for the extension of Communist control over other countries. Soviet intervention in the Spanish civil war was twofold in nature. First, in response to directions from the Comintern, the international Communist movement organized International Brigades to fight in Spain. A typical unit was the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, organized in the United States. It succeeded in recruiting about 3,000 men. In all, the Communist parties of 53 countries were represented in the International Brigades with a total fighting strength of approximately 18,000, the first of whom arrived in Spain during the latter part of 1936. Second, the Soviet Union furnished direct military assistance in the form of tanks, artillery, and aircraft flown by Soviet pilots. For two years, Moscow pursued its objectives in the Spanish struggle. However, Soviet intervention ended in the fall of 1938, when the national interest of the Soviet Union forced it to turn its attention elsewhere. In Europe, Hitler's strength was steadily increasing. In addition, Japan's armed invasion of Manchuria posed a direct threat to Soviet territory in the Far East. At the end of 1938, the International Brigades withdrew from Spain. Many Communists throughout the world who answered the Comintern's call to fight in Spain were repaid subsequently by Soviet assistance in their attempts to seize power in their respective countries. Among those identified with Communist efforts in connection with the Spanish civil war who subsequently gained prominence in the Communist movement were Tito (Yugoslavia), Palmiro Togliatti (Italy), Jacques Duclos (France), Klement Gottwald (Czechoslovakia), Erno Gero and Laszlo Rajk (Hungary), and Walter Ulbricht (East Germany).
In 1940, with the United States not yet at war, Congress passed the Smith Act. This took Espionage Act prohibitions against talk or writing that would lead to refusal of duty in the armed forces and applied them to peacetime. The Smith Act also made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence, or to join any group that advocated this, or to publish anything with such ideas. In Minneapolis in 1943, eighteen members of the Socialist Workers party were convicted for belonging to a party whose ideas, expressed in its Declaration of Principles, and in the Communist Manifesto, were said to violate the Smith Act. They were sentenced to prison terms, and the Supreme Court refused to review their case.
It has been alleged that I am part of some kind of international conspiracy. I am not and never have been involved in any international conspiracy or any other kind, and do not know anyone who is. My belief in the principles of scientific socialism, my deep conviction that for all mankind a socialist society represents an advance to a higher stage of life - that it is a form of society represents an advance to a higher stage of life - that it is a form of society which is economically, socially, culturally, and ethically superior to a system based upon production for private profit have nothing in common with silly notions about 'plots' and 'conspiracies.'
If the cold horror of Stalinist despotism, that vast prison camp of peoples and nations, represents the victory of socialism, then we are lost; then the ideal of socialist freedom, justice, equality, and brotherhood has proved to be an unattainable Utopia; then the National Association of Manufacturers is right in saying that while capitalism is not perfect and has a couple of defects here and there, socialism is a new slavery; then we must be resigned to that appalling decay of modern civilization that is eating away the substance of human achievement. But if it can be shown that Stalinist Russia is not socialism, that it has nothing in common with socialism, that it is only another and very ominous lesson of what happens to society when the working class fails to fight, and extend its fight, for socialism, or when its fight is arrested or crushed; if it can be shown that Stalinist Russia is a new barbarism which results precisely from our failure up to now to establish a socialist society, to extend the Revolution of 1917 that took place in Russia - then, despite the agony that grips the world today, there is a hope and a future for the socialist emancipation of the race. It is from that standpoint and no other that I will seek to show that Stalinist Russia has nothing at all in common with socialism. The best way to begin is by defining socialism.
Socialism is based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and exchange, upon production for use as against production for profit, upon the abolition of all classes, all class divisions, class privilege, class rule, upon the production of such abundance that the struggle for material needs is completely eliminated, so that humanity, at last freed from economic exploitation, from oppression, from any form of coercion by a state machine, can devote itself to its fullest intellectual and cultural development. Much can perhaps be added to this definition, but anything less you can call whatever you wish, but it will not be socialism.
Now, if this definition is correct - as it has been considered by every socialist from the days of Marx to the days of Lenin - then there is not only not a trace of socialism in Russia, but it is moving in a direction which is the very opposite of socialism.
It is absolutely true that by their revolution in 1917 the Russian working class, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, took the first great, bold, inspiring leap toward a socialist society. And that alone, regardless of what happened subsequently, justified it and made it a historic event that can never be eliminated from the consciousness of society. But it is likewise true that the working class of Russia was hurled back, it was crushed, and fettered and imprisoned, and that every achievement of the revolution, without exception, was destroyed by the victorious counter-revolution of the Stalinist bureaucracy which now rules the Russian empire with totalitarian absolutism.
The offices (of the American Communist Party) were in a nine-story building between University Place and Broadway, a building that also housed The Daily Worker and the Communist Party leadership. The people in the top offices of the party, the general secretary and the members of the National Committee, were housed on the ninth floor, and in referring to them, one often spoke simply of "the ninth floor." The general secretary of the party at that time, Gene Dennis, was a tall, handsome man who had taken over the party leadership from Earl Browder. In 1944, Browder, the leader of the party through some of its most bitter struggles during the thirties, had attempted to change the party from a political party that offered candidates in elections to a sort of educational Marxist entity. His move, I believe, was based on the wartime and prewar influence of the party on Roosevelt's New Deal, and on the hope that it might continue. It is impossible here to go into the lengthy and frequently obtuse theoretical discussion on this point; much of it was almost as meaningless then as it would be today. Sufficient to say that Browder lost the struggle, was removed from leadership, and expelled from the party. Dennis was his successor.
I had never met Gene Dennis and I had never ventured to the sacrosanct heights of the ninth floor, and being in proper awe of the leaders of an organization I had come to respect and honor, I went first to Joe North in the more familiar offices of The New Masses. Would he set up a meeting for me with Gene Dennis? I had perhaps an exaggerated sense of the importance of carrying a message from the Communist Party of Northern India to the Communist Party of the United States, yet in all reality, a plea from one Communist Party to another was of importance and to be treated with respect. Joe agreed with me, picked up his phone, and was told that Dennis would see me. I took the elevator up to the ninth floor, was shown into Dennis's office. He sat behind his desk; he did not rise nor did he offer his hand. Nor did he smile. Nor did he ask me to sit down. Nor did he indicate that he was either pleased or displeased to meet me.
Now this is the national leader of the Communist Party of the United States. Here I am, one of the leading and - at that time - most honored writers in the country. The party busted its ass to get me into the movement. It showered me with praise, lured me with happiness was enough, and I took myself down to the offices of The New Masses on East Twelfth Street. its most winning people, reprinted stuff from my books in The New Masses, and embraced me. But Dennis never asked me to meet him, and now that I was in his office, he looked at me as a judge might look at a prisoner before passing sentence.
Since he didn't ask why I was there, I delivered my message uninvited. Very briefly, I spoke of the crisis in India, and then I repeated to him what the Indian Communist leader had said. He listened, and then he nodded - a signal for me to go.
Am I crazy? I asked myself. Or is this some kind of joke? But Dennis was the last man on earth to exhibit humor. Wasn't he going to ask me what I had seen? Wasn't he going to ask me about the political situation? I had spoken about the largest colonial country in the world. Wasn't he interested? I waited. He told me I could go. I turned and left.
I then went from Dennis's office to Joe North and told him about Dennis's reaction to me and my message from India. Joe said that such was Dennis, and that Dennis was Dennis, and that he was not easy with people. It seemed to me that what a party leader dealt with most was people, and how the devil did he come to be the general secretary of the Communist Party? Joe admitted that Dennis was not the greatest, that it should have been Bill Foster, the grand old man of the left, but Foster had a bad heart and was too old.
One day I read a small item in the army daily newspaper Stars and Stripes. It reported that a New York newspaper had published a translation of an article in which Jacques Duclos, a top leader of the French Communist Party, severely criticized policies of the American Communists. The article, originally appearing in the French Communist theoretical magazine, ridiculed Browder's concept of the postwar world as utopian, condemned the dissolution of the Communist Party, and described Browder's ideas as a "notorious revisionism" of Marxism, than which there is no more serious criticism in the Communist dictionary.
These accusations infuriated me I immediately sent off a letter to Lillian in which I reaffirmed my belief in the come in letters from Lillian; she also sent me clippings of articles from the Communist press. The Duclos article had caused an upheaval in the American Communist movement. Excoriating Browder in the most extravagant terms, Duclos had praised the views of William Z. Foster, quoting from speeches and communications by Foster, of which the American Communists, except for the top leaders, had been entirely unaware.
Naturally, this created a sensation; the membership demanded to know why Foster's views had been kept secret from them. How Duclos found out about Foster's opinions I do not know, but clearly someone sent them to him. Foster's opposition to the Browder policies did not impress me. I wrote to Lillian that for years Foster had been the most sectarian and dogmatic of American Communist leaders; on the other hand, our most impressive gains had been made under the aegis of Browder.
Browder conceded that the Duclos article did not express the point of view of an individual French Communist, but was the considered opinion of the world's "most authoritative Marxists," meaning, of course, the Soviet Communists. The leaders of the American Communists, who, except for Foster and one other, had unanimously supported Browder, now switched overnight, and, except for one or two with reservations, threw their support to Foster. An emergency convention in July, 1945, repudiated Browder's ideas, removed him from leadership and re-constituted the Communist Party in an atmosphere of hysteria and humiliating breast-beating unprecedented in communist history.
Browder's view of the postwar world was undoubtedly over-optimistic. He underestimated the clash that would develop among the allies once the war was over. But he was not the only leader to make such a mistake; it was made by the leaders of every other political trend as well.
Browder did have a vision-that World War II would usher in a new kind of world where war would be unthinkable and where the communist and capitalist worlds would have to compete and collaborate. Perhaps he did not foresee the difficulties that would lie in the path and the hard struggles that would be needed to bring this about, but his prescience was sound in many major respects.
Probably his greatest contribution was his effort to adapt the Communist Party to the American scene. Toward that end he demonstrated more creativity and greater imagination, independ¬ence and originality of thought than anyone before or since.
Only a few years later I was to learn from someone who spoke with Duclos in 1946 that the world communist movement did not consider Browder's most serious error his myopic view of the postwar era (they had all made similar estimates), but rather his dissolution of the Communist Party. Here was the unforgivable heresy. Browder had violated the one thing so sacred that no one could dare tamper with it: the concept of the Communist Party as it had been laid down by Lenin in 1902.
In 1946 Browder was expelled from the American Communist Party for refusing to accept the new policy and for publishing a bulletin not authorized by the party (and because Foster was determined to be rid of him). For several years Browder protested that his ideas were closer to the Soviet view than were the American party's.
I have been told that it is difficult to read a book objectively when you know the author; and there is an old saying which asks, "How can he be a genius? I know him." Neither precisely to the case in point, for I know Steve Nelson well and cannot think of him as a genius, but only as a very great and brave man; and I read his new book, not objectively, but with a deeply subjective and highly personal involvement - read it from cover to cover almost in a sitting. And when I had finished it, I knew I had read one of those very rare and wonderful books - a book that changes you in the process of its reading, so that finished with it, I was something more than I had been when I opened it.
I also know that I cannot write of the book without writing of the man; for the book is most profoundly moving in its utter and implacable truth, and this truth is also the man. Both are a part of the same experience. I have never read another book quite like this one, but I have also never known another man quite like Steve Nelson; and the knowledge of both fills me with pride and humility, not only because I have shared something of the struggle that produced both, but because through both I came better to understand people and what people will be someday.
The Thirteenth Juror is the story of Steve Nelson's trial, his trial before a court of law, as law exists in the United States today, and his trial in the court of horror and infamy that is otherwise known as Blawnox Workhouse. The first half of the book is devoted to Blawnox, and as such, it has few equals in the whole history of prison literature. In the same breath, one must note, Blawnox Prison in Pennsylvania is possibly unequaled today, as a place of horror and degradation, in all of these United States and very likely in much of the world outside of our borders.
Into Blawnox came Steve Nelson, political prisoner, Communist, veteran of the International Brigade in Spain - now sentenced to twenty years, sentenced on charges that were no charges, on evidence that was no evidence, on the word of stool pigeons and paid informers - into a dungeon of hell and horror, and told by the guards as he entered that there was no road back, that he could neither survive this place nor ever hope to leave this place; and the story of this dungeon, of how he faced it, fought it as one man, sick and weak, and finally triumphed over it, is the story Nelson tells in the first half of his book. In this, the first half of his book, Steve Nelson reaches his highest point of artistry as a writer - in a breathless and splendidly-told story of man's courage and man's will to survive.
Parts of this section, such as Nelson's experience in the "hole" and his leadership and organization of the other prisoners in the "hole," are of a quality that a reader cannot easily forget, and will, simply as literature, long survive the memory of the men who did this to Steve Nelson; and as a whole, this section comprises a unique and fine literary product. The second half of the book tells the story of Steve Nelson's trial before Judge Montgomery in a Pittsburgh courthouse, of how, unable to find a lawyer, he defended himself, of how a sick and broken body was forced by an indomitable spirit to wage a legal battle and defense that will rank with Dimitrov's famous defense before a Nazi Court. The book concludes with Nelson's eloquent plea to the Jury - his battle against the "thirteenth" juror, who is bigotry, prejudice and fear.
To one degree or another, all of America lived through the content of this book. Some, all too many, knew only the bare facts of Steve Nelson's name and the charges leveled against him. Others, who read the newspaper stories a little more closely, heard Nelson accused as an atom-bomb spy, an agent of a foreign power, a Communist "master-mind." Still others, men in high places, in the Pennsylvania judiciary, in the nests of the steel and aluminum moguls of Pittsburgh, in the offices of the Justice Department in Washington, played parts in the manufacturing of false charges, in the rigging of juries, in the hiring of informers - coldly and deliberately, so that they might destroy this man they feared and hated. Still others worked and testified in the defense of Steve Nelson, as Art Shields and Herbert Aptheker did, and others turned ears deafened by fear and indifference to pleas that they come to the defense of a good and brave man. And all over America, millions of workers, who knew nothing of the case and were indifferent to it to the extent of the lies and slanders fed to them these many years, also lived through the content for out of their struggles, their hopes and needs and ideology, had come the man whom we know as Steve Nelson, and the courage of the man and the splendor of the man as well.
Within this context, The Thirteenth Juror must be seen and understood; for this book is a symbol of the America we have known and lived in and worked in this decade past; and in so being, it contains the worst and the best that is America. The book will live, because it is a truthful and profound human document, and it will still be read when the situation which produced it has long since come to an end. At that time, it will be judged anew as literature, and without question parts of it will be reprinted innumerable times as literature; but an objective literary judgment is almost impossible today - just as it would have been both impossible and insufferable to have judged Julius Fuchik's Notes From the Gallows as literature while Czechoslovakia still lay under the Nazi heel. Then, as now, we were concerned with the man; and perhaps so long as our literature comes out of an agony, we will continue to be concerned with the man before we are concerned with the book.
Thus, it is important to dwell for a moment on the man - the manner of a man who wrote this book. The book is a tense, well-written and extremely moving document, but above all these things, it is an exceedingly simple document. Here I use simple in the best sense, in terms of a proletarian clarity which evokes the best from the language. In the same manner, one must see the author - as one does see him through this book - as a simple man, a virtuous man, and above all things, a good man. In the process of an ethical decay in our society during this past decade, we have retained the meaning of certain words used to describe people, but we have wholly lost the meaning of others. This too is a question of values. We still comprehend what one means when one calls a person brilliant, clever, witty, dogged, stubborn, etc. Our understanding clouds a little when such words as sincere and forthright are used; and in a society which maintains only one criterion for values - did he get away with it? - we are becoming at a loss to comprehend the meaning of good and honorable.
Yet the essence of Steve Nelson is that he is an honorable and a good man. His nature is neither brilliant nor derived from fanaticism; his wisdom, a deep and wonderfully profound wisdom, is the wisdom of the good man who understands evil, and therefore must set his face against evil and venture his life in the struggle against evil - and his understanding is the understanding of a member of the working class who has become a Marxist and a Communist. This combination of values is not new on this earth, but it is rare in America. On the other hand, it is America that has produced Steve Nelson.
And not alone Steve Nelson, for one of the hallmarks of the decade we have lived through are the men and women of quality and stature who have emerged as figures and symbols of American resistance. In other times of the past and in times still to come, the quality of America was and will be symbolized by mass motion and mass courage; but when the situation is such as not to produce these mass currents, the responsibility for patriotism - a very high and historic responsibility - falls upon the shoulders of a few. Thus, in time to come, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg will be a part of the living and honored tradition of America, not the mean and craven Judge Irving Kaufman who acted as their executioner. If there was only here and there a lonely example of such courage and nobility as the Rosenbergs displayed, then one could have little hope and less respect for the American people; but there have been literally thousands who displayed, to one degree or another, the superb courage of the Rosenbergs, and out of these thousands came the giants like Nelson - even as the thousands came out of the body-whole of the population.
The Thirteenth Juror tells the story of the contest between Steve Nelson and Judge Montgomery of Pittsburgh, between those gathered around Nelson for his defense, Art Shields, Herbert Aptheker, Pat Cush, Ben Careathers, Margaret Nelson and those who gathered around Montgomery for the prosecution, Musmanno, Cercone, Cvetic, Crouch. On the one hand, Nelson, anti-fascist soldier and Communist, stands with a great journalist, a noted historian and scholar, an old labor leader, a Communist trade-unionist and organizer, and a brave mother and companion; on the other hand, Montgomery, political hack and traducer of justice, stands with a notorious fascist and former admirer of Mussolini, the nephew of this fascist, a craven and stupid political appointee, with a psychopathic liar and professional informer, and lastly Crouch, professional informer. Thus, the contest, and thus, symbolically, the two Americas that exist within this body whole known as the United States.
The contest is also a battle between honor, courage and integrity on the one hand and dishonor, cowardice and perversion of all decency on the other hand. As to which of these will win, there can be little doubt. All of life and all of the future stands with the Steve Nelsons, and in good time, millions of Americans will come to know this and take their place by his side. And as for Montgomery, Musmanno, Cercone they too will be remembered, but only as the shameful and craven creatures who obeyed the orders of the iron and munition lords of Pittsburgh and framed and convicted a great man.
One more word must be said of the fine job Steve Nelson does of exposing another part of the shameful and rotten prison system that exists in the United States - a system which in the land of plenty reduces men to starvation, denies them medical care, and - being an integral part of the "free world" - subjects them to such mental and physical torture as would shame the keeper of a medieval dungeon. If you have been puzzled about the rash of prison riots breaking out everywhere in the country, this book will provide your answer. I also profoundly hope that it will provide a death blow to that unspeakable cancer on the body of the State of Pennsylvania - Blawnox Workhouse.
The Communist Party leaders who had been imprisoned in 1950 now came out of jail, and John Gates, the best of them, the most innovative and independent, resumed his job as executive editor of The Daily Worker. It was under him that I joined the staff; a new life began for The Worker, and at the same time, a split in the leadership of the party between Gates and William Z. Foster, now seventy-five.
Since this is not a history of the Communist Party, I will not go into great detail concerning this split in the leadership; the origins of it were long in making and long in coming. William Z. Foster, Ben Davis, and Gene Dennis stood by the rigid doctrines of the Leninist pattern of organization, a party governed by theory that was neither pragmatic nor relevant to the American situation, a party of unbreakable discipline taking its cues from the Soviet party and rejecting every criticism of the Soviet Union. The opposition to this, led by John Gates, held that the Russians made grave errors, for which they must be criticized, that the rigid Leninist form was neither right for America nor helpful in the struggle of the American left, that it isolated the party, and was now bringing the party to its final moment of self-destruction. This, of course, is the briefest definition of what was happening.
The main report by Eugene Dennis (in April 1956) was a devastating critique of the party's policies over a whole decade. Like all reports, it was not only his own, but had been discussed and approved by the National Committee members in advance. Dennis characterized the party's policies as super-leftist and sectarian, narrow-minded and inflexible, dogmatic and unrealistic.
He singled out the crucial issue of the "war danger," and in effect, admitted that much of what the party had done since Browder's time had been based on a misreading of world and domestic realities. Though Foster's name was not mentioned, and the entire leadership was indicted, the inference was unmistakable. Dennis projected the idea of replacing the party with a "united, mass party of Socialism," whose doctrinal basis would necessarily have to be much broader than our own, and which was to be formed with many Socialist-minded Americans outside our own ranks.
Dennis carefully, and characteristically, avoided putting his finger on the basic reason for the party's failures, namely, our worshipful and imitative relationship to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Max Weiss, the national educational director at that time, who had never been accused of undogmatic tendencies, gave the report on the XX Congress and he unmistakably concluded that our relations with the Soviet Communists had been wrong, unequal, one-sided, and harmful.
William Z. Foster was present at this decisive meeting and he vehemently opposed the reports of Dennis and Weiss. In his view, the party had been guided as well as possible, and history would vindicate his leadership. Foster was a remarkable man, a workingman who had educated himself. He had been one of America's finest labor organizers. Samuel Gompers, John L. Lewis, and Philip Murray had all paid him this tribute...
Foster stood alone at this meeting, except for the half-hearted support of Benjamin J. Davis, the former New York councilman, who had been (with Thompson) one of the architects of the Party's debacle; Davis was the man who had said at an open-air meeting in 1949 that he "would rather be a lamppost in Moscow than president of the United States." Foster voted against the Dennis report and Davis abstained.
My own remarks at this meeting were different than any speech I had previously made. I felt it was time for the party to know of the profound differences in the leadership that had prevailed for a decade. Obviously, the Foster view was in irreconcilable opposition to the majority: it was time to let the membership know the facts honestly. Others spoke in a similar vein. Yet the opportunity was missed, and once again the facts were concealed from the membership. No doubt, this contributed greatly to the loss of confidence in the ranks, which almost immediately afterward began to thin out.
At this same meeting, I had a curious but revealing exchange with Foster. I had spoken of his many monumental works that had been eulogized by party leaders, but none of us had bothered to find why so few Americans read these books, and why they had so little influence; too often, they had simply been dumped on the lower party organizations, but were not read or sold. Someone chided me for being rude to so old a man, with so venerable a record. I went over and said I hoped he realized there was nothing personal in this criticism. To which he replied, most genially, that he was not the least bothered by it.
"Why," he exclaimed. "My books have been translated all over the world . . . into Russian, into Chinese, and many other languages." I was struck by Foster's complete divorce from interest in America. It did not seem to matter that few Americans were influenced by his work, so long as foreign Communists held him in high repute, or so he believed. He saw himself a world figure. He lived in a make-believe world of his own, and though more typically "American" than most party leaders, he was also strangely remote from his own land and people.
At a meeting of the staff at The Daily Worker, Joe Clark, the Worker Moscow correspondent during the early fifties, told John Gates that if he, Gates, had been found in Moscow with a copy of The New York Times in his possession, he would have been subject to ten years' imprisonment. East balanced West, but Gates, in the free and democratic United States, had served a sentence of five years for committing no crime whatsoever. I asked them, "Is there anyone here who can believe that he would not be sentenced to death if the Foster group had the power to do it?"
I had a note from Sean O'Casey: "Don't be taken in by the bastards!" - meaning those who attacked Russia. To be a revolutionary in Ireland is more simple.
No, no way. The taking of a human life is the ultimate, inexcusable human evil. I learned that from World War Two. I learned that when I was in the Washington, D.C., jail, listening to the condemned men weeping in the night and pleading for life. I think I became a pacifist there. I am a pacifist still. Sean O'Casey might pursue his dreams of brotherhood through hell; I could not. Years before, I had brought charges of anti-Semitism against the representative of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the charges had been brushed away. Now we learned, at The Worker, that in 1948 all the Yiddish-language institutions and publications had been done away with, Yiddish-language poets put to death - a senseless crusade against the Jews, not in Germany but in the Soviet Union.
At The Daily Worker, we fought back. We accused the Soviets. We demanded explanations. For the first time in the life of the Communist Party of the United States, we challenged the Russians for the truth, we challenged the disgraceful executions that had taken place in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. We demanded explanations and openness. John Gates pulled no punches, printed the hundreds of letters that poured in from our readers, the bitterness of those who had given the best and most fruitful years of their lives to an organization that still clung to the tail of the Soviet Union.
Then, at that moment when we were fighting to make the paper a vehicle of truth and independence, the federal government stepped in and seized all the assets of The Worker - the editorial offices, all the premises - charging that we had not paid back taxes. Nobody knew better than the staff of the paper how ridiculous these charges were. Our annual deficit had never been below $200,000 a year, and again and again the paper was in a desperate crisis for funds. How many flying expeditions we had made to every corner of the metropolitan area to scrape together enough money to keep the paper alive for another few issues! In all my years with the paper, I had never taken a dollar for pay or expenses, but I was the only one on the staff who could afford to do that. The others were professional newspapermen who depended on their weekly wages to keep their families going; and again and again, they had missed paychecks because there was no money.
And now, after destroying thousands of people who believed in socialism, and jailing hundreds of others, and making life a living hell for people of good will all over the country, the idiots in the Treasury Department had thought up this new gimmick - closing the paper down for nonpayment of taxes.
They didn't quite succeed in closing us down, and the stupid move backfired. Every major newspaper in America cried out that this was a direct assault on freedom of the press and the First Amendment. Treasury agents seized our typewriters and files and office furniture, all of it worth about twenty cents. They slapped a lien on us that stated that The Daily Worker owed $46,049 in taxes and penalties for three years, from 1951 through 1953 - When major newspapers charged Washington with this idiocy, the Internal Revenue offices in Washington backed down and claimed that the raid had been undertaken without their knowledge, at the behest of Donald R. Moysey, a Treasury official. Moysey, no great intellect, had thought that the raids would increase his importance politically. The opposite was true.
At the press conference held when I quit the Communist Party, I made a prediction that the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities and the FBI would claim the death of the Daily Worker and my resignation only meant that the party was stronger than ever. Two months later J. Edgar Hoover published a book making this very claim. To those of us who left the Communist Party in the recent period, this talk about the organization growing stronger, is sheer fantasy. So little still remains of the party and of its influence, that at best it can be called a living corpse.
If J. Edgar Hoover really has the inside information which he claims, then he knows better than what he writes. Why does he persist in perpetuating a myth? Perhaps appropriations for his department have something to do with it. A growing number of Washington correspondents have begun to notice a rash of "communist menace" reports breaks out whenever government agencies are scheduled to request additional funds from Congress. Where upon a duly frightened legislature proceeds to shell out and no questions asked.
There is a legitimate body of opinion which seeks to counter many of the ideas and methods of communism with what it holds to be superior ideas and practices; but there is also a spurious anti-communist racket which is financially lucrative, politically deceitful and a weapon against progress and freedom. Perhaps this too explains why some persons are so reluctant to give up the ghost of the "communist menace" in this country.
The title of Mr. Hoover's book Masters of Deceit is, in my opinion, a misnomer. The Communist Party here never mastered the art of persuading very large numbers of Americans, deceptively or otherwise. The only deception at which it proved adept was self-deception - the basic cause of its demise as an effective political trend. Persecution and prosecutions undoubtedly harmed the Communist Party, but the greatest injury was done to it by the party itself. The party was in some ways a continuation of American radicalism, and in some ways its negation. The party fell apart because it would not think for itself, would not face reality; it tried to ride two horses at one time, refused to change when changes became necessary, and finally insisted on committing suicide.
The breaking of a 15 year silence by Earl Browder, former leader of the American Communist party, in an article written for the March number of Harper's magazine comprises and interesting disclosure of how Browder and his party were "purged" by Stalin in 1945.
The purging followed Browder's adoption of the principle of a stable peace at the close of World War II based on the Tehran pact signed by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill - Stalin "with tongue in cheek." The pact, in Browder's view, implied the doctrine of co-existence and, in principle, a repudiation of the cold war which "Stalin adopted to take the place of the hot war then coming to a close."
Browder, now 68, a native of Wichita with three sons teaching mathematics in American universities relates how his "apostasy" was disclosed and his purge announced in the famous "Duclos letter," allegedly penned by Jacques Duclos in a French Communist journal in 1945, but actually Kremlin-dictated. This letter, widely circulated, denounced Browder for interpreting the Tehran pact as a "political platform for class peace in the United States - and sowing dangerous opportunistic illusions."
He declares that the American Communist party "need not have died such a shameful death as William Z. Foster (ultra-left sectarian who succeeded him), under the inspiration of Stalin and the cold war, inflicted upon it." He states that he had personally led an Americanization trend in the party based on Jeffersonian principles and representing a denial of Marxist dogmas.
"The Duclos letter," Browder writes, "halted and reversed the process of Americanization. The party quickly turned anti-American. Foster published a 'new history' of America, which was highly praised in Moscow, translated in many languages and made a handbook of anti-American propaganda all over the world.
"This extraordinary book interpreted the history of America from its discovery to the present, as an orgy of 'bloody banditry' and imperialism, enriching itself by 'drinking the rich red blood' of other peoples. Foster even joined in the Thorez declaration (by Maurice Thorez, French Communist leader: that if the Soviet armies found it necessary to occupy all Western Europe the working people would greet them as liberators; the only thing missing was a direct welcome to Soviet armies in America itself.
"It was this that killed the Communist party. Its former mass following melted away. Its membership shrank to a hard core of fanatics. The American Communists had thrived as champions of domestic reforms. But when the Communists abandoned reforms and championed a Soviet Union openly contemptuous of America while predicting its quick collapse, the same party lost all its hard-won influence. It became merely a bad word in the American language."
Americans should realize, Browder believes, that "the only solid representatives of Stalin among the American Communists were a little band of 'old timers,' occupying strategic posts in the party apparatus. For them communism was a religion, Stalin was Mohammed and Moscow was Mecca.
The American Communists had thrived as champions of domestic reform. But when the Communists abandoned reforms and championed a Soviet Union openly contemptuous of America while predicting its quick collapse, the same party lost all its hard-won influence. It became merely a bad word in the American language.
I knew I could not maintain that leadership in open struggle against Moscow influence. Only two Communist leaders in history ever succeeded in doing this - Tito and Mao Tse-tung. I confined my resistance to the Duclos Letter to declaring publicly that it was a disastrous mistake which I would never approve. But I made no efforts to organize my supporters to hold on to the apparatus. Consequently I was soon expelled and my followers, who did not change coats overnight, quietly left or were expelled from the party.
I have opposed the Communist cold war line ever since, both by public utterance and by private help to trade unionists breaking free from the Communist influence. I abandoned the party apparatus to Stalin's adherents in order to prevent them from capturing the party's former mass influence almost a decade I have not considered myself a Communist, nor even a Marxist in the dogmatic sense.
By the 1950s, my break with the Russians had led me into a basic re-examination of Marxist theory, and I followed in Marx's footsteps with the declaration: 'I am not a Marxist.' My personal revolution in thinking is, of course, of importance only as an example of how the shattering years of the cold war have broken up the old patterns of thought - behind the iron curtain as profoundly as in the West, although there it is revealed mainly in the lightning flashes of mass discontent and revolts.
What remains constant for me, during the last 15 years, has been the conviction that the cold war was a calamity for the entire world, and that it can be justified by no consideration of theory, nor by any supposed national interest. I can only hope that Khrushchev's new line of talk portends a new line of action to which America can respond in kind. Such hopes are, however, tempered by years of disillusioning memories, which remind us all that it takes two sides to make a peace.
Early in 1958 John Gates resigned from the Party, saying it had "ceased to be an effective force for democracy, peace and socialism in the United States", and that he did "not believe it is possible any longer to serve those ideals within the Communist Party'. Gates's Party career had been an illustrious one. He had fought in Spain where he became the highest-ranking officer of the Lincoln Brigade. As one of the first group of Smith Act defendants, he had done time in the Atlanta Penitentiary. Under his editorship the Daily Worker had been transformed from a house organ for transmission of policy directives by the leadership into a lively forum for debate. His resignation was a heavy blow indeed.
The atmosphere of, the debates can be gleaned from an exchange between myself and the party's Indiana organizer, a particularly scholastic leader, Emanuel Blum. He had remarked that "William Z. Foster had saved the party twice, once from Browder and now from Gates." My reply was that in "saving the party from Browder in 1945, we went down from a membership of 75,000 to 17,000. Now that Foster has saved the party from Gates, we are down from 17,000 to 10,000. . . . The more we "save the party," the more it is disappearing."
To me, communism is a... it's a graveyard of skulls, of very unhappy people, below the level of the top bureaucracy. ... communism is an expansive form of political theory: it has to keep eating on its neighbors, finding new aggressive activities to keep itself going, fuelling itself. It itself is fuelled on hatred, hatred of capitalism, hatred of so-called imper, when yet it's the greatest imperialist power the world has ever known.... There's a basic hypocrisy about them.
As if progressives had not in recent years been battered and bludgeoned enough already, we now learn that J. Edgar Hoover, Senator Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Elizabeth Bentley, Whittaker Chambers & company really got it right: all Communists are/were actual, or wannabee, Russian spies. We also learn that during the Cold War years (and even before) hordes of leftists were abroad in the land, stealing "our" atomic secrets (and God only knows what else) for delivery to Joseph Stalin.
In recent days, this message has been dunned into our ears by such opinion-makers as William F. Buckley, Jr., George Will, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Theodore Draper, Michael Thomas, Edward Jay Epstein and David Garrow in the pages of The New York Times, The New Republic, Commentar, Wall Street Journal, The National Review, the "McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour," and lots more (without a dissenting voice to be heard anywhere).
This all-out blitz has been fueled by The Secret World of American Communism, written by Professor Harvey Klehr, of Emory University, John Earl Haynes, of the Library of Congress, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov, formerly of the Comintern Archives in Moscow at the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents in Recent History. The authors claim to have put together a "massive documentary record" from the hitherto secret Comintern archives, revealing "the dark side of American communism." These documents establish, they say, proof both of "Soviet espionage in America" and of the American Communist Party's "inherent" connection with Soviet espionage operations and with its espionage services; and that such spy activities were considered, by both Soviet and the American CP leaders, "normal and proper."
Such assertions are not all that different from what J. Edgar Hoover (and his stooges) were saying half a century ago. But what reinforces the authors' statements are not only the documents from the Russian archives they claim to have uncovered, but also the imposing editorial advisory committee assembled to give this project an eminent scholarly cachet. This editorial advisory committee consists of 30 academics whose names are listed opposite the title page. They include seven Yale University professors, along with professors from Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Chicago, Brandeis, Southern Methodist, Pittsburgh and Rochester universities. There are also an equal number of members of the Russian Academy of Sciences and of officials of various Russian archives.
Reproduced in the book are 92 documents offered by the authors as evidence of what they say is the United States Communist Party's continuous history of "covert activity." These documents, according to Professor Steven Merrit Minor in The New York Times Book Review, reveal that American Communists "relayed atomic secrets to the Kremlin" and also support the testimony of Whittaker Chambers and others that the American Communist Party was engaged in underground conspiracies against the American Government. The authors also say that the documents suggest that those "who continued to claim otherwise were either willfully naive or, more likely, dishonest."
In actuality, many of the documents are ambiguously worded or in some sort of code known only to the senders and recipients. They often contain illegible words, numbers and signatures; relate to unidentifiable persons, places and events; and are preoccupied with bookkeeping matters, inner-party hassles or with protective security measures against FBI and Trotskyite spies. Most importantly, not a single document reproduced in this volume provides evidence of espionage. Ignoring all evidence that contradicts their thesis, the authors attempt to make a case relying on assumption, speculation, and invention about the archival material and, especially, by equating secrecy with illegal spying.
The book's high points are sections relating to what the authors call atomic espionage and the CP Washington spy apparatus. As someone who has carefully examined the archives at the Russian Center, and who over the past four decades has studied the trial transcripts of the major Cold War "spy" cases, I can state that "The Secret World of American Communism," notwithstanding its scholarly accouterments, is a disgracefully shoddy work, replete with errors, distortions and outright lies. As a purported work of objective scholarship, it is nothing less than a fraud.
In this context, certain facts ought to be noted:
* The Moscow archives contain no material relating to these key figures in the Cold War "spy" cases: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Morton Sobell, Ruth and David Greenglass, Harry Gold, Klaus Fuchs, Elizabeth Bentley, Hede Massing, Noel Field, Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, Colonel Boris Bykov and J. Peters. In my possession is a document, responding to my request, and dated October 12, 1992, signed by Oleg Naumov, Deputy Director of the Russian Center for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History, attesting that the Center has no files on, or relating to, any of the above-named persons.
* Despite the authors' assertion that the documents in this volume show that the CPUSA's elaborate underground apparatus collaborated with Soviet espionage services and also engaged in stealing the secrets of America's atomic bomb project, not one of the 92 documents reproduced in this book supports such a conclusion.
* The authors claim the documents corroborate Whittaker Chambers' allegations about a Communist underground in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s, and while the authors concede that Alger Hiss's name does not appear in any of the documents, they assert that the "subsequent documentation has further substantiated the case that Hiss was a spy." Yet, not one document from the Russian archives supports any of these damning statements.
A total of 15 pages in "Secret World" have some reference either to Hiss or Chambers. By my count, these contain 73 separate misrepresentations of fact or downright lies. For example, the authors claim that J. Peters "played a key role in Chambers' story" that Hiss was a Soviet spy. Peters played no role in Chambers' story about espionage. Chambers said that the key figure in his espionage activities with Hiss was a Russian named "Colonel Boris Bykov," a character whose identity the FBI spent years futilely trying to establish.
The authors claim Chambers testified he worked in the Communist underground in the 1930s with groups of government employees who "provided the CPUSA with information about sensitive government activities." In fact, Chambers testified to the exact contrary on 12 separate occasions.
References to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and their case can be found on five pages. In those pages, by my tally, are 31 falsehoods or distortions of evidence. For example, the authors say the Rosenbergs' conviction was for "involvement in...atomic espionage." In fact they were convicted of conspiracy, and no evidence was ever produced that they ever handed over any information about anything to anyone.
The authors also say the Rosenbergs were arrested as a result of information the authorities obtained from Klaus Fuchs, which led to Harry Gold, who led them to David Greenglass, who implicated the Rosenbergs. All of these statements are based on an FBI press release. In fact, no evidence has ever been produced that indicates that Fuchs, Gold or Greenglass ever mentioned the Rosenbergs before their arrests.
Discussing one other "spy" case, that of Judith Coplon, against whom all charges were dismissed, the authors in typical contempt of official court records write that "there was not the slightest doubt of her guilt." In comments running no less than half a page, they invent a scenario of the Coplon case that contains 14 outright lies and distortions. For instance, the authors say she "stole" an FBI report and she was arrested when she handed over' the stolen report "to a Soviet citizen." All these statements are false; in her two trials, no evidence was ever adduced that she ever stole anything or that she ever handed over anything to anyone.
Within the space of a book review, to detail all the fictions piled into "Secret World" is utterly impractical. Three examples will have to suffice to demonstrate the authors' brand of scholarship:
* The late Steve Nelson, a onetime CP official who is referred to many times by the authors, is thus characterized, on page 230: "After World War II, U.S. officials charged that he was involved in Soviet spying, including atomic espionage."
Such a charge was once made against Nelson by the Republican-dominated HUAC. Following two weeks of secret hearings at the beginning of the 1948 presidential election campaign, HUAC, on September 27, 1948, issued a 20,000 word report charging that the Democratic Party was indifferent to Soviet espionage. It named Nelson as the pivotal figure in an atom spy network that was allegedly operating in the United States.
To equate the thoroughly discredited HUAC with "U.S. officials," as do the authors of "Secret World," is bad enough, but much worse is ignoring what was actually said by U.S. officials. This came by way of a statement issued that September by the Department of Justice. These U.S. officials branded the HUAC report as utterly without merit, an exercise in "political gymnastics," issued by a "politically minded Congressional committee with one eye on publicity and the other on election results." Of course, neither Nelson nor any of the others named as members of a Soviet atom spy ring was ever charged with any such crime.
* The name of Earl Browder, who was head of the American Communist Party from 1930 until he was deposed in 1945, runs through the entire book. All the episodes of espionage alleged in the book occur during his watch. Asserting that no CPUSA participation in Soviet espionage could have been conducted "without approval" from Browder, the authors state flatly that he "was himself no stranger to Soviet intelligence" and was "fully cognizant" of Communists' involvement in spying for the Soviets, "including atomic espionage."
Until his death, Browder repeatedly and categorically denied all such charges, but except for a passing reference, nowhere are those statements included in the book. He even denied them in 1950 before the Tydings Committee and was never charged with perjury.
* The Hiss case and the story told by Whittaker Chambers about the Washington underground together make up the high point not only of "Secret World" but of most of its reviews as well. The only documentary support in the entire volume for the authors' unqualified conclusion as to Hiss's guilt and Chambers' truthfulness is offered in Documents 32 and 33, neither of which is from the Comintem archives.
Exhibit 32 is the text of a one-paragraph extract - undated, unsigned, without salutation or any indication of the sender or recipient - said to have been sent by Ambassador William Bullitt to R. Walton Moore, Assistant Secretary of State. It offers generalized comments about events in Europe, together with Moore's comments said to have been sent to an unidentified third party. Document 33 is the printed text of an unsigned, chatty letter, dated October 19, 1936, said to have been sent to President Roosevelt by William Dodd, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, offering generalized opinions about the state of affairs in Germany. Neither document was marked secret or classified.
In "Secret World," no explanation is offered as to how or when or through whom the originals of these documents wound up in the hands of the authors in Moscow. Yet they claim that these two exhibits provide "direct evidence" in support of Chambers' story about Hiss and the Washington underground. Actually, the only thing it provides "direct evidence" of is that, as scholarship, this book is worthless.
With the help of my new progressive and Communist friends, I began to explore the roots of society's most rampant diseases - racism and exploitation. They lay deep in the imperative for continuing profit and power among those who controlled our economy, our legal system, our government. As time went on, it became crystal-clear to me that the horrors of colour persecution and poverty could only be fully grappled with in a struggle against the economic and social forces that had spawned them. In my special concern with the oppression of Black men and women, I felt it was essential to achieve unity between Black and white workers - nothing was more certain than that the powers that be were concerned with preventing that unity at all costs.
If, in these pages, I direct my sharpest barbs against racism, it is because I could not get away from it - it was my constant and unwanted companion. How could I possibly speak dispassionately of the crimes committed in its name? But the military-industrial-governmental complex lays heavy burdens on other minority peoples as well as on white workers, turning them, periodically or chronically into jobless, homeless expatriates in a land of plenty. To me, the only hope lay in socialism - the only system that had shown itself capable of ending the terrible contradictions of a profit society. When I saw that the Communist Party was taking the lead in the struggle for the rights of minorities and of labor, exposing the role of imperialism in conquest and war, I found that my constant concern with the racist issue became an integral part of the broader struggle for human rights everywhere.