XLVII. COMMUNISM IN THE UNITED STATES
THE first definite crystallization of a Communist Party in the United States occurred in 1919 when the Left Wing split away from the Socialist Party. (*1) Within socialist ranks, the Left Wing had first appeared in 1905, supporting the launching of the I.W.W. against the policy of the Right Wing, which favored the officials of the American Federation of Labor. Again, the Left Wing loomed large in 1912 when it fought against the adoption of Article II, Section 6 of the Socialist Party Constitution, expelling anyone who favored sabotage. In 1917 it compelled a strong resolution to be drafted against the War. Finally, it rallied to the support of the Soviet regime in Russia, and struggled for the adherence of the Socialist Party to the Communist International.
The Left Wing was not without its own publications. In the winter of 1917-1918 was started the Class Struggle, a magazine printed in New York City, the editors of which were Eugene Victor Debs and Ludwig Lore. It was among the first papers in America to publish the works of Lenin and Trotsky on the Russian Revolution. At about the same time, the Socialist Propaganda League began to issue the New International, also printed in New York City, with Louis C. Fraina (*2) as editor and J. S. Rutgers as associate editor. It was published monthly in five-cent newspaper form, and also printed articles by Lenin and Trotsky. A third periodical was the Revolutionary Age, the official organ of the Boston Local of the Socialist Party, edited by Louis C. Fraina and Eamon MacAlpine, and having a long list of contributing editors, including John Reed and Scott Nearing.
We must not consider this Left Wing as having a completely continuous life or the same composition in the whole period from 1905 to 1919. The old fighters were Americans rooted among the masses and leading their struggles. By 1919, on the contrary, the revolutionary group was almost entirely foreign-born, with a few American intellectuals giving the movement an American face. Quite different from the old Left Wing leaders, such as Haywood and Debs, the new leading lights like Hourwich, Cohen, Fraina, Lovestone, (*3) Bedacht, and others had had nothing to do with the real life of the American proletariat. Haywood went to Russia; Larkin returned to Ireland; Debs was in the Atlanta penitentiary. Of the recognized revolutionary fighters in the Socialist Party, but a few were active factors in the 1919 Left Wing, the most prominent being Charles E. Ruthenberg, Benjamin Gitlow, and Joseph Caldwell.
To this Left Wing of the Socialist Party there were added other tendencies which the World War and Russian Revolution had pushed towards communism. The mixture of these various heterogeneous groupings strongly militated against a stable Communist Party’s being organized that would really become rooted in the American working class. Each group brought with it its own baggage from the past and insisted that it and it alone represented the kernel of true communism in the United States.
The second group to make up the communist forces was a number of disappointed American Federation of Labor organizers headed by William Z. Foster, Jack Johnstone, William F. Dunne, and others. The case of Foster is typical of these leaders. Before the War, Foster was a member of the I.W.W. but found the I.W.W. too conservative, and espoused the theoretical doctrines of French syndicalism. During the War, Foster changed his allegiance and became an ardent patriot and one of the chief helpers of Gompers. He did his bit by selling Liberty Bonds like the other social chauvinists. So far to the Right did he swing that even the Interchurch Report on the Steel Strike of 1919 had to declare that it was the A. F. of L. policies that helped to break that strike and that Foster was one of the principal agents responsible for the bad tactics carried out. We cull the following gems from this report:
"Racial differences among steel workers and an immigrant tendency toward industrial unionism, which was combated by the strike leadership, contributed to the disunity of the strikers ." (*4) “Mr. Foster ‘harmoniously’ combated the natural tendencies of sections of the rank and file towards industrial unionism.” (*5)
“It is possible that the workers throughout the whole steel industry might much more easily have been organized on a radical appeal. But the Strike Committee were opposed in principle to any such appeal. After the first three months of the strike, when the nerves of strikers and leaders were worn by the struggle, Mr. Foster was constantly complaining of fighting the ‘radicals,’ meaning those who wanted to have a general strike called or the whole strike called off in order to be called on again and again and again.” (*6)
“Not one new development of major importance was discovered in this strike. That is, in the light of industrial history, there was nothing in the strike which deserves to be called industrially new, or revolutionary.” “It was an old-fashioned strike, preceded by a slightly new mechanical quirk in organizing. It ran on rather unusually old-fashioned lines, especially in comparison with such upheavals as the coal strike, the printers’ strike, the clothing strikes of recent years, and the recent aims of railroad labor organizations. The steel strike had old style methods and aims… . By the end of the year it was evident that the strikers were getting an old-fashioned licking.” (*7)
“We found: (a) That the strike was regularly conducted in orthodox fashion according to the A. F. of L. rules and principles. (b) That while radicals sympathized with the strikers, as was natural, they were effectually debarred by the strike leaders and that, far from having influence in it, they often denounced and opposed those who conducted the strike.” (*8)
After the failure of the Steel Strike, Foster, greatly disappointed, viciously struck back at the workmen for having lost the battle. He wrote at the time “Nowhere is there a more deplorable and contemptible spectacle than that presented by unorganized workmen…. They are worse than cowards and parasites; they are traitors—traitors to the working class and themselves. They bite the hand that feeds them… . The worst enemy of labor is not the employer but the unorganized workingmen… . Out of their colossal ignorance and stupidity are forged fetters for the whole working class. Were it not for their treason, the exploiters would be helpless… . The unorganized are the real enemy of labor; the true obstacle to liberty.” (*9)
Foster had had great dreams of being the head of a vast labor movement. With the general swing of the labor movement to the left, taking with it considerable sections of organized workers and their local leaders, Foster, after a visit to Russia, decided to enter the Communist Party. To the skilled workers, Foster posed as a theorist; to the college-boy and foreign-born intellectual leaders of the Left Wing he posed as a plain worker. In reality he was neither. He was merely a representative of the bewildered skilled worker, blindly groping his way. Yet he was an American, knowing the American labor movement and having many contacts. Thus he was made welcome and, within a year, this A. F. of L. organizer, thoroughly untested and unrevolutionary, became the Chairman of the Communist Party.
Not only Foster entered the ranks of the communists at the time, but a whole group of trade unionists whom he had rallied round his Trade Union Educational League. What induced this group to join the Communist Party? The post-War deflation, the smashing of many A. F. of L. unions, the drastic cuts in wages, the leveling of the skilled workers more and more to the plane of the unskilled, the international revolutionary wave after the War, such factors drove the skilled workers more to the left and brought some of them, followed by these leaders, into the communist camp. Nor must it by any means be overlooked that they joined only after the Red International of Labor Unions had been formed and the American movement had become heavily subsidized by the center at Moscow. These trade unionists joined the communists not during the severe days of the Red Raids of 1919, but only after the main danger had subsided and the coffers were full.
Added to these two groups was a certain small number of former anarchists, New York Greenwich Village habitues, free-thinking Bohemians, pianists, artists, writers, and such who, seeking the new and unconventional, were attracted to the Russian Revolution. This group published a monthly magazine known as The Masses which later became the Liberator and still later was changed to the New Masses. Typical of this group was the editor of The Masses, Max Eastman, whose political history we trace for the edification of the reader.
Mr. Eastman has been poet, politician, and philosopher. Before the War, he occupied the position of Secretary of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage. At that time he was simply a bourgeois liberal, as the American flag proudly flying on the cover of his first pamphlet (*10) and the statements in his Value of the Vote amply testified. In his poetry, written during the War, Max Eastman specialized in such items as “To the Little Bed at Night,” “To a Virgin,” “To a Prostitute,” and such delicacies. (*11)
In the midst of this artistic playfulness, the War took its grim toll; the time for gamboling was over. The government of the United States began to take notice of the magazine, The Masses, which was expressing itself rather freely upon the terrible blood bath engulfing the world. The police reminded themselves that Eastman had written “I like to meddle and tinker… . I belong to that disreputable class damned by Tacitus … as ‘desiring revolution for its own sake,"’ (*12) and began to call this meddler to a halt. Articles had appeared in The Masses by John Reed and others which the government felt were impeding the conduct of the war. Max Eastman was arrested.
Eastman emerged from his first and only test a liberal capitulator. (*13) He told the jury that there was no attempt on his part to obstruct recruiting or enlistment or to promote mutiny or refusal of duty in the army. He emphasized his solidarity with such socialists as Albert Thomas, Minister of Munitions in the French Cabinet, Arthur Henderson, Emile Vendervelde, and other socialists actively conducting the War for their respective governments. Passionately he declaimed: “We never desired the defeat of this country or its failure in the War at any time. We never—most of us—even desired a separate peace.” “Although I was not for the war, I was not for our withdrawing from the War…. I was not for the defeat of this country.” When asked whether he, as editor, was responsible for the articles appearing in his magazine, he declared, “Our policy was to do as we pleased.”
After the trial, Eastman took little active part in the revolutionary movement, went back to poetry, wrote a book on humor and, after taking the side of Trotsky against Stalin, finally published a book against Marx (*14) in which he came out for Hume, for Bertrand Russell, for Seligman, for Einstein, for Bakunin, for Bernstein, for John Dewey, and for the Technocrats (of the Left Wing).
So long as the communist movement was immature, the intellectuals coming from the student section of the propertied classes, played a leading role. However, as the movement grew, these elements, in the natural course of events, were pushed in the background. Some of the intellectuals became proletarianized, some workers became intellectualized, and jointly hammered out a revolutionary theory for the masses. In America, however, the revolutionary movement has experienced a great paucity of genuine revolutionary intellectuals. Outside of Daniel De Leon, there is hardly an intellectual leader of the movement whose works are original or can endure even a few months after they have been written. All this, of course, is part of the difficulty of forming a genuine Communist Party in the United States. For, after all, viewed socially, it is the Party itself that serves the function of a social intellectual. The very fact that there had existed a stunted Communist Party has stimulated the rise of all sorts of pretenders who pose as communist intellectuals.
Much later, when the crisis of 1929 was in its deepest throes, and when the success of the Soviet Union had begun to make an impression, new layers of intellectuals gathered round the American Communist Party. The old group, headed by Eastman, Floyd Dell, and others, had been more or less idealistic enthusiasts, impressed by the Russian Revolution. Some of them had money. They were filled with a spirit for the masses. Later, it is true, they began to lose this idealism and to capitalize as much as possible on the movement. The “Modern Monthly” group represented this decadence wherein freedom to them meant heavy stress on sex expression. (*15)
The new intellectuals clinging to the Communist Party since the present depression, however, who have been busy forming John Reed Clubs, Pen and Hammer Societies, and the like, are of a different sort. They are hungrier than the old type, and thus far more serious. The old group were anti-organization men; the new style are top-sergeant martinets: the old group stressed their intellectual independence; the new variety hangs upon the words of the Party bureaucracy. They are broken intellectuals, party hacks who refuse the duty of dangerous concrete work among the masses and substitute for it the obedience of the cadet with his fingers on the seam of his trousers. These layers are forming a thick crust around the Communist Party today.
About them Trotsky has aptly written in one of his articles: “These groups, sufficiently variegated in their composition, busy themselves on the one side with the fringes of the bourgeoisie, on the other with fringes of the proletariat, and offer no guarantee whatever as to their own future. From the standpoint of time, their radicalism is chiefly directed toward the past. From the standpoint of space, it is directly proportional to the square of the distance from the scene of action. In relation to their own country, these bold boys always were and always will be infinitely more cautious and evasive than in relation to other countries … especially those in the East. The essence of these people from the Left Wing of the bourgeois Bohemia is that they are capable of defending the revolution only after it is accomplished and has demonstrated its permanence.”
With such an agglomeration of heterogeneous groups, it was very natural that the communist movement from the very beginning should have been rent with factions and splits. The isolation of the movement from the American workers, the many foreign-language federations, the lack of proletarian membership, and the low political ideological level of both membership and leadership—these defects were bound to insure a hectic life for the communists. This does not mean that the splits did not occur around important issues. The history of the working class movement shows that a constant struggle is necessary before a genuine Communist Party can emerge, and this struggle is internal as well as external. The factions and splits inside the communist movement serve to mark its stages of development.
The first big battle came even before the communists had organized separately and while they were still a Left Wing of the Socialist Party. The Left Wing in 1919 had grown so strong that it threatened to win the entire Socialist Party membership for the Bolsheviks. At once the Left Wingers were met by wholesale expulsions. The entire state memberships of Massachusetts and of Michigan found themselves suddenly outside the official Socialist Party. The first question was, then, what was to be done? One group in Michigan believed it was necessary to form a new party, a Communist Party, at once; they issued a call for a National Convention to be held in the fall of 1919.
During the summer, however, a convention of Left Wing elements was held in New York City. There the fight waxed hot as to whether they should split from the Socialist Party, or whether those expelled should try to get back into the Socialist Party. These and similar questions agitated and split the Left Wing Convention; one section of the Convention declared it would organize a Communist Party forthwith in September; the other section declared it would return to the Socialist Party Convention in Chicago and fight to win the Socialist Party membership for its position.
The first of September came and, in Chicago, the Communist Party of the United States was formed. Just prior to the first session of this communist Convention, the National Convention of the Socialist Party was held. The Left Wingers who were trying to re-enter the Socialist Party and to protest their expulsion were met at the door by police, who ejected them from the hall. This group at once held a Convention of its own and baptized themselves the Communist Labor Party. Thus the Communist movement began its existence with two sections, each of which began a violent polemic against the other.
Both Communist Party and Communist Labor Party were far removed from American life. Their invectives against each other were sharp in proportion as their phrases covered their lack of actions. For almost a year, a costly fight was waged over such questions as, when workers are mobilized, is it a case of mass action or action of the masses? Soon after the first Communist Party Convention, one of the groups, the Michigan group, broke away and formed another party—the Proletarian Party, and thus there were three.
The literature of these early communist groupings for the most part continued former Left Wing publications. The Communist Labor Party took over the Class Struggle as its theoretical organ, with Carney and Weinstein as editors. It also published Communist Labor. When the Communist Labor Party went into hiding, the Class Struggle disappeared, although the other paper continued publication. In Ohio, the Communist Labor Party was able to obtain control of a weekly socialist paper, the Ohio Socialist and, under the editorship of Wagenknecht and Allison, published it as a legal paper, known as The Toiler, later changed to the Voice of Labor.
The Communist Party founded its official organ The Communist, combining a weekly paper of that name which had begun to appear a short time before in New York as the official organ of the Left Wing Section of the National Council of the Socialist Party (editor, John Reed) with the Revolutionary Age of Boston. The Communist was published in Chicago with L. C. Fraina and I. E. Ferguson as editors. When, later, the communist movement became illegal, J. J. Ballam became editor, one of a long series. This paper endured until 1921, when again the movement appeared above ground. During the existence of the Communist Party, there was printed also a weekly agitational paper called the Workers Challenge, and there was issued as its legal organ another weekly paper called The Toiler.
Both the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party were gravely ill with what Lenin had called the “infantile sickness of ‘Leftism."’ They were opposed to work in the trade unions and to parliamentarism; they advocated the precipitate formation of soviets (by leaflets) and the immediate transformation of every large strike into armed insurrection. In their exaggerated actions, the communists of this country were reflecting the revolutionary events abroad without knowing how to win the confidence of the workers at home, and were making a parody of communism. The growth of the communist movement could come about only if the Party understood thoroughly American conditions and the relation of these conditions to the international situation. However, the Communist Party was not destined to have that normal growth.
Inside of the Socialist Party there had been organized many foreign-language-speaking federations composed of immigrants who had but recently come to America. With the fall of Czarism, thousands of Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, Finns, and others, mostly of those who had suffered under the Czar, joined the movement in the United States, not because of the battles that were being fought here, but generally as a reaction to the world-shaking events in Europe. When the split came in the Socialist Party, most of these foreign language-speaking federations became communist and soon were controlling the new-born communist movement. Of the estimated fifty-five thousand members in the Communist Parties of the time, only about one thousand five hundred were rated as English-speaking, and many of them were Americanized Jews.
These foreign federations that now dominated the movement knew that they could not possibly attract the American masses themselves; they therefore tried hard to present an American face, and pushed forward any intellectual who could speak American. Such intellectuals were placed at the front of the Party, by no means would the foreign federations allow them to control it. Behind the scenes stood the bureaus of the federations which dictated the terms upon which their language groups would vote for this or that intellectual leader. On their part, the intellectuals were glad to take the easy way to leadership and to make those compromises which were acceptable to the foreign federations in order to win the votes. Indeed, only such compromisers had any chance whatever of becoming leaders of the party. Instead of entering into the serious work of winning the great mass of unskilled workers such as the poorest sections of the foreign- born, the Negroes, the poor whites of the South, and so forth, the American nominal leaders agreed not to disturb the Party and to allow the foreign-language federations to continue their isolated nationalist lives and yet remain the base of the movement.
Thus, it was not until 1924 that the slightest beginning was made in the reorganization of the Party on a shop nuclei basis; and only in 1926 did the communist movement undertake such independent action as leading strikes and organizing the unorganized. In this period, the foreign- born advanced worker had a great role to play in giving to America a communist theory, but the American worker had to pay a considerable price for this education. The result was that, up to the very present, there has been no genuine Communist Party organized. Before the communist movement outgrew its periods of infancy and of immaturity, already the world communist movement was in decline and degeneration. Thus the Americans had to suffer from a multiplication of evils, the faults of childishness and the sins of senility.
Only the Proletarian Party group emphasized the evils of foreign-language federation control. But they, on the other hand, tended to the belief that what was needed was more abstract education, since the revolution was far away. The foreign-born failed to realize that America was not on the immediate verge of the proletarian insurrection; the American skilled worker group failed sufficiently to connect America with world affairs and to understand the intimate relation of this country to the proletarian revolution abroad. Thus the Proletarian Party could be nothing but a sterile sect, eking out an existence of which the chief activity was publication of its monthly organ The Proletarian, which it continues to this day.
The Leftist exaggerations of the Communist Party and of the Communist Labor Party were made plausible by the terror which was soon launched against the entire movement. In 1919-1920 there took place the Red Raids, instigated by Attorney General Palmer, which had the effect of driving these two organizations underground. Thousands were now being arrested and deported. A general campaign of terrorism was launched by the Klu Klux Klan, the American Legion, and similar elements, and above all by the United States Government. The blows of reaction, however, did not destroy the communist forces. On the contrary, in this period the chaff began to separate itself from the wheat; the membership rapidly dwindled, but those who remained were loyal. Under the blows of reaction, and upon the insistence of the Communist International, the Communist Parties were compelled to join forces; they formed the United Communist Party in 1921.
The Party at that time was organized in small groups, meeting secretly, each under the direction of a captain. In spite of the vigilance of the police, leaflets calling upon the workers to seize arms and to overturn the government were widely distributed. An intense study of Lenin’s work, "Left” Communism, was carried on by these circles; soon its influence made itself felt. The United Communist Party began to place itself on the track of Leninism.
By this time the world revolutionary wave had somewhat subsided, the great strike period in America was closing, the employers were no longer so frightened, and the United States was making an effort to return to normal. A new issue now began to divide the communists. Many felt that being in hiding removed them from the American working class. They therefore began to agitate for a legal party. This position was encouraged by the Comintern. Soon they did form a legal organization—first the American Labor Alliance, later, in 1921, the Workers Party of America. All this did not occur, however, until another split had taken place.
Some of the undergrounders refused to liquidate their organization. They felt that the period of legality would be but temporary; thus they formed their own organization, the United Toilers. This little group also had its organ, the Workers Challenge edited by Siskind, Lifschitz, and Ballam. Not long afterwards, the United Toilers itself split, most of the members joining the Workers Party. The United Toilers, despite its sectarianism, did stress a factor that American communists were later prone to overlook, namely, that even in America, the communists must prepare for the time when they will again be driven into hiding.
Simultaneously with these events, the communists were winning more recruits from other sources. Within the Socialist Party a new split had occurred in the Jewish (*16) and Finnish Socialist Federations. So long as the outcome of the civil war in Russia had been in doubt, these people had stood on the fence; now that the soviets were victorious, they could afford to affiliate. These groups, together with the Workers Council group of New York, joined the Workers Party. It was about this time, too, that the Trade Union Educational League group also adhered to the Workers Party.
The Workers Council had issued a bi-weekly paper called the Workers Council, edited by J. Louis Engdahl, William Kruse, and Alexander Trachtenberg. With the formation of the Workers Party, a Weekly Worker was issued which later combined with the Workers Council and The Toiler. Engdahl was the first editor of the Weekly Worker. In January, 1924, the Weekly Worker became the Daily Worker.
With the formation of the Workers Party and the liquidation of the underground organization, the communist movement entered into an entirely different phase of its activity. Up to now the work had been mostly propaganda; the works of Lenin were being translated, and the broad distinctions between communism and socialism had to be made clear. Even the artist group had some justification for its leading participation in the movement at a time when all that existed was discussion. To some extent a sectarian life was inevitable in the beginning. But by 1922 it had become plain that the communist movement could not remain a debating society. The big strikes then occurring showed unmistakably the gap between the working class and the communists.
Characteristically, the leaders who yesterday were so Left and revolutionary now swung far to the Right. Perhaps this process was accelerated by the government’s raid on the Bridgeman, Michigan, Convention, when the whole leadership was arrested at a secret meeting in the woods. No doubt the influx of the new recruits also helped to make the Party reformist. At any rate, as far back as 1922, the Workers Party had taken to election campaigns in which its demands included one upon the government that the capitalist also obey the law. (*17) But no matter how many times the Workers Party, to Americanize itself, quoted the Declaration of Independence and contrasted it with reality, the membership reports still showed that, in 1922, of the 12,400 members, only 318 were in English branches, and in 1923, of the 15,200 members, only 1,200 were in the English Federation. (*18)
Prior to this time, the communist leaders had opposed work in the A. F. of L. At first they had called for the absolute abandonment of the unions and the formation of soviets. Then they had concentrated their work in the I. W. W. and other revolutionary unions. Now they enunciated their policy as based mainly upon work within the American Federation of Labor. The new tactics adopted, of those boring from within, were carried out in a particularly opportunist manner in which all sorts of maneuvers were accomplished with those heads of the union movement who would consent to work at all with the communists. At this point no effort was made to organize the unorganized workers; the work was limited to the skilled workers already in the unions. The chief battle-cry was “Amalgamation or Annihilation.”
In the parliamentary field, also, the leaders of the communist forces who yesterday had denounced all electioneering were ready to make the most intricate deals with the Farmer-Labor parties then being organized and to coquette with LaFollette. The collapse of the Labor Party movement in 1924-1925 brought about a serious crisis within the Workers Party which almost caused a split in the ranks. The Foster group, which was opposed to those communists who advocated a Labor Party, was pushed aside by the Communist International, which declared that this faction was less politically correct and loyal than the faction headed by Ruthenberg. Both factions equally were ridden with opportunism. The Foster group’s withdrawal from the Labor Party fight was part of its general tendency to shrink from the struggle, and of its belief that American capitalism was so strong as temporarily to prevent the workers from reaching even the Labor Party level. On the Ruthenberg side, already there were appearing tendencies yearning to substitute a Labor Party for a revolutionary communist organization. Lenin was dead and the whole Comintern was moving rapidly to the Right; in this drift both factions shared in their own way.
In the struggle between the two factions, the Ruthenberg-Lovestone group was favored by the fact that it had been the longest in the movement and was more experienced in and familiar with political maneuvering. Their intellectuals were more facile in the use of the communist phraseology and could pose as the theoreticians of the Party. But most important, this group was the first to support the Comintern officials against Trotsky, and thus was considered more dependable.
After the 1925 Convention of the Workers Party, the factional fight became more bitter than ever, and gradually the Foster group was pushed to the wall. One of the sub-groups headed by James P. Cannon, in desperation at being steadily driven out of the leadership, took the leap of going with Trotsky; this group was expelled from the Party in 1928 and formed the Communist League of America. Despite the fact that Cannon soon afterward wanted to quit the hard struggle for Trotsky’s views, he was kept in line by his own National Committee, and his group eked out an existence until 1934, when they fused with the A. J. Muste group, the former Conference for Progressive Labor Action, to form the Workers Party of America, which speedily liquidated into the Socialist Party.
As for the Foster group, it had been reduced to such a small minority that Foster himself capitulated when the battle opened on the Five-Year Plan in Russia and when Stalin began his swing to isolation. Lovestone, however, unfortunately had been too friendly with the Right Wing (*19) at the time when the Foster group members in Moscow were endorsing Stalin. With the 1929 Convention came the order from Moscow that, although Lovestone controlled the overwhelming majority of the delegates to the Convention, he was to be removed from office as an opportunist, and Foster was to become executive secretary. The members of the Party were to have nothing to do with this upheaval except to obey and to understand. The Lovestone group now carried on a thoroughly unprincipled fight. They declared they had never supported Bucharin, but always had hailed Stalin as the real leader. While Lovestone mobilized his forces and went to fight it out in Moscow, his own lieutenants at home began to desert him. When he was expelled to form his own “Communist Party U. S. A. (Majority Group)” the most he could muster were a few hundred adherents.
Stalin, in his inimitable way, described this unprincipled fight as follows: “What are the main defects in the practice of the leaders of the majority (Lovestone) and the minority (Foster) ?
“First, that in their day to day work they, and particularly the leaders of the majority, are guided by motives of unprincipled factionalism and place the interests of their faction higher than the interests of the Party.
“Secondly, that both groups and particularly the leaders of the majority are so infected with the disease of factionalism that they base their relations with the C. I. not on the principle of confidence but on a policy of rotten diplomacy, a policy of diplomatic intrigue.”
Here was a frank opinion of Russian officialdom on the revolutionary idealism, honesty, integrity, and courage of the entire American leadership. Many of the leaders abroad at the time, though they themselves might be tarred with the same stick, nevertheless shared this contempt for the type of communists which America had developed.
From the very beginning, the communist movement in the United States was faced with severe obstacles, both objective and subjective. Among the objective difficulties we may place the fact that America was the result of a double play of forces, each militating against communism. On the one hand, due to the frontier, free land, and lack of class relationships in large sections of the country for considerable periods, the domination of capitalism was retarded. It was not retarded, as in Europe, by the forces of reaction and of feudalism; it was retarded by the fact that, so vast were the continental dimensions of the United States, capitalism could not maintain the rapid pace with which new territory was opening up. Such a situation meant that, in large areas of the country, there was no exploitation of man by man; each worked for himself and garnered the fruits of his toil.
On the other hand, there was the additional fact that capitalism in this country had a relatively unhindered development. America furnished the "purest" example of capitalism. Before the War, the exceptional opportunities for advancement had led to a large petty bourgeoisie and to comparatively better conditions for the proletariat. At the same time, American prosperity brought to these shores a vast wave of immigration which temporarily resulted in disunity in the workers’ ranks and a checking of the growth of class consciousness and solidarity. After the War there occurred a shift of the world’s economic center of gravity in favor of the United States. The result was a huge growth of American imperialism, with the creation of parasitic rentier classes, and the corruption of a section of the upper layers of the working class.
The subjective difficulties militating against the growth of a genuinely native powerful communist movement were inherent in the ranks of the communists themselves. The Communist Party had been formed from various tendencies; there was not sufficient pressure from the ruling class for each group to purge itself of its past and to reach the level of revolutionary struggle. Those who had come from the Socialist Party were filled with parliamentarism, legalism, a shrinking from direct action, pacifism, nationalism, democratic illusions, a contempt for agrarian, colonial, anti-military and Negro work, and with the traditions of a loosely organized party. The A. F. of L. group retained its tendencies to bureaucracy, class collaboration theories, and practices, orientation to skilled workers only, and a contempt for the unorganized and impoverished masses. The former anarchist elements carried with them some of their individualism and adventurism; the syndicalists who became communists had their own ideas of the relations between party and union, a scorn of parliamentary work, a biased attitude towards other layers of the oppressed population outside of those working on the point of production, and a contempt for leadership.
To all these obstacles had to be added the special ones that arose from the poor social composition of the communist movement. For the first five years, the Party remained divided into foreign-language federations entirely isolated from the American proletariat, each immigrant sect leading its own separate nationalist existence. Even after these federations formally were liquidated in 1925, it was still difficult for the foreign-speaking members to reach the American proletariat. Had the Communist Party from the beginning engaged in serious struggles in this country, this composition could have been changed and the divisions obliterated. As it was, it was only during a few years from 1926 on that the Party undertook leadership of strikes and of unemployed demonstrations, etc. All these factors, coupled with the errors of the American and Comintern leadership, prevented the communists of this country from ever forming a revolutionary organization of any importance.
The Communist Party of the United States never developed into a really scientific theoretical center. The leaders have developed no worth-while scientific literature. Nor have they proved to be profound students of Marx. They have taken upon themselves no initiative in translating the works of Marx, such as his History of the Theories of Surplus Value, which are still unavailable in the English language. Nor have they translated the majority of the works of Lenin, whom they are supposed to follow closely. There are no broad cadres of seriously trained communist theoretical leaders, even today.
In practice, too, the Communist Party never became a vanguard organization. It never put serious tests to those applying for membership. The leaders themselves were never tested in struggle before reaching their posts and, as a result, the functionary staff has always been rotten with careerism, factionalism, subsidy corruption, and bureaucracy.
The new turn of the Communist Party in 1929 (*20) operated in a most disastrous fashion to isolate the communists. In 1925, the membership had stood at about twelve thousand and had risen slowly to about twenty-four thousand in 1928; by 1932 this had fallen to little more than six thousand. The effects of the new policy were felt particularly in the trade union field.
The convention held in 1925 had passed a platonic resolution on the question of the organization of the unorganized. "The main tasks of the Party in the trade unions are: … The organization of the unorganized by strengthening of the existing organizations, the creation of new unions in industries where none exist, the building of ship committees and the utilization of the shop nuclei as points for inaugurating campaigns to organize the unorganized."(*21) Very little was accomplished, however, until permission was given a small handful of communists to go into the textile industry for that purpose. The result was the Passaic Strike of 1926 which gave the communists a flying start in mass action. The Passaic Strike showed that the communists were not only propagandists but agitators, that they not only could theorize but could organize in an extremely difficult field, that they were practical organizers who could undertake tasks from which the old labor leaders had shrunk. The Passaic Strike helped to change the entire orientation of the Communist Party at the time, inspiring the Party to move into mass work and to attempt to become rooted in the factories and in the industries of the country.
This great change was not accomplished without bitter internal fighting. The Foster group maintained that to organize the unorganized, as was done in Passaic, was dual unionism. All unions which the Communists formed had to apply for entrance into the A. F. of L. immediately, even though the A. F. of L. in turn expelled the communist leaders as a condition of admission. (*22) By no means must the communists form independent national union bodies in unorganized fields. Another faction declared that it was dangerous for communists to lead strikes, since the employers would offer so much resistance that the strikes invariably would be lost and the workers thus hate the communists. (*23) A third group was willing to permit the local communists to continue their work, though not to engage in such work themselves.
The successful experience of the Passaic Strike prompted the communists everywhere to strive for leadership in strike action. In the needle trades in New York City, among the miners, and above all in the textile industry, the communists became active in strike struggles. Here was a good beginning towards the Bolshevization of the Party and the rooting of the organization among the unskilled workers. After the textile strike in New Bedford in 1928, the National Textile Workers Union was formed, with Albert Weisbord as national secretary, and plans at once were laid for entrance into the South. This was done through the loyal work of Fred Beal, Vera Buch, and others who risked their lives in the organization of the textile workers of the South and the conduct of the strikes in Gastonia, North Carolina, and elsewhere. With the Gastonia affair, the Communist Party began to strike fear into the hearts of the Southern employers as a genuine force. During this period the Communist Party came closest to being built as a revolutionary organization on a solid basis. (*24)
The turn of 1929, however, killed all prospects of rooting the party in struggle in the United States. The representative of Moscow stated at the time: “The South has received considerable discussion during the course of the Convention. We have made a new discovery and found a strange country which we must devote very much attention to.” (*25) Nevertheless, in the course of the factional fight that opened up and the new line of isolation, (*26) nothing was done about the South. In a short while, a good portion of the work that had been achieved was completely nullified.
Now a stifling bureaucracy was placed over the new unions that had been formed by the Communist Party, killing all initiative and enterprise. All those who did not agree with the Stalinist line were isolated and ousted, not only from the Party—that went without saying—but even from all the unions under the Party’s control. In short, the new unions became only vulgarized editions of the Communist Party and failed thereby to remain even unions.
The decisions of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928, which had declared the world was entering a Third Period wherein the workers would be in revolutionary upsurge, found the American communist officials in full-throated accord, since they had won their posts and had ousted the Lovestone group only by complete agreement with the Stalinist leadership. From now on, American democracy was considered equivalent to fascism; the American Federation of Labor was a company union fascist organization; the Socialist Party was a social-fascist body; no united fronts could be made except from below; entrance into the American Federation of Labor was permitted only in order to destroy that body. Everywhere the communists attempted to form their own unions, even though they had but a handful of members and the majority of the workers were organized in other organizations. Heavily subsidized as they were, and thus dependent for their livelihood, not upon the membership they could win in America but upon close adherence to the line of Stalin, the new bureaucracy outdid itself in multiplying its inherent opportunism with all the crimes of Leftist sectarianism. In the end, all their new unions were destroyed, even those in fields where the good work done in the past had given the communists some influence among the workers. Thus the Third Period really paved the way for the Fourth Period of collapse.
At this point it would be well to give a number of statements by the communist leaders themselves to show the policy which they then adopted. First, we hear William Z. Foster, the leader of the Party at the time. “The policy of the Social-Democracy is basically that of Fascism…. Thus in the period of the decline of capitalism, Social-Reformism becomes social- fascism.” (*27) Then we turn to Jack Johnstone, at that time head of the trade union department of the Communist Party. Said this worthy. “There are two trade union centers in the U. S. A., the T. U. U. L. (Trade Union Unity League), the revolutionary trade union center, the A. F. L., the company union center.” (*28)
The American Federation of Labor’s being considered nothing but a fascist company union organization, it was necessary to work within it only to destroy it. “With two Trade Union Centers, the company union center—A. F. of L.—and the revolutionary trade union center ---the Trade Union Unity League—there are many diversified problems. In this situation our most important task is to broaden the base of the revolutionary unions among the millions of unorganized workers, and to strengthen the revolutionary minorities within the ranks of the A. F. of L. and company unions and then to liquidate these organizations by winning over the members to the program of the T. U. U. L. and into membership.” (*29) This point of view was developed with various embellishments by a host of writers scribbling for the communist press at the time.
Following the Seventh World Congress of the Stalintern in June, 1935, the Communist Party of the United States held its national convention in 1936 in which it completely reversed its past policies. Naturally, the leaders steadfastly refused to admit that they ever had been wrong. They had been infallible before, they were infallible now. Only the objective circumstances had changed, compelling a new tactical line to be followed. Before, in 1928, when no crisis existed, the Stalinists had believed that the revolution was about to break out all over the world. Now that the crisis had lasted for seven full years and had reached unheard of proportions, it was time to postpone the proletarian revolution and to make the principal fight one for democracy against fascism. There could be no real analysis as to how fascism was becoming victorious, since the Stalinists always had been proven correct in their policies. The 1936 convention knew only that it was time to retreat.
How far to the Right the Communist Party has moved in recent months can be seen by comparing the declarations of the Roosevelt Administration with the policies of the Communist Party. In the field of unemployment, Roosevelt has averred that the State is not the best of employers, and that the healthiest thing to do is to try to place the workers back into regular industry. This should have given the opportunity for the communists to have demanded that the factories be opened to the unemployed and the warehouses to the hungry. But all the Communist Party insisted on was that the Works Projects be made permanent. Roosevelt had intimated that, while the projects might be valuable, they could not be substitutes for regular employment. To the Communist Party, however, the projects were evidently good enough; there should be more of them, and the workers should become State pensioners for life. Thus it was Roosevelt who indirectly hinted that the workers should turn their attention to the main forces of production, while the Communist Party would direct the energies of the workers away from the factories which they had built to some highway or park or relatively secondary work where the unemployed do not compete with capitalism. It seems evident that such a policy never can induce the workers to strive to take over factories, or to overthrow the capitalist government. Such a line, on the contrary, induces a passive support of the regime which doles out relief and W. P. A. jobs.
To continue the comparison, when the Italo-Ethiopian conflict was at its height, Miss Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, called for a general strike to stop all exports to Italy from the United States; the Communist Party did not go so far. And while Roosevelt was strenuously talking of the need of peace and of keeping America out of the embroilments of Europe, the Communist International was demanding military sanctions.
Again, Mr. Roosevelt has taken pains to popularize the term “revolution.” His supporters have made it plain that they consider the Constitution obsolete. The Communist Party, however, has raised the cry “Back to 1776 and to the spirit of our forefathers.” The American Revolution, the American Constitution, American democracy now find no more ardent supporters than the Stalinists. The friends of the Administration have talked of the need of a new social order and of better planning; Governor Earle of Pennsylvania in a recent debate went so far as to affirm that it was necessary to abolish wage-slavery in the United States. The Communist Party, however, now states that the matter of wage-slavery and the new social order is not indicated for the present, that the struggle for the full revolutionary program must be postponed; today, it is merely the question of democracy versus fascism. Plainly the Left Wing democrats are now to a considerable extent more revolutionary in their phraseology than the Right Wing Stalinists.
In its 1936 election platform, the Communist Party decided to make the main issue “Put America back to work,” (*30) a motto which every reactionary capitalist in the United States would be glad to indorse. It stated that the principal object was the defeat of Landon, even though votes thereby were increased for Roosevelt. It definitely committed itself to the theory of the “lesser evil,” a theory by which some capitalists are to be supported in preference to others, in the hope of staving off fascism in democratic countries, a theory, too, by which the communists guarantee in advance that they will not take the road of revolution.
How much the Communist Party idealized the capitalist State could be seen in their support of the Lundeen-Frazier Bill for Unemployment Insurance which they called the Workers-Unemployment Insurance Bill. In the original Bill (H.R-7598), it had been provided that the insurance should be administered “… through unemployment insurance commissions composed of the rank, and file members of workers’ and farmers’ organizations.” That is to say, the Secretary of Labor would have been given the authority to go into every workers’ organization for the purpose of supervising the elections to these insurance commissions to the end that only rank and file members be elected. Should any officer or leader of any union be elected, the Secretary of Labor would have had to disqualify him. Thus, through the Lundeen Bill, the Communist Party actually wanted the United States Government to intervene in the labor movement to guarantee that labor officials be disbarred from participation. (At this time, the Communist Party was still calling for the smashing of the American Federation of Labor and the united front from below.)
The revised Lundeen Bill (H.R. 2728) has removed that obnoxious provision but still provides “Such unemployment insurance shall be administered and controlled and the minimum compensation shall be adjusted by workers and farmers under rules and regulations which shall be prescribed by the Secretary of Labor in conformity with the purposes and provisions of this Act, through unemployment insurance commissions directly elected by members of workers’ and farmers’ organizations.” (*31)
As the bill now stands, the workers are to become intimately harnessed to the State administration, (*32) instead of being thrown against the capitalist State. Under the bill, the representatives and detectives of the Department of Labor would have the power to check up to see whether the organizations are truly representative of workers and farmers. All the members, undoubtedly, would have to be registered and the books be open to the Department of Labor. This Department also would have under the Act the duty of determining whether the commissions were directly elected, and thus could demand to be present at the elections in all workers’ organizations. The workers’ commissions in their functioning would be directly tied up with the State and be made responsible for the State’s actions. This is not the program of communism; this is precisely the program of Fascism. (*33)
Since its last Convention, the Communist Party has made increasing efforts to unite with the Socialist Party, which but recently split, sloughing off its extreme Right Wing. Further, the Communist Party is now bending every effort to build a Labor Party, a Farmer-Labor Party and even a People’s Party. It has gone so far as to support the Non-Partisan Labor Committee, made up of trade union officials, which indorsed Roosevelt as President and the banker Lehman for Governor of New York State, and to criticize the Socialist Party for not doing likewise.
In the trade union field, the Communist Party now tries its hardest to ingratiate itself with the officialdom. It had been affirmed formerly that John L. Lewis deserved to rank “as one of the most powerful and reactionary leaders in the history of the Miners’ Union.” (*34) “Lewis’ regime is a curse to the miners…. Lewis has betrayed the miners in every district.” (*35) Now Lewis has suddenly become the progressive whom the communists follow uncritically. The Communist Party today has given up all idea of independent organization of the unorganized.
The rapid sudden turns of the American Communist Party would be unfathomable were we to lose sight of the key fact that the leaders of the American Communist Party serve solely the interests of Russian nationalism and soviet diplomacy. At each turn they have expelled most of their old members out of the Party and taken in new ones, a matter of secondary importance to them so long as they are supported from the top and not from the bottom. In 1928, when they began to clean out the Party, they had twenty-four thousand members. By 1932 the total had fallen to six thousand members. With the new line they have been able to increase their membership so that they claim in 1936 close to fifty thousand members and are making a drive for one hundred thousand members. Thus the overwhelming majority of the members are entirely new. Only the bureaucracy remains stable and secure; the others do not matter.
Very little attention is now given to shop nuclei. The fractions in the unions no longer have much function, since the line is to support the trade union bureaucracy. The membership need not be tested, since it does not count and does not run the Party. Policy is decided before conventions, and not during the sessions which only rubber stamp the views of the top leadership. In a recent speech, Earl Browder, present head of the Party, affirmed that the workers need not be afraid to join the communists, since their home life will no longer be interfered with. The Young Communist League has practically dissolved as a communist organization. The breakdown of Leninist organization coincides with the collapse of communist policy.
Thus, in America, we have the strange fact that, before conditions will permit a genuine Communist Party to be built up, already the movement is decayed and hopelessly reformist, according to the standards of Lenin. To the forces within America that bred an immaturity have been added the forces of degeneration abroad which have led to collapse. The breakdown of the movement in Europe has helped to make infinitely more difficult the rise of America as a world revolutionary force.
1. Much of this chapter is based on personal knowledge or contact rather than on material to be found in libraries. It is possible that some minor details concerning the early communist organizations may be inaccurate.
2. Now known as Lewis Corey.
3. Ne Jacob Liebstein.
4. Interchurch World Movement: Report on the Steel Strike of 1919, p. 16.
5. The same, p. 35.
6. The same, p. 39.
7. The same, p. 40.
8. The same, p. 247.
9. W. Z. Foster: Trade Unionism—The Road to Freedom, pp. 26-28.
10. Woman suffrage and sentiment.
11. See his Child of the Amazons, also his Kinds of Love.
12. M. Eastman: Journalism versus Art, p. 110.
13. See "Max Eastman’s Address to, the jury in the Second Masses Trial—In Defense of the, Socialist Position and the Right of Free Speech.”
14. Marx and Lenin: the Science of Revolution.
15. One of the steady contributors to the Modern Monthly was S. D. Schmalhausen who never tired of expressing his belief that “The psychology of the orgasm is an undeveloped theme deserving profoundest consideration on the part of psychoanalysts.” Schmalhausen’s aim was to edit books about the “revolt of the virgins.” See his Our Neurotic Age—Symposium.
16. A leading light of the Jewish Federation group was M. Olgin.
17. See Program and Constitution, Workers Party of America, December, 1921, p. 12.
18. See The Second Year of the Workers Party of America, pp. 29-30.
19. C. E. Ruthenberg died in 1927 and Jay Lovestone then became the leader of the party.
20. The name of the party had been changed in 1928 to the Workers (Communist) Party and in 1929 to the Communist Party of the United States.
21. Workers (Communist) Party of America; The Fourth National Convention, p. 101.
22. The Communist Party leadership terminated the Passaic Strike in a disgraceful fashion, all the principal leaders of the Party voting that the independent union formed enter the A. F. of L., despite the fact that the communist union leaders were to be expelled. Only two members of the committee voted against, of whom the author is one. In less than two years, the union of twelve thousand members was reduced to less than one hundred, and finally disappeared.
23. This was the opinion of Cannon, Dunne, and their associates.
24. The Gastonia Strike ended with the death of the chief of police who had tried illegally to invade the union premises with a gang of hoodlums, and with the trial of the principal union organizers for murder. Beal and six others were sentenced up to twenty years in a dramatic trial that focused the attention of the whole labor movement on the dire conditions of the Southern workers. The convicted decided to jump bail, and they fled to the Soviet Union. In the Hearst press, Beal later described his bitter disappointment in Russia.
25. Report of the Fifth National Convention of the Young Communist League of U. S. A., p. 30. (1929.)
26. In the course of their struggle against the Party bureaucracy, A. Weisbord and V. Buch were ousted from the Party. They formed, in 1931, the small group called the Communist League of Struggle, which fraternally adhered to the International Left Opposition until Trotsky’s capitulation to the socialists. It is still in existence, with headquarters in Chicago.
27. W. Z. Foster: Toward Soviet America, p. 177.
28. J. Johnstone: “Issues in the Needle Trades Convention” in Daily Worker, June 3, 1930.
29. J. Johnstone: Strike Strategy, No. 7, in Daily Worker, September 8, 1930.
30. Incidentally, this slogan was lifted bodily from President Roosevelt’s book, On Our Way, p. 98.
31. Note that the relation of farmers to workers is not worked out, and farmers’ representatives might have equal or even larger share of the administration.
32. Compare with the views of John L. Lewis as to the trade union.
33. That the Communists in America have not been averse to having the police register their members and sympathizers can be seen from the fact that they register no protest to the demands of the U. S. Postal authorities for the names and addresses of all the subscribers of their papers in order to obtain the second class mailing privileges. Thus the United States Government undoubtedly has a full and complete list of all the Reds in this country so as to facilitate the next Red Raids when the time comes.
34. W. Z. Foster: Misleaders of Labor, p. 132.
35. The same, p. 133.