Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

In Defense of the Right to Self-Determination


The high point of revolutionary unity reached between the U.S. working class and the Afro-American people in the 1930s was sabotaged by the revisionist line of Earl Browder.

The setback occurred during the upheaval of the Second World War and in the course of the united effort of the world’s peoples to smash fascism. At first it was overshadowed by the scope of the world struggle and the victories that followed in its wake: the Soviet Union was no longer the only socialist country in Europe; the Chinese people–one fourth of humanity–threw off the yoke of their oppressors; and many third world countries won their independence.

Nonetheless the context and consequences of Browderism were readily apparent. The Afro-American people remained in bondage after war, despite their contribution, along with the entire U.S. working class, to the antifascist victory. Blacks had made only minor gains during the war years, mainly in the area of unionization in the war industries.

Elsewhere Jim Crow had continued unabated. From 1933 to 1945, for instance, some 149 antilynching bills were submitted to the U.S. Congress – and all died there. From 1940 to 1945, 18 anti poll-tax bills were also killed, thus denying the vote to some 4 million Blacks in the South. And from 1942 to 1945, 17 bills against discrimination in industry were also thwarted. (See William Z. Foster, “The Negro People in American History.”)

Black people resisted these attacks. Rebellions against racist harassment took place in many military camps. Pitched battles with many casualties shook Detroit, Mich., Mobile, Ala., and Beaumont, Texas, in 1942 and 1943.

In this struggle, the leaders of Black reformist organizations raised the “Double V” slogan: “Victory against fascism abroad and Jim Crow at home.” A. Phillip Randolph, the Black social-democrat and trade union leader, threatened the Roosevelt administration with a mass march on Washington unless the President issued an order barring discrimination in defense plants. FDR met the demand at the last minute only to stop the action.


The Communist Party disgracefully opposed the “Double V” slogan and the Washington march proposal. Under the guise of “national unity,” the Browder revisionists had liquidated the party’s revolutionary line on the national question and all other questions, a process which reached its conclusion in 1944 when the party itself was dissolved.

How did this happen? What was Browderism and how did it manage to turn a revolutionary party into a revisionist party? While the full story of this betrayal has not been summed up and revealed to this day, its basic outlines are clear.

Browderism was essentially an American version of social imperialism. It first asserted itself in 1938 as a right-opportunist distortion of the views put forward by the 1935 Seventh Congress of the Communist International, calling for a united and popular front against war and fascism. By 1944, it had revealed itself as the all-round substitution of American pragmatism for Marxism-Leninism. It abandoned the strategic aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat, opposed the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, called for U.S. expansion into the third world and dissolved the communist movement entirely into the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The Chinese Communist Party summed Browder up as follows in, its 1963 statement, “A Comment on the Statement of the Communist Party of the USA”:

“This renegade from the working class, Browder, denied Lenin’s basic thesis that imperialism is parasitic, decaying and moribund capitalism, and denied that U.S. capitalism is imperialist in its nature, maintaining that it had ’some of the characteristics of a young capitalism’ and would play a progressive role and be a force for world peace for a long time.”

What was to be the line of the U.S. communists in 1935? Dimitrov had summed it up in his famous address to the Seventh Congress of the Comintern:

“It is perfectly obvious that the interests of the American proletariat demand that all its forces dissociate themselves from the capitalist parties without delay.. .Under American conditions the creation of a mass party of toilers, a ’Workers and Farmers Party,’ might serve as such a suitable form. Such a party would be a specific form of the mass people’s front in America that should be set up in opposition to the parties of the trusts and banks, and likewise to growing fascism. Such a party, of course, will be neither socialist or communist. But it must be an antifascist party and it must not be an anticommunist party. The program of this party must be directed against the banks, trusts and monopolies, against the principal enemies of the people who are gambling on its misfortunes. Such a party will be equal to its task only if it defends the urgent demands of the working class, only if it fights for genuine social legislation, for unemployment insurance; only if it fights for land for the white and Black sharecroppers and for their liberation “from the burden of debt; only if it works for the cancellation of the farmer’s indebtedness; only if it fights for the equal status of Negroes...”


In the course of his speech, Dimitrov repeatedly stressed the importance of the working class as the leading force in the united front and of the necessity for the communists to maintain their independence and initiative. He also insisted that communists would support a united front government only for the dual purpose of blocking a fascist seizure of power and preparing the transition to the armed seizure of power by the working class and its allies. “The right opportunists,” he explained, “tried to establish a special ’democratic intermediate stage’ lying between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat, for the purpose of instilling into the workers the illusion of a peaceful parliamentary procession from the one dictatorship to the other.”

Dimitrov was also clear on the national question in his speech: “The road to victory for the proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries lies only through the revolutionary alliance of the working class of the imperialist countries with the national liberation movement... Communists of an oppressing nation cannot do what is necessary to educate the toiling masses of their nation in the spirit of internationalism without waging a resolute struggle against the oppressor policy of their ’own’ bourgeoisie, for the right of complete self-determination of the nations kept in bondage by it.”

The Communist Party, as is generally known, did not implement any of these basic policies outlined by the Comintern for the formation of an antifascist People’s Front. The closest it came was a brief show of activity around the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, an experiment it was soon to abandon in favor of Browder’s new theory of the “Democratic Front.”

But Browder could not oppose the Comintern outright. He had to disguise his aim by claiming that his “Democratic Front” was a step toward the formation of a People’s Front. This devious ploy is outlined in the May 1938 issue of the The Communist, in an article entitled “Building the Democratic Front,” by Clarence Hathaway.

“The question may arise in the minds of some of our comrades, ’Just what is this ’democratic front’ and what is its relation of the People’s Front, to the Farmer-Labor Party?’ They may ask further, ’Does this conception of a broad democratic front constitute a revision of the line of our party?’ ”

Hathaway answered by saying it was not “a revision of our line” and that “it differs from the People’s Front in that it recognizes that at this time it is not yet possible to organize this broad mass movement in a new party.” He then pointed to the party’s work in New York City, where it had organized an “anti-Tammany” coalition that had Mayor Fiorello La Guardia at its head. “The coalition forces as a whole had no commonly agreed upon platform. They had one plank on which they agreed: ’Defeat Tammany!’

“The idea of support for such a loose coalition of the progressive forces with its candidates sometimes running on the Democratic ticket, sometimes on the Republican ticket, and at other times independent, is inherent in the work of our party for the advance of the people’s front over the past several years. In fact Comrade Browder has formulated this as our basic tactical approach.”

This was required, Hathaway explained, for two reasons: (1) “the desire of the masses for immediate political victories” through the two capitalist parties and (2) “additional, purely American factors, such as the difficulty of getting a new party on the ballot in many states and the existence of the direct primary system in most states.” Hathaway insisted, however, that it was only temporary: “New York is not Minnesota, but it leads toward Minnesota.”


But it was not true. Browder was merely upholding the line of the Comintern to defeat the line of the Comintern. By May, 1939, the party dropped all reference to the People’s Front and the Farmer-Labor Party. Then in the July 15, 1939 Daily Worker the meaning of the “Democratic Front” became clear:

“The progressive and democratic majority is a coalition between the Democratic Party and the independent radical one-third of the electorate. President Roosevelt has embodied that coalition, and by his leadership has consolidated and strengthened it.”

James Ford followed up in September, 1939 in an article in The Communist on “How to Build the Modern Liberation Movement of the Negro People.” The answer was “the Communist Party supports the New Deal as the political expression of the democratic front and strives to unite the Negro’s movement with it.”

Now it is clear why the demand for the right of self-determination was dropped. Roosevelt needed the “Solid South” for his New Deal coalition, which was ruled by the Democratic Party of the Black Belt plantation owners. An outrageous and ironic aspect of it was that the party was urging the Black masses in the South to support a coalition for which they were not even permitted to cast a vote.

Browder nonetheless could not eliminate the line on self-determination straightforwardly. Instead he fought it by praising both the Black people’s struggle and the “progressive development” of capitalism in the South. These two factors, he claimed in 1944, had enabled Black people to “exercise” their right of self-determination by opting for assimilation into American society.

Thus the party liquidated its leading role in the Black struggle by adopting a position that placed it even to the right of the national reformist trend among the Black bourgeoisie. This paralleled similar moves in the trade union movement and the total capitulation to Roosevelt in the political field.

Browder was certainly correct in pointing out that FDR had “consolidated his leadership.” Browder had made sure of it. In 1938 the Sharecroppers Union was dissolved. In 1939 all the CP’s factory cells and shop papers were dissolved. In 1940 the American League for Peace and Democracy was dissolved. In 1943 the Young Communist League and in 1944 the Communist Party itself ceased to exist. (The party in the South had been dissolved several years earlier.)

The conflict between Browder’s line and Dimitrov’s stand came out sharply in the June 1939 issue of The Communist. On one hand there are several articles including one by Browder, brazenly declaring that the CP’s line is designed to save capitalism, to make it work better. On the other hand, there is an article by Dimitrov, “The Land of Socialism and the Struggle of the International Proletariat,” where he explains the two-line struggle in the working-class movement between “reformism” and “Bolshevism.”

“Our weakness is that the Communists do not always as yet consolidate their ideological and political influence in organizational forms. It is also a weaknesss of ours that we lag behind in the sphere of the Marxist-Leninist training of the cadres... This lag provides favorable ground for the penetration of hostile influences into the ranks of the Communist Parties, for all sorts of opportunist distortions of the policy and tactics, distortions that are exceptionally harmful.. . An end must be put as rapidly as possible to the disdainful attitude to theory, to the tendency toward empiricism.”

The Communist Party was not to begin this effort until 1946, when it dumped Browder. Then the Marxist-Leninists tried for a decade to defeat Browderism, a battle which was not won as far as the CPUSA was concerned, as is evident today.