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Communist Party USA, 1919 to 1957

Summary and Keywords

The largest and most important revolutionary socialist organization in US history, the Communist Party USA was always a minority influence. It reached considerable size and influence, however, during the Great Depression and World War II years when it followed the more open line associated with the term “Popular Front.” In these years communists were much more flexible in their strategies and relations with other groups, though the party remained a hierarchical vanguard organization. It grew from a largely isolated sect dominated by unskilled and unemployed immigrant men in the 1920s to a socially diverse movement of nearly 100,000 based heavily on American born men and women from the working and professional classes by the late 1930s and during World War II, exerting considerable influence in the labor movement and American cultural life. In these years, the Communist Party helped to build the industrial union movement, advanced the cause of African American civil rights, and laid the foundation for the postwar feminist movement. But the party was always prone to abrupt changes in line and vulnerable to attack as a sinister outside force because of its close adherence to Soviet policies and goals. Several factors contributed to its catastrophic decline in the 1950s: the increasingly antagonistic Cold War struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States; an unprecedented attack from employers and government at various levels—criminal cases and imprisonment, deportation, and blacklisting; and within the party itself, a turn back toward a more dogmatic version of Marxism-Leninism and a heightened atmosphere of factional conflict and purges.

Keywords: communism, Popular Front, McCarthyism, Soviet Union, unions, Red Scare

Because it has always been a minority political influence and has virtually disappeared over the past sixty years, there is a danger that we will miss the significance of the Communist Party USA or dismiss its demise as inevitable in the context of the United States. In fact, its failure can only be understood as the product of specific historical situations. Even at its weakest, as in the periods after the two World Wars, the party has represented the most significant American revolutionary organization. It has generally thrived and exerted considerable influence when it has broadened its approach and worked with socialist and other reformist groups, as in the 1930s and World War II years. Its influence has been limited at times by rather extreme political repression, as in the Red Scare (1919–1922) and McCarthy period (1947–1956), but also by its own Stalinism and sectarianism.

Red Roots, 1919 to 1928

American communism’s roots lay in older forms of radicalism, but its development marked a distinct break with these earlier movements. The party originated in a split from the Socialist Party of America in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Newer immigrants, including many unskilled Finns, Russians, Ukrainians, and Eastern European and Russian Jews had been pouring into the Socialist Party’s foreign-language federations since at least 1914. These groups and a small number of native born and English-speaking workers and intellectuals constituted a left-wing majority among the socialists by the end of World War I. The news from Russia galvanized these groups, and they soon demanded that the Socialist Party align itself with the emerging international communist movement which prescribed a revolutionary agenda in both the political and industrial spheres.

In the summer of 1919, when the party refused to acknowledge this new majority, thousands of members broke away, forming two distinct and often warring Communist parties. The Communist Party of America (CPA) was composed largely of immigrants and unskilled workers, while the Communist Labor Party, which also included many immigrants, counted among its members a core of experienced native-born workers and some important intellectuals like the journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant. Though the CPA claimed a larger membership, it was divided from native-born workers by language and cultural factors. Its tendency toward secrecy and sectarianism seemed only to enhance its image as a foreign conspiracy. It clung tenaciously to its underground existence. In 1921, the new Communist International (Comintern) insisted that the dueling American parties unite to form a new legal organization, the Workers Party (WP).

Born in what might have appeared to be a propitious time for such radicalism because of the revolutions sweeping Europe and the strike wave engulfing the United States following World War I, the new party soon faced enormous obstacles. Beginning with the Espionage and Sedition Acts during World War I, the Red Scare reached a highpoint in 1919 to 1921 when political repression, racism, and nativism undermined labor and radical organizations and lead to a series of political trials and deportations. Within the WP, deep factionalism hobbled efforts to get the movement off the ground. The Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), a promising national rank-and-file movement with strong ties to the Workers Party, faced hostility within the labor movement and blacklisting by employers. Deportations continued throughout the twenties, while the conservative unions expelled thousands of militants. As of the late 1920s, the Workers Party remained a small sect populated largely by immigrants.

The early party’s foreign language federations sank deep roots in some ethnic communities, notably among Finns, Italians, and immigrant Jews. Through ethnic cultural and welfare organizations—insurance schemes, choral and theatrical groups, and sports federations—immigrant communism constituted an oppositional culture in the wake of the massive immigration of the early 20th century. But these vibrant ethnic cultures tended to isolate immigrant communists from the mainstream of working-class life and marked American communism as a foreign influence. The party launched an ambitious “Americanization” aimed at integrating immigrant communists into an interethnic communist movement populated and led by native-born workers.

Class Against Class, 1928 to 1935

Under attack from the government and employers from without, the party descended into a series of factional conflicts from the mid-twenties through the end of the decade. One group represented a core of experienced trade-union activists and veterans centered in Chicago and other industrial centers, the other a more cerebral group concentrated in New York. In 1928, at the behest of the Soviet Party, the CPUSA expelled hundreds of Trotsky’s American followers, and in 1929, a large group of the most sectarian elements gathered around Jay Lovestone, the organization’s consummate factionalist. Both groups established opposition parties, further weakening the main organization, renamed the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) in 1930. A new, ultra-revolutionary Comintern line demanded a war against these groups, mainstream labor leaders, liberals, and the “social fascists” of the Socialist Party.1

While the extremism of this period is often derided, communists had some important effects during the early Depression years. This “Class against Class” approach called for the establishment of separate revolutionary unions; labor organizing in industries with weak labor organization or none at all; and a series of spectacular but unsuccessful strikes in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Communists also organized the largest of several unemployed groups, leading a series of hunger marches and large demonstrations throughout the country. They pursued civil rights through court cases and organized protests among urban African Americans and even in the deep south through a Sharecroppers Union. Their defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black teenagers accused of rape, won the party support among some African Americans. Ironically, the CPUSA also served as a kind of Americanization for a generation of immigrant workers, providing a certain type of introduction to American economics, politics, and culture.2

Communist Party USA, 1919 to 1957Click to view larger

Figure 1. Communist Party demonstration in Union Square, New York City, May Day 1930(?).

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35826.

The net effect of the new line, however, in addition to the related factionalism, was devastating. The Comintern had hoped that the gathering economic storm of the late twenties would produce a great revolutionary upsurge in the coming years. “Instead,” writes the British Communist historian E. J. Hobsbawm, “it produced the most staggering and undeniable debacle,” Like other parties throughout the world in the period 1928 through 1933, American communists attacked other progressives and embraced a policy of what Hobsbawm called “almost suicidal sectarianism.”3 The TUEL was abandoned in favor of the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL), a federation of dual revolutionary unions which led a series of bold but ultimately disastrous strikes in the garment industry, textiles, agriculture, coal mining and elsewhere through the late twenties and early thirties.4

The Popular Front, 1935 to 1945

In August 1935, the Comintern declared a new line. The “Popular Front” called for unity with other groups in the face of rising fascism, allowing the party much more flexibility to cooperate with socialists and other groups in antifascist movements, unemployed organizing, civil rights activity, and in organizing industrial unions. The new departure brought the party its first real chance for substantial growth and some degree of influence. In the new Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), communists often represented the most dedicated and accomplished organizers. More importantly, communists exerted considerable influence in many of the new CIO unions, in student and peace movements, in a new generation of feminist organizations, and among some intellectuals, writers, and artists.5

Communist Party USA, 1919 to 1957Click to view larger

Figure 2. Chicago Communist Party members welcome Earl Browder, party chairman, July 4, 1937.

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-136540.

An older interpretation of the Popular Front envisioned it as a tool of Moscow with the CPUSA slavishly serving Soviet ends; the phenomenon was strictly tactical in this view, a ploy on the part of the Party that represented no fundamental change in the nature or function of the CPUSA: “[T]he Communist-style Popular Front did not and could not develop into an authentic American socialism or radicalism . . .. The peculiar nature of the Popular Front derived from the fact that it was a tactical turn by a Communist party with its chameleon-like faculty for changing the color of its political skin while remaining inwardly the same . . . it was the Popular Front of the Communist party, not a Popular Front sui generis.”6

The Soviet authorities undoubtedly saw the new line in strategic terms, but this instrumental view of the Popular Front is an oversimplification. In the United States the Popular Front in its broader sense derived from a conjuncture in the histories of American capitalism, electoral politics, and the character of working-class communities in the United States The Great Depression sparked a radical upsurge among the unemployed and wage earners, producing a great wave of organization and strikes beginning in 1933 and resulting by the end of World War II in a greatly reinvigorated labor movement. The Great Depression and this labor upsurge bolstered a turn toward New Deal social democratic politics, a turn the party supported through much of this period.7

One effect of the new line on the Party was a large increase and a much greater diversity in membership which grew from 30,000 in the summer of 1935 to 82,000 by fall 1938 and to a highpoint of perhaps 100,000 in the summer of 1939, a peak that was never reached again. This number did not include the Party’s many front organizations that proliferated in precisely these years and provided it with much of its influence.8 The Third Period CPUSA was a tiny organization of older foreign-born males in just a few regions of the country, many of them unemployed. The Popular Front party was populated largely by younger, native-born men and women from a wide range of occupations and from cities and industrial towns throughout the nation. Eighty per cent of the delegates to the CPUSA’s 1939 convention were native born and perhaps as much as 44 per cent of the membership was composed of white-collar workers or professionals. Women had represented only 10 per cent of Party membership in 1930, but their proportion had reached 50 per cent by 1943. Throughout the Third Period few if any women sat on the party’s Central Committee; by 1940 they represented about one-fourth of its cadres. More young people and more union workers were also joining.9

There were also cultural dimensions to the Popular Front. The second generation in ethnic working-class communities was forging these new social movements as it was also embracing a new mass urban culture. The new line allowed party members to interact and work with non-party intellectuals and artists in organizations influenced by communist politics. In its intellectual and artistic dimensions, it is difficult to delineate between party activities and those of broader “front groups.” Some of the nation’s most important writers like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Jack Conroy, James T. Farrell, Tillie Olson, and Nelson Algren organized the John Reed Clubs and the American Writers Congress. Artists, photographers, and film makers like Jacob Lawrence, Archibald Motley, William Gropper, and Leo Hurwitz, organized around the American Artists Congress and the Workers Film and Photo League. The Group Theatre overlapped with the activities of the Federal Theatre Project under the auspices of the federal government’s Works Projects Administration, employing talented actors and directors some of whom, like Lee Strasberg, John Henry Lawson, Orson Welles, and John Garfield, were close to, if not in, the party. Musicians and composers like Aaron Copland, Marc Blitzstein, and Woody Guthrie captured the attention of the New Deal public with music and lyrics focused on labor and social justice issues. The coming of age of this new generation and their pervasive influence on these new social and political movements shaped what Michael Denning has termed the “laboring” of American culture. That is, American literature, music, art, theatre, and film all reflected a growing concern with social inequality, democratic reform, and the role of common people in the society’s history and culture.10 The significance of this social and cultural transformation for both the CPUSA and the society at large is far more complex than simply a political tactic ordered from Moscow.

Perhaps the party’s most important work came in the labor movement where a seasoned cadre of communist organizers from the revolutionary unions and the strikes of the late twenties and early thirties provided much of the expertise for organizing the new industrial unions launched by the Committee of Industrial Organizations (1935), later the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). While the American Federation of Labor clung to the old craft union model and made little effort to organize the mass production industries, the CIO unions swept through the steel, electrical manufacturing, farm implement, meat packing, and other industries, joining with the socialist garment workers’ unions and the United Mine Workers Union of America to create a vital and creative new labor federation. The CIO pioneered new strategies like the sit-down strike and pledged to integrate women and black workers. In many places, they advanced the cause of civil and women’s rights and helped to found progressive local and state labor parties and other political organizations. In the process, communist influence grew and party organizers emerged as local, state, and even national leaders in many of the new unions.11

The party’s anti-fascist activities greatly enhanced its prestige, and many who might not have agreed with its ideology and aims admired these actions. Black and Italian American communists led demonstrations against Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, gaining significant support in black communities.12 Between 1936 and 1939, the party played a particularly important role in supporting the democratically-elected Spanish Republic against a fascist uprising and civil war, organizing the Abraham Lincoln Battalion for volunteer soldiers and a variety of medical, propaganda, and fund raising efforts.13 While the American government remained neutral and some Americans supported the fascist uprising, the cause of the Spanish Republic appealed to many others, including some of the generation’s most important intellectuals.

At this very promising juncture the party supported the Soviet Union’s decision to sign a non-aggression pact, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, with the Nazis in 1939. The results, especially among the growing number of intellectuals and artists, were devastating. (Interestingly, most of the party’s working class membership remained.) The CPUSA had changed little in terms of its structure, hierarchy, and relationship to the Comintern, despite the new emphasis on greater flexibility in strategy and the acknowledgement of national differences. It remained a highly-centralized vanguard party, quickly reacting to Soviet dictates, often to its great disadvantage.14 Even before the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939, the party had supported a series of show trials, which resulted in the political murders of numerous Soviet party leaders, in 1937. The pact brought an abrupt end to aggressive antifascism and a turn toward anti-war organizing, bringing also charges of duplicity. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, however, the CPUSA returned to something like the Popular Front, adhering to a win-the-war line. This turn inhibited it from being as aggressive as it might have been in pursuit of the rights of workers and minorities, but it gained considerable influence for its contributions to the war effort.15 Its loyal support for the war and the Roosevelt administration drew the party ever closer into the social democratic mainstream. By the end of World War Two, the Communist Party and the Young Communist League had a combined membership of nearly 100,000. Even this figure, however, greatly understates the party’s influence, as its members held important positions and exercised considerable influence in many areas of American life during the thirties and forties and especially in the labor movement and the various sectors of the entertainment industry.16

Attack and Decline, 1945 to the Present

From its highpoint during the Depression and World War Two when its membership surged and its influence grew, the CPUSA shrunk by 1957 to a small sectarian group of perhaps 10,000 members, some of whom were government agents. What accounts for this catastrophic decline?

Even in the years immediately after World War II, Popular Front strategies and sensibilities infused a range of social movements. The early civil rights and women’s rights initiatives are examples. In the National Negro Congress and later in the Civil Rights Congress, and through several other labor and community groups, Communists and their allies waged a series of significant struggles to desegregate workplaces and public facilities, integrate housing, and protect the workplace rights of African Americans.17 Likewise, some roots of the modern feminist movement are in the Popular Front organizations of the 1940s. As women poured into the Party, they organized national and state commissions on the status of women, raised the issue of women rights in unions, and joined with middle and working class liberal women in consumers and feminist organizations. The creative thinking of Mary Inman, a theorist whom the feminists of the 1970s often invoked as a mother of the new movement, outlived Inman’s 1943 expulsion from the CPUSA. By the late 1940s women activists pushed the CPUSA beyond its narrow economic interpretation of women’s oppression and produced a campaign within the party against what came to be called “male chauvinism.” The Party launched the Congress of American Women (CAW) in 1947. Born on the eve of the McCarthy era, the organization was short-lived, but what survived of the Popular Front era women’s activism brought the issues of feminism into the labor movement and a variety of consumer and community groups. The party’s activities also drew African-American women to feminism, highlighting their triple oppression, and laid the roots for Black feminist theory.18

The Communist Party was always swimming against the tide in the United States, but it was swamped in the postwar years by a tidal wave of conflict and reaction. The unprecedented legal assault on the party not only robbed it of much of its leadership, who were now imprisoned or deported under federal and state prosecutions; it also inhibited its daily work. Mail was seized, phones tapped, offices raided. In 1949, the federal government indicted the entire national leadership of the CPUSA for plotting the overthrow of the government, and state-level prosecutions followed. In effect, membership in the organization was now illegal.19 Defense work absorbed scarce time, energy, and resources that might have gone into organizing. State and federal investigations promoted the purging of not only communists but also other progressives from education, the labor movement, the professions, the entertainment industry, and elsewhere. It was not always necessary for the government to undertake this purge. In education and the arts, in labor organizations, even within civil rights and civil liberties organizations, the groups often undertook their own “house cleaning” to avoid government action against them. Hollywood studios blacklisted actors, screen writers, and directors. The progressive CIO expelled nine national unions, banned communists from its leadership, and chartered new anti-communist organizations to raid and replace the weakened left unions. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People launched no major purge of its membership, but it did establish an internal investigation of subversives and moved against locals suspected of communist involvement. It is difficult to see how any radical organization might have survived this repression.20

Yet the Communist Party contributed to its own decline and even facilitated these attacks through its internal factionalism, the political line it followed, and the strategic decisions it made. After the war, the CPUSA, following Soviet dictates, declared a new, more sectarian Marxist-Leninist line and the party expelled its own leader Earl Browder, who had established something like a personality cult during the Popular Front. In 1947, again following the Soviet lead, the party strongly opposed both the popular Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe and the Truman Doctrine’s emphasis on the containment of communism, which came to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy. Fearing the rise of fascism in the United States, the organization made an ill-advised decision to send much of its regional leadership underground, an action that made the daily functioning of the party much more difficult. As Cold War tensions mushroomed, the CPUSA’s close identification with the USSR made the organization particularly vulnerable to government repression. The rise of the Cold War came at a moment when the party might have chosen a more independent path but instead enforced rigid adherence to the Soviet line. The symbolic significance of Stalin, especially in the United States, as the personification of dictatorship, suppression of political and religious minorities, and imperial aims, and the daily reality of Stalinist political repression and murder in societies calling themselves socialist undermined any sympathy for the party.

Within the party, purges of members on the organization’s left and right wings followed Browder’s demise. A campaign against “White Chauvinism” made the CPUSA one of the most aggressive elements in the country on issues of civil rights and the struggle for what came to be called “affirmative action,” but it also led to numerous trials, expulsions, and low morale. In 1948, at a moment when the Democratic Party embraced a progressive civil rights program and a strong stand against the anti-labor Taft Hartley Act, the CPUSA supported Henry Wallace’s third party campaign. Wallace’s Progressive Party raised vital issues of international peace and domestic reform, but its split of the liberal vote that year turned many liberals against the party.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes (February 1956) and the Soviet invasion of Hungary (November 1956) led to mass resignations from the CPUSA and other communist parties, but they also brought one last chance to turn the American party in the direction of a more independent and less doctrinaire socialist organization. Building on the experience of Popular Front-style movements, many of those members who had been shaped in the mass organizing of the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, and service in the Second World War argued for a break with orthodox Marxism-Leninism, greater independence from the Soviet party, and what they termed a “mass party of socialism” and an “American road to socialism.” A group around party chairman William Z. Foster held out for the older doctrinaire forms and strategies, denounced any criticism of the Soviet Party, and won the day, but it was a pyrrhic victory. The defeat of the reform elements meant a continuing embrace of Stalinism even after Stalin’s death, more resignations and expulsions, and the eclipse of the CPUSA.21

Communist Party USA, 1919 to 1957Click to view larger

Figure 3. Six top-ranking members of the American Communist party under indictment in Federal Court, New York City, 1948. Front, left to right: Eugene Dennis, William Z. Foster, Benjamin Davis. Rear, left to right: John Williamson, Henry Winston, and Jacob Stachel.

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-111436.

When the period from the mid-sixties through the early seventies brought a resurgence of the American left, especially among youth, the party might have played an important role in mentoring and supporting that new movement. Individual Communists did play roles in the civil rights upsurge of the fifties and sixties and in the movement against the war in Viet Nam, but their influence in these movements was severely limited by the group’s weakened state and by the suspicions of New Left activists against an organization viewed as fundamentally Stalinist. Even these activities were sustained in part through substantial financial contributions from the Soviet Union. A withered CPUSA remains active today, but as a shadow of its former self.

Discussion of the Literature

A dated but useful place to consult for readings on the subject is John Earl Haynes, Communism, and Anti-Communism in the United States: An Annotated Guide to Historical Writings.22 Judicious overviews of historiography of American communism include Michael Kazin, “The Agony and Romance of the American Left,” John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “The Historiography of American Communism,” and Bryan D. Palmer, “Rethinking the Historiography of United States Communist History.”23 Much of the earliest literature on the CPUSA dates from the Cold War and tends to reflect the politics of that period. The best of this scholarship, including two seminal works by Theodore Draper, a journalist who left the party in the late thirties, emphasized the subservience of the American party to the Soviet Union, a connection which severely limited its potential. Over the past generation, a new group of anti-communist or “traditionalist” scholars have contended with aging New Left interpreters over the meaning of communism in American history. One contention concerns the very nature of the CPUSA. Was the Communist Party simply an arm of the Soviet Union, its members cogs in a vast international conspiracy? The new anticommunists have documented at length the espionage activities of party members and have returned us to a view of the party as essentially a tool of the Soviet state, while leftist interpreters argue that it represented a genuine social movement shaped by domestic situations. Rather than the influence of Stalinism, New Left historians have tended to emphasize the agency of party members, especially at the local level.

Working with the new archival sources, traditionalist scholars have documented the role of American communists in elaborate Soviet espionage activities and the duplicity of the American party in a wide range of political crimes ranging from the Purge Trials to the establishment of authoritarian governments in the Soviet sphere of influence.24 Maurice Isserman, a major figure in the revisionist camp, argues that left wing historians must confront and acknowledge this connection with Soviet espionage. He argues, though, that the number of party members who engaged in espionage was always quite small and that this activity was only one piece of Party history, a piece far removed from the experience of most American Communists.25 It is still useful to make a distinction between the CPUSA as an organization—its top leadership and formal declarations—and the thousands of rank and file activists who populated it during these years and after.

The lives of most Communists were often quite distant from the experience in the more rarified atmospheres of Moscow and New York, which the original Cold War era and more recent traditionalist scholars have emphasized to the exclusion of the party’s rank-and-file. In this regard, local, “grassroots” studies are important, particularly for the era of the Popular Front when party activists and organizations had greater flexibility and worked with radicals from a rather wide political spectrum on a broad range of activities.26

Primary Sources

The fall of the Soviet regime and related political changes in the 1990s led to an opening of the voluminous and well-organized archives of the Communist International and other collections in Moscow at the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History and to a new history of the Communist Party.27 The Moscow archives also include the extremely rich organizational papers of the Communist Party of the USA, largely for the period 1919 to 1943, the personal papers of William Z. Foster, perhaps the most important of the Party’s leaders, and other relevant materials in the papers of the Communist International and Red International of Labor Unions (RILU). Microfilms of “Files of the Communist Party of the USA in the Comintern Archives” are available through the Library of Congress, the Tamiment Library at New York University (Microfilm R-7548), and a number of other research institutions.28 Inkomka, an-going project to digitize the Comintern papers is developing at the Library of Congress. A large collection of CPUSA papers, also available at the Tamiment, contain a good deal from the party’s early history, though the bulk of these materials are from the period 1950 to 1990. Not too surprisingly, these archival materials have been interpreted very differently by scholars representing divergent political perspectives.

The extensive party press includes the Daily Worker (later, the Daily World), the People’s World, Communist, New Pioneer, Political Affairs, Masses, Party Organizer, The Liberator, New Masses, Labor Herald, Labor Unity, and International Labor Defender, as well as numerous foreign language publications. A comprehensive list of these periodicals is at the Metapedia site. The journal American Communist History contains some of the most recent scholarship on the subject from a variety of perspectives and several historiographical essays assessing this scholarship.

A first-hand view of the experience is available in a large number of communist autobiographies. Those produced by the party, including William Z. Foster’s and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s, tend to be formulaic but represent the party’s perspective on life and can be used for valuable details. Among the best are those of Dorothy Healey, Peggy Dennis, and Hosea Hudson (in collaboration with Nell Painter).29

Collections for organizations and individual Communists may be found at the Tamiment Institute, New York University; the Wisconsin State Historical Society, the Chicago History Museum. Individuals’ papers include those William Dunne, Arnold Johnson, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Israel Amter, Gil Green, and others at the Tamiment; Theodore Draper (a major research collection) at Emory University; Bertram Wolf, and others at the Hoover Institution, Stanford, an especially good location for research on anti–communism.

Although they tend to be heavily redacted, FBI files may be used for information on individuals and organizations associated with, or thought to be associated with, the Communist Party. For further information, see the website section Requesting FBI Records.

Further Reading

Barrett, James R. William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.Find this resource:

    Barrett, James R. “Was the Personal Political? Reading the Autobiography of American Communism.” International Review of Social History 53.3 (2008): 395–423.Find this resource:

      Bonner, Eric. “Witching Hour: Rethinking McCarthyism, if Not McCarthy.” New York Times, October 18, 1998, sect. 4, p. 1.Find this resource:

        Cochran, Bert. Labor and Communism: The Conflict that Shaped American Unions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.Find this resource:

          Draper, Theodore. American Communism and Soviet Russia (2d ed.). New York: Vintage, 1986.Find this resource:

            Draper, Theodore. The Roots of American Communism. New York: Viking, 1957.Find this resource:

              Gilmore, Glenda. Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.Find this resource:

                Hemingway, Andrew. Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926–1956. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                  Isserman, Maurice. Which Side Were You On? Which Side Were You On? The American Communist Party during the Second World War. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

                    Klehr, Harvey. The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York: Basic Books, 1984.Find this resource:

                      Klehr, Harvey and John Earl Haynes. The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself. New York: Twayne, 1992.Find this resource:

                        Klehr, Harvey, John Earl Haynes, and Kyril M. Anderson. The Soviet World of American Communism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

                          Klehr, Harvey, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Iforevich Firsov. The Secret World of American Communism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

                            McDuffie, Erik S. Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                              Ottanelli, Fraser. The Communist Party of the United States: From the Depression to World War II. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

                                Palmer, Bryan D. James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890–1928. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                                  Palmer, Bryan D. “Rethinking the Historiography of United States Communist History.” American Communist History 2.2 (2003): 139–173.Find this resource:

                                    Pederson, Vernon L. The Communist Party in Maryland, 1919–57. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                                      Ryan, James G. Earl Browder: The Failure of American Communism. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.Find this resource:

                                        Schrecker, Ellen. Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1998.Find this resource:

                                          Starobin, Joseph. American Communism in Crisis, 1943–1957. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.Find this resource:

                                            Storch, Randi. Red Chicago: American Communism at Its Grassroots, 1928–1935. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                                              Weigand, Kate. Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

                                                Zumoff, Jacob A. The Communist International and U.S. Communism, 1919–1929. Chicago: Haymarket, 2014.Find this resource:


                                                  (1.) Kevin McDermott and Jeremy Agnew, The Comintern: A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin (New York: St. Martin’s, 1997), 130–133; Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 2d ed. (New York: Vintage, 1986), 278–281, 286–294; and Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 9–17.

                                                  (2.) Irving Bernstein, The Lean Years: A History of the American Worker, 1920–1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960); Bert Cochran, Labor and Communism: The Conflict That Shaped American Unions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977); Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); Glenda Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008); and James R. Barrett, “Americanization from The Bottom Up: Immigration and the Remaking of the American Working Class, 1880–1930,” Journal of American History 79 (December 1992): 996–1020.

                                                  (3.) E. J. Hobsbawm, Politics for a Rational Left: Political Writing, 1977–1988 (London: Verso, 1989), 107, 106; and E. J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 (New York: Pantheon, 1994), 71.

                                                  (4.) James R. Barrett, “Boring from Within and Without: William Z. Foster, the Trade Union Educational League, and American Communism in the 1920s,” in Labor Histories: Class, Politics, and the Working-Class Experience, eds. Eric Arnesen, Julie Greene, and Bruce Laurie (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 309–339.

                                                  (5.) Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself (New York: Twayne, 1992); and James R. Barrett, “Rethinking the Popular Front,” Rethinking Marxism 21 (October 2009): 531–550.

                                                  (6.) Draper, American Communism, 463–482, quotations on 470, 471.

                                                  (7.) Barrett, “Rethinking the Popular Front.”

                                                  (8.) “Organizational Status and Organizational Problems of the CPUSA,” fond 495, opis 14, listki 151–172, Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, Moscow; Klehr, Heyday of American Communism, 366; Joseph Starobin, American Communism in Crisis, 1943–1957 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 21; Klehr and Haynes, American Communist Movement, 87; and Maurice Isserman, Which Side Were You On? Which Side Were You On? The American Communist Party during the Second World War (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1982), 18.

                                                  (9.) Kate Weigand, Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 23–26; and Harvey Klehr, Communist Cadre: The Social Background of the American Communist Party Elite (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1978), 70–82.

                                                  (10.) Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 1996).

                                                  (11.) Cochran, Labor and Communism, esp. 82–102; and Klehr, Heyday of American Communism, 223–251.

                                                  (12.) Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983); and Fraser Ottanelli, “If Fascism Comes to America We Will Push It Back into the Ocean”: Italian American Antifascism in the 1920s and 1930s,” in Italian Workers of the World: Labor Migration and the Formation of Multiethnic States, eds. Donna Gabaccia and Fraser Ottanelli (Urbana: Illinois University Press, 2001), 178–195.

                                                  (13.) Peter N. Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).

                                                  (14.) Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party: A Critical History, with Julius Jacobson (Boston: Beacon, 1957); and Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Kyril M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). For an international perspective on this paradox of a persistent Stalinist bureaucracy at a moment of openness in the relations with groups outside the party, see Geoff Eley, “International Communism in the Heyday of Stalin,” New Left Review 157 (1986): 98–100.

                                                  (15.) Eric Arnesen, “Black Anticommunism, the Communist Party, and the Race Question,” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 3 (2006): 13–52.

                                                  (16.) Isserman, Which Side Were You On?

                                                  (17.) Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003); Gilmore, Defying Dixie; and Robert Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).

                                                  (18.) Weigand, Red Feminism, 97–113; and Erik S. McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

                                                  (19.) Howard Brick and Christopher Phelps, Radicals in America: The U.S. Left since the Second World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 51–72.

                                                  (20.) Compare the treatment of the NAACP in Manfred Berg, “Black Civil Rights and Liberal Anticommunism: The NAACP in the Early Cold War,” Journal of American History 94 (June 2007): 75–96; and Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1998).

                                                  (21.) Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 1–34; Joseph Starobin, American Communism in Crisis, 1943–1957 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 224–237; and see also Brick and Phelps, Radicals in America, 72–73.

                                                  (22.) John Earl Haynes, Communism, and Anti-Communism in the United States: An Annotated Guide to Historical Writings (New York: Garland, 1987).

                                                  (23.) Michael Kazin, “The Agony and Romance of the American Left,” American Historical Review 83 (1996): 1503–1515; John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “The Historiography of American Communism,” Labour History Review (April 2003), 61–78; and Bryan D. Palmer, “Rethinking the Historiography of United States Communist History,” American Communist History 2.2 (2003): 139–173

                                                  (24.) Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Fridrikh Iforevich Firsov, The Secret World of American Communism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995); and Klehr, Haynes, and Anderson, Soviet World of American Communism.

                                                  (25.) Maurice Isserman, “Open Archives and Open Minds: ‘Traditionalists’ versus ‘Revisionists’ after Venona,” American Communist History 4.2 (2005): 215–223.

                                                  (26.) Randi Storch, Red Chicago: American Communism at Its Grassroots, 1928–1935 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Roger Keeran, The Communist Party and the Auto Workers Unions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1980); Naison, Communists in Harlem; and Kelley, Hammer and Hoe.

                                                  (27.) Randi Storch, “Moscow’s Archives and the New History of the Communist Party of the United States,” Perspectives on History (October 2000), 44–50.

                                                  (28.) John R. Haynes has edited this microfilm collection. A brief description together with a finding aid may be found at H-HOAC.

                                                  (29.) James R. Barrett, “Was the Personal Political? Reading the Autobiography of American Communism,” International Review of Social History 53.3 (2008): 395–423.