What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the fearful word, “Communist”?
Maybe the name Adolf Hitler. The famous leader of the German Nazis Party who was responsible for the deaths of over 17 million people, including 6 million Jews.
Or maybe, Josef Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union after 1924. He launched government programs that would make the country, his country more progressive. His attempt to move to the new economy led to the starvation of nearly 10 million people.
Then there is Pol Pot (1925-1998), the communist leader of Cambodia. He envisioned a country that would be equal by any means. When he couldn’t manipulate people as he thought they should live, 1.5 million died of starvation and execution who were not following his ideals.
Maybe this sounds extreme, but notice the words that were used in describing these men and their agendas. Government programs, Progressive, New Economy, Equal and Manipulate. Sounds like what we see going on in our politics today.
The idea of socialism has been alive among Americans for almost 150 years. Socialism was discussed by Robert Owen before joint meetings of both houses of Congress on February 25 and March 7, 1825. The earliest recorded Marxist organization in the U.S.A. was the Communist Club of New York, set up three years before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.
Marxist socialism became an established current in the U.S. in 1872, when the First International was moved from London to New York, with Friedrich A. Sorge, a friend of Carl Marx, as its general secretary. In 1876, the Workingmen’s Party of the United States was organized at a convention in Philadelphia, with Sorge as its leading figure. In 1900, Eugene Victor Debs, railway unionist and strike leader, organized the Socialist Party.
A powerful influence in the development of the socialist Left Wing was the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World in Chicago in 1905, with which William D. Haywood, a longtime Socialist and leader of the Western Federation of Miners, was the chief figure.
Notice a few of the words used to describe these men. Socialist Party, Unionist, Workers of the World, Left Wing. Sounds like the words we hear coming from political parties today, but you never hear them dare speak the dreaded word, “Communist.”
Among the most far-seeing leaders of the Left Wing were Charles E. Ruthenberg of Cleveland, Ohio, who joined the Socialist Party in 1909, and Alfred Wagenknecht who, after years of activity among the lumber workers of Washington State, became secretary of the Socialist Party in Ohio. At the April 1917 Socialist convention in St. Louis, Missouri, on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War I, the Left forces won adoption of an anti-war resolution. “This is not a war for freedom,” the resolution stated in substance, “but a war for profits.” They also won a victory in the election of Party officials. Left Wing candidates were elected overwhelmingly to the national committee.
The old opportunist leadership responded by expelling many state and federation organizations. In these bitterly fought contests, the main issues were the struggle against the war, for industrial organization of American workers, support of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and affiliation to the Communist International.
In the face of the expulsions, the Left Wing proceeded to organize a new party.
On September 1, 1919, 128 men and women met in a hall in Chicago to form the Communist Party of America (CPUSA). It capped the split in the Socialist Party that had been growing more acute for years, and it launched the first Marxist-Leninist party in the United States. Chosen as the first general secretary of the newly born party was Charles E. Ruthenberg, leader of the main forces of the Socialist Party’s Left Wing. Ruthenberg had been a militant opponent of World War I. “Capitalism,” he wrote in a May Day editorial in the “Socialist News” of May 1, 1916, “is fighting to replace democracy in this country with a military machine…We will not fight except to resist and wipe out of existence the ugliest thing the world has produced – the capitalist system and the capitalist class.”
If you visit the website, Capitalism.org, you will learn that “Capitalism” is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights. In a “capitalist” society, the only function of the government is the task of protecting man’s rights. The government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense. Politically the capitalist system is a system of freedom. Legally it is a system of objective laws and economically, when such freedom is applied to the sphere of production, its results is the free-market. A freedom we hold dearly in the United States, but one that is increasingly demonized everyday as evil. Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from religion.
The early Communist party in America adopted a “Left-Wing Manifesto” which represented a long stride toward a “Marxist-Leninist Manifesto.” It included support for industrial unionism, recognition of the vanguard role of the working class, support of the Russian Revolution, formal affiliation with the Communist International, the abolition of capitalism and “establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat (working-class people).”
When the Communist Party was just four months old, they faced their first major test – a series of coast-to-coast raids ordered by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and engineered by J. Edgar Hoover. It was capitalist reaction’s all-out effort to stifle the young party and other revolutionary forces before they could fully unite and take root. On the night of January 2, 1920, without court orders or search warrants, meetings were invaded, headquarters wrecked, homes entered and workers beaten up and dragged off in police vans. Some 10,000 Communists and other militants were arrested in 70 cities.
Government attacks on political organizations and political views became more direct after U.S. entry into the war. To meet these onslaughts of the ruling class, on the initiative of the Communist Party, a united front organization call the International Labor Defense was established in 1925. The Palmer-Hoover “Red Raids,” though they succeeded in terrorizing some, failed to destroy the new Communist Party. On the contrary, the raids drove home to them even more urgently the need for unity. In May 1921, at a convention in Woodstock, N.Y. , the Communist Party of America was formed, with a membership of 12,000. By 1942, the membership had reached 85,000.
In the half century before the founding of the Communist Party, labor experienced a powerful upsurge of trade union organization. In the twenties, Communists played an important part in unions, organizing coal miners, packinghouse, textile, electrical, and needle trades workers.
In the first three decades of this century, there were many labor strikes. All of them helped to mature the American working class in the crucible of the class struggle, and to prepare it for still bigger struggles that loomed ahead.
One of the most important was the Great Steel Strike of 1919, led by William Z. Foster at the very time the Communist Party was being born. He talks about the C.I.O. Unions. These unions are the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in the United States. William Foster said, “The building of the C.I.O. unions was the greatest stride forward ever made by the American labor movement…In this historic movement the Communist Party played a vital indispensable role. It acted truly as the vanguard of the working class…The Communists were well fitted to play their vital part in the C.I.O. drive. For years they had paid major attention to the question of organizing the basic industries, and they had assembled vast practical experience, as well as many mass contacts…The Communist Party, with its system of shop groups and shop papers, also had valuable connections among the most militant workers in many open shop industries…All of these connections the Party set in motion when the great organizing drive got under way.” (Source: History of the Communist Party, USA – May 1970).
Since its birth, the Communist Party has dedicated itself to the fight for Black liberation as one of its central goals. This question for Communists has never been simply one of morality or humanitarianism. It is and always has been a basic component of the class struggle. Karl Marx recognized that in the U.S. “every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic.” He declared, “labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”
In its 1922 convention, the Communist Party adopted a program calling for full equality for Black people in every sphere and for a sharp struggle against white chauvinism inside the Party. In 1923, the Party elaborated a more concrete program for complete equality in employment, in trade unions, and end to segregation in schools, political equality, the right to serve on juries, and many other demands put forth by Black organizations. The Communist Party carried on a ceaseless battle to expose the racist treatment to which Black Americans were subjected in both the South and North.
While we applaud the great accomplishments of Black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his principles that served as the foundation of his social activism, including Christianity, non-violence and racial equality, it should be noted that the Communist Party played a prominent role in the fight to organize Black workers. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. viewed his Civil Rights work from a spiritual perspective and attempted to distance himself from party politics, as he should have.
As Americans and as Christians, we agree that all colors or people and all nationalities living in the United States should have equal rights, but this should not have been fueled by the Communist Party. The Communist Party stated: In the fight for Black freedom in this period, it is one of the proudest chapters in its history.
The CPUSA today is still Marxist-Leninist. It does not usually field candidates, but instead encourages votes for the Democratic Party, thought to be the “lesser of two evils.” In 2014, John Bachtell, a trade unionist and community organizer, took over the leadership from Sam Webb. In accordance with Karl Marx’s policy of supporting “every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things,” the CPUSA’s program expresses solidly opposition to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia (intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries).
The Communist Party concludes: It will continue the battle for the building of a true American culture, one that reflects the needs and aspirations of the working class and of all oppressed peoples. It will continue to fight against the degradation and corruption of culture, which the monopolist rulers of America seek to inflict on our nation.
The question is, are we seeing the rise of the Communist Party again in our nation?
Are we seeing this in the indoctrination of our youth in our schools and college campuses today?
Only time will tell.
Pray for our nation to turn from its wicked ways.
This article is a summary of a 33-page, 9” X 12” booklet titled:
Of the People, for the People
Pictorial highlights of fifty years of the Communist Party, USA, 1919-1969
First Half Century of the CPUSA
(A 50th Birthday Salute)
Published May, 1970
Compiled and edited by
Joseph Felshin and Seymour Joseph
with the invaluable counsel and assistance of
Oakley C. Johnson, Hyman Lumer, William L. Patterson and William Weinstone
Published by the Communist Party, U.S.A.
23 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10010