Communism in the USA


Only through the abolition of the capitalist system and the socialist reorganization of society can exploitation of human beings by others, and the evils of oppression, war, racism, environmental degradation, and poverty be ended. We seek to build a socialist society which puts people and nature before profits.

A proper statement of intent from an RCP and there’s nothing unusual about that, except the above statement is, somewhat surprisingly, from the constitution of the CPUSA, the Communist Party of The United States of America.

The USA has had a strong union movement for many years and this tradition continues, and one can not underestimate the influence on this which has been forged by the CPUSA, a party which is still around and working.

The CPUSA was formed in Chicago in 1919. By the end of the year it had 60,000 members and, at its height, over 200,000. (There has been a Marxist Tradition in the States before that, going back to the Socialist Labor Party in 1876). Many of the members came from the ranks of recent immigrants from war-torn Europe.

At that time, the CPUSA advocated insurrectionist communist revolution, bringing it under attack from the more established and influential U.S. anti-communist forces — the Palmer Raids and the first Red Scare were only two of many major anti-communist projects undertaken by the U.S. government. Many persistent attempts at suppression of communist activity by the government continued until the end of the McCarthy era climate of the 1950s; after that, anti-communist suppression activity took more covert forms such as COINTELPRO against the New Left.

A decline in the 1950s, as with many RCPs, was precipitated by Krushchev’s denouncement of Stalin. The CPUSA’s membership of the Comintern and its close adherence to the political positions of the Soviet Union helped anti-communists to present the party as not only a threatening and a “foreign” agent fundamentally alien to the “American way of life”. By 1957, membership had dwindled to less than 10,000, of whom 1500 were FBI informants!

But the party continued its long pursuit of legal reforms and vigorously campaigned with local activists against racist apartheid. The New Left of the 1960s took radical socialism along specific US lines. The Party leader at the time Gus Hall’s rejected of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika policies at the end of the 1980s so the party bravely became estranged from the social democratic left which spilt and formed the the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

The CPUSA is based in New York City; and claims a membership of over 15,000. It has an impressive web presence at and all the usual social networking offices. It publishes a newspaper People’s World, and a magazine, Political Affairs.

It’s been tough for the CPUSA, as you can imagine. It’s been attacked by from state and federal governments and FBI from the start. The party apparatus began underground. It emerged into the light in the last days of 1921 as a “Legal Political Party” called the Workers Party of America. As the red scare and deportations of the early 1920s ebbed, the party became bolder and more open. An element of the party, however, remained permanently underground and came to be known as the “CPUSA secret apparatus.”

Paranoia, racism and isolationism in the United States aroused the immigration debates of the 1920s, which led to the restrictive Immigration Act of 1924. Anti-Semitic and anti-Communist literature become widespread (e.g., Henry Ford’s International Jew) in the same period.

In the 1920s the Communists decided that their central task was to develop roots within the working class. This move away from hopes of revolution in the near future to a more nuanced approach was accelerated by the decisions of the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern held in 1925. The Fifth World Congress decided that the period between 1917 and 1924 had been one of revolutionary upsurge, but that the new period was marked by the stabilization of capitalism and that revolutionary attempts in the near future were to be spurned. The American communists embarked then on the arduous work of locating and winning allies amongst the powerful teamsters such as the Chicago Federation of Labor.

Stalinist and Trotsky-ite splits were inevitable through the 1920s as the International Comitern was split – not helped by Stalin’s decision to break off any form of collaboration with western socialist parties. (This policy had particularly severe consequences in Germany, where the German Communist Party not only refused to work in alliance with the German Social Democratic Party, but attacked it and its members).

By 1930, the party adopted the title of Communist Party of the USA , with the slogan of “the united front from below”. The Party devoted much of its energy in the Great Depression to organizing the unemployed, founding unions, championing the rights of African-Americans (alongside the African Blood Brotherhood) and fighting evictions of farmers and the working poor.

The ideological rigidity of the third period began to crack with two events: the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Roosevelt ‘s election and the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 sparked a tremendous upsurge in union organizing in 1933 and 1934. While the party line still favored creation of autonomous revolutionary unions, party activists chose to fold up those organizations and follow the mass of workers into the AFL unions they had been attacking.

The Seventh Congress of the Comintern made the change in line official in 1935, when it declared the need for a popular front of all groups opposed to fascism. The CPUSA abandoned its opposition to the New Deal and provided many of the organizers for the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Party members rallied to the defence of the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). The CPUSA, along with leftists throughout the world, raised funds for medical relief while many of its members made their way to Spain with the aid of the party to join the Lincoln Brigade, one of the International Brigades. Among its other achievements, the Lincoln Brigade was the first American military force to include blacks and whites integrated on an equal basis.

Membership rose to about 75,000 by 1938, but many left the after the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Nazis Germany on August 24, 1939.

Throughout the rest of World War II, the CPUSA continued a policy of militant, trade unionism.The leadership of the CPUSA was among the most vocal pro-war voices in the United States, advocating unity against fascism and supporting the prosecution of leaders of the Socialist Workers Party under the newly enacted Smith Act.

The Truman administration’s loyalty oath program, introduced in 1947, drove some leftists out of federal employment and, more importantly, legitimized the notion of Communists as subversives, to be exposed and expelled from public and private employment. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, whose hearings were perceived as forums where current and former Communists and those sympathetic to Communism were compelled under the duress of the ruin of their careers to confess and name other Communists, made even brief affiliation with the CPUSA or any related groups grounds for public exposure and attack, inspiring local governments to adopt loyalty oaths and investigative commissions of their own. Private parties, such as the motion picture industry and self-appointed watchdog groups, extended the policy still further. This included the blacklist of actors, writers and directors in Hollywood who had been Communists or who had fallen in with Communist-controlled or influenced organizations in the pre-war and wartime years.

The widespread fear of Communism became even more acute after the Soviets’ explosion of an atomic bomb in 1949 and discovery of Soviet espionage. Ambitious politicians, including Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy, made names for themselves by exposing or threatening to expose Communists within the Truman administration or later, in McCarthy’s case, within the United States Army. Liberal groups, such as the Americans for Democratic Action, not only distanced themselves from communists and communist causes, but defined themselves as anti-communist. The Congress wished to outlaw the CPUSA in the Communist Control Act of 1954.

By the mid-1950s, membership of Communist Party USA had slipped from its 1944 peak of around 80,000 to approximately 5,000. Some 1,500 of these “members” were FBI informants, which had the bizarre effect of bringing in 1500 much-needed members fees, paid for, of course by Hoover’s department!

The 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and Nikita Khrushchev criticizing Stalin demoralised the CPUSA. A new leader emerged, former steel-worker Gus Hall. In the 1970s, the CPUSA managed to grow in membership to about 25,000 members, despite the exodus of numerous Anti-Revisionist and Maoist groups from its ranks.

In 1984, because of the popularity of Ronald Reagan’s anti-Communist administration and decreased CPUSA membership, Gus Hall chose to end the CPUSA’s nation-wide electoral campaigns. Hall stood for President 3 times though!

During the 1990s, the party recruited heavily in impoverished minority neighborhoods in the US , particularly in Black neighborhoods. The CPUSA still runs candidates for local office, although almost exclusively under the Democratic banner. In recent years, the party has strongly opposed the Republican Party in the U.S. , who they term “ultra-right” and, at times, “fascist”. The CPUSA still maintains that both parties are capitalist in nature, and only support the Democrats as a means to topple what they perceive as conservative domination in America . Many in the socialist movement disagree with this “lesser of two evils” strategy and it has encouraged some defections from the CP to other leftist groups. There has been some increase in membership since the early 1990s once Communism became less of a threat after the Soviet collapse.

When the Communist Party was formed in 1919, the United States government was engaged in prosecution of socialists who had opposed World War I and military service. This prosecution was continued in 1919 and January, 1920 in the Palmer Raids or the red scare. Rank and file foreign-born members of the Party were targeted and as many as possible were arrested and deported; leaders were prosecuted and in some cases sentenced to prison terms. In the late 1930s, with the authorization of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating both domestic Nazis and Communists. Congress passed the Smith Act, which made it illegal to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government, in 1940.

In 1949, the federal government put Eugene Dennis, William Z. Foster and ten other CPUSA leaders on trial for advocating the violent overthrow of the government. Because the prosecution could not show that any of the defendants had openly called for violence or been involved in accumulating weapons for a proposed revolution, it relied on the testimony of former members of the party that the defendants had privately advocated the overthrow of the government and on quotations from the work of Karl Marx, Lenin and other revolutionary figures of the past. During the course of the trial the judge held several of the defendants and all of their counsel in contempt of court.

All of the remaining eleven defendants were found guilty. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of their convictions by a 6-2 vote in Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951). The government then proceeded with the prosecutions of more than 100 “second string” members of the party.

Panicked by these arrests and the fear that it was compromised by informants, Dennis and other party leaders decided to go underground and to disband many affiliated groups. The move only heightened the political isolation of the leadership, while making it nearly impossible for the Party to function.

The widespread support of action against communists and their associates began to abate somewhat after Senator Joseph McCarthy overreached himself in the Army-McCarthy Hearings, producing a backlash. The end of the Korean War in 1953 also led to a lessening of anxieties about subversion. The Supreme Court brought a halt to the Smith Act prosecutions in 1957 in its decision in Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957), which required that the government prove that the defendant had actually taken concrete steps toward the forcible overthrow of the government, rather than merely advocating it in theory.

The Communist Party USA played a significant role in defending the rights of African-Americans during its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. Earlier however,at the direction of the Comintern in 1928 the party advocated for many years a separate ‘ Negro Republic ‘, to be founded in the heavily black populated areas of the Southern part of the United States . Based on Stalin’s nationalities policy in the Soviet Union, blacks throughout the US were to be declared citizens of this new Republic, then shipped off to it. Throughout its history many of the Party’s leaders and political thinkers have been African Americans. James Ford, Charlene Mitchell, Angela Davis, and Jarvis Tyner, the current executive vice chair of the Party, all ran as presidential or vice presidential candidates on the Party ticket. Others like Benjamin J. Davis, William L. Patterson, Harry Haywood, James Jackson, Henry Winston, Claude Lightfoot, Alphaeus Hunton, Doxey Wilkerson, Claudia Jones, and John Pittman contributed in important ways to the Party’s approaches to major issues from human and civil rights, peace, women’s equality, the national question, working class unity, Marxist thought, cultural struggle and more. Their contributions have had a lasting impact on not only the Party but the general public as well. Noted African American thinkers, artists, and writers such as Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, W. E. B. Du Bois, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Lloyd Brown, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Paul Robeson, Frank Marshall Davis, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many more were one-time members or supporters of the Party, and the Communists also had a close alliance with Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. The party’s work to appeal to African-Americans continues to this day. It was instrumental in the founding of the Black Radical Congress in 1998.

The Communist Party opposed the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the invasion of Grenada, and U.S. support for anti-communist military dictatorships and movements in Central America . During the Vietnam War, as a tactical move, the CPUSA did not call for an immediate end to the war, but instead for negotiations between the North Vietnamese leadership and the U.S. While some on the left have criticized the CPUSA for this position, it was in fact in line with that of the Vietnamese Communist leadership. Meanwhile, some in the peace movement and the New Left rejected the CPUSA for what it saw as the party’s bureaucratic rigidity and for its steadfastly close association with Soviet Union.

An overview of the Communist Party’s current ideology can be found on their website “Reflections on Socialism,” by Sam Webb, the Party’s national chair. The article explains the Party’s support for a democratic, anti-racist, anti-sexist, immediate left-wing change for the United States . The report also covers the fall of the Socialist Bloc, claiming that democracy was not sufficiently developed in these countries. “On the one hand, socialism transformed and modernized backward societies, secured important economic and social rights, assisted countries breaking free of colonialism, contributed decisively to the victory over Nazism, constituted by its mere presence a pressure on the ruling classes in the capitalist world to make concessions to their working classes and democratic movements, and acted as a counterweight to the aggressive ambitions of U.S. imperialism for nearly fifty years.” The report stresses its dedication to revolutionary struggle, but states that Americans should look for peaceful revolutionary change. Webb says that capitalism cannot solve problems such as economic stagnation, racism, gender discrimination, or poverty. The report explains that there will be many transitory stages from capitalism, to socialism, and finally to communism. On the issue of markets in a socialist society, Webb states, “Admittedly, market mechanisms in a socialist society can generate inequality, disproportions and imbalances, destructive competition, downward pressure on wages, and monopoly cornering of commodity markets – even the danger of capitalist restoration. But this is not sufficient reason for concluding that markets have no place in a socialist economy.”

Sam Webb

Sam Webb

The CPUSA recognizes the right of independence-seeking groups, many of whom have been led by communist and communist-oriented partisans, to defend themselves from imperialism, but rejects the use of violence in any United States uprising. The CPUSA argues that most violence throughout modern history is the result of capitalist ruling class violently trying to stop social change.

In order to make room for the rental of 4 floors in the CPUSA national building the CPUSA donated 20. 000 books and pamphets, its entire written history, to the Tamiment Library at New York University. This included over a million photographs from the archives of the various incarnation of their newspaper. The Tamiment Library also holds a copy of the microfilmed archive of Communist Party documents from Soviet Archives held by the Library of Congress as well as other materials which documents radical and Leftist history.

Among the points in the party’s “Immediate Program” are a $12/hour minimum wage for all workers, national universal health care, and opposition to privatization of United States Social Security. Economic measures such as increased taxes on “the rich and corporations,” “strong regulation” of the financial industry, “regulation and public ownership of utilities,” and increased federal aid to cities and states; opposition to the Iraq War and other military interventions; opposition to free trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); nuclear disarmament and a reduced military budget; various civil rights provisions; campaign finance reform including public financing of campaigns; and election law reform, including Instant Runoff Voting. The Communist Party USA emphasizes a vision of socialism as an extension of American democracy. Seeking to “build socialism in the United States based on the revolutionary traditions and struggles” of American history, the CPUSA promotes a conception of “Bill of Rights Socialism” that will “guarantee all the freedoms we have won over centuries of struggle, and also extend the Bill of Rights to include freedom from unemployment”– as well as freedom “from poverty, from illiteracy, and from discrimination and oppression.” The Communist Party believes that “class struggle starts with the fight for wages, hours, benefits, working conditions, job security, and jobs. But it also includes an endless variety of other forms for fighting specific battles: resisting speed-up, picketing, contract negotiations, strikes, demonstrations, lobbying for pro-labor legislation, elections, and even general strikes.”The Communist Party’s national programs understands that workers who struggle “against the capitalist class or any part of it on any issue with the aim of improving or defending their lives” are part of the class struggle. The Communists maintain that developments within the foreign policy of the United States–as reflected in the rise of neoconservatives and other groups associated with right-wing politics–have developed in tandem with the interests of large-scale capital such as the multinational corporations. The state thereby becomes thrust into a proxy role that is essentially inclined to help facilitate “control by one section of the capitalist class over all others and over the whole of society.”

Accordingly, the Communist Party holds that right-wing policymakers such as the neoconservatives, steering the state away from working-class interests on behalf of a disproportionately powerful capitalist class, have “…demonized foreign opponents of the U.S., covertly funded the right-wing-initiated civil war in Nicaragua, and gave weapons to the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in Iraq. They picked small countries to invade, including Panama and Grenada, testing new military equipment and strategy, and breaking down resistance at home and abroad to U.S. military invasion as a policy option.”

The Party has consistently opposed U.S. involvement in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, and the post-9/11 conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Over 150 anti-war resolutions were passed by city councils. Resolutions were passed by thousands of local unions and community organizations. Local and national actions were organized on the internet, including the ‘Virtual March on Washington DC’ … officials were flooded with millions of calls, emails and letters”.

The Communist Party USA’s Constitution defines the working class as a class which is “multiracial, multinational, and unites men and women, young and old, employed and unemployed, organized and unorganized, gay and straight, native-born and immigrant, urban and rural, and composed of workers who perform a large range of physical and mental labor–the vast majority of our society”.

The Communist Party seeks equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, the protection of reproductive rights, together with putting an end to sexism. The Party’s ranks include a Women’s Equality Commission, which recognizes the role of women as an asset in moving towards building socialism.

Historically significant in American history as an early fighter for African Americans’ rights and playing a leading role in protesting the lynchings of African Americans in the South, the Communist Party, in its national program today, calls racism the “classic divide-and-conquer tactic…” From its New York City base, the Communist Party’s Ben Davis Club and other Communist Party organizations have been involved in local activism in Harlem and other African American and minority communities. The Communist Party was instrumental in the founding of the progressive Black Radical Congress in 1998.

Historically significant in Latino working class history as a successful organizer of the Mexican American working class in the Southwestern United States in the 1930s, the Communist Party regards working-class Latino people as another oppressed group targeted by overt racism as well as systemic discrimination in areas such as education, and sees the participation of Latino voters in a general mass movement in both party-based and nonpartisan work as an essential goal for major left-wing progress.

The Communist Party holds that racial and ethnic discrimination not only harms minorities, but is pernicious to working-class people of all backgrounds, as any discriminatory practices between demographic sections of the working class constitute an inherently divisive practice responsible for “obstructing the development of working-class consciousness, driving wedges in class unity to divert attention from class exploitation, and creating extra profits for the capitalist class”.

The Communists support an end to racial profiling. The party supports continued enforcement of civil rights laws as well as affirmative action. Supporting cooperation between economically advanced and less economically-developed nations in the area of environmental cooperation, the Communist Party USA stands in favor of promoting “transfer from developed countries to developing countries of sustainable technology, and funds for capital investment in sustainable agriculture, energy, and industry. We should support efforts to get the developed nations to make major contributions to a fund to protect the rainforests from devastation”.

The Communist Party USA is unalterably opposed to all manifestations of racism, national oppression, national chauvinism, male supremacy, homophobia, and anti-Semitism, which are used by the enemies of progress to divide the working class and people’s forces. The principles of democracy, equality, justice, and class self-interest require a joint fight against all expressions of racism and gender oppression. They fight for full equality for all who suffer from racial, national, and gender oppression as an essential aspect of the unity that is basic to all social progress.

The USA is a country which was founded by those seeking freedom and tolerance. Thee Faction believe that one day the US will lose its cartoon fear of Socialism: perhaps via its greatest invention: Rock ‘n’ Roll …


One comment

  1. Brentford is right that recent immigrants formed the backbone of early revolutionary socialism in the USA. Dai Nasty and I were blown away, when we visited Ellis Island, to see how many of the comrades involved in the struggle in the early 20th Century in and around NY City were Welsh.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s