Communist Party USA Is 100 Years Old This Year.
It was in 1919 that a majority of the membership of the Socialist Party of the United States voted to join the Comintern, established by the Bolsheviks who had seized power in Russia in late 1917, as a way of promoting world revolution.
This year, 2019, marks 100 years of the Communist Party USA, founded as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union, yet the importation of communist ideas to America precedes even the founding of the United States. The notion that communal, or communist, ownership of property was morally and practically superior to the private ownership of property actually goes back to the earliest days of American history. Both the colonists at Jamestown and the colonists at Plymouth attempted what can best be described as “small c” communism, leading to starvation.
Despite this example of the foolhardiness of such a plan, when the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth, they believed that they could make a communal system work. They couldn’t, of course, and Governor William Bradford explained what happened in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation: “This community … was found to breed such confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense.… They deemed it a kind of slavery.”
One would think that such history would have been enough, yet throughout American history there have always been some with sympathy for such a system. For example, Horace Greeley was the publisher of the New York Tribune and a member of the Communist International. He even hired Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto, as a European correspondent. Another prominent American member of the Communist International was Senator Charles Sumner.
Many such examples could be offered, but it was not until the Bolsheviks staged a violent coup d’etat against the Russian government in 1917 that revolutionary communism had actually captured a country. They quickly formed the Third Communist International (the Comintern), and plotted world revolution. Hungary briefly went communist and Germany almost followed.
Cooking Up Communism in America
But no greater prize could be imagined in the Communist Conspiracy to establish their one-world government than to take over the United States, and this was the avowed goal in the establishment of the Communist Party USA in 1919.
This group was led by John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow, but they were denied admission into the Socialist convention. Reed had been in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, and was so thrilled with what had transpired that he wrote a book about it — Ten Days That Shook the World. (Not surprisingly, Hollywood eventually made a laudatory movie, Reds, based on Reed’s book). Reed, Gitlow, and others then met on August 31 and formed the Communist Labor Party of America (CLP).
Among those who helped swell the ranks of this new fledgling Communist Party were members of the communistic International Workers of the World (I.W.W.). I.W.W. members, sometimes known as “Wobblies,” had used sabotage and violence to protest during the First World War. The Soviet Union’s leaders quickly saw how important an American Communist Party would be to their ultimate goal of world revolution and world government, and dispatched C.A. Martens to give the American communists direction.
Before the new American Communist Party was allowed full membership in the Comintern, however, its officers were required to sign the “Twenty-one Conditions of Admission.” These 21 conditions of admission to the Comintern made it quite clear that the Communists in the Soviet Union would dictate what happened in America’s Communist Party. In 1953, the U.S. Subversive Activities Control Board concluded after several hearings and investigations, “We find upon the whole record that the evidence preponderantly establishes that [the leaders of the Communist Party USA] and its members consider the allegiance they owe to the United States as subordinate to their loyalty and obligations to the Soviet Union.”
Among the 21 conditions were the following: “The Communist Party [of the USA] must carry on a clear-cut program of propaganda for the hindering of the transportation of munitions of war to the enemies of the Soviet Republic.” Another said, “All decisions of the Communist International … are binding upon all parties belonging to the Communist International,” while another stipulated that, “The duty of spreading Communist ideas includes the special obligation to carry on a vigorous and systematic propaganda in the Army. Where this agitation is forbidden by exceptional laws, it is to be carried on illegally.”
Labor unions were to be targeted for takeover: “Every party wishing to belong to the Communist International must systematically and persistently develop a Communist agitation within the trade-unions.” Similar agitation was to be employed in rural areas. “Iron discipline” was to be maintained, and “periodic cleanings” of membership rolls were necessary to get rid of dissenters. Finally, any member who rejected these conditions and the “theses of the Communist International, on principle, must be expelled from the party.”
From the very beginning, however, American communists had to contend with factionalism and differences in advancing their cause. A rival to the Communist Labor Party did not believe that the Labor Party was truly communistic, and the CLP responded in kind. The rival group called itself the Communist Party of America. It was led by Charles Ruthenberg (he died in 1927 and his ashes are buried in the Kremlin), and was launched on September 1, 1919. Yet another splinter group in Michigan was the Proletarian Party.
Another problem was that a strong majority of the “American” communists were not native-born, with some even having difficulty speaking English. The Communist lamented in June of 1920, “The Communist Party, from the very beginning of its existence found its work hampered because it had in its ranks only a few men capable of expressing Communist principles in the English language.”
The Executive Committee of the Com-intern soon ordered the rival parties to consolidate “in the shortest possible time.” In case there was any misunderstanding, the directive was emphatic: “Unity is not only possible, but absolutely necessary. The Executive Committee categorically insists on its immediate realization.”
With a representative of the Comintern present, a “unity” convention was held in May 1920 at Bridgman, Michigan, which resulted in the formation of the United Communist Party of America. Still, some refused to go along with this “united” Communist Party, with some desirous of the right to leave the party, or differ with the Comintern on some issues.
It took another year of bickering, but finally, in May 1921, the United Communist Party and some splinter groups formed the Communist Party of America, at Woodstock, New York. They agreed to work together for violent revolution, as “armed insurrection” was the “only means of overthrowing the capitalist state.” They also reiterated their complete subservience to Moscow.
The party would have both a legal element, which would disseminate communist propaganda in the public arena and run candidates for office (the Workers Party), and an underground aspect to conduct illegal activities, such as operating a spy network for the Soviet Union. In this regard, many American communists — William Z. Foster, Earl Browder, Jay Lovestone, Benjamin Gitlow, and John Reed — made several trips to Moscow.
Foster remarked that a 1921 visit with Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin “was one of the most inspiring moments” of his life.
Gitlow, who later left the Communist Party, wrote in his book The Whole of Their Lives about the very early days that he was inspired by what Lenin had accomplished in Russia and believed a successful revolution was imminent in the United States. “On September 2, 1919, the communist movement was officially launched. September 9 the Boston Police strike began. September 22, the nation-wide Steel strike led by William Z. Foster started. At the end of October, the soft-coal miners under the leadership of John L. Lewis staged a nation-wide coal strike stretching from the Appalachian coal range to the Pacific in defiance of a government order not to strike.”