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Building a Communist Party in the US | NYC Marxist School 2023

Socialist Revolution Editor Tom Trottier outlines the history of the Communist Party in the United States, and what communists today can learn from their successes and mistakes. The booklet Tom mentions can be found here:  The Fight for a Mass Workers’ Party in the US

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[Theme Music]

Thank you, comrade Chair. My lead off is going to focus specifically on the experience of the building of the Communist Party USA, and some of the lessons we can learn from that. Just to let comrades know we are now in the year 2023, which means the Communist Party USA is about 104 years old. And any organization that’s been around 104 years, I think we can learn some lessons from that.

And I’m going to focus on the CPUSA, but I know another a number of comrades in the discussion are going to come in on other efforts, including the Trotskyists and stuff, and I think that will be very good information to supplement my lead off. But I will say this. Much of the history of the CPUSA, particularly its influence in mass movements and the trade union struggles have really been wiped out from mainstream history in this country- so-called mainstream, The capitalist media, large parts of academia and especially also the trade union leaders have really wanted to not let people know the role that the Communist Party played, particularly at its height. So I hope some of this discussion will enlighten people on some of the efforts that the Communist Party made in the past. And I also wanted to analyze the challenges facing past American communists and see why ultimately they were not successful in building a genuine mass Communist Party and why the Communist Party itself disintegrated into an opportunist sect, which is frankly what it is today.

Now, we’re going to also compare and contrast this history in a way that takes into account many different circumstances facing comrades in the past versus what we’re facing today. I want to use these historical lessons to strengthen our present task. Building a mass Communist Party, and, of course, winning over the working class and then achieving the establishment of a worker’s government.

Now, I also want to say this: The people who went before us in building the Communist Party – I want to subject what they were doing to a political analysis, to a marxist analysis. But I want to explain that I think most of these people tried the best they could. I’m not- we are not attacking them (most of them) in a moral sense.

You know, there are there are some nasty Stalinists and stuff who did some nasty things. So we’re not attacking- those people we will attack. But most of the people who were in the Communist Party, I think they tried their best. Even those in the Stalinist period, I think a lot of them tried their best and they were self-sacrificing people.

And if you read the history of some of these militants, if you watch, for example, there’s a 1980s documentary, which I believe I saw in this theater back in the 1980s. When this was a movie theater. It’s called “Seeing Red”. It’s a documentary about people who were in the Communist Party during the 1930s. You will see that those people, I think, had the best of intentions.

They were self-sacrificing, They were great fighters, and they were trying to bring about socialism. But the problem is, of course, they didn’t have the right ideas. They were mistrained. They were misdirected by their leadership. And that’s what we want to analyze today. So it’s not a moral condemnation of these people. And in fact, all of these people, or at least the best of them, we stand in their tradition, but we want to learn from their mistakes and not make those mistakes again.

Now, building a genuine Communist Party is the most serious undertaking. It’s a very difficult task. Serious communists do not look at history just to reminisce. But we see in history rich lessons so that we can avoid repeating the same mistakes that were made before. And we will be able to succeed where others have not. Now, I wanted to start this right off by this quote from Alan Woods, because I think it kind of orients the Marxist approach to how we view a party.

And Alan says: “A party is not just an organizational form – a name, a banner, a collection of individuals or an apparatus. A revolutionary party for a marxist is, in the first place, it’s program, methods, ideas and traditions, and only in the second place, an organization an an apparatus, which, of course, is very important in order to carry these ideas to the broadest layers of working people.The Marxist Party from the very beginning must base itself on theory and program, which is the summing up of the general historical experience of the proletariat. Without this, it is nothing. The building of a revolutionary party always begins with the slow and painstaking work of assembling and educating cadre, which forms the backbone of the party through its entire lifetime.”

Now, that reminds us of that famous quote by Lenin. Lenin said: Without theory, there is no revolutionary movement. The reason we put such an emphasis on the question of theory in building a party is that theory is absolutely an essential tool. It’s a necessary ingredient to build the kind of party that we’re building. Theory is a generalization of experience. Learning from that experience.

I have this great quote about theory by Trotsky. He says: “To be guided by theory means to be guided by the generalization of all the preceding practice of humanity, which allows us to cope with this or that present day practical task with the greatest success.” That’s why for us, theory is so important. But I have to say that our first fundamental problem in looking at the Communist Party is that although it needed Marxist theory in order to build, there was really nobody who had that kind of theoretical understanding among the leadership who could create that correct path for building the party at that time. The cadre that the Communist Party inherited at its beginning were people from the Socialist Party of America, were people from the Socialist Labor Party of America, which frankly was an ultra left sectarian group, and also people from the IWW – the Industrial Workers of the World. And all of those schools were bad schools if you look at it from a question of a school of Marxist theory. But it wasn’t- the lack of theoretical knowledge was not limited to the left in the United States. The lack of theoretical knowledge is a characteristic of American capitalism. The American ruling class never needed to develop theory to any high level in order to come to power and maintain its power, at least up till now. So, for example, how did the American bourgeois become- establish its power as a ruling class?

They came to North America. They chopped down the trees. They killed a lot of the indigenous people. They imported slaves. They imported workers from Europe. They led a Revolutionary War of independence against the British. They had a civil war, where they got rid of the plantation owners, the slave owners. They had reconstruction. They stabbed reconstruction in the back, and they built up their forces.

And in order to do that- empiricism, which the American ruling class inherited from the British, and pragmatism, was a sufficient theoretical tool for them to achieve their power and maintain their power. Unfortunately, that low theoretical level that’s established by the ruling class set a tone for the whole society. And unfortunately, the labor movement and the left in the United States has been a reflection of that low theoretical level.

It’s up to us Marxists to struggle against that, to understand that in order for the American working class to be able to overthrow the U.S. ruling class and in order to establish a worker’s government in this country, we are going to need to study theory. We are going to have to lift our theoretical level. We are going to have to be- have the highest theoretical level in the entire world, go beyond the ruling class.

So now, in this leadoff, the main periods of the Communist Party history that I’m going to cover are as follows: I’m first going to look at the formation years from 1919 to 1928. This is when the Communist Party first started and it was in formation, and there was an effort by well-meaning people – not theoretically trained Marxist, but well-meaning people who were trying to build the kind of party that we want to build.

Then from 1928 to 1935, the Stalinist consolidation, where the party no longer becomes a party where you could say people were trying to do the right thing, but it becomes dominated by a Stalinist leadership that follows the dictates of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. And during 1928 to 1935, they had an ultra left sectarian policy which I’ll cover.

Then from 1935 to 1945, we’re going to look at the popular front period, where once again, the Communist Party was still a Stalinist organization, but it completely flipped from being an ultra left sectarian orientation into basically an opportunist and reformist organization. And that was pretty much that ten year period, with the exception of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which I won’t have time to cover, which goes from September 1939 to June 1941, when the Germans- the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union.

Then we’re going to cover the Cold War and the Red Scare period from 1946 to 1955, and then we’ll cover 1956 and after, which is a tremendous turning point for the Communist Party. And that’s basically to give you a sense of where we’re going to go in the course of this discussion. So let’s look at the first part, the formation years from 1919 to 1928. Now, we’ve mentioned this in other points. But from 1917 to 1926, that nine years, there were actually more than ten revolutions that occurred in the world. More than ten. Most of those revolutions were in Europe, some of them were near Europe, some of them- It’s like the Chinese Revolution, ‘25 to ’27. And you also- I’m counting in there the British general strike in 1926, which if it had a mass Marxist Communist Party, if it had been there at the lead of the working class, that general strike could have become a successful revolution, could’ve become an insurrectionary general strike. But you had more than ten revolutions in that nine year period, and every single one of those revolutions was defeated, with the exception of one, the Russian Revolution.

And the reason the Russian Revolution was successful is because prior to 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had built that party. That party was an essential tool to turn that situation, to turn that revolutionary opportunity, into a successful overturn of the government and to establish a worker’s government. In all these other revolutions and all these other countries, the revolution was not successful because such a party had not been built ahead of that period.

Now, of those different revolutions, I will say the United States was not one of those places where there was an unsuccessful revolution that happened. Things were not that dramatic in the United States at that time. But the Communist Party was born in 1919, and I should explain. The Communist Party was not born as one party. It was born as two parties.

There were two Communist parties formed in 1919, the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party. Both of them supported the Bolshevik Revolution. Both of them wanted to attach themselves to the Comintern. Both of them supposedly followed in the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. But right from the start, the sectarianism and the mechanical thinking led to two separate parties being formed.

But what were the conditions in 1919, in the United States? A lot of comrades may not know this. For example, there was a giant steel strike in 1919. There was an attempt to organize the steelworkers into an industrial union. Now, that was ultimately unsuccessful, but it was a big event in 1919. In addition to that, there was the Seattle General strike in February 1919.

Not only was that a general strike in that important city of Seattle- but by the way, part of that strike was over stopping the shipment of arms from the United States to the white counter-revolution in Russia, which was trying to overthrow the Bolsheviks. The workers were doing what they could to help out the Bolshevik Revolution. That same year in Lawrence, Massachusetts, there was a textile strike, 30,000 strong that lasted 16 weeks, basically four months. And you had a strike of miners in Butte, Montana. So you had a lot of strike activity, a lot of actions by the working class in 1919. You even had a strike of the police in Boston. Yes, a major city. The police went out on strike in 1919.

Just showing you the topsy-turvy nature of what was going on even in the United States at that time. In addition to that, you had the rise of independent labor politics. The question of the former Labor Party was beginning to be posed. And I’m not going to be able to go into that in detail. But comrades may know I have a booklet on that on the question of a Workers Party, which covers some of that stuff.

And certainly if it comes up in the discussion, I can answer some questions on that. So the Communist Party, when it was born, its main body, the main amount of people that came to the two Communist parties were people from the Socialist Party of America. But there was again- nothing is so simple as just one split, right?

There were actually three different splits from the Socialist Party of America. Two of them, as I explained, set up two different Communist parties, and then a third split comes over later. And as I explain, they also brought some people over from Daniel de Leon’s ultra left sectarian group, the Socialist Labor Party and the IWW at the same time.

So this was a mixture of people. It was like a mixture of leftwing revolutionary socialists, syndicalists. But I would say, to be fair, none of them really had an understanding of Marxism or its method. If they had some understanding, it wasn’t a good one. But I think a lot of them had no understanding at all of Marxism, and it was very confused.

They knew what they disliked about reformism, but they had no clear way forward. Even the organized left factions that existed in the Socialist Party prior to the split, there was no nationally unified left wing opposition in the Socialist Party. You’d have like an opposition organized in Massachusetts. They tried to organize an opposition in New York. There was another one in Chicago.

You know, it was it was fragmented. So even internally, the left wing of the Socialist Party was not really united. Now, the thing is, is what was necessary to build that that Bolshevik party is you needed somebody who is going to look and consciously build the party and use theory as a way to kind of craft the building of that party.

And that’s what the Bolsheviks had when they had Lenin. Lenin had a craft for building and educating Marxist cadre and building a party of Marxist cadre. For example, he paid attention to this question of building trust between the leadership and the membership, building trust among the leaders, teamwork and internal division of labor. And inevitably, whenever you have humans getting together to do something, there is going to be differences.

There’s going to be conflict. How did Lenin handle that? He said, We’re going to resolve these differences. We’re going to resolve the conflict by using it to raise the theoretical questions that are opposed, raising everybody’s theoretical level as part of that, and then, of course, we’ll test the theory against events. And if something’s wrong, then we will change our analysis because theory ultimately must be connected to practice, must be connected to the real life that we are intervening in.

So within that context, he was able to build a cadre organization, a centralized organization, and then eventually build a mass party on that. Trotsky comments about Lenin’s craft in this, and he says: “The building of a revolutionary party demands patience and hard work. At any price, you must not discourage the best, and you must show yourself to be able to work with anyone.

Each is a lever to be used as much as possible to strengthen the party. Lenin knew the art of this. After the liveliest discussions, bitterest polemics, he knew to find the words and gestures which mitigated unfortunate or offensive words” That craftsman, that thing. And the thing is, is that unfortunately, there was no Lenin, there was no craftsman here in the United States to put together the leadership of the Communist Party.

In fact, by the way, Lenin was, as we know, historically was unique on this. Even the other great Marxist outside the United States. Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, James Connolly. None of them understood what Lenin was getting at in this. Trotsky came to understand. Luxemburg came to understand at the-around 1917 and after the Russian Revolution. But prior to that, nobody was there to be able to- doing that.

So facing the task of building the Communist Party leadership was not so much that they had to build a leadership from scratch, but they had to retrain comrades who had been mis-trained, they had to educate them in the Marxist method and build a real leadership team, a cohesive, democratic-centralist organization. But as we know, that’s always very hard to train an old dog new tricks, and that was a real problem.

The second question is who is going to play the role of theoretician in the United States? Who is going to be able to play that role of educating the Marxist leadership and gluing it together? Ironically, one of the best theoreticians in the U.S. at that time was a man named Louis Fraina. Louis Fraina was an Italian immigrant, came here at a very young age.

He’s kind of a self-taught person. He only went through elementary school, but he was a real reader and he really taught himself. Unfortunately for Louis, he got involved- he was a member for about four years- of the Socialist Labor Party. He worked with Daniel de Leon. He did write some theory with him, but he learned a lot of this under the tutelage of Daniel de Leon, who had a kind of a mechanical view of Marxism, and also looked at things from a sectarian framework.

And both De Leon and, of course, all of the American left at that time was permeated with a lot of the ideas of syndicalism. In fact, you probably say that the left wing of the United States at that time was more influenced by syndicalism than Marxism. Even then, he did do some really great things.

Like One thing is Louis Fraina was the first one to start publishing the writings of Lenin and Trotsky in the United States, and we have to give him credit on that level. But he was- first of all, he himself was limited in his theoretical ability, even if he was the best among the leadership at that time. He himself had limitations and he wasn’t seen as an important person to play that kind of leading role of bringing everybody together in the U.S. leadership

at that time. The people who did come together in the leadership were reflective of the moods of the American left at that time. For example, they had moods of ultra leftism, they had methods of mechanical thinking and, of course, pragmatism. And that’s what dominated the party. And just to kind of give you a sense of the question of the moods of ultra leftism- I thought this was kind of interesting, comrades might get a kick out of this. That in- around this time around 1919-1920, there was a strike in Brooklyn, Brooklyn trolley strike, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company.

This is before the city took over all the mass transit, and there’s a strike there. And so the communist want to interve in the strike, and this is what they wrote in the leaflet. But I think this- when you read this, you’re going to get a sense of the ultra leftism that was in the leadership of the Communist Party at the time.

So the leaflet says to the strikers: “Get ready for armed revolution to overthrow the capitalist government and create a worker’s government, as your brothers did in Russia. Stop asking merely for a little more wages. Overthrow the dictatorship of the capitalists, the present government of the United States, and through the Soviets and proletarian dictatorship, take possession of the BRT, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit, and of every mill mine, factory, railroad and field and farm in the United States.

The Communist Party of America sounds the call for revolution, for the armed uprising of the workers.” Now, I think, comrades, if we went to intervene in the UAW strike or the actors strike, we’re not we’re not going to have a flier based in that kind of method. But it again, it reflects where people were at that time. Now, another thing that was missing- because- and this again, flows from the theoretical weakness of the party, was a question of understanding perspectives.

If you want to build the Communist Party, you have- it’s not just about a name. It’s not just about a program, but it’s about having a comprehensive theoretical education, which, by the way, should also include historical education. The Bolsheviks studied the Paris Commune. The Bolsheviks studied the French Revolution. The American Communists at that time should have been studying the Paris Commune.

They could study the Russian Revolution, which was relatively recent. They could study the American Revolution, the English Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War- the American Civil War and reconstruction. All of those things should have been looked at. But in addition to that, they had to have an understanding of perspectives. Now, why are perspectives important? Perspectives are important because things change.

Things don’t stay the same. And the environment that you’re building the party in is going to necessarily change as the crisis of capitalism evolves. So, for example, at the end of World War One, as I was explaining, there was a lot of instability in the United States. There was a lot of strikes, there was a lot of activity.

Yes. But did that last forever? No, it did not. It eventually came in- came to an end. There was a- the period of instability of capitalism became stabilized. In fact, the Comintern discussed this in 1921, how the post-World War One instability created a new situation of temporary stability of world capitalism. Particularly in the United States, in the 1920s, there was a period known as the Roaring Twenties.

It was called the Roaring Twenties, because it was a temporary boom, right? It was a booming period. Jobs, money for all. Times are good. Now, if you have a perspective as a communist, you would say: “Okay, times are booming in the twenties. Does that mean we have to give up? Does that mean the revolution comes to an end?

No. By studying perspectives and by understanding capitalist economy, capitalist political economy, how it works, reading Capital, reading Marx, understanding the contradictions. If you understand that, you know that eventually this boom period will come to an end. So if we use this boom period to build our organization, to build, to recruit cadre, to educate cadre, to consolidate cadre, to make the connections with the working class that we can, we will be in a much better position when the crisis really hits.

And of course, we know eventually the Roaring Twenties does come to an end at the end of 1929, and world capitalism and U.S. capitalism heads into the Great Depression in the 1930s, which is one of the most favorable periods for the growth of the left and growth of the Communist Party. I’ll get to that. But the American leadership didn’t understand that.

And I’m going to quote another one. This is John Reed. Now, John Reed, again, I’m not criticizing him as a person. I consider him a great hero. We should consider him a great hero. He’s a great comrade. He sacrificed his life for the Bolshevik Revolution. He was buried in the Kremlin. We don’t attack him in any personal sense.

But we have to understand that John Reed was never trained in Marxism. You know, before he witnessed the Russian Revolution he didn’t consider himself a marxist. He was a journalist. He was a bit of a playboy, frankly. He was educated in Harvard, and Harvard doesn’t- Harvard might bring people to us that we can train in communism, but Harvard University itself is not going to train communists.

And as a result, he reflected that kind of pragmatic thinking that he had, and he used that when he joined the Communist Party- became one of the leaders- in how he thought about doing the work. So I just wanted to read a little bit about how he saw the task of building the Communist Party. He says: “My idea is to make socialists. And there is only one way of doing that. By teaching socialism. Straight socialism, revolutionary socialism, international socialism.

00:26:08:06 – 00:26:32:02
Speaker 1
This is what the Russian Bolshevikii did. This is what the German Spartacus group did.” And then he goes on, says: “Revolutionary Socialism above all other kinds must be practical, it must work, it must make socialists out of workers and make them quick. Comrades who call themselves ‘members of the left wing’ have an immediate job to do.

They must find out from the American workers what they want most. And they must explain this in terms of the whole labor movement. And they must make the workers want more, make them want the whole revolution. They must do this in words which can be understood immediately by the workers in terms of their own lives.” I think if you read that comrades, you see there’s a well-meaning person. He definitely means well, but he doesn’t understand historical materialism.

He doesn’t understand capitalism and the way it works. He doesn’t even understand that it’s inevitably- most of the work that develops a class consciousness, trade union consciousness, even political consciousness is done by the capitalist system. The job of Marxists is to learn Marxism, to learn the theory, make the connections, and when the opportunities arise, to show the working class the way forward, to show them the path forward, to make the revolution and to make gains on the way to revolution.

But that was some of the weaknesses. And again, I don’t think it was unique to John Reed that kind of weakness. The other main leaders of the Communist Party, just quickly. Charles Ruthenberg became one of the leaders. Why was he chosen? He was an outstanding a left wing socialist in Ohio. And he was a great organizer.

William Z. Foster, who was also a trade union organizer, had had a lot of experience. He became one of the leaders of the Communist Party. James Cannon, as we know, another good organizer, another person with a lot of experience, and he becomes a leader of the Communist Party. And then also another guy named Lovestone, who started out as a radical student in New York.

He eventually works for Ruthenburg and becomes one of the one of the top leaders of the organization. But unfortunately, this group together, all these good organizers – no theoretician – what they don’t do is form a real leadership team. In fact, they’re broken up into factions. So you have a faction around Ruthenburg and Love Stone. That’s one faction, usually the dominant faction in the party.

You have another faction around William Z. Foster. And you have another faction around Cannon. There was no Lenin. There was no person who could come in there and use theory as a way to educate people and try to build a united team on that basis. So as a result, it was constant factional warfare and factional battles and horse trading that was running the party at that time.

And it was of course severely weakened. Now who could educate the communist Party leaders? Well, ultimately the Comintern was the best source of education. Now the Comintern would educate people in terms of the resolutions and in terms of the international Congresses and also the writings, particularly the writings of Lenin and Trotsky. And, of course, left wing communism by Lenin was a very, very, very important document in terms of educating the American Communist Party.

But even some of those writings, we should understand. But if you don’t have an understanding of dialectics when you read these writings, you try to understand them in a mechanical way, and that can create some false assumptions on what you need to do. And I’ll give you an example. When the Communist Party was born, there was an early 1920s red scare.

There was the Palmer raids. The attorney general Palmer, where they were raiding the left and arresting the left, left wing non-citizens were kicked out of the country. All kinds of things like that were happening. Now the party had to react and defend itself against those raids, but it overreacted and actually went underground. Then the Comintern put out a series of resolutions, of guidelines, for how communist parties should function, and one of the guidelines read as follows, it says: “In almost every country in Europe, in America, the class struggle is entering the phase of civil war.

Under such conditions, the communists can place no trust in bourgeois legality. They have the obligation of setting up a parallel organizational apparatus which at the decisive moment can assist the party to do its duty to the revolution. In every country where state of siege or emergency laws deprive the Communists of the opportunity of carrying on all their work legally, it’s absolutely necessary to combine legal and illegal activity.” What the Comintern is saying there, if you understand it dialectically- they’re saying you can’t base yourself on any democratic freedoms that you have under the bourgeois.

You can’t assume that all of these freedoms are going to last forever, that would be very incorrect. That would be a big, big, big mistake. You have to have contingency plans. You have to deal with attacks when they happen. That’s what they’re saying. But the communists in the United States, they took it literally when it says “parallel organization.”

So what did they do? They had gone into an underground organization. That was not necessary, but they had done that. So then they create a legal organization. So the underground organization was the Communist Party, and the legal organization was the Workers Party, and they literally would have meetings where have your ten comrades in the underground party.

They all have pseudonyms and they have a meeting and they take all the decisions. They’d vote all the minutes and all that, but everyone’s underground. It’s not publicly known. Then they go to the Workers Party meeting. Then you use your real name and you basically ratify all the votes that were taken in the underground, on the aboveground. I mean, it was it was crazy.

So the Comintern had to intervene in this and other issues. First of all, the first thing the Comintern had to intervene in is to get the two communist parties to merge and say, “Hey, guys, why don’t you form one party and we’ll work out our differences inside the party.” That was one thing they were able to achieve. Another thing they got them to do is to eventually liquidate the underground party and everybody goes into the other party, which, like I said, was called the Workers Party of the United States.

Then it later becomes known as the workers Communist Party of the United States. Eventually they drop that and they become again, the Communist Party of the United States. Another thing that they do is they explain- and this is where Lenin’s left wing communism was very important- that a lot of the communists did not want to do any work in the AFL, the American Federation of Labor.

There wasn’t a huge chunk of American workers in the unions. Probably 4% of the Americans were organized. But the main people who were organized were in the AFL. They were not in the IWW, but the ultra left communists wanted to do all the work in the IWW, not in the AFL. Lenin educated them properly on that, especially in left wing communism.

So to some extent they were getting educated by Lenin and Trotsky. But remember that most of the best people- from 1918 to 1921, especially- most of the best people in Russia in the Communist Party were engaged in fighting the war, fighting against the counterrevolution, which was a life or death matter. They were busy trying to make arms, weapons, ammunition, food to keep the workers state alive.

So as a result, if most of the best people were in the Red Army or running the economy or, like Lenin overseeing the state, the people who staffed the Comintern were not always the best people. And as a result, that was reflected in some of the ways that the communist parties around the world were educated or maybe miseducated. As John Point pointed out in his intervention yesterday, the chairman of the third International, the chairman of the Comintern, was Zinoviev.

And then later when he’s removed, he’s followed by Bukharin. And both of these people who were leading the Comintern were noted for- people who wanted to try to solve political problems through administrative means, as neither one was really a theoretician, a real Marxist theoretician who could really educate people and raise the level of the party.

Another major problem facing the early American Communist Party was identity politics, believe it or not. Now, I want to say before that term was coined, identity politics. Identity politics has been a long term problem in the U.S. It’s a byproduct of the way American capitalism was born. American capitalism even before 1776. Even when they started the colonies.

There was slavery. There was institutional racism which was built-in, that divided the working class. But also the American working class was built as an immigrant working class. They literally imported workers from other countries, particularly Europe in those days. And the use of this immigrant workforce and the use of dividing that workforce, for example, in the mines in Pennsylvania, the miner owners like to have the Polish and the Irish so that they couldn’t talk.

The Irish wouldn’t understand Polish. The Polish didn’t understand English. They literally used that as a way to keep people divided. Politically, it created a culture in this country where instead of people identifying by class, they identified by ethnicity and so on, and so forth. You saw that kind of identity politics be a dominant force in the United States way back.

Now, this also got reflected in the left, right, because, you know, as Marx and Engels say: “The dominant ideas of any society are the ideas of the ruling class.” These ideas of identity, ethnicity, splitting people on national origin were so prevalent that they even went into the left. Engels dealt with this, by the way, to some extent, way back when he was in correspondence with German socialists. Immigrants who, some of them, they would move here, they would form a German socialist group, and everything was written in German.

And he says, you know, since you’re in the United States, maybe in addition to having a German paper, maybe also an English paper, would that be good? You know, maybe you could use it as a way to recruit people who don’t speak German or don’t read German. Like Engels faced that. But you saw this play out even in the Socialist Party of America. In 1917, the Socialist Party America, 40% of its membership was divided in what they called the foreign language federations, 40%.

By 1919, 53% of the Socialist Party of America was divided in the Foreign Language Federation. What’s a foreign language federation? Well, like you live in New York, if you’re Russian, you’re part of the Russian Federation. If you’re in Minnesota, you’re Finnish? You’re of the Finnish Federation. They would literally segregate people by nationality. So you wouldn’t necessarily go to the local branch meeting unless the local branch meeting is part of the Russian Federation if you’re part of that, or the Finnish Federation or the Lettish Federation, the German Federation, they had divided people along these ethnic lines. That was not good from the point of view of unifying the working class. That was good from the point of view of the capitalist class to keep the working class divided. And this was playing out inside the Socialist Party.

The same thing got brought into the Communist Party. In 1919, if you take the two Communist parties together, there’s an estimate that they had at the time about 25000 to 40000 members, but a lot of those were mass membership. They weren’t cadre members. And this mass membership means you pay a small dues, small fee, you buy a paper, you may come to an occasional meeting, but you would be part of one of these foreign language federations.

In 1919, they said, for example, the Communist Party of America, they estimate only 7% of it (the Communist Party America) was English- spoke English as their primary language. Now, of course, things do change bit right? There is the attacks, the Palmer raids. In the Palmer raids, a lot of people who are foreign nationals are deported because they were radicals and stuff. But just to show you still, if you get to 1923, in 1923, the Communist Party at that time, about 10% of the Communist Party, English was your primary language.

Another 50% of the party could speak English, but it was English as a second language, which basically meant there was about 40% of the American Communist Party that really couldn’t even speak English. Give you an example of the same year in Chicago. Chicago had 52 branches of the Communist Party. Five of the branches conducted their work in English.

The other 47 branches were in other languages.14 other languages! So you had- the party was segmented according to national origin, to ethnicity. It was a very negative experience. It cut across the question of building a centralized organization. Now, we’re not against, by the way, having multilingual- if you have to have translation, you know, if you have a branch in two or three languages that are spoken, you have to have translation.

We’ll do that. We certainly support publications in other languages to reach other sections of the working class that live here. But what we don’t want to do is to divide the organization, divide the working class either in the trade unions or in any worker’s political party where you divide them along ethnic lines or national lines. Just also to let you know, 1925, finally the party which reorganized. Now was done a bit mechanically also, so they lost some people. They didn’t explain it politically well enough to convince people that this is what needed to be done. It was kind of ordered from on top, from Moscow, that kind of thing. But finally, they do eliminate the Foreign Language federation. So they do centralize the party. They do move forward. But the party in 1925 had nine daily papers.

One of them was in English. That was the Daily Worker. But just to show you. The Freiheit, which is the Yiddish Communist paper, they had a- it’s a daily paper, right? They had a circulation of 22,000. The Daily Worker, which was a daily English Marxist paper, Communist Party paper, had a circulation of 17,000. So there were more papers sold in Yiddish than in English in the United States, by the Communist Party.

But that was where they were at, at that time. Now, I also- I’m going to move on to the next part because my time is running out. But I do want to say this. The Communist Party did a lot of good work and they made some mistakes as well in the farmer labor movement. I can’t go into that.

They also set up some wonderful united fronts, including the trade union Education League, which was a Communist Party led militant front, class struggle front inside the AFL. I don’t have time to go into that, but it’s really- if someone can come in on that, that’d be great. If not, you know, I urge comrades to read about that.

And there’s also another united front, the international labor defense, which was a united front led by the party to fight against people who were victims of the bourgeois state repression of the bourgeois state, class war victims. They took the lead in the Sacco and Vanzetti thing. Now that, I can’t get into, but Joe Lange is going to come in the discussion, give you more information about that. Now, by 1928, the Communist Party- as we know in the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union had degenerated.

The Stalinist bureaucracy came to power. They not only took over the state, they took over the Communist Party and they took over the Communist International. They started to purge the party everywhere of Trotskyists. That happened here in the United States on October 27th, 1928, James Cannon, Max Shachtman and Abern were- Martin Abern were basically expelled from the Communist Party.

Anyone who was around them was kicked out of the Communist Party at that time. So the Trotskyists were driven out and you had a top down Stalinist leadership that was in power. I would say that the way you could describe the Stalinist party was not only that, it was top down in the way it was run, but for example, even if you ask a question- you don’t have to be a Trotskyist.

ask a question about Trotsky, if they didn’t like the tone of that question. You’d be expelled at that point. Now, after that, we know Stalin- I can’t get into all the reasons- but you know, Stalin went after the peasantry and he went after the right opposition. He went after Bukharin in the Soviet Union. That also played out in the United States because Lovestone, who was linked with Bukharin and had just won election- his team had won election at the last Communist Party Congress in the United States in 1928-

They get called to Moscow and literally get removed by the Stalinist bureaucracy, even though they just won the convention. They didn’t call any other conventions, they’re just removed and a new leadership was installed that was pliable to Stalin. From that point on around the international, the Comintern develops this ultraleft third period, basically ultra left sectarian tactics.

Those get put in place in the United States as well. So, for example, the United States, which had made progress on the question of trade unions working inside the AFL trade unions, they broke with that and said we’re going to create red trade unions, party trade unions. So they did that that thing as well.

But I will say this, that in spite of the ultraleft sectarianism of the Stalinists, we have to say this: That because there were so few workers organized in the United States, the fact that they did try to organize the unorganized at that time actually played a somewhat of a positive role, although in some cases they went a little bit too far.

But they at least were playing some sort of good role there. And then once the Depression hits, the communists start organizing the unemployed, as well as World War One veterans for a march on Washington. And they start doing this and they do have some effective work around those movements. So in spite of the ultra leftism, the objective need for there to be a leadership to fight against capitalism meant that they were able to make some gains.

Now, also, I wanted to discuss quickly the question of race, because the question of race is an extremely important question in the United States, as we know. A party that doesn’t have a correct approach on the race question will never be able to lead the American working class to victory. So it’s absolutely essential we have a correct vision on this.

Now, the the Socialist Party of America under Eugene Debs, they had basically an approach where they didn’t racism as a special question. They basically said, look, we’ll have a class struggle, workers will win, we’ll have socialism, they’ll solve all the racism. End of story. That was the kind of approach that, in a nutshell, the Socialist Party had at that time.

It took Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks to educate the American communists on this question, say, you have to take a look at this question, you have to study this question. It’s an important question. We Communists must be in the lead of all the struggle against racism, against Jim Crow segregation, against lynching, against the lack of civil rights, against the lack of suffrage.

We have to take the lead on that. Now, of course, we’re going to lead with the idea of workers unity, right? Unity of the working class. And that’s in the interests of all the working class to fight and destroy racism. That’s going to be our approach. But we have to look at this in a very important way, and we have to be sensitive that we do understand that from time to time there may be nationalist sentiments that grow like, for example, you had the Marcus Garvey movement at the time, which represented nationalist sentiment.

And if the black population started to move in a nationalist direction and wanted to argue for its own self-determination for its own country, we would take a look at that. We would we would fight for that. We would fight to defend their rights on that. But because of that education, the Communist Party took on many, many correct positions on the question of racism. I don’t have time to go into all the details, but the international labor defense, for example, took over the Scottsboro case, the Scottsboro Boys, where a number of black youth who were accused falsely of raping a woman- was completely false. They would have been lynched. They would have been killed. But the Communist Party intervened.

And they sent lawyers. They started national protests. They basically saved these people’s lives. They also launched campaigns against lynching. In Harlem, which was a national concentration area, the Communist Party did a lot of organizing not only among the unemployed, but the Harlem tenants organizations. They fought in New York City hospitals against discrimination. Like, did you know outside of Harlem, if you’re black, you can’t use a New York City hospital in the 1930s, the Communist Party fought against that.

They were the ones that took the lead. There was no other organization doing that. By the way, on a demonstration in Washington on the Scottsboro thing, They came up against diners and restaurants in Philadelphia and Baltimore, which didn’t want integrated crowds in them. So they launched protests against those diners and restaurants. So it was really a fantastic initiative that the party took on that question.

But there was a there was one problem- with one of the things- and this was once Stalinism took over. The mechanical view of Stalinism to look at the question of national oppression, and to try to mechanically transpose it to the United States, created the slogan that the Communists had for a while, which was “self-determination for the Black Belt.”

And what they meant by that was there was a string of contiguous counties in the southern states of the United States. In these counties, the black population had about 50% of the population or more, and the Communist Party argued that they would have the right to self-determination, they would have a right to separate and create their own nation.

But the problem with that slogan being put forward by the Communist Party is there was already lots of migration and this migration continued and expanded where blacks were moving out of the South, out of the black belt, into the Northeast, into the Midwest, into California. And there was no layer of the black population- the black population as a whole- was not arguing for self-determination.

So for the Communist Party to put forward that slogan of self-determination- there wasn’t even a layer of the black population arguing for it. It could become confused. Because then black people say: “Well, what? I can’t come to New York? I can’t go to Chicago? You want me back in the black belt?” It can create that kind of confusion by having that kind of mechanical stance. So that that that was a mistake that they made at the time.

But other than that, they made a lot of progress. Now, of course, later I’m going to get into the Popular Front. I can’t get into all the specifics, but also- because when they enter into the Popular Front, then they change some of these policies and that’s that’s not so good. But anyways, maybe if I have some time, I’ll come in on that later or I can come in in the summation.

Now, by 1935 things had changed. Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany on January 30th, 1933, and then basically establishes dictatorship. November 16th, 1933, FDR was president of the United States. He diplomatically recognizes the USSR. So the first time, the United States diplomatically recognizes the USSR since the Russian Revolution. You have all of these things going on.

There’s a switch in the Comintern. There’s a switch in the Stalinist bureaucracy, from the ultra left third period, to a new period, what they call the People’s front, or the Popular Front. Now, the people’s Front and the Popular Front was basically this idea that the Communist parties in the working class should make a coalition with what they call the progressive bourgeoisie.

Now, we’ve explained as Marxists that since the period of imperialism, since the rise of imperialism, there is no more progressive bourgeoisie. There is no- FDR is not the progressive bourgeoisie. Biden is not the progressive bourgeoisie. These are absolute illusions. Coalitions with the progressive bourgeoisie also mean- from the popular front, the people’s front idea- is that the workers will not put forward any slogans or any demands that’s going to scare away our allies. They’re going to scare away FDR, scare away whoever else they’re trying to point out. And it was a horrible policy that they implemented. It’s like I said, it more or less went from around 1935 till the end of World War Two, with the short exception of that period of the Hitler Stalin Pact, until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

Now, at the same time, during this popular front, though, because of the Depression, because there’s no other alternative, because they’re the biggest alternative, they’re connected with the one worker state that existed, the Soviet Union. They’re connected with the Comintern. The Communist Party grew, and I would argue it grew in size, not because of the Popular Front, but in spite of the Popular Front.

They grew because of their connection with the Soviet Union, which had full employment, not 30 and 40% unemployment like the United States. They were connected with the country that had free education, unlike the United States, etc., etc. There was also a big change in the labor movement on the labor front. In 1934, there are four big strikes in this country, the Teamsters strike in Minneapolis, led by the Trotskyists, the longshore strike in the San Francisco and the West Coast, led by the Communist Party.

Auto parts strike by the Musteite socialists in Ohio. And then there’s this giant textile strike. All of these strikes are victorious except the textile strike. But they all face vicious repression. The reason the textile strike was defeated ultimately was because it was run by the AFL. The other ones were led by the left, and they succeeded.

And they succeeded in those strikes. Now as a result of that, that eventually creates a split in the Labor leadership in the United States, and a left wing of the AFL led by John L. Lewis- which by the way, John Lewis was a right winger in the twenties and he swung to the left because of the conditions at the time.

John Lewis and the left wing of the AFL split up, they create the CIO. And the growth of the organization- of unions starts at a tremendous pace, basically from 1933 to 1940 you have triple union membership. Triple the union membership. Major industries are organized and they organize industrial unions, autoworkers union- everyone worked for the auto industry in that union. Steelworkers union.

Everyone who worked for steel is in the same union and so on and so forth. The Communist Party played an enormous role in that. In 1940, when the CIO had about 4 million people, about 20% of that membership were in unions led by the Communist Party. I could go through a whole list. Transport Workers Union, United Electrical Workers Union, ILWU, which is West Coast longshore, and go through a whole list if you want later.

All the unions that were led by the Communist Party at that time. In addition to that- the UAW was not as a whole- was not led by the Communist Party, but they had a lot of influence. They had leadership of a lot of the union locals of the UAW. Same thing in steelworkers. They didn’t organize- they didn’t lead the whole steelworkers, but they had a lot of locals and they even had some AFL locals at that time.

So the Communist Party was in a good position in the sense of the influence they had in the working class. But then World War Two comes about. Just to be clear, World War Two was an interimperialist war. It was a war between German imperialism, Italian imperialism, Japanese imperialism on the one hand, versus British imperialism, French imperialism and U.S. imperialism on the other.

It was- in that sense it was like World War One. There was a difference, though. The Germans did invade the workers state, the Soviet Union. That was an imperialist war from the point of view of Germany, but it was not an imperialist war from the point of view of the Soviet Union. We support the Soviet Union and in its fight against Hitler.

And there was also- Jon explained this morning, the battle between Japan and China, which is an imperialist country against a colonial country. We would defend the Chinese against Japanese imperialism, but other than that World War Two, fundamentally, was an interimperialist war. Now, what should be the Marxist position on how to intervene in World War Two?

I don’t have time to go into that, but Comrade Danielle is going to come in on that and explain the proletarian military policy. About what Marxist- how Marxists should have intervened. But I do want to make it clear the Communist Party made a very, very bad mistake there. But part of their popular front, part of their support of Roosevelt meant that they supported U.S. imperialism in World War Two.

They said the way to save the Soviet Union is to support the U.S. imperialist government. So the U.S. imperialist government under FDR, the progressive bourgeoisie, they banned strikes in World War Two. They banned strikes. So what they wanted is they took 14 million men and women, ship them overseas to fight in the war. They had the factories running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They had these workers working like crazy, they controlled their wages.

They could- and there was scarcity in all kinds of things. And while all these masses of the working class are sacrificing for the war effort, guess who was making a ton of money? The American ruling class. The American bourgeois made a ton of money on that. And unfortunately, the Communist Party used its position in the trade unions to be the biggest strikebreakers, to be the biggest proponents of speedup.

And all of those things that the Communist Party did started to undermine the influence that they had built in the 1930s. All that goodwill, all that influence they built- began to be undermined by the role they played in World War Two. And just to show you at the end, if you really thought the U.S.- U.S. imperialism is anti-Nazi. Oh yeah? What did they do after World War Two? What about Operation Paperclip when they’re sneaking all those Nazis into the United States to work? What about Wernher von Braun and his vengeance weapons that he created for Hitler? And then he comes here, he’s the head of NASA. The United States was not against Nazism.

The United States was against German imperialism encroaching in its territory. So we should be clear. But anyways, that can be covered a bit in the discussion. Now, the class collaborationism was extreme and it was set in Moscow. We know in 1943 Stalin dissolves the Comintern. He dissolves the Comintern. He obliterates the Internationale.

They create a new national anthem for the Soviet Union. In the United States, the Communist Party dissolved. It becomes a communist political association. Later, after World War Two we’re in a new period. We’re in the period of the post-World War two red-scare. In that era, U.S. imperialism was the single largest imperialist power. It took all the other imperialist powers, put it under its wing.

U.S. alone had 50% of the world GDP. It had monopoly on the atom bomb until 1949. Stalinism itself was, of course, quite strengthened also after World War Two. But I’m not going to go into that right now. But the U.S., therefore during that Cold War and during the Red Scare that initiated it, basically wanted to try to contain Stalinism and contain the colonial revolution which was raging around the world, and also to attack the militant left wing of the labor movement and to destroy the Communist Party influence on it.

Because, of course, once the Cold War starts, the Communist Party is undissolved, it’s reformed, and then of course, it starts to have a different policy now because they’re not on the team with U.S. imperialism at that time. When the red scare starts, it starts in the labor movement. Now I think my because my time is running I was going to read some quotes, but maybe I can read them in the summation.

But just to show you, one of the big problems with the Communist Party in the Red Scare is that when you’re attacked as a revolutionary, you must fight back. You must make no concessions. In fact, the Communist Party started to give in to this stuff, which is what basically fed the fire. In some of the unions they controlled, they started to try to pass resolutions or make deals like: “Yeah, you could pass a resolution against the communists, but just don’t make it so bad, don’t make it so strong, just make it limited, then we’ll accept it.”

You know, they started to give in to all this stuff. They, they would get called in front of Congress or they’d get called in front of a state legislature. And they instead of saying: “You’re attacking me because I’m a communist, you’re a hypocrite. You exclaim to be for free right- free speech and free rights. And you’re attacking me just because of my beliefs and you’re attacking me because I want a shorter workweek with no loss in pay and free health care.

That’s why you’re attacking me.” They didn’t do that. They got in front of the committee and it’s like: “I plead the Fifth Amendment” which sounded like what the Mafia did when they get called in front of those things, they say, “I plead the Fifth, it could incriminate me,” etc., etc., etc.. This was a big mistake for the Communist Party and how they handled the Red Scare.

And I will say this, though, just quickly, if you wanted to see some of the- maybe I can come in a little bit later on some of the statistics from the Red Scare. How many people were indicted, how many people faced this problem. In spite of all that repression, the Communist Party did not really lose many members up until 1956.

They lost a lot of influence. They lost a lot of the people- the influence they had in the trade union movement and other things. But they actually were able to keep most of the party members united, even having a very bad policy in fighting- on the question of fighting against the repression of the Cold War.

But then everything changes. 1956. Two things happened in 1956. There’s a Hungarian revolution, Hungary, which was a deformed worker’s state. The workers rise up not to fight for capitalism. They wanted to overthrow the bureaucracy. They wanted a democratic worker’s state to be established. And then that gets crushed by Russian tanks. And then also in 1956, you have the Khrushchev revolution. Stalin- who died in 1953- Khrushchev comes out in 56 and he starts talking about the cult of personality and all the horrible things Stalin did. When those two things happened, the Communist Party lost 80% of its membership. According to one estimate, they went to less than 10,000 members, and about 1500, they say, were really informants for the FBI. So it was really a disaster for the Communist Party at that time. I just- I know my time is running out.

So I’ll just quickly say this, that the Communist Party at that point becomes basically an opportunist sect. They also started to move much more towards reformist, openly reformist ideas. To give you an example, their daily paper, which had been known as the Daily Worker, that gets changed to “The Daily World” and on the West Coast, it gets called “The people’s world.” So they start moving away from class terminology.

Now, the Communist Party in the sixties, in the seventies, there was a lot of antiwar movement. They did grow, but they didn’t grow anywhere near as much as other leftist organizations did at that time, like SDS, the SWP, etc.. They didn’t really grow, but I will say this, that Angela Davis and the role they had around the Soledad Brothers was a very interesting thing.

And I will say this: Angela Davis, unfortunately, was never educated and trained as a genuine Marxist. She had a lot of ideas with Marcuse in the Frankfurt School. She had a lot of Stalinist ideas. She was never really trained as a marxist, but that’s probably not her fault. There was never one person there to train her properly. But she was a courageous person in the late sixties, early seventies and the role she played in the Soledad brothers- and she was arrested by- she had to go underground.

She was arrested by the U.S. government. She was tried and framed on a whole bunch of stuff, but she was let off- the jury let let her off, and correctly. And in 1972, when she won that trial, if the Communist Party had at that time run her for president, it’s not a question of votes. They could have recruited thousands of black youth into their organization.

They could have. But the communist leadership, the whole leadership, they didn’t want those new people in the party because then they wouldn’t run the party anymore. So they didn’t. They made sure they didn’t do that. Eventually, the Communist Party continues its reformist politics by the late eighties, nineties. You have the collapse of Stalinism and nobody got hurt more by the collapse of Stalinism than the Stalinists, right?

They used to get subsidies that keep their papers going daily. Once the Soviet Union fell and all those countries fell, the People’s Daily World, their daily paper could no longer come out daily. And then they even had a split in 1991 where people like Angela Davis and Herbert Aptheker, who had been one of their top theoreticians, end up leaving the party.

And then today, the Communist Party doesn’t even have a printed paper. All they have is a website, I believe, for right now. So the CP, unfortunately is nothing but an opportunist sect at this point. But having said that, I don’t think it’s a sad ending. I think actually what we can learn- there’s a lot to learn from this history.

There’s a lot of lessons here, a lot of mistakes we don’t have to make again. A lot of things we can learn from that can improve our ability to build a mass Communist Party. Comrades, some of these people, they really tried to build the Communist Party. They were unsuccessful for a lot of the reasons that we just went over.

But I know, comrades, because we learned this history and because we take a serious approach to Marxist theory, we won’t make those mistakes again. Any mistakes we do make hopefully we’ll be honest enough to admit them and, correct them in time, and therefore we will be successful where other people have not been successful. We will build a mass Communist Party in this country.