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Communist Party USA

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Title: Communist Party USA  
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Collection: 1919 Establishments in the United States, Anti-Fascist Organizations, Anti-Racist Organizations in the United States, Cointelpro Targets, Comintern Sections, Communism in the United States, Communist Parties in the United States, Communist Party USA, Far-Left Politics in the United States, Non-Interventionist Parties, Political Parties Established in 1921, Political Parties in the United States, Soviet Union–united States Relations, William Z. Foster
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Communist Party USA

Communist Party of the
United States of America
Chairman John Bachtell
Founded 1919 (1919)
Headquarters 235 W. 23rd Street, New York City, New York, 10011
Newspaper People's World
Youth wing Young Communist League
Membership est. 2,000[1]
Ideology Communism
Scientific socialism
Political position Left-wing[3] to Far-left[4]
International affiliation International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties
Seats in the Senate
0 / 100
Seats in the House
0 / 435
0 / 50
State Upper Houses
0 / 1,921
State Lower Houses
0 / 5,410

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) is a communist political party in the United States.[5] It is the largest communist party in the country. Established in 1919, it has a long, complex history that is closely related to the U.S. labor movement and the histories of similar communist parties worldwide.

For the first half of the 20th century, the Communist Party was a highly influential force in various struggles for democratic rights. It [7]

By August 1919, only months after its founding, the Communist Party claimed 50,000 to 60,000 members. Members also included mutual aid and tailored cultural activities to an IWO membership that peaked at 200,000 at its height.[8]

But the Communist Party's early labor and organizing successes did not last. As the decades progressed, the combined effects of the second Red Scare, McCarthyism, Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 Secret Speech denouncing the previous decades of Joseph Stalin's rule, and the adversities of the continued Cold War mentality, steadily weakened the Party's internal structure and confidence. The Party's membership in the Comintern and its close adherence to the political positions of the Soviet Union made the party appear to most Americans as not only a threatening, subversive domestic entity, but also as a foreign agent fundamentally alien to the American way of life. Internal and external crises swirled together, to the point where members who did not end up in prison for party activities tended either to disappear quietly from its ranks or to adopt more moderate political positions at odds with the Communists' party line. By 1957, membership had dwindled to less than 10,000, of whom some 1,500 were informants for the FBI.[9]

The party attempted to recover with its opposition to the Vietnam War during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but its continued uncritical support for an increasingly stultified and militaristic Soviet Union increasingly alienated them from the rest of left-wing America, which saw this supportive role as outdated and even dangerous. At the same time, the party's aging membership demographics and noticeably hollow calls for "peaceful coexistence" failed to speak to a new Left in the United States.

With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and his effort to radically alter the Soviet economic and political system from the mid-1980s, the Communist Party finally became estranged from the leadership of the Soviet Union itself. In 1989, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union cut off major funding to the CPUSA due to its opposition to glasnost and perestroika. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the party held its convention and attempted to resolve the issue of whether the Party should reject Marxism-Leninism. The majority reasserted the party's now purely Marxist outlook, prompting a minority faction which urged social democrats to exit the now reduced party. The party has since adopted Marxism-Leninism within its program,[5] In 2014, the new draft of the party constitution declared: "We apply the scientific outlook developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and others in the context of our American history, culture and traditions."[10]

The Communist Party USA is based in New York City. For decades, its West Coast newspaper was the People's World, and its East Coast newspaper was The Daily World.[11] The two newspapers merged in 1986 into the People's Weekly World. The PWW has since become an online only publication, called People's World. The party's former theoretical journal, Political Affairs Magazine, is now also published exclusively online, but the party still maintains International Publishers as its publishing house. In June 2014, the Party held its 30th National Convention in Chicago.[12]


  • History 1
    • Formation and early history (1919–1921) 1.1
    • The Red Scare and the communist party (1919–1923) 1.2
    • The Factional War (1923–1929) 1.3
    • The Third Period (1928–1935) 1.4
    • The Popular Front (1935–1939) 1.5
    • World War II and after (1939–1947) 1.6
    • Second Red Scare (1947–1958) 1.7
    • Party in crisis (1956–1989) 1.8
    • From glasnost to the 21st century (1989–present) 1.9
  • Ideology 2
    • The CPUSA constitution program 2.1
    • Bill of Rights socialism 2.2
    • Living standards 2.3
    • Imperialism and war 2.4
    • Women and minorities 2.5
    • The environment 2.6
    • Religion 2.7
  • Relations with other groups 3
    • The U.S. labor movement 3.1
    • Soviet funding and espionage 3.2
    • Criminal prosecutions 3.3
    • African-Americans 3.4
    • The gay rights movement 3.5
    • The U.S. peace movement 3.6
  • Presidential tickets 4
  • Top party leaders 5
  • See also 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • Further reading 8
  • Archives 9
  • External links 10


Formation and early history (1919–1921)

Executive Secretary of the Communist Labor Party Alfred Wagenknecht.

The first U.S. socialist political party was the Socialist Labor Party, formed in 1876 and for many years a viable force in the international socialist movement. By the mid-1890s, however, the SLP came under the influence of Daniel De Leon, and his communist views led to widespread discontent amongst the members, leading to the formation of the reformist-oriented Socialist Party of America around the turn of the 20th century. A communist-oriented left wing gradually emerged within the SP, much to the consternation of many Party leaders.

In January 1919, after the successful language federations, and many locals; in all, two-thirds of the membership.

The Socialist Party then called an emergency convention on August 30, 1919. The party's Left Wing Caucus made plans at a June conference of its own to regain control of the party, by sending delegations from the sections of the party that had been expelled to the convention to demand that they be seated. However, the language federations, eventually joined by C. E. Ruthenberg and Louis C. Fraina, turned away from that effort and formed their own party, the Communist Party of America, at a separate convention on September 1, 1919. Meanwhile, plans led by John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow to crash the Socialist Party convention went ahead. Tipped off, the incumbents called the police, who obligingly expelled the leftists from the hall. The remaining leftist delegates walked out and, meeting with the expelled delegates, formed the Communist Labor Party on August 30, 1919.[13]

The Comintern was not happy with two communist parties. In January 1920, an order was dispatched instructing the two, together consisting of about 12,000 members, merge under the name United Communist Party, and to follow the party line established in Moscow. Part of the Communist Party of America under the leadership of Charles Ruthenberg and Jay Lovestone did this but a faction under the leadership of Nicholas I. Hourwich and Alexander Bittelman continued to operate independently as the Communist Party of America. A more strongly worded directive from the Comintern eventually did the trick and the parties were merged officially in May 1921. Many of the members came from the ranks of the Industrial Workers of the World and only 5% were native English speakers.[13][14]

The Red Scare and the communist party (1919–1923)

From its inception, the Communist Party USA came under attack from state and federal governments and later the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 1919, after a series of unattributed bombings, and attempted assassinations of government officials and judges (later traced to militant adherents of the radical anarchist Luigi Galleani), the US Department of Justice headed by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, acting under the Sedition Act of 1918, began arresting thousands of foreign-born party members, many of whom the government deported. The Communist Party was forced underground and took to the use of pseudonyms and secret meetings in an effort to evade the authorities.

The party apparatus was to a great extent underground. It re-emerged 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."

During this time, immigrants from Eastern Europe are said to have played a very prominent role in the CPUSA.[15] A majority of the members of the Socialist Party were immigrants and an "overwhelming" percentage of the CPUSA consisted of recent immigrants.[16]

The Factional War (1923–1929)

Executive Secretary C.E. Ruthenberg, 1924.

Now that the above ground element was legal, 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 stopped. The American communists embarked then on the arduous work of locating and winning allies.

That work was, however, complicated by factional struggles within the CPUSA. The party quickly developed a number of more or less fixed factional groupings within its leadership: a faction around the party's Executive Secretary C. E. Ruthenberg, which was largely organized by his supporter

  • CPUSA website, including a collection of FAQs
  • Young Communist League USA youth group
  • People's World weekly newspaper
  • Political Affairs monthly theoretical publication
  • The Communist partial 1927-1944 archives
  • Houston, Tex. Communist Party USA branch
  • Early American Marxism collection of primary source documents (1919–1946)
  • Communism in Washington State History and Memory Project. Retrieved August 19, 2006.
  • Manifesto and program. Constitution. Report to the Communist International.First pamphlet of the CPA.
  • Manifesto to the workers of America.

External links

  • Communist Party of the United States of America Records. 1956-1960. 100 items.
  • Communist Party of the United States of America, Washington State District Records. 1919–2003. 8.93 cubic feet (12 boxes).
  • Marion S. Kinney Papers. Circa 1941-1981. 18 cubic feet and 1 sound tape reel.
  • The Radical Pamphlet Collection at the Library of Congress has materials from the Communist Party of the United States of America.


The number of articles, pamphlets, and books directly or tangentially relating to Communism in America and the CPUSA is vast, numbering into the thousands of titles. For a selection of the most important titles, see Bibliography on American Communism.
  • Arnesen, Eric, “Civil Rights and the Cold War at Home: Postwar Activism, Anticommunism, and the Decline of the Left,” American Communist History (2012), 11#1 pp 5–44
  • Draper, Theodore, The Roots of American Communism. New York: Viking, 1957.
  • Draper, Theodore, American Communism and Soviet Russia: The Formative Period. New York: Viking, 1960.
  • Draper, Theodore, The Roots of American Communism. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers (Originally published by Viking Press in 1957). ISBN 0-7658-0513-8.
  • Howe, Irving and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party: A Critical History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957.
  • Isserman, Maurice, Which Side Were You On?: The American Communist Party During the Second World War. Wesleyan University Press, 1982 and 1987.
  • Jaffe, Philip J., Rise and Fall of American Communism. Horizon Press, 1975.
  • Klehr, Harvey. The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade, Basic Books, 1984.
  • Klehr, Harvey and Haynes, John Earl, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself, Twayne Publishers (Macmillan), 1992.
  • Klehr, Harvey, John Earl Haynes, and Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov. The Secret World of American Communism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Klehr, Harvey, Kyrill M. Anderson, and John Earl Haynes. The Soviet World of American Communism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
  • Lewy, Guenter, The Cause That Failed: Communism in American Political Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Ottanelli, Fraser M., The Communist Party of the United States: From the Depression to World War II. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991.
  • Palmer, Bryan, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890–1928. Urbana, IL: Illinois University Press, 2007.
  • Service, Robert. Comrades!: a history of world communism (2007)
  • Shannon, David A., The Decline of American Communism: A History of the Communist Party of the United States since 1945. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1959.
  • Starobin, Joseph R., American Communism in Crisis, 1943–1957. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.
  • Jacob A. Zumoff, The Communist International and US Communism, 1919-1929. Leiden: Brill, 2014.

Further reading

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ She mentions James Barrett, Maurice Isserman, Robin D. G. Kelley, Randi Storch, and Kate Weigand
  7. ^ Ellen Schrecker, "Soviet Espionage in America: An Oft-Told tale", Reviews in American History, Volume 38, Number 2, June 2010 p. 359. Schrecker goes on to explore why the Left dared to spy.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Gentry, Kurt, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. W. W. Norton & Company 1991. P. 442. ISBN 0-393-02404-0.
  10. ^ New CPUSA Constitution (final draft)
  11. ^ Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957)
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Buhle, Marxism in the USA: From 1870 to the Present Day (1987)
  14. ^ Fraser M. Ottanelli, The Communist party of the United States: from the depression to World War II (1991) p. 10
  15. ^ Klehr, Harvey. Communist Cadre: The Social Background of the American Communist Party Elite. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press.
  16. ^ Glazer, Nathan The Social Basis of American Communism.
  17. ^ Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States: from the Depression to World War II (1991), p. 13.
  18. ^ Ottanelli, The Communist party of the United States: from the depression to World War II (1991), p. 125.
  19. ^ Palmer, Bryan D., "Maurice Spector, James P. Cannon, and the Origins of Canadian Trotskyism". Labour/Le Travail.56 (2005): 72 pars. Nov. 9, 2009.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (2003), p. 419.
  22. ^ Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States: from the Depression to World War II (1991), p. 43.
  23. ^ Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States, ch 2–3
  24. ^ Ryan 1997, p. 172
  25. ^ James G. Ryan, "Socialist Triumph as a Family Value: Earl Browder and Soviet Espionage," American Communist History 1, no. 2 (December 2002).
  26. ^ John E. Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Fridrikh I. Igorevich, The Secret World of American Communism (Yale University Press, 1995).
  27. ^ a b c Ryan 1997, p. 154
  28. ^ a b Ryan 1997, p. 155
  29. ^ Soviet and American Communist Parties in Revelations from the Russian Archives, Library of Congress, January 4, 1996. Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  30. ^ a b Ryan 1997, p. 162
  31. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 43
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b Ryan 1997, pp. 164–5
  34. ^ a b Ryan 1997, p. 166
  35. ^ a b Ryan 1997, p. 168
  36. ^ a b Ryan 1997, p. 186
  37. ^ Ryan 1997, p. 189
  38. ^ John Earl Haynes. Red Scare or Red Menace?: American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era 30 (Ivan R. Dee 1996) ISBN 1-56663-090-8.
  39. ^ Belknap, Michal, R., "Foley Square Trial", in American political trials (Michal Belknap, ed.), Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994, ISBN 9780275944377
  40. ^ History of the FBI: Postwar America: 1945–1960s, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), undated. Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  41. ^
  42. ^ Summers, Anthony, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. G. P. Putnam 1993, p. 191. ASIN: B000LAXNFS.
  43. ^ Gentry, Kurt, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets. W. W. Norton & Company 1991, p. 442. ISBN 0-393-02404-0.
  44. ^ Gentry, p. 442.
  45. ^ Oshinsky, David, M., A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy. Oxford University Press, USA 2005. P. 257. ISBN 0-19-515424-X.
  46. ^ Talbot, David, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years. Free Press 2007, p. 142. ISBN 0-7432-6918-7.
  47. ^ Historian John Haynes: "The CPUSA dried up as a base for Soviet espionage once the administration got serious about internal security and authorized the FBI and other security agencies to vigorously pursue Communists." Haynes, John, Joint Herman and Haynes Book Talk, February, 2000, Borders Book Store, Washington, D.C.
  48. ^ a b c Summers, p. 191.
  49. ^ Foster, William Z., "History of the Communist Party of the United States", International Publishers, 1952.
  50. ^ Foster, "History of the Communist Party of the United States", 1952, p. 1.
  51. ^ Howard Fast, "On Leaving the Communist Party", The Saturday Review, November 16, 1957. Reproduced at, Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  52. ^ Thomas Riggins, "Capitalism, Communism, and Cat Food", Political Affairs, May 9, 2007 (accessed November 9, 2007).
  53. ^ Marilyn Bechtel and Debbie Bell, China 2002: Building socialism with Chinese characteristics, People's Weekly World, March 30, 2002. Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  54. ^ Does the CPUSA advocate the violent overthrow of the government? Don’t all communists advocate violence?, CPUSA FAQ. Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  55. ^ "Communist Party USA Gives Its History to N.Y.U.", article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times, March 20, 2007.
  56. ^ a b CPUSA Constitution Amended July 8, 2001 at the 27th National Convention, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  57. ^ a b c Communist Party Immediate Program for the Crisis, CPUSA FAQ. Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  58. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Program of the Communist Party
  59. ^ See Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter 2.
  60. ^ Bachtell, John. "The Movements Against War and Capitalist Globalization". CPUSA Online. July 17, 2003. Retrieved Apr. 15, 2009.
  61. ^ "War Will Not End Terrorism". Press release of the CPUSA National Board. Oct. 8, 2001. Press Releases. CPUSA Online. Retrieved Apr. 6, 2009
  62. ^ Myles, Dee. "Remarks on the Fight for Women's Equality". Speech given at the 27th National Convention of the CPUSA. Communist Party USA. CPUSA Online. July 7, 2001. Retrieved Apr. 7, 2009.
  63. ^ Trowbdrige, Carolyn. "Communist Party Salutes Women". CPUSA Online. Mar. 8, 2009. Retrieved Apr. 7, 2009.
  64. ^ Section 3d: "The Working Class, Class Struggle, Democratic Struggle, and Forces for Progress: The Working Class and Trade Union Movement Democratic Struggle and its Relation to Class Struggle Special Oppression and Exploitation. Multiracial, Multinational Unity for Full Equality and Against Racism". Program of the Communist Party USA. May 19, 2006. Communist Party USA. CPUSA Online. Retrieved Apr. 7, 2009.
    See also The Communist Party and African-Americans and the article on the Scottsboro Boys for the Communist Party's work in promoting minority rights and involvement in the historically significant case of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s.
  65. ^ "CPUSA Members Mark 5th Anniversary of the War: Ben Davis Club Remembers Those Lost". Mar. 20, 2008. Party eBuilders. CPUSA Online. Retrieved Apr. 7, 2009.
  66. ^ García, Mario T. Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930–1960. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-300-04984-6, ISBN 978-0-300-04984-8.
  67. ^ CPUSA Constitution Amended July 8, 2001 at the 27th National Convention, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Retrieved August 29, 2006. See also Executive Vice Chair Jarvis Tyner's ideological essay, "The National Question". Communist Party USA. CPUSA Online. Aug. 1, 2003. Retrieved April 7, 2009.
  68. ^ a b "Communist Party, USA: Resolution on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights". Convention Resolution. July 20, 2005. Resolution. CPUSA Online. Retrieved Aug. 20, 2012
  69. ^ a b "Gay Pride Month: Communists stand in solidarity". Statement. June 24, 2006. Statement. CPUSA Online. Retrieved Aug. 20, 2012.
  70. ^ a b "What are the CPUSA views on the environment?". Frequently Asked Questions. July 1, 2003. CPUSA Online. Retrieved Apr. 5, 2009.
  71. ^ a b Brodine, Marc. "Global Warming Report to March 2008 NC". National Committee Meeting–March 29–30, 2008. CPUSAOnline.
  72. ^
  73. ^ This claim is made on the personal site of Joseph T Major, Retrieved August 30, 2006. He cites it to Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Kyrill M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism, Yale University Press (1998); ISBN 0-300-07150-7; Document 45, p. 155. The text of a $3 million receipt dated March 19, 1988 is given on the site, but the receipt is not reproduced.
  74. ^
  75. ^ a b Haynes, John Earl, and Klehr, Harvey, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press (2000).
  76. ^ Schecter, Jerrold and Leona, Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History, Potomac Books (2002).
  77. ^ Sudoplatov, Pavel Anatoli, Schecter, Jerrold L., and Schecter, Leona P., Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness – A Soviet Spymaster, Little Brown, Boston (1994).
  78. ^ Title 50 > Chapter 23 > Subchapter IV > § 841. Findings and declarations of fact. US Code collection, on the site of Cornell University. Accessed August 30, 2006.
  79. ^ Retrieved Papers Shed Light On Communist Activities In U.S., Associated Press, January 31, 2001
  80. ^ Weinstein, Allen, and Vassiliev, Alexander, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America – the Stalin Era (New York: Random House, 1999)
  81. ^
  82. ^ Mink, Gwendolyn, and Alice O'Connor. Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and Policy. ABC-CLIO, 2004, p. 194. ISBN 1-57607-597-4, ISBN 978-1-57607-597-5.
  83. ^ In this issue..., Political Affairs, April 2004. Retrieved August 29, 2006.
  84. ^ No to Bush's War!, CPUSA Online, archived on the Internet Archive April 7, 2003.


See also

  • Charles Ruthenberg, Executive Secretary of old CPA (1919–20); Executive Secretary of WPA/W(C)P (May 1922 – 1927)
  • Alfred Wagenknecht, Executive Secretary of CLP (1919–20); of UCP (1920–1921)
  • Charles Dirba, Executive Secretary of old CPA (1920–21); of unified CPA (May 30, 1921 – July 27, 1921)
  • Louis Shapiro, Executive Secretary of old CPA (briefly, late 1920)
  • L.E. Katterfeld, Executive Secretary of unified CPA (July 27, 1921 – October 15, 1921)
  • William Weinstone, Executive Secretary of unified CPA (October 15, 1921 – February 22, 1922)
  • Jay Lovestone Executive Secretary of unified CPA (February 22, 1922 – August 22, 1922); of W(C)P/CPUSA (1927–29)
  • James P. Cannon, National Chairman of WPA (Dec. 1921–22)
  • Caleb Harrison, Executive Secretary of WPA (Dec. 1921 – May 1922)
  • Abram Jakira, Executive Secretary of unified CPA (Aug. 22, 1922–dissolution of underground party in 1923)
  • William Z. Foster, Party Chairman (1929–34)
  • Earl Browder, Party Chairman (1934–45)
  • Eugene Dennis, General Secretary (1945–59) and William Z. Foster, Party Chairman (1945–1957)
  • Gus Hall, General Secretary (1959–2000)
  • Sam Webb, Chairman (2000–2014)
  • John Bachtell, Chairman (2014–present)

Top party leaders

Year President Vice-President Votes
1924 William Z. Foster Benjamin Gitlow 38,669 (0.13%)
1928 William Z. Foster Benjamin Gitlow 48,551 (0.13%)
1932 William Z. Foster James W. Ford 103,307 (0.26%)
1936 Earl Browder James W. Ford 79,315 (0.17%)
1940 Earl Browder James W. Ford 48,557 (0.10%)
1948 No candidate, endorsed Henry Wallace No candidate, endorsed Glen H. Taylor n.a.
1952 No candidate, endorsed Vincent Hallinan No candidate, endorsed Charlotta Bass n.a.
1968 Charlene Mitchell Michael Zagarell 1,077 (0.00%)
1972 Gus Hall Jarvis Tyner 25,597 (0.03%)
1976 Gus Hall Jarvis Tyner 58,709 (0.07%)
1980 Gus Hall Angela Davis 44,933 (0.05%)
1984 Gus Hall Angela Davis 36,386 (0.04%)
1988 No candidate, endorsed Michael Dukakis No candidate, endorsed Lloyd Bentsen n.a.
1992 No candidate, endorsed Bill Clinton No candidate, endorsed Al Gore n.a.
1996 No candidate, endorsed Bill Clinton No candidate, endorsed Al Gore n.a.
2000 No candidate, endorsed Al Gore No candidate, endorsed Joe Lieberman n.a.
2004 No candidate, endorsed John Kerry No candidate, endorsed John Edwards n.a.
2008 No candidate, endorsed Barack Obama No candidate, endorsed Joe Biden n.a.
2012 No candidate, endorsed Barack Obama No candidate, endorsed Joe Biden n.a.

Presidential tickets

The CPUSA was consistently opposed to the United States' 2003–2012 war in Iraq.[84] United for Peace and Justice, currently the largest peace and justice coalition in the United States, includes the CPUSA as a member group, with Judith LeBlanc, who chairs the CPUSA's Peace and Solidarity Commission, being a member of the Steering Committee of UFPJ.

The Communist Party opposed the U.S. involvement in the Korean War, Vietnam War, the invasion of Grenada, and U.S. support for anti-communist military dictatorships and movements in Central America. 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 the Soviet Union.

The U.S. peace movement

The CPUSA endorsed [68] CPUSA affirmed the resolution with a statement a year later in honor of gay pride month in June 2006.[69]

The Seventh Congress of the Comintern made the change in line official in 1935, when it declared the need for a Congress of Industrial Organizations and began supporting African-American civil rights.

The party also sought unity with forces to its right. Earl Russell Browder offered to run as Norman Thomas' running mate on a joint Socialist Party-Communist Party ticket in the 1936 presidential election but Thomas rejected this overture.

The gesture did not mean that much in practical terms, since the CPUSA was, by 1936, effectively supporting Roosevelt in much of his trade union work. While continuing to run its own candidates for office, the CPUSA pursued a policy of representing the Democratic Party as the lesser evil in elections.

Party members also rallied to the defense of the Spanish Republic during this period after a Nationalist military uprising moved to overthrow it, resulting in 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 included blacks and whites integrated on an equal basis.

Intellectually, the fronts".

The CPUSA under Browder supported Stalin's show trials in the Soviet Union, called the Moscow Trials.[27] Therein, between August 1936 and mid-1938 the Soviet government indicted, tried, and shot virtually all of the remaining Old Bolsheviks.[27] Beyond the show trials lay a broader purge, the Great Purge, that killed millions.[27] Browder uncritically supported Stalin, likening Trotskyism to "cholera germs" and calling the purge "a signal service to the cause of progressive humanity".[28] He compared the show trial defendants to domestic traitors Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, disloyal War of 1812 Federalists, and Confederate secessionists, while likening persons who "smeared" Stalin's name to those who had slandered Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.[28]

World War II and after (1939–1947)

The Washington Commonwealth Federation newspaper after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. (original scan)

The CPUSA was adamantly opposed to fascism during the Popular Front period. Although membership in the CPUSA rose to about 75,000[29] by 1938, many members left the party after the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939.While General Secretary Browder at first attacked Germany for its September 1, 1939 invasion of western Poland, on September 11, the CPUSA received a blunt directive from Moscow denouncing the Polish government.[30] Between September 14–16, CPUSA leaders bickered about the direction to take.[30]

On September 17 the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland.[31][32]

The British, French, and German Communist parties, all originally war supporters, abandoned their anti-Fascist crusades, demanded peace, and denounced Allied governments.[33] The CPUSA turned the focus of its public activities from anti-fascism to advocating peace, not only opposing military preparations but also condemning those opposed to Hitler. The CPUSA attacked British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French leader Édouard Daladier, but did not at first attack President Roosevelt, reasoning that this could devastate American Communism, blaming instead Roosevelt's advisors.[33]

In October and November, after the Stalinist Browder to change the CPUSA's support for Roosevelt.[34] On October 23, the CPUSA began attacking Roosevelt.[35]

The CPUSA dropped its boycott of Nazi goods, spread the slogans "The Yanks Are Not Coming" and "Hands Off", set up a "perpetual peace vigil" across the street from the White House and announced that Roosevelt was the head of the "war party of the American bourgeoisie".[35] By April 1940, the CPUSA Daily Worker's line seemed not so much antiwar as simply pro-German.[36] A pamphlet stated the Jews had just as much to fear from Britain and France as they did Germany.[36] In August 1940, after NKVD agent Ramón Mercader killed Leon Trotsky with an ice axe, Browder perpetuated Moscow's fiction that the killer, who had been dating one of Trotsky's secretaries, was a disillusioned follower.[37]

In allegiance to the Soviet Union, the party changed this policy again after Adolf Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

Communist Party USA bookstore in September 1942, with the pro-war slogan "A Second Front Now".

Throughout the rest of World War II, the CPUSA continued a policy of militant, if sometimes bureaucratic, trade unionism while opposing strike actions at all costs. The leadership of the CPUSA was among the most vocal pro-war voices in the United States, advocating unity against fascism, supporting the prosecution of leaders of the Dalton Trumbo and Pete Seeger, recalled anti-war material they had previously released.

Earl Browder expected the wartime coalition between the Soviet Union and the west to bring about a prolonged period of social harmony after the war. In order better to integrate the communist movement into American life the party was officially dissolved in 1944 and replaced by a "Communist Political Association".

That harmony proved elusive, however, and the international Communist movement swung to the left after the war ended. Browder found himself isolated when a critical letter from the leader of the French Communist Party received wide circulation. As a result of this, in 1945 he was retired and replaced by William Z. Foster, who would remain the senior leader of the party until his own retirement in 1958.

In line with other Communist parties worldwide, the CPUSA also swung to the left and, as a result, experienced a brief period in which a number of internal critics argued for a more leftist stance than the leadership was willing to countenance. The result was the expulsion of a handful of "premature anti-revisionists".

Second Red Scare (1947–1958)

More important for the party was the renewal of state persecution of the CPUSA. The Truman administration's loyalty oath program, introduced in 1947, drove some leftists out of federal employment and, more importantly, raised awareness of (or, as critics of Truman said, legitimised notions 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 by supporters 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. Rising popular support for resisting communism inspired 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 still controversial 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 union movement purged party members as well. The CIO formally expelled a number of left-led unions in 1949 after internal disputes triggered by the party's support for Henry Wallace's candidacy for President and its opposition to the Marshall Plan, while other labor leaders sympathetic to the CPUSA either were driven out of their unions or dropped their alliances with the party.

In 1949's Foley Square trial, the FBI prosecuted eleven members of the CPUSA's leadership, including Gus Hall and Eugene Dennis. The prosecution argued that the Party endorsed a violent overthrow of the government; but the defendants countered that they advocated for a peaceful transition to socialism, and that the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and association protected their membership in a political party. The trial – held in Manhattan's Foley Square courthouse – was widely publicized by the media, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine twice. Large numbers of protesters supporting the communist defendants were sent to protest outside the courthouse daily. The defense attorneys used a "labor defense" strategy, which attacked the process of the trial as a capitalist venture that would not provide a fair outcome to proletarian defendants. The tactic, which effectively stated the whole apparatus of the US government was illegitimate, was not well received by the public. During the trial, the defense routinely antagonized the judge and prosecution, and five of the defendants were sent to jail for contempt of court for disrupting the trial. By the end of the trial, public opinion was overwhelmingly against the defendants, and after a ten-month trial, the jury found all 11 defendants guilty, and they were sentenced to terms of five years in federal prison. When the trial concluded, the judge sent all five defense attorneys to jail for contempt of court. Two of the attorneys were subsequently disbarred. The government prosecutors, encouraged by their success, arrested and convicted over 100 additional Party officers in the early 1950s.[39]

The widespread fear of Communism became even more acute after the Soviets' detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 and discovery of Soviet espionage.[40] 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.

Congress outlawed the CPUSA in the Communist Control Act of 1954.[41] However, the act was largely ineffectual thanks in part to its ambiguous language. In the 1961 case, Communist Party v. Catherwood, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the act did not bar the party from participating in New York's unemployment insurance system. No administration has tried to enforce it since.

By the mid-1950s, membership of Communist Party USA had slipped from its 1944 peak of around 80,000[42] to an active base of approximately 5,000.[43] Some 1,500 of these "members" were FBI informants.[44] To the extent that the Communist Party did survive, it was crippled by the penetration activities of these informants, who kept close surveillance on the few remaining legitimate members of the Party on behalf of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover,[45][46] and the CPUSA dried up as a base for Soviet espionage.[47] "If it were not for me", Hoover told a State Department official in 1963, "there would not be a Communist Party of the United States. Because I've financed the Communist Party, in order to know what they are doing".[48] William Sullivan, chief of intelligence operations for the FBI in the 1950s, has also described Hoover's continued zeal in pursuing action against the CPUSA as "insincere", as he was fully aware of the Party's moribund condition.[48] Senator McCarthy had also kept up his attacks on the CPUSA during the 1950s despite also being aware of its impotency.[48]

Against the backdrop of these many setbacks, however, William Z. Foster, who was once again in a leadership role after the ouster of Earl Browder, and who, due to his poor health, had not been brought to trial in 1948 along with a number of other members of the party's leadership, wrote his History of the Communist Party of the United States.[49] "The Party history is the record of the American class struggle, of which it is a vital part. It is the story, in general, of the growth of the working class; the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Negro People; the building of the trade union and farmer movements; the numberless strikes and political struggles of the toiling masses; and the growing political alliance of workers, Negroes, farmers, and intellectuals", says Foster in the first chapter, illuminating a very different perspective of the party, from within.[50]

Party in crisis (1956–1989)

The 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Secret Speech of Nikita Khrushchev to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union criticizing Stalin had a cataclysmic effect on the previously Stalinist majority membership CPUSA.[51] Membership plummeted and the leadership briefly faced a challenge from a loose grouping led by Daily Worker editor John Gates, which wished to democratize the party. Perhaps the greatest single blow dealt to the party in this period was the loss of the Daily Worker, published since 1924, which was suspended in 1958 due to falling circulation.

Most of the critics would depart from the party demoralized, but others would remain active in progressive causes and would often end up working harmoniously with party members. This diaspora rapidly came to provide the audience for publications like the National Guardian and Monthly Review, which were to be important in the development of the New Left in the 1960s.

The post-1956 upheavals in the CPUSA also saw the advent of a new leadership around former steel worker Gus Hall. Hall's views were very much those of his mentor Foster, but the younger man was to be more rigorous in ensuring the party was completely orthodox than the older man in his last years. Therefore, while remaining critics who wished to liberalize the party were expelled, so too were anti-revisionist critics who took an anti-Khrushchev stance.

Many of these critics were elements on both U.S. coasts who would come together to form the Anti-Revisionist and Maoist groups from its ranks.

From glasnost to the 21st century (1989–present)

Headquarters, Manhattan

Ideologically, much appears to be up for grabs, for example regarding China.[52] In a 2002 article in People's Weekly World, CPUSA correspondents Marilyn Bechtel and Debbie Bell said of their trip to the People's Republic of China: "[W]e came away with a new respect for the thoughtfulness, thoroughness, energy and optimism with which the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people are going about the complex, long-term process of building socialism in a vast developing country, which is of necessity part of an increasingly globalized economy".[53]

An overview of the Communist Party's current ideology can be found in the definitive report, "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. The report states, "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."

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, notably the establishment of Communist rule:[54]

While some governments run by people calling themselves Communists have been responsible for horrible acts of violence and repression, notably the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, much if not most of the violence often blamed on revolutionary governments and parties is actually the responsibility of the conservative, reactionary, capitalist governments and parties. ... Many revolutions have been relatively peaceful, including the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Vietnamese Revolution of 1945 . The bloodshed comes when those formerly in power initiate a civil war, or foreign armies invade, trying to reestablish capitalist, feudal, or colonial power. …While we think that an objective, detailed analysis of most situations over the last century would conclude that capitalist and reactionary governments and parties are responsible for most of the violence, it is true that Communists have engaged in armed struggle, are not pacifists, and that some who called themselves Communists have engaged in repressive tactics.

In order to make room for the rental of four floors in the CPUSA national building the CPUSA had to move its extensive archives. The archives of the Communist Party USA were donated in March 2007 to the Tamiment Library at New York University. The massive donation, in 12,000 cartons, included history from the founding of the party, 20,000 books and pamphlets, and a million photographs from the archives of the Daily Worker. The Tamiment Library also holds a copy of the microfilmed archive of Communist Party documents from Soviet Archives held by the Library of Congress and from other materials which documents radical and Left history.[55]

As of 2014 the platform of the party sets forth the following principles for its operations:

  1. a party of the working class, part of the class but its most advanced segment,
  2. a party of socialism,
  3. based on Marxism-Leninism,
  4. engaged in proletarian internationalism, and
  5. organized on the principle of democratic centralism.[2]


The CPUSA constitution program

According to its 2001 Constitution, the party operates on the principle of democratic centralism, its highest authority being the quadrennial National Convention. Article VI, Section 3 of the 2001 Constitution lays out certain positions as non-negotiable:

"struggle for the unity of the working class, against all forms of national oppression, national chauvinism, discrimination and segregation, against all racist ideologies and practices… against all manifestations of male supremacy and discrimination against women ... against homophobia and all manifestations of discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people ..."[56]

Among the points in the party's "Immediate Program" are a $15/hour minimum wage for all workers, national universal health care, and opposition to privatization of 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.[57]

Bill of Rights socialism

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".[58]

Reiterating the idea of property rights in socialist society as it is outlined in Marx and Engels's Communist Manifesto,[59] the Communist Party emphasizes that

"Many myths have been propagated about socialism. Contrary to right-wing claims, socialism would not take away the personal private property of workers", but "the private ownership of major industries, financial institutions, and other large corporations, and the excessive luxuries of the super-rich."[58]

Rather than making all wages entirely equal, the Communist Party USA holds that building socialism would entail "eliminating private wealth from stock speculation, from private ownership of large corporations, from the export of capital and jobs, and from the exploitation of large numbers of workers".[58]

Living standards

Among the primary concerns of the Communist Party are the problems of unemployment, underemployment and job insecurity, which Communism understands as the natural result of the profit-driven incentives of the capitalist economy.
"Millions of workers are unemployed, underemployed, or insecure in their jobs, even during economic upswings and periods of 'recovery' from recessions. Most workers experience long years of stagnant and declining real wages, while health and education costs soar. Many workers are forced to work second and third jobs to make ends meet. Most workers now average four different occupations during their lifetime, many involuntarily moved from job to job and career to career. Often, retirement-age workers are forced to continue working just to provide health care for themselves and their families. Millions of people continuously live below the poverty level; many suffer homelessness and hunger. Public and private programs to alleviate poverty and hunger do not reach everyone, and are inadequate even for those they do reach. With capitalist globalization, jobs move from place to place as capitalists export factories and even entire industries to other countries in a relentless search for the lowest wages."[58]

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".[58] 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.[58]

Imperialism and war

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".[58]

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."[58]

From its ideological framework, the Communist Party understands imperialism as the pinnacle of capitalist development: the state, working on behalf of the few who wield disproportionate power, assumes the role of proffering "phony rationalizations" for economically driven imperial ambition as a means to promote the sectional economic interests of big business.[58]

In opposition to what it considers the ultimate agenda of the conservative wing of U.S. politics, the Communist Party rejects such foreign policy proposals as the Bush Doctrine, rejecting the right of the American government to attack

"any country it wants, to conduct war without end until it succeeds everywhere, and even to use 'tactical' nuclear weapons and militarize space. Whoever does not support the U.S. policy is condemned as an opponent. Whenever international organizations, such as the United Nations, do not support U.S. government policies, they are reluctantly tolerated until the U.S. government is able to subordinate or ignore them."[58]

Juxtaposing the support from the Bush administration-led invasion of Iraq with the many millions of Americans who opposed the invasion of Iraq from its beginning, the Communist Party notes the spirit of opposition towards the war coming from the American public:

"Thousands of grassroots peace committees [were] organized by ordinary Americans... neighborhoods, small towns and universities expressing opposition in countless creative ways. Thousands of actions, vigils, teach-ins and newspaper advertisements were organized. The largest demonstrations were held since the Vietnam War. 500,000 marched in New York after the war started. Students at over 500 universities conducted a Day of Action for 'Books not Bombs.'
"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, D.C.'... officials were flooded with millions of calls, emails and letters.
"In an unprecedented development, large sections of the US labor movement officially opposed the war. In contrast, it took years to build labor opposition to the Vietnam War... Chicago labor leaders formed Labor United for Peace, Justice and Prosperity. They concluded that mass education of their members was essential to counter false propaganda, and that the fight for the peace, economic security and democratic rights was interrelated.[60]

The Party has consistently opposed U.S. involvement in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, and the post-September 11 conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The CPUSA does not believe that the threat of terrorism can be resolved through war.[61]

Women and minorities

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".[56]

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.[62] The Party's ranks include a Women's Equality Commission, which recognizes the role of women as an asset in moving towards building socialism.[63]

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".[64] 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.[65] The Communist Party was instrumental in the founding of the progressive Black Radical Congress in 1998.

Historically significant in Political Affairs One of America's most prominent sexual radicals,

The gay rights movement

in 1998. Black Radical Congress The party's work to appeal to African-Americans continues to this day. It was instrumental in the founding of the [82]Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and many more were one-time members or supporters of the Party, and the Communists also had a close alliance with Harlem Congressman Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Robeson, Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, Lloyd Brown, Shirley Graham Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ann Petry, Richard Wright, Claude McKay, 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, Socialist thought, cultural struggle and more. African American thinkers, artists, and writers such as Claudia Jones, Alphaeus Hunton, Doxey Wilkerson, Claude Lightfoot, Henry Winston, James Jackson, Harry Haywood, William L. Patterson, Benjamin J. Davis, the current executive vice chair of the Party, all ran as presidential or vice presidential candidates on the Party ticket. Others like Jarvis Tyner, and Angela Davis, Charlene Mitchell, James Ford Throughout its history many of the Party's leaders and political thinkers have been African Americans. [81] The Communist Party USA played a significant role in defending the rights of African-Americans during its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s. The


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Criminal prosecutions

In 1993, experts from the Library of Congress traveled to Moscow to copy previously secret archives of Communist Party USA (CPUSA) records, sent to the Soviet Union for safekeeping by party organizers. The records provided an irrefutable link between Soviet intelligence and information obtained by the CPUSA and its contacts in the U.S. government from the 1920s through the 1940s. Some documents revealed that the CPUSA was actively involved in secretly recruiting party members from African-American groups and rural farm workers. Other CPUSA records contained further evidence that Soviet sympathizers had indeed infiltrated the State Department, beginning in the 1930s. Included in CPUSA archival records were confidential letters from two U.S. ambassadors in Europe to Roosevelt and a senior State Department official. Thanks to an official in the State department sympathetic to the Party, the confidential correspondence, concerning political and economic matters in Europe, ended up in the hands of Soviet intelligence.[75][79][80]

"although purportedly a political party, is in fact an instrumentality of a conspiracy... prescribed for it by the foreign leaders... to carry into action slavishly the assignments given...acknowledges no constitutional or statutory limitations... its dedication to the proposition that the present constitutional Government of the United States ultimately must be brought to ruin by any available means, including resort to force and violence... as the agency of a hostile foreign power renders its existence a clear present and continuing danger."[78]

At one time this view was shared by the majority of the United States Congress. In the "Findings and declarations of fact" section of the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 (50 U.S.C. Chap. 23 Sub. IV Sec. 841), it stated,

It was the belief of opponents of the CPUSA such as J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the FBI, and Joseph McCarthy, for whom McCarthyism is named, and other anti-communists that the CPUSA constituted an active conspiracy, was secretive, loyal to a foreign power, and whose members assisted Soviet intelligence in the clandestine infiltration of American government. This is the "traditionalist" view of some in the field of Communist studies such as Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, since supported by several memoirs of ex-Soviet KGB officers and information obtained from VENONA and Soviet archives.[75][76][77]

There are a number of decrypted World War II Soviet messages between NKVD offices in the United States and Moscow, also known as the Venona cables. The Venona cables and other published sources appear to confirm that Julius Rosenberg was responsible for espionage. Theodore Hall, a Harvard-trained physicist who did not join the CPUSA until 1952, began passing information on the atomic bomb to the Soviets soon after he was hired at Los Alamos at age 19. Hall, who was known as Mlad by his KGB handlers, escaped prosecution. Hall's wife, aware of his espionage, claims that their NKVD handler had advised them to plead innocent, as the Rosenbergs did, if formally charged.

Stalin publicly disbanded the Comintern in 1943. A Moscow NKVD message to all stations on September 12, 1943, detailed instructions for handling intelligence sources within the CPUSA after the disestablishment of the Comintern.

Much more controversial than mere funding, however, is the alleged involvement of CPUSA members in espionage for the Soviet Union.

The cutoff of funds in 1989 resulted in a financial crisis, which forced the CPUSA to cut back publication in 1990 of the Party newspaper, the People's Daily World, to weekly publication, the People's Weekly World. (references for this section are provided below).

From 1959 until 1989, when Gus Hall attacked the initiatives taken by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, the CPUSA received a substantial subsidy from the Soviet Union. There is at least one receipt signed by Gus Hall in the KGB archives.[73] Starting with $75,000 in 1959 this was increased gradually to $3 million in 1987. This substantial amount reflected the Party's loyalty to the Moscow line, in contrast to the Italian and later Spanish and British Communist parties, whose eurocommunism deviated from the orthodox line in the late 1970s. Releases from the Soviet archives show that all national Communist parties that conformed to the Soviet line were funded in the same fashion. From the Communist point of view this international funding arose from the internationalist nature of Communism itself; fraternal assistance was considered the duty of Communists in any one country to give aid to their comrades in other countries. From the anti-communist point of view, this funding represented an unwarranted interference by one country in the affairs of another.

Soviet funding and espionage

The Communist Party has sought to play an active role in the US labor movement since its origins as part of its effort to build a mass movement of American workers to bring about their own liberation through socialist revolution. As the prospects for such a social cataclysm have faded over time, the party has increasingly emphasized the ameliorative value of trade unions in capitalist society.

See main article: Communists in the U.S. Labor Movement (1919–1937), Communists in the U.S. Labor Movement (1937–1950)

The U.S. labor movement

Relations with other groups

The Communist Party is not against religion, but instead regards positively religious people's belief in justice, peace and respectful relations among the peoples. To build good relations with supporters of religion, the party has its own Religious Commission.[72]


The Communist Party opposes drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the use of nuclear power until (and unless) there is a safe way to dispose of its waste, and conceives of nuclear war as the greatest possible environmental threat.[70]

"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."[71]
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
"They require long-term planning, massive investment in redesigning and re-engineering, collective input, husbanding resources, social investment in research for long-term sustainability, and major conservation efforts...Various approaches blame the victims. Supposedly the only solution is to change individual consumer choices, since people in general are claimed to cause the problem. But consumers, workers, and poor people don’t have any say in energy plant construction, in decisions about trade or plant relocation or job export, in deciding on tax subsidies to polluting industries like the oil industry."[71]

The Party's most recently released environmental document–the CPUSA National Committee's "2008 Global Warming Report"–takes note of the necessity of "major changes in how we live, move, produce, grow, and market." These changes, the Communists believe, cannot be effectively accomplished solely on the basis of profit considerations:

The Communist Party notes its commitment to participating in environmental movements wherever possible, emphasizing the significance of building unity between the environmental movement and other progressive tendencies.[70]

The environment

The CPUSA endorsed [68] CPUSA affirmed the resolution with a statement a year later in honor of gay pride month in June 2006.[69]

The Communists support an end to racial profiling.[57] The party supports continued enforcement of civil rights laws as well as affirmative action.[57]

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".[67]

[66] published articles detailing their self-criticism of the Party's early views of gay and lesbian rights and praised Hay's work.[83]

The ideological rigidity of the third period began to crack, however, with two events: the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president of the United States in 1932 and Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany 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.

CPUSA General Secretary Earl Browder

The Popular Front (1935–1939)

In 1932, the retiring head of the CPUSA, William Z. Foster, published a book entitled Toward Soviet America, which laid out the Communist Party's plans for revolution and the building of a new socialist society based on the model of Soviet Russia. In that same year Earl Browder became General Secretary of the Party. At first Browder moved the party closer to Soviet interests, and helped to develop its secret apparatus or underground network. He also assisted in the recruitment of espionage sources and agents for the Soviet NKVD. Browder's own younger sister Margerite was an NKVD operative in Europe until removed from those duties at Browder's request.[24] It was at this point that the CPUSA's foreign policy platform came under the complete control of Stalin, who enforced his directives through his secret police and foreign intelligence service, the NKVD. The NKVD controlled the secret apparatus of the CPUSA, including responsibility for various political murders, kidnappings, and assassinations.[25][26]

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 African Blood Brotherhood, some of whose members, particularly Harry Haywood, would later play important roles in communist work among blacks.

In the United States the principal impact of the Third Period was to end the CPUSA's efforts to organize within the AFL through the Trade Union Educational League and to turn its efforts into organizing dual unions through the Trade Union Unity League. Foster went along with this change, even though it contradicted the policies he had fought for previously.

Opposing Stalin's Third Period policies in the Communist Party USA was James P. Cannon. For this action, he was expelled from the party. He then founded the Communist League of America with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, and started publishing The Militant. It declared itself to be an external faction of the Communist Party until, as the Trotskyists saw it, Stalin's policies in Germany helped Hitler take power. At that point they started working towards the founding of a new international, the Fourth International.

The impact of this policy in the United States was counted in membership figures. In 1928 there were about 24,000 members. By 1932 the total had fallen to 6,000 members.[22]

The upheavals within the CPUSA in 1928 were an echo of a much more significant change: Stalin's decision to break off any form of collaboration with western socialist parties, which were now condemned as "social fascists". 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.

The Third Period (1928–1935)

When Lovestone returned to the United States, he and his ally Benjamin Gitlow were purged despite holding the leadership of the party. Ostensibly, this was not due to Lovestone's insubordination in challenging a decision by Stalin, but for his support for American Exceptionalism, the thesis that socialism could be achieved peacefully in the United States. Lovestone and Gitlow formed their own group called the "Communist Party (Opposition)", a section of the pro-Bukharin International Communist Opposition, which was initially larger than the Trotskyists but failed to survive past 1941. Lovestone had initially called his faction the "Communist Party (Majority Group)" in the expectation that the majority of the CPUSA's members would join him, but only a few hundred people joined his new organization.

At the same Congress, Lovestone had impressed the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a strong supporter of Nikolai Bukharin, the general secretary of the Comintern. This was to have unfortunate consequences for Lovestone when, in 1929, Bukharin was on the losing end of a struggle with Stalin and was purged from his position on the Politburo and removed as head of the Comintern. In a reversal of the events of 1925, a Comintern delegation sent to the United States demanded that Lovestone resign as party secretary, in favor of his archrival Foster, despite the fact that Lovestone enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the American party's membership. Lovestone traveled to the Soviet Union and appealed directly to the Comintern. Stalin informed Lovestone that he "had a majority because the American Communist Party until now regarded you as the determined supporter of the Communist International. And it was only because the Party regarded you as friends of the Comintern that you had a majority in the ranks of the American Communist Party".[21]

Ruthenberg died in 1927 and his ally, Lovestone, succeeded him as party secretary. Cannon attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928, hoping to use his connections with leading circles within it to regain the advantage against the Lovestone faction. However Cannon and Communist League of America as a section of Trotsky's International Left Opposition.

Foster, who had been deeply involved in the Steel Strike of 1919 and had been a long-time syndicalist and a Wobbly, had strong bonds with the progressive leaders of the Chicago Federation of Labor and, through them, with the Progressive Party (United States, 1924) and nascent farmer-labor parties. Under pressure from the Comintern, however, the party broke off relations with both groups in 1924. In 1925 the Comintern, through its representative Sergei Gusev, ordered the majority Foster faction to surrender control to Ruthenberg's faction; Foster complied. The factional infighting within the CPUSA did not end, however; the Communist leadership of the New York locals of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union lost the 1926 strike of cloakmakers in New York City in large part because of intra-party factional rivalries.[18]


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