Category: About the CPUSA
The Forgotten World of Communist Bookstores
| August 18, 2017 | 6:21 pm | About the CPUSA | No comments

http://portside.org/2017-08-17/forgotten-world-communist-bookstores

The Forgotten World of Communist Bookstores

https://jacobinmag.com/2017/08/communist-party-cpusa-bookstore-fbi
Portside Date:
August 17, 2017
Author:
Joshua Clark Davis
Date of Source:
Friday, August 11, 2017
Jacobin

 

Their names proclaimed a new age: The Modern. The Progressive. The New Era. The New World. Others looked to the past, evoking American political heroes like Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln.

They were targets of FBI investigations and congressional hearings on “un-American activities.” J. Edgar Hoover condemned them for selling publications that “indoctrinate . . . members and sympathizers” of the Communist Party and “propagandize the non-communist masses.”

While largely forgotten today, communist bookstores were one of the most important public spaces for Marxism in the United States in the twentieth century. Most Americans didn’t personally know a communist. But in cities across the country, radicals made their presence known at unassuming bookstores. Teeming with texts by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, these stores also stocked the Daily Worker [1] and the latest publications by party officials from the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries around the world.

Communist bookstores provided a critical public space for radicals, operating in virtually every major American city. Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York had several apiece. Smaller and ostensibly less radical locales such as Birmingham, Houston, and Omaha, had communist bookstores, too.

Decades before alt-right trolls viciously attacked left-wing writers online, right-wing extremists targeted communist booksellers, accusing them of the most insidious crimes imaginable. “Visit any Communist bookstore in the United States and you will find books printed in Moscow and Peking in English for one, two, and three-year-old babies,” warned Fred Schwarz, author of the 1956 redbaiting bestseller You Can Trust the Communists (To Be Communists) [2]. “The Communists want the children. They do not care so much about the adults whom they consider as already contaminated with the disease of Capitalism and consequently of little use to them.”

It’s not entirely clear when communists first sold books in the US. But almost as soon as they split off from the Socialist Party of America to form their own parties in 1919, communists opened their own bookstores, too.

Communist booksellers immediately became targets of state repression as they faced an intense postwar backlash [3] against so-called subversion. In 1919, the New York legislature established a committee to investigate “seditious activities” in the state. As part of the investigation, a group of fifty state police officers and right-wing volunteers led by Deputy Attorney General Samuel Berger raided the People’s House bookshop of the Rand School of Social Science, then New York’s premier radical educational center. The investigators seized communist books and papers, but prosecutors eventually failed to convict the bookstore’s employees of sedition.

As avowed anticapitalists, communists made for unlikely business owners. But as entrepreneurs, their objective was to promote ideology and cover costs, not maximize profits. Red bookstores spread rapidly as the ranks of the consolidated Communist Party of the United States of America [4] (CPUSA) swelled during the Depression. By the end of the 1930s, roughly fifty communist bookstores were open for business. Their politics were also paradoxical. Unwavering supporters of Stalin abroad, American communists were relentless champions of democracy and civil liberties at home. And their bookstores helped them circulate a domestic agenda of racial and social equality.

Communists in the US were sophisticated marketers. International Publishers (IP), the official CPUSA publishing house operated by Alexander Trachtenberg, oversaw an extensive network for distributing communist publications in the US. Trachtenberg, a Ukrainian Jew who had fled Russian pogroms for the United States in 1906, managed IP since it was founded by the party and wealthy socialist A. A. Heller in 1924. The CP paid in advance for texts written by party leaders, typically placing bulk orders in the range of five thousand copies prior to publication but sometimes distributing as many as one hundred thousand. Every party branch across the country had an official “literature agent” that worked with the bookstores and IP to make sure that official texts ended up in the hands of party members (who received a discount of up to 60 percent on publications).

A 1941 advertisement in the Daily Worker suggests the CP’s sales priorities that year. The ad for the Workers Book Shop in New York announced “150,000 volumes to be sold” in “the greatest sale in our history.” In addition to classics like the collected works of Lenin and Marx and Engels’s writings on the American Civil War, the store offered less remembered (and more intimidating) titles like J. B. S. Haldane’s Marxist Philosophy and the Sciences, David Guest’s A Textbook of Dialectical Materialism, and Eugen Varga and Lev Mendelsohn’s New Data for Lenin’s Imperialism for as little as 49 cents apiece.

But business acumen didn’t protect communist booksellers from state repression. One of the most notorious attacks they faced was in Oklahoma City, where local police raided the CP’s Progressive Book Store in August 1940, arresting almost twenty employees and customers and confiscating thousands of books, pamphlets, and newspapers. Four CP booksellers were tried for violating the state’s laws against “criminal syndicalism.” Prosecutors offered confiscated communist texts as evidence of plans for insurrection, and the four defendants were easily convicted.

The Oklahoma case became a lightning rod for radicals and civil libertarians across the country, mirroring national campaigns to free such imprisoned communists as the black labor organizer Angelo Herndon and CPUSA general secretary Earl Browder [5]. In February 1943, more than two years after the raids, the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals finally overturned the booksellers’ convictions.

The FBI was also keenly interested in communist bookstores. The bureau’s files on the managers of the CP’s Free State Bookshop in Baltimore offer a vivid portrait of the ins and outs of running a communist bookstore during the party’s apex in the 1930s and ’40s.

From 1937 to the late 1940s, Alexander Munsell and his wife, Louise Ellen Munsell, operated the Free State in downtown Baltimore next to the local CPUSA chapter’s headquarters. A disheveled eccentric who renounced his bourgeois upbringing, Alexander was an industrial heir who had donated much of his fortune to the CPUSA and joined the Maryland state party’s leadership.

In hundreds of pages of documents, plainclothes FBI agents and informants reported in mundane detail their visits to the Free State Bookshop and another Munsell-operated store, the Frederick Douglass Bookshop, which the bureau described as a “Communist Party literature distribution point in the Negro section of [West] Baltimore.”

For more than a decade, the two stores functioned as the leading public spaces for Baltimore’s CP branch. In addition to offering space for party meetings and “new members classes,” the shops were used to recruit new members, prepare petitions, and organize protest campaigns.

The Free State and the Frederick Douglass dealt with many of the same challenges facing ordinary small businesses. The Munsells applied for business licenses with the city and balanced their books, or at least tried to. Keeping up with bills wasn’t always easy and local CP leaders worried about the store’s deficits. Funds from bookstore sales were badly needed to help cover the local party’s operating costs.

The Daily Worker once suspended shipment of its newspaper to the Free State when it fell too far behind on payments. Alexander Munsell complained to the newspaper that “all of us here in Baltimore who work vigorously to win the war by selling the Worker were puzzled by the fact that the Worker did not arrive,” but a circulation manager informed him the newspaper had no other choice for dealing with delinquent bookstore accounts. It seems that even anticapitalists couldn’t entirely ignore the bottom line.

Communist bookstores weren’t just focused on political ideology. They also flourished as hubs of avant-garde culture and various kinds of free thought. They were especially important in smaller, more conservative cities where — in contrast to Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York — few public spaces supported artistic and intellectual experimentation.

Literary scholar James Smethurst has shown [6], for example, how critical communist bookstores were for the mid-century Black Arts Movement. In Birmingham in the 1930s, a young musician by the name of Herman Blount — later known as Sun Ra, the incomparable jazz bandleader — regularly visited the party’s Ella Speed Bookstore, where he enjoyed public lectures and conversations on culture and politics with employees and customers. Decades later in Baltimore, the Black Arts poet Sam Cornish frequented the Free State’s successor, the New Era Bookstore, which published one of Cornish’s earliest poetry collections under its in-house Sacco Publishers imprint (named for Sacco and Vanzetti).

But even as political and artistic communities thrived around these bookstores, they faced a new wave of hardships in the Red Scare following World War II. Congress subpoenaed radical booksellers and publishers to testify and answer questions from elected officials about the details of their business. By the late 1950s, the bookstores’ numbers declined sharply amid plummeting party membership, internal schisms, and nationwide repression.

Those that remained in business often endured attacks at the hands of anonymous assailants. In Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, CPUSA bookstores were hit with bricks, Molotov cocktails, and even bombs in the 1960s. Members of the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society were believed to be responsible for many of these assaults.

Despite these challenges, surviving communist bookstores enjoyed a small renaissance in the late 1960s and 1970s. The New Communist Movement [7] — an ultra-left offshoot of the New Left — launched an array of Marxist-Leninist organizations and sought to radicalize existing unions in these years. But in the 1980s and ’90s, two unforeseen transformations overwhelmed this modest uptick in activity.

First, and most dramatically, nearly twenty Communist governments fell in a three-year-stretch. The Soviets had directed American Communists and overseen their bookstores for decades, so the Berlin Wall’s collapse and the implosion of state socialism — despite being a boon for free expression in the Eastern Bloc — had a deleterious effect on communist bookstores in the US.

Second, there was the rise of bookstore chains. As stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders aggressively expanded in the mid-to-late 1990s, they began to sell many of the books that had once been the specialty of more radical independents — not only Marxist booksellers, but also black leftist and feminist bookstores. And as online booksellers like Amazon became household names by the end of the decade, Americans could purchase virtually any book with an ISBN number with a just few clicks of a mouse. Today, many bestselling communist texts are available for free online on sites like Marxists.org [8].

Some radical brick-and-mortar bookstores still operate today. Few identify strictly as communist, and even fewer are associated with the CPUSA, a party that has struggled in recent decades to reach even ten thousand members. Newer independent radical bookstores such as Red Emma’s [9] in Baltimore and Bluestockings [10] in New York’s East Village draw customers with cafes and frequent speaker events.

Venture into one of these shops and you’ll glimpse the legacy of a bygone era, one in which communist bookstores — despite facing considerable financial and political hardships — helped their customers envision radical worlds that were often otherwise unimaginable in America.

[Joshua Clark Davis is the author of From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs and an assistant professor of history at the University of Baltimore.]

The Unexpected Afterlife of American Communism

The Opinion Pages

The Unexpected Afterlife of American Communism

Photo

Claudia Jones arriving for a court date in 1951. Credit George Alexanderson/The New York Times

The Communist, in the American imagination, has always been the ultimate outside agitator.

No matter how homegrown a resistance movement was, or how local the organizers were, the first response from those facing protest has always been to blame an outsider. This was as true for town hall protests during the February 2017 congressional recess as it was for anti-lynching struggles more than 80 years ago during the Great Depression.

For much of the past century in this country, this undesirable alien — seen as being from someplace foreign and in need of deportation back there — stood accused of invading to stir up trouble where there was none, where previously the locals had been docile and willing to accept whatever everyday inequality was their lot. Though many Communists were indeed immigrants, who would be targeted for harassment and deportation for as long as the party existed, many, too, were homegrown, born and raised in the same cities and towns as their persecutors.

The Communist Party U.S.A., founded in 1919, was closely tied to what emerged as the Soviet Union after the 1917 October Revolution, but the American party also drew on decades of local radical organizing. Many of its members came out of the Socialist Party, the labor movement and even anarchist activism, but the party also found a base among African-Americans when Communists proved willing to take on their struggles for self-determination.

In short, American Communism was a movement that grew out of what the historian Robin D. G. Kelley, the author of “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression,” calls “the most despised and dispossessed elements of American society.” It was the black workers drawn to the party, Professor Kelley argues, who shaped its political choices as much as the varying dictates that came from the Communist International, Moscow’s directorate for foreign parties.

During the Depression, the party took on fights not just for better wages and working conditions but also against evictions by landlords and abuses of the criminal punishment system. In the Deep South, the battle for freedom for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape in 1931, was led by the International Labor Defense, a legal arm of the Communist Party U.S.A.

That stand still inspires activists today. The Scottsboro case was what drew the organizer and educator Mariame Kaba, who runs the blog Prison Culture, to learn more about the Communist Party U.S.A.

“They were helping nine young black men,” she said, “and preventing their state-sanctioned murder for a crime they didn’t commit.”

In the 1930s, the party taught its members to discuss their problems using the language of exploitation. This language meant that people “understood that racism and what they called male chauvinism wasn’t simply people acting badly or being psychologically controlled or being ignorant,” Professor Kelley said. “It was about the benefits that they derived from exploitative relationships.”

That framework, which has been revisited today in platform documents like “A Vision for Black Lives,” argues that racism, at root, is not about hate between groups, but about the way power is held in society. And class, according to this analysis, is created by relationships of exploitation.

These arguments were championed by organizers like Claudia Jones, a black leader within the Communist Party U.S.A. and a journalist for its newspaper, The Daily Worker. According to Charlene Carruthers, the national director of Black Youth Project 100, Ms. Jones expounded the idea now known as intersectionality decades before that term became so ubiquitous that Hillary Clinton used it in a tweet on the campaign trail. For Ms. Jones, understanding the lives of black women and the economic and social position they occupied would create a better understanding of the system of capitalism as a whole. It followed, Ms. Carruthers explains, that black women’s work was central in the struggle to replace the system.

Within organized labor, particularly the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1940s, the Communist-led unions were consistently the leaders on racial and gender equality. Sometimes this clashed with the wishes of white male members, who occasionally went on strike against the inclusion of black members. With the eventual purge of such so-called red unions from the federation, the cause of antiracism slipped to the sidelines. Only in the past decade or so has it returned as a priority for some unions.

Yet for all the work that went into killing the idea that another system was possible, the specter of Communism haunts us still. The Communist Party U.S.A. had its greatest successes as the country reeled from the Depression. Today, as we are still picking our way out of the rubble left by the crash of 2008, left-wing ideas have gained new purchase. It was the material conditions of people’s lives, Ms. Kaba points out, that made them willing to listen to something radically different during the 1930s and ’40s. It was that economic reality that drove millions of people to pay attention to both the nationalist bombast of Mr. Trump and the democratic socialist message of Bernie Sanders.

The year 2016 saw a revolt against politics as usual, with the mainstream parties’ failing to offer much in the way of solutions to struggling people across the United States. In the wake of the election, Ms. Carruthers said, organizations like Black Youth Project 100 have to broaden the scope of their work while cleaving to their political vision. Courting the supposed white mainstream while ignoring the material needs of black people, immigrants, transgender people and other marginalized communities will not placate Trumpian efforts to foment fear of the un-American outsider.

The power of the radical agitator — homegrown as well as outsider — has always been the ability to expose the gap between the narrative of American greatness and the realities of people’s lives. What American Communists, at their best, pioneered was to show how effectively grass-roots movements can challenge the racism, state violence and economic exploitation that people face in their daily lives, and connect those fights to a broader vision of a just world.

America’s obsession with rooting out communism is making a comeback

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/anti-communist-laws-california-trump-russia

California shoots down bill to strike language barring Communist party members from government jobs as Trump’s alleged Russia ties stoke cold war sentiments

Statue of worker and collective farm woman by Vera Mukhina, in Moscow, Russia<br>MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 13, 2017: The statue of a worker and collective farm woman by Vera Mukhina at the main entrance to the VDNKh exhibition complex. Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS (Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)


Is a new ‘red scare’ gripping the US? Photograph: Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

America’s obsession with rooting out communism is making a comeback

California shoots down bill to strike language barring Communist party members from government jobs as Trump’s alleged Russia ties stoke cold war sentiments

It was a scene straight out of the 1950s, but the year was 2017. Travis Allen, a Republican from southern California, took to the floor of the state assembly on 8 May to denounce communism. “To allow subversives and avowed communists to now work for the state of California,” he railed, “is a direct insult to the people of California who pay for that government.”

Allen was speaking out against a move to remove language from the California code that that bars members of the Communist party from holding government jobs in the state.

Anti-communist language remains on the books in several states, and in California, at least, it’s not going anywhere. After facing backlash from Republicans, veterans and the Vietnamese American community, the bill’s sponsor, the Democratic assemblyman Rob Bonta, announced last week that he would not move forward with the bill.

With intrigue about Russia driving the daily news cycle, cold war sentiments are bubbling up again, despite the fact that our erstwhile adversary is decidedly capitalist these days. It’s a marked reversal from just a year ago, when an astonishing number of Americans embraced the candidacy of a self-identified socialist, and a reminder of how deep anti-communist suspicion runs through the American psyche.

Bonta is not the first legislator to fail in an attempt to drag state laws into the 21st century. A similar effort was made in California in 2008, when a bill passed only to be vetoed by the then governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I see no compelling reason to change the law that maintains our responsibility to ensure that public resources are not used for purposes of overthrowing the US or state government, or for communist activities,” the governor wrote in his veto statement.

Joe Fitzgibbon, a Democratic state representative in Washington, has attempted three times since 2012 to pass legislation getting rid of his state’s law barring communists from voting or having government jobs, but he has faced considerable opposition from Republicans.

He called the law “a mark of shame for Washington state” in a recent interview with the Guardian, and said he would keep trying.

“I wonder if now that Republicans have a different opinion on Russia, if maybe they’ll be more receptive,” he said. “My hope is that they will change their tune on whether people should be discriminated against for their political beliefs. Maybe they can talk to their Russian friends about that.”

Lest there be any misunderstanding: members of the Communist party are currently allowed to hold government jobs in every American state. Such laws were passed around the country during the so-called red scare of the 20th century, but they have long since been ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court.

Some states have managed to move on. Arizona lawmakers voted in 2003 to update the state’s loyalty oath. Now, instead of swearing they are not members of of the Communist party, elected officials and public employees must vow not to be terrorists. Candidates for elected office in Illinois still receive a loyalty oath when they register to run, but filling it out is optional. Pennsylvania stopped requiring candidates to sign a loyalty oath in 2006, after a Socialist Worker party candidate objected.

While these red scare relics can seem comical, Michael Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said they could still have serious consequences. “Occasionally someone will dredge them up and use them to try to scare people … to stop them from speaking out,” he said.

In 2006, he recalled, a California legislator asked the state attorney general whether an anti-subversive law could be used to go after Mexican American student activists. At the time, there was considerable rightwing suspicion about the student group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) and its supposed goal of reconquista, or returning California and other parts of the south-west to Mexico.

“The danger is not so much that someone will be sentenced to life in prison, but that they will be restrained from doing something that they would otherwise do,” Risher said.

In New York City, a public school principal has been placed under investigation over allegations of recruiting students to join the Progressive Labor party, a communist group. The principal, Jill Bloomberg, is an outspoken critic of racial inequality in the school system, and she has sued the city’s department of education for violating her civil rights.

Either way, she said the investigation had placed a pall over her school, as teachers second-guess their ability to speak freely to their students. “If you’re teaching the Harlem renaissance and the civil rights movement, can you say Paul Robeson was proud to be a member of the Communist party?” she asked. “Or can you only talk about communism if you present it as a negative?”

For Rossana Cambron, a national vice-chair of the Communist Party USA, which has about 5,000 members, the failure of Bonta’s bill was “very disappointing”. Still, she said, such efforts are in no way a priority.

“We’re too busy fighting Trump to be looking into those kind of things.”

Reply to IWPCHI

By James Thompson

We received this comment in response to the article we posted: http://houstoncommunistparty.com/beyond-the-discourse-macron-and-le-pens-programs-for-france/

“We found the link to this article from your Twitter feed and followed it in the hope that the CPUSA – and/or your French comrades – might have something interesting to say about the French elections. We were not surprised to be disappointed. This is a worthless “analysis” piece taken word-for-word from the bourgeois press; it hides the truth about these candidates, portraying them as if they did not represent any of the contending classes in a capitalist society but were existing in some magical metaphysical plane “above” or “beyond” “mere” class analysis. If we wanted to know what the bourgeoisie thought about the French elections we could just read Le Temps or Paris Match. Have the “Communist Party” Stalinists given up even pretending to be Marxist dialecticians these days?

There are revolutionary socialist workers parties in France, are there not? What are their critiques of Macron, Le Pen and all the other shameless servants of the hideous French bourgeoisie? That would be interesting to read; this is not even good bourgeois press analysis.

 

Workers of the World, Unite! Return to the Revolutionary Road of Lenin and Trotsky! Long Live the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917!

 

Independent Workers Party of Chicago”

We appreciate all comments in response to the articles we post, but reserve the duty to respond.

We were not surprised to be disappointed with the splitting tactics of self serving Trots. We understand that that is what Trots do to disrupt any progress of the working class.

First, we are not affiliated in any way with the CPUSA. They expelled us when we questioned their unquestioning allegiance to the Democratic Party.

Second, we will be happy to post any analysis from French Communists when we find it. This article was posted in Telesur, which is a beacon of truth in the struggle to continue to revolutionary government of Venezuela.We posted it because we found it interesting. It merely delineates the positions of the two candidates in the runoff election in France. Maybe we missed something, but we did not notice that there are any Trots in the runoff. We do not endorse any articles we post from other sources, but offer them for educational and informational purposes to the working class in its struggle to attain political power.

Of course, political struggle is anathema to counterrevolutionary Trots who seek to split and divide the working class into an infinitesimal number of splinter organizations. When the working class is divided, the bourgeoisie will continue to prevail.

If you do not have knowledge of your enemies, you cannot fight them effectively and instead must cling to hollow, meaningless slogan tributes to the villainous traitor to the revolutionary process, Trotsky.

History has proven that Trotsky worked as a German agent in the effort to sabotage the Soviet Union. His palatial home in Mexico City proves he was on the bourgeois payroll.

We recognize that the Soviet Union was an outstanding experiment in socialism, but it failed due to the sell out to the bourgeoisie led by Gorbachev. Trotsky’s machinations and those of his pathetic followers contributed to the surrender of the USSR.

We reject the characterization of our website as “Stalinist”, but realize that that is merely Trots at play using any lie they can conjure up to split the working class.

It is not necessary to respond to the Trotskyite gibberish which reveals their lack of knowledge of the class struggle.

When Communism Inspired Americans

New York Times, April 30, 2017
When Communism Inspired Americans
by Vivian Gornick

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/29/…/when-communism-inspired-americans.html

At a rally in New York City in 1962, the famously liberal journalist Murray Kempton said to an audience full of old Reds: “I have known many Communists in my life. I have not known them as criminals. I knew them once as activists — and we had our quarrels. But while this country has not been kind to you, it has been fortunate in having you. You have been arrested, you have been followed, you have had your phones bugged, you have had your children fired. Throughout this, I can think of numbers of you I have known who have remained gallant and pleasant and unbroken.” He added, “I salute you and I hope for times to be better.”

My mother was in the audience that night and said, when she came home: “America was fortunate to have had the Communists here. They, more than most, prodded the country into becoming the democracy it always said it was.”

My parents were working-class socialists. I grew up in the late 1940s and early ’50s thinking of them and their friends as what they themselves called “progressives.” The sociology of the progressive world was complex. At its center were full-time organizers for the Communist Party, at the periphery left-wing sympathizers, and at various points in between everything from rank-and-file party card holders to respected fellow travelers.

In my childhood, these distinctions did not exist for me. The people who came to our Bronx apartment or were present at the fund-raising parties we attended, the rallies we went to, and the May Day parades we marched in were all simply progressives. At the kitchen table they drank tea, ate black bread and herring, and talked “issues.” I understood nothing of what they said, but I was always excited by the richness of their rhetoric, the intensity of their arguments, the urgency and longing behind that hot river of words that came pouring ceaselessly from them.

They were voyagers on that river, these plumbers, pressers and sewing machine operators; and they took with them on their journey not only their own narrow, impoverished experience but also a set of abstractions with transformative powers. When these people sat down to talk, Politics sat down with them, Ideas sat down with them; above all, History sat down with them. They spoke and thought within a context that lifted them out of the nameless, faceless obscurity into which they had been born, and gave them the conviction that they had rights as well as obligations. They were not simply the disinherited of the earth, they were proletarians with a founding myth of their own (the Russian Revolution) and a civilizing worldview (Marxism).

While it is true that thousands of people joined the Communist Party in those years because they were members of the hardscrabble working class (garment district Jews, West Virginia miners, California fruit pickers), it was even truer that many more thousands in the educated middle class (teachers, scientists, writers) joined because for them, too, the party was possessed of a moral authority that lent shape and substance, through its passion for structure and the eloquence of its rhetoric, to an urgent sense of social injustice.

Most Communists never set foot in party headquarters, laid eyes on a Central Committee member, or were privy to policy-making sessions. But every rank-and-filer knew that party unionists were crucial to the rise of industrial labor; party lawyers defended blacks in the South; party organizers lived, worked, and sometimes died with miners in Appalachia; farm workers in California; steel workers in Pittsburgh. What made it all real were the organizations the party built: the International Workers Order, the National Negro Congress, the Unemployment Councils. Whenever some new world catastrophe announced itself throughout the Depression and World War II, The Daily Worker sold out in minutes.

It is perhaps hard to understand now, but at that time, in this place, the Marxist vision of world solidarity as translated by the Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified. It was to this clarity of inner being that so many became not only attached, but addicted. No reward of life, no love nor fame nor wealth, could compete with the experience. It was this all-in-allness of world and self that, all too often, made of the Communists true believers who could not face up to the police state corruption at the heart of their faith, even when a 3-year-old could see that it was eating itself alive.

I was 20 years old in April 1956 when Nikita Khrushchev addressed the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and revealed to the world the incalculable horror of Stalin’s rule. Night after night the people at my father’s kitchen table raged or wept or sat staring into space. I was beside myself with youthful rage. “Lies!” I screamed at them. “Lies and treachery and murder. And all in the name of socialism! In the name of socialism!” Confused and heartbroken, they pleaded with me to wait and see, this couldn’t be the whole truth, it simply couldn’t be. But it was.

The 20th Congress report brought with it political devastation for the organized left around the world. Within weeks of its publication, 30,000 people in this country quit the party, and within the year it was as it had been in its 1919 beginnings: a small sect on the American political map.

The effective life of the Communist Party in the United States was approximately 40 years in length. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were Communists at one time or another during those 40 years. Many of these people endured social isolation, financial and professional ruin, and even imprisonment. They were two generations of Americans whose lives were formed by political history as were no other American lives save those of the original Revolutionists. History is in them — and they are in history.

Vivian Gornick is the author, most recently, of the memoir “The Odd Woman and the City.”

John Bachtell divides the working class by splitting the CPUSA: Whatever happened to “Unity, the only way!”?

John Case’s view of the CPUSA under John Bachtell’s leadership via the Socialist Economics listserv:

With the best of intentions and sentiments, CP leader Bachtell delivers a typically impotent CP rebuke to fascism. The fascist threat will be rebuked when its driving cause, 40 years of Austerity, is directly addressed and reversed. Not before. Bachtell does not even mention that. Doing that would mean raising, not burying, effacing, minimizing or damning with faint praise, class politics in the midst of reveling in the abundance of “resistance” movements. Hat tips from “Communists” to these movements are no doubt elevating to the tipper. But who in the movements cares? the CP represents no class, none,  Airy speculations about all-peoples fronts and such from those with no base, and no prospects of one, are just that: hot air.

I suspect the faction online advocating that the whole Trump affair, and now the fate of democracy, is mainly about race and not class is loud in party ranks. I guess THEY won’t be contending, like Sanders, “the new center” — Joe Manchin— in the coalfields of West Virginia. Or engaging the gas fields either, with those evil pipeline workers and their building trades unions  begging Trump — not the “multi-class allies” — for jobs at a living wage.

Bachtell offers this, for those who might be tempted to criticize, like Sanders, the new “center”: Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia:  “These approaches [that] advocate war against the political center at a moment when center-left unity is absolutely necessary…”
 
Unity on what? Does the “unity” include  — first — reversing austerity, which, by the way, does NOT require overthrowing capitalism, but does require a determined class struggle against the rights and prerogatives of billionaires? If not, it won’t amount to dogshit in repairing working class disunity. And if that is not repaired, all the “multi-class” coalitions in the world won’t remove the fascists, and the fetid petri dish of austerity in which they thrive and are reborn. If you do not use a class approach — who are YOUR people, YOUR way of life — if ordinary people are not drawn into motion in the millions, you wont ever know what the basis of popular unity really is. For example — you might find that fixing austerity HAS TO COME BEFORE bathroom rights in North Carolina, if you were listening to millions, not the “left”.
 
Of course this discourse is all a waste of time with the CP and some similar orgs — orgs with no base have no real way of politically verifying their positions, and thus can remain firmly planted in mid-air for lifetimes. It was effectively liquidated in the 50’s by a combination of repression and sectarianism. It revived a half Zombie existence in the sixties at the pleasure of the  CPSU and a quid pro quo with the Kennedy Administration. It’s leaders got out of jail. It succeeded in getting Angela Davis out of jail — its singular post-war actual accomplishment, beyond a repository of militant memories. Soviet cash helped pay for the paper and presidential campaigns of Gus Hall. Which makes the CP going after Trump for foreign interference a bit, well, compromised to say the least.
But I offer it as an example of what not to do as the resistance goes forward.
Stay away from sectarian outfits with “profound world-scale views” but no legs, and giant suitcases of dead weights they will ask you to carry for them on the way to “liberation”.
jcase
Joes Sims response to John Case’s view of John Bachtell via the Socialist Economics listserv:

I was surprised and dismayed by John Case’s recent rebuke of John Bachtell’s article and more broadly the Communist Party.  Allow me a brief personal reply.
First it is absolutely untrue that the Communist Party downplays austerity now or in the past. I, for example, essayed an extended critique of this very subject, its influence on GOP and Democratic neoliberal politics and on the Clinton’s in particular. Combating the fascist danger as Case correctly emphasizes was its point of departure. So too with various articles in peoplesworld.org by many writers including Bachtell.  His most recent, taken to task by John Case, is no different, albeit its consideration of how to conduct this fight in the current dispensation, an issue that’s ignored at our collective peril.

What’s the basis of this fight? Clearly it will not be giving up on the fight for 15, Obamacare, acceptance of national stop-and-frisk, approval of right to work, etc.  In a phrase, we cannot stop saying no to neoliberal austerity.  These demands have had much room for initiative and setting the agenda – even for the most advanced elements of the political center.  This fact is suggestive of the danger of getting stuck in the middle of constricted phrases and formulas. My own view is that we’ve entered an unprecedented period where the defeat of fascism may well require radical radical reforms: or as John Case puts it,  a defeat of austerity, a moment when for a time,  the anti-right and anti-monopoly stages of struggle could combine.

It’s all the more curious then why John Case critiques  challenging the basis for Trump vote. Doing so does not necessarily undermine the anti-austerity motives behind sections of the vote.  An understanding of this vote is not written only in black and white, but also in many shades of grey.  A denial of one leads necessarily to a misunderstanding of the other. Not seeing the greys may obscure all.  Hence my complete disdain for the “identity politics” critique as if people of color, women, lgbtq people do not have the same economic claims and anxiety as working-class whites. In fact we have more. John Case knows that and in fact has written eloquently on it himself, which makes me wonder as to why the tenor, tone and content of his attack, a fusillade that goes beyond the present moment but dates a half a century back into the dark corners of the Cold War.

Speaking now as the son of a steelworker at Youngstown Sheet and Tube and coming of age in the direct shadow of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn I have to directly challenge Case’s allegations about the Communist Party, its working class influence and its source.  Coming from a party family in a  small industrial town in the 60s I witnessed the daily work of my mom and dad from a unique vantage point. I saw first hand their daily work on school reform, model cities, welfare rights, police violence, union rights, even questions of war and peace. I heard the phone ring and watched their grassroots defense of our class, work which won them respect and even election to community organization and union positions. And all of this was after having been twice hauled before HUAC. Dad was a grievance man for Local 2163; mom an activist and trustee in AFSCME, both members of the NAACP, CBTU, SANE FREEZE and many other organizations. When dad died the then USWA sent Oliver Montgomery from the Pittsburgh International to speak at his funeral. Montgomery reflected on dad’s work on the consent decree and importantly on the issue of black white unity urging him at a difficult time not to give up on his white union brothers.  Tributes were also brought from other community and religious leaders, including Ron Daniels. The same can be said for my mom, who twice ran for city and countywide office and was an elected leader in her union. Even today when dining out her lunch and dinner are bought by community figures who on occasion happen upon us – an offering of admiration and respect.

Here’s what I came here to say: this respect was not bought with  Moscow gold. Not in Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago or any other town were communists worked and struggled. And these  tales are not unique but are the stories of Frank and Bea Lumpkin, George and Denise Edwards, Wally Kauffman, George Meyers, Lorenzo and Anita Torres and hundreds if not thousands of communist trade unionists  who labored in the factories and mines of our country.

So no John I can never agree with your charge that the U.S. working class doesn’t give a damn about the Communist Party.

No, respect cannot be bought. This I know. But I’ve learned something else. Lies come cheap, especially big ones.  And that’s what troubled me more than anything else when reading your critique.  We live in an age of the Big Lie, in a time when facts give way to unbelievably dangerous flights of fantasy. We cannot in any way accommodate them.  The facts I offer instead are small ones, grains  of truth really, anecdotal sure, but taken together they weave an undeniable pattern of struggle, one that challenges your narrative John, then and now. These same truths obtain today as the CP experiences an uptick in membership brought about in response to the Trump election. Just last weekend we phoned some 5000 of them several hundred of whom joined since November 8th.

Winter is here and we must huddle together to avoid the cold. And for that reason I will end by reminding of you of my father’s lesson upon dying learned through the tears of  Oliver Montgomery’s eulogy: no matter how difficult the time or how low the blow I will not give up on you my erstwhile comrade but remaining class brother.  Let’s not give up on each other.

Joe Sims

A message to communists who live outside the United States

by Darrell Rankin

An observer from Canada

A message to communists who live outside the United States
It is a common accusation to call a person a communist these days, especially politicians who want peace with Russia (Trump), who support Obamacare (Obama), (Clinton) or who say they are a socialist (Sanders).
But here’s a message to the communists outside the United States:
1. We have to thank the ruling class for again making socialism and communism the issue of the day.
2. Jealousy will get you nowhere.
(U.S. communists: Don’t read this. Get back to work. You have a lot of confusion to clear up.)