nostalgia for McCarthyism?

Russell Grinker grinker at
Mon Nov 29 03:46:47 MST 1999

Yoshie wrote:
>The CP during the Popular Front days came closest to having a lasting
>impact on inflecting Americanism a wee bit leftward, or at least making
>American culture more inclusively liberal & populist, though at the cost of
>being unable to defend Japanese-Americans.  But the CPers failed
>nonetheless, and when the political winds changed, their Americanness got
>called into question anyhow, and their fellow Americans were too cowed to
>stand up.  Isn't communism always "foreign," so to speak, from the point of
>view of the ruling ideas?  Agitators are always "outsiders" during Red
>Scares.  Besides, not going along with imperialism is always un-American,
>regardless of the self-definitions of anti-imperialists.  I might even go
>so far as to say, risking a cruelly flippant hindsight, that the CP got
>hoisted by its own petard, by raising the ideological stock of patriotism
>and Americanism during the war time.

You're right here.

To take it further, this patriotic lapse wasn't just an American phenomenon.
In line with Comintern diktat, all the communist parties took on a
nationalist colouration.  So for example the PCF leader Duclos proposed the
establishment of a 'Front of Frenchmen' to oppose fascism and for unity 'in
respect for laws and in the defence of the Republican order'.  This was too
much even for the Socialists who repudiated it.  The PCI took nationalism to
its most absurd extremes when in 1936 it published a manifesto entitled 'for
the salvation of Italy and the reconciliation of the Italian people'.  This
was a response to the Soviet bureaucracy's desire for a mutual assistance
pact with fascist Italy.  This document, signed by Togliatti and other PCI
leaders, offered the fascists national reconciliation and declared:

'We Communists are adopting the fascist programme of 1919, a programme of
peace, freedom and defence of the workers' interests.  Blackshirts and
veterans of Africa, we call on you to unite in fighting for this
programme...We proclaim that we are ready to fight beside you, fascists of
the old guard and fascist youth, to carry out the fascist programme of

Compared with this lot  who tried to counterpose the apparently more radical
1919 fascist programme to its less radical 1936 expressions, even the
American bunch don't look too bad.

On Yoshie's points about not defending Japanese Americans, the growing
nationalism of all the CPs also meant that defence of national minorities
and support for national self-determination were quickly discarded.
Immediately after the signing of the Franco-Soviet pact in May 1935, the PCF
ceased its support for the Arab nationalists of North Africa.  Similarly,
the national movements in the colonial empires of Britain and the
Netherlands were labelled a diversion by the communist parties.

I believe that there is a consistent tendency to underestimate the
importance of nationalism as the key corrosive factor in the demise of the
old communist movement and an over-estimation of the impact of bureaucratic
styles of organisation.  The real issue was that, while quite radical, much
of the support base of the communist parties remained quite backward and
nationalistic.  With the pop front tactic, a nationalist green light from
the Comintern allowed such tendencies to run rampant. The tradition never
recovered from this.  By the late '30s even the German CP was merrily
denying that there were any Jews in its leadership.


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