Forwarded from Anthony (Gus Hall & CPUSA)
lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Oct 21 05:21:36 MDT 2000
Here's my late-night contribution to the discussion on the history of the
CP-USA, Gus Hall, etc.
Gus Hall and the Communist Party USA
Gus Halls death has prompted an interesting discussion among the
participants of this list on the history of the Communist Party USA, and in
particular its failure become a more significant social and political force.
I think that there are a combination of "objective" and "subjective"
reasons for that failure which are for the most part not being addressed.
On the objective side is the historic nature of the United States.
American exceptionalism is a fact. The United States of America was an
imperialist power from Day One - but not capitalist imperialism. It was a
kind of imperialism based on the acquisition of land - and therefore the
destruction of the culture and people who had lived on that land for
thousands of years. That imperialism united all classes in society - except
for slaves - against native American societies.
The emergence of capitalism within this imperialism shaped the historic
relation of classes. The working class in the United States always had a
significant material stake in the victories of imperialism. The "popular
front" of classes in the United States predated Dmitrov by a century.
It was a pragmatic bargain - first unity in stealing land - second unity in
an expanded world economy that meant wages in the USA were always higher
than elsewhere - even if working conditions werent.
(That historic continuity of class relations in the USA is in the process
of disintegrating - and that process of disintegration is the heart of the
confusion over left/right opposition to globalism seen in Seattle and
elsewhere - but is not the topic here.)
The "popular front for imperialism" was never complete, and always prone to
crisis and disintegration. The period from the "closing of the frontier" to
the establishment of the United States as the dominant world imperialist
power - roughly 1873 until 1945 - was the period of transition from one
kind of imperialism to another.
During that period the "social contract" for imperialism nearly broke down,
as the growth of capitalism created a new working class from immigrants
from Europe - and as the United States emerged onto the world stage as a
*capitalist imperialist* power.
The class struggle in the United States - paradoxically - expelled
capitalist imperialism forward.
The promise of a one hundred and sixty acre farm - on land stolen from
native American cultures, could no longer be made to workers. Social
stability hung in the balance.
A new promise was made: a house for every family, a car in every garage,
and a chicken in every pot. But how? From the superprofits of capitalism
This was the social equilibrium established in the aftermath of W.W.II.
It was possible for a combination of reasons: the defeat of workers
revolutions in Europe and Asia with the aid of Stalinism and fascism; the
defeat of all other imperialist powers in war - obviously Germany and
Japan, and less obviously but definitively France and England; the
resulting centralization of the productive forces of world capitalism
(temporarily in the USA), and the resulting (temporary) concentration of
world finance capital in the USA; the military hegemony of the USA over the
other imperialist powers - not least its nuclear hegemony. And equally
important the threat of social revolution in Europe, Asia, and Latin
America, and the existence of the military power of the Soviet Union.
The synthesis of all this was that capitalism - in a limited sense -
overcame a key contradiction of the world system that had led to the period
of crisis that began at the beginning of the 20th century. The national
boundaries of markets were in large part destroyed.
The "free world" of the "cold war" was the largest and freest market the
world had ever known.
What this meant for the USA - and in fact for the entire capitalist world -
was that the productive forces of society could expand rapidly. Something
totally unexpected to happen by the theoreticians of the Third International.
Capitalism had gained a new lease on life thanks to Stalinism and Fascism.
And the working class in the United States was able to win wage increases,
better benefits, and political concessions (better roads, public education,
etc.) without resorting to anything more militant than a short strike, a
discussion over dinner between bureaucrats and lawyers, and a vote for a
This is, very, very briefly - the "objective" side of why the Communist
Party USA could not become the leader of the masses - capitalism - had won
over the leadership of the masses - and the CP.-USA (and the SWP and the
entire left) had nothing comparable to offer them.
(What Gus Hall and the CP. had to offer was Stalins pathetic farce that
the grim and grimy life of Soviet workers was a paradise.)
But the "subjective side" is important.
In more or less chronological order, here are the "subjective reasons" the
CP.-USA never amounted to more.
1. The Communist Party USA - and the revolutionary and socialist movements
out of which it was formed tried to understand the USA in terms of European
Marxism, and the European working class experience.
This was its first problem to overcome - and it never overcame it. It could
never come to grips ideologically with the destruction of native American
societies - or even with slavery or racism - because it tried to equate US
experience with European experience.
2. The second problem was the Third International. Without the Russian
revolution, and the farsighted effort of the Russian Communists to form an
international revolutionary party - the Communist Party USA (along with the
rest of the CPs the world over) never would have existed.
But the Third International was deformed almost from its inception. People
on this list like to blame Zinoviev. And I am sure he rightly deserves some
of the blame.
But the reality is that the revolutionary wave of 1917-18 was defeated.
Russia was an exception - Germany and Italy were more important , and the
workers lost in those countries.
But defeat was masked by victory in one very backward country - Russia -
compounded the problem.
Russian revolutionaries became Godlike to those who had been defeated - or
who had not yet entered into revolutionary struggle.
The Third International appeared even more godlike to the revolutionaries
in the United States who were more isolated from the working class and
oppressed, and more confused about the social and political reality they
faced, than most of their counterparts in Europe.
Even worse, the representatives the Third International chose for the USA
were far, far, more mediocre than Zinoviev.
The result was that the Communist Party USA - born confused, was even more
confused by the time Stalin really took control of the Third International
3. The Communist Party adopted an anti-democratic internal regime within a
decade after its birth. When it purged the Trotskyists in 1927, that
confused party also launched a really anti-democratic internal regime -
which guaranteed its confusion could never be overcome, and which
guaranteed that it could never overcome its political confusion - and that
it could never again have a political life independent of the directives
issued from Moscow (even when Moscow ceased to issue directives, Gus Hall
was reduced to rummaging around for old directives to justify his existence.)
4. The Third Period. Suffice it to say it was a time when dedicated
Communists led a lot of defeats of workers that made it more difficult for
them to grow later.
It was able to grow later in large part due to the heretics who were not
rooted out in the first few years of the anti-democratic internal regime.
The heretics in the CP. USA in 1932 were mostly in branches far, far, away
from the centers in New York and Chicago. In those days they were heretics
from the third period of Stalinism which branded social democrats,
anarchists, and others as "social fascists". The heretics held out for the
"united front" with those who were supposedly social fascists.
Luckily for the CP., it still had some heretics. In California the heretics
were leading strikes together with socialists and anarchists. They lost a
big one in agriculture, but won the biggest one on the docks and in shipping.
Because of the West Coast and San Francisco General Strike - led by a
united strike committed which included the CP., anarchists, social
democrats, and "independent" communists, the CP. gained new life in the
working class and began to grow.
Of the three great strikes of 1933-34 which preceded the formation of the
Congress of Industrial Unions, and opened the flood gates of mass
industrial unionism in the United States - the West Coast strike was the
only one in which the CP. had a leading role. (The Minnesota Teamsters
strike, a nd Minneapolis general strike, was led by the Trotskyists who
later formed the SWP. The Toledo Autolite Strike was led by the followers
of A.J Muste, who later merged with the Trotskyists.)
When Dmitrov started to make his speeches - the West Coast heretics became
fashionable in the CP. And supporting the Democratic Party of Franklin
Delano Roosevelt became even more fashionable.
This new political trajectory of the Communist Party USA melded with its
third period Stalinist anti-democratic internal regime.
4. It charted a new course. That new course was for the organization of
mass reformats bureaucratic, pro-imperialist industrial unions. Roosevelt
consecrated this course with new labor legislation.
The Communist Party consecrated this new course in a deal with John L.
Lewis, the pragmatic leader of the United Mine Workers Union, and of the
newly founded Committee of Industrial Unions (later Congress of Industrial
Lewis was a militant unionist - willing to use any tactic from terror to
general strikes - but he was a fierce opponent of workers democracy who
fought for top-down organization.
The CP. signed on, and funneled its militants into Lewis project to
organize the steel industry - the SWOC (Steel Workers Organizing Committee)
- later the USWA (United Steel Workers of America.
Gus Hall was one of those chosen to be among the lieutenants for the social
democratic President of this committee. He followed orders well like a good
In the 1937 Little Steel strike the SWOC - with 100% loyal support form t
he CP. organizers and cadres who were the real backbone of the organization
- signed a watered down, sweetheart contract, and successfully destroyed
militant opposition to the contract.
Gus Hall - as a workers leader - was a fraud. He helped create the closest
thing to a company union that had yet existed in the CIO. It was the
beginning of the end for the CIO.
It was also the end of the CPs spectacular 3 year membership growth from
1934 to 1937. It grew from no more than 30,000 members (and probably about
10,000 members) to around 100,000 members.
This was the nuts and blots of Communist Party support for the Democratic
I hope Sol Dollinger reads this, and contributes his memories of that
strike. Especially as it contrasted with the great sit down strikes in the
auto industry in the same year.
By 1937 international Stalinism was beginning to enter into real crisis,
the Popular Fronts in Spain and France were being defeated. Fascism was
gaining ground everywhere.
5. In 1939 the Stalin-Hitler pact was signed. The Communist Party USA
supported it enthusiastically - if very insincerely. Membership declined -
especially among Jewish workers and intellectuals in New York City and in
other East coast centers.
This marked the beginning of the real long term decline in CP. membership,
which was never reversed - although it was temporarily masked by growth
among black workers during W.W.II.
During W.W.II the CP. reversed its membership decline - numerically.
6. Its unswerving support of the wartime no-strike pledge and wage
controls lost it support among wage militant unionists.
The CP. campaigned in favor of prosecution under the Smith Act of the
Trotskyist leaders who opposed the no-strike pledge. This ultrapatriotism
undermined their support with non-party worker militants, and made it more
difficult for the CP. to gain mass support in its self defense when its own
leaders were later prosecuted under the Smith Act.
Gus Hall, a strong supporter of Smith act prosecution of Trotskyists, was
not so long after the war, jailed for violating the same Smith Act.
The effects of CP. support for the no strike pledge became evident as the
war was coming to a close - especially after Germany was defeated ( but the
war with Japan continued).
No one could really argue that this was any longer a war to defend the
Soviet Union - whose army was triumphantly occupying Berlin. And it was
very difficult to argue that it was really a war "against fascism".
Now it was daily more and more obvious that the war was being continued for
US imperialism - and even pro-imperialist workers thought they should get
in on the action and deserved a raise for their patriotic duty.
But the CP. loyally fought to continue the no-strike pledge - even when the
war with Japan was over, and the cold war had already in fact begun. (talk
7. The CP. social base changed during the war - its ultrapatriotism - after
the Stalin Hitler pact, brought in a temporary layer of petty bourgeois
But its anti-racism in the factories, brought in a large number of black
recruits. For black workers, simple entry into the factories had been in
large part barred by racist hiring practices until World War II. And white
workers -including in the CIO- by and large supported those practices.
CPers to their great credit, fought for integration of the factories. And
for black workers this was far more important than the issue of wage
increases ( since just getting a job in a factory meant an enormous real
increase in wages for a worker who had been mostly or partially unemployed,
working in t he informal economy or in a low paying service job.) (Of
course, in this the CP. was not in conflict with the needs of imperialism -
which desperately needed black workers, and women workers of all colors, to
take the place of the white male workers who were now the bulk of its armies.)
8. The Communist Partys abject retreat in the face of the cold war
witchhunts. The Party "went" underground. Its leaders hid. It refused to
defend its program, principles and actions in public - including in
congressional hearings. It did not defend the Rosenbergs.
Desertions from party ranks were many, and swift.
They were of two types.
the first were those who never were really communists. they were new
dealers who found it fashoinable to be "Communists" during the World War II
respectability of the Communist Party.
Eleanor Roosevelt met with Communist Party Youth in the White House!
The Soviet Union was patriotic!
Hollywood made movies about the brave Russian people.
Stalin was a good guy!
OOps. They left, and they ratted on their former friends and acquaintances.
But, the second group was decisive. True believers in communism - who had
followed the party because they believed that it was the road to socialism.
White workers who had stood up against their cousins and brothers to defend
black workers in riots. People who had stood up to Henry Fords silver
shirts. Strike captains. And intellectuals. They had followed the Party
through its worst betrayals - defended the Stalin-Hitler pact when they
knew in their hearts it was wrong. Defended the no-strike pledge, when they
felt in their stomach it the lies they were telling.
The CP. was their party - right or wrong.
But they were saddened, disgusted, demoralized, confused, and felt betrayed
by their party because the party would not put up a public fight against
At first they left they left out the back door - many ended up as the
supporters of the National Guardian newspaper.
But then they left in droves in 1956. Kruschevs speech (who cares if it
was secret, give me a break) and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, were the
straws that broke the camels back.
Those people that left in 1956 - the great majority of them, were "real"
communists. They had stayed in the party even when they had lost their
jobs. Even when they had been kicked out of the unions they built.
The great majority of them remained on the left - but not in the Communist
Their children provided the cadre, militants, and much of the leadership of
the "new left" of the 1960s.
9. The 1960s.
During the 1960s the Communist Party was the most conservative part of the
It supported Lyndon Baines Johnson for President of the United States, and
then supported Hubert Humphrey.
How can you support the leaders of imperialism, and claim to be against the
imperialist war they are leading?
During the 1960s the Communist Party was a joke. Most of their children
became Maoists and Trotskyists - hippies, or corporate lawyers - but not
It joined movements and committees to tie them to the Democratic Party,
prevent them from growing, and ensuring that they would not adopt militant
Its only real claim to fame in the whole period was the fact that one of
its leaders, Angela Davis was arrested and framed up on charges of aiding
Jonathan Jackson in his heroic and failed attempt to free his brother
George Jackson - an imprisoned Black Panther leader, from a California
It did grow during the period because the whole left grew. But the CP
recruited among the most conservative, and later the disillusioned, parts
of the movement (including some of the wayward children now disillusioned
by Maoism and marijuana.)
10. During that period the invasion of Czechoslovakia led to the most
serious public factional split in the history of the Communist Party.
(numerically larger than the expulsion of the Troskyists.)
The West Coast leadership of the party, Dorothy Healy and Al Richmond - at
the time editor of the Peoples World (west coast CP. weekly Paper) led the
majority of the West Coast membership - and important groups elsewhere -
out of the CP.
Richmond had been in Prague during the whole Prague summer. He was the
Peoples World correspondent their, and also filed dispatches to the Daily
World (which mostly went unprinted.) Richmond and Healy became Dubcek
Their faction became one of the main pillars of the Democratic Socialists
of America when it was formed.
11. Police infiltration? To my knowledge no one has yet tried to write the
history of FBI and other police infiltration of the Communist Party USA.
This is amazing in itself. Many of the documents must now be in the public
Doesn't it stand to reason that US imperialism, which infilitrated parties
all over the world, which is known to have infillitrated and disurpted the
"new left" during the 60's - especially the Black Panther Party - would
have had is largest such operation within the Communist Party USA?
especially during the cold war.
Maybe this is a job for Nelson Blackstock.
*Finally the rise of Gorbachev led to the last nail in the CPs coffin
(although the body inside was already pretty cold). Gus Hall led the
anti-Gorby faction, while Angela Davis and other West Coast CPers supported
The result was a nasty fight in court over Party owned property. Hall
emerged triumphant, but by then the carcass of his party consisted of more
real estate than people.
Gus Hall was the man who presided over the uninterrupted decline of what
was once a potentially important revolutionary political organization -
after the most important part of its history had already ended.
Friends and foes of Hall can all agree that he was the best man for the job.
He was the symbol of that party - after the party was really over.
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