Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 16 12:19:33 MST 2016

New Left Review I/124, November-December 1980



The ‘Americanization’ of the Communist Party

Increasingly uncritical support for Roosevelt also came from the 
Communist Party which, decked out in its new image as ‘twentieth century 
Americanism,’ took popular-frontism to such extremes as the endorsement 
of the Kelly-Nash machine in Chicago, which was directly responsible for 
the 1937 massacre of steel strikers, and of the infamous, anti-union 
regime of Boss Hague in New Jersey. The sychophantic policies of the 
Communists did little, however, to broaden their base in the industrial 
working class. Although the party reached the zenith of its popular 
influence in this period, with perhaps 75,000 members and a periphery of 
more than 500,000, a majority of its growth came from an influx of 
second-generation, Jewish white-collar and professional workers. Thus 
between 1935 and 1941 the non-blue collar component of party membership 
jumped from barely 5% to almost 45%, while the New York component more 
than doubled from 22.5% to nearly 50%. [34] As Nathan Glazer has pointed 
out in his study of the party’s changing social composition: ‘During the 
thirties the party was transformed from a largely working-class 
organization to one that was half middle-class. . . . even though the 
party had increased five-fold since the late twenties, there had been no 
such increase in the cadres in important industries. The party strength 
in the unions—except for maritime and longshore and the white-collar 
unions—was not a mass-membership strength. It was based on 
organizational control.’ [35] While the Communist Party was undergoing 
this paradoxical process of simultaneous growth and relative 
‘deproletarianization,’ the rest of the left was near collapse. The 
Socialist Party, unable as always to give its trade union interventions 
any strategy or coherent leadership, virtually disintegrated in a series 
of factional splits and defections after 1936, while the Trotskyists 
were seriously weakened by major doctrinal schisms in 1940. The curious 
result was to give the CP a resonance in national politics and a 
hegemony on the left which was quite unequaled since the heyday of the 
old Socialist Party in 1910–12, while at the same time the party was 
becoming more detached from strong roots in the newly-unionized 
industrial working class.

FDR Represses the Left

The weakness of the labour-left as a mass ideological current, and its 
dangerous over-dependence on bureaucratic alliances with ‘centre’ 
forces, was vividly demonstrated by the Roosevelt Administration’s 
success in repressing and isolating CIO radicals on the eve of the 
1940–41 rearmament boom. First, with the active support of the 
Minneapolis employers, President Tobin of the Teamsters (the most 
outstanding AFL Democrat and friend of FDR) cashed in his political 
debts with the White House and obtained massive federal sedition 
prosecution of the Trotskyist leadership of Drivers’ Local 544—the 
nerve-centre of labour militancy in the Northwest. (Ironically the 
Communists, who would later be decimated by the Smith Act, supported its 
initial application against their Trotskyist factional opponents in 
Minneapolis.) Then, in the summer of 1941, the Communists were evicted 
from the strategic aircraft industry after Roosevelt ordered the Army to 
break the North American Aviation strike (Inglewood, California) led by 
Wyndham Mortimer, the hero of the 1936–37 Flint strike. Here was the 
ostensible ‘Pullman’ of the New Deal: federal bayonets versus twelve 
thousand militant rank and file workers. But unlike the Pullman Strike 
of 1894 there was neither massive national solidarity with the 
blacklisted workers nor any political break with the administration. 
Instead the CIO leadership (Murray and Hillman since the resignation of 
Lewis in 1940) eagerly collaborated with Roosevelt’s strike-breaking in 
the dual hope of weakening the Communists within the CIO while 
simultaneously gaining administration support for the ‘top-down’ 
unionization of the defense industry. The Communists, for their part, 
mounted only a desultory campaign of defense; their temporary tangent of 
militancy since 1939 was broken by the invasion of Russia and the party 
returned to virtually uncritical adulation of Roosevelt and Murray in 
the fall of 1941.

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