CPUSA During The 1930’s

May 25, 2016
QI am a student at Rhode Island College and I am writing a historiography on the CPUSA in the 1930's. I wonder if you could field some questions I have regarding that part of your history. What were the original ideologies of the party in the 30s? Does the party currently hold the view that, in the 1930s the CPUSA was wholly U.S. born, heavily influenced by foreign politics (the Bolshevik Revolution for example) or, in your opinion, was the Party simply subservient to the Soviets, taking "commands from Moscow"?
AWhile I understand your desire, following from much of the academic work on our Party as well as popular misconceptions, the choices you offer are too limiting. Not possible to pick any of them and be true to the reality and complexity of our Party, our relationship to the Soviets and to the Communist International, our changing and developing understanding of US history and politics, and so on.

For example, the US Party’s position on African American liberation changed and developed from the mid-1920a to the mid-1930s. This was a reaction to conditions in the United States, particularly in the South, was in part a reaction against the faulty approach of the Socialist Party rejecting specific demands for particular groups instead advocating that they wait till socialism, in part due to pressure from the Communist International which had its own evolving understanding of national liberation str8uggles and colonial freedom struggles around the world, in part due to recruiting some African Americans who pushed for a deeper understanding, and in part due to developments such as the Scottsboro Case, that of Angelo Herndon, and others. So it wasn’t one or the other but the combination of those forces, pressures, and developments. Can’t choose any one and be accurate.

There are certainly examples of our Party “taking orders.” There are also examples of our Party playing a role leading in the Communist International. There are also many, many threads of our history that are due mainly to US-born conditions and struggles.

And it is also not possible, as some wish to d, to separate these threads into a simplistic view of international pressures as negative and US pressures as positive. For example, in the movie “Reds” (which I do recommend), John Reed is portrayed as the epitome of native-born radicalism, and the Communist International as trying to force foreign ideas on our Party. However, some of the issues they pick illustrate the opposite—Reed’s idealization of the IWW (Wobblies) was shortly proven wrong, as our Party rapidly overtook the IWW as the main expression of US radicalism during the 1930s.

Similarly, sometimes the 1935 turn by the CI to a popular front approach is viewed in a narrow way—when in fact the actual experience of many parties was already moving in that direction—and Dimitroff noted this in his report, citing the US experience building a mass youth movement over the previous few years as being an example.

On the other hand, while the CI pressure to develop an approach to African American liberation resulted in positive steps and changes, it also focused us too much on the national aspect of the question—to advocating an independent “Black Belt.” So was the pressure positive? Yes. Was it negative? Yes, also.

So I would urge you, in your studies, to search out these complexities and not settle for simplistic either-or reductionism.

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