Friday, February 22, 2019

100 Years of CPUSA - Anti-Revisionist Communism in the United States, 1945-1950 by Paul Costello

During the 100th Anniversary of the Communist Party of the United States we shall be publishing our critical anti revisionist evaluation of moments of its history and try to draw lessons which can guide us in future.

The Roots Of Browderism

An adequate understanding of the anti-revisionist struggles of 1945-1950 is impossible without a preliminary understanding of Browderism, against which these struggles developed. It is sometimes thought that Browderism was an entirely American deviation, limited in space and time. This perspective fails to grasp the historical continuity of revisionism in Marxist history and the common roots of revisionism as an international phenomenon in the Communist movement (something we will discuss in a moment).

But first, we should also note the timeliness of the critique of Browderism because of Browderism’s basic affinity with two contemporary phenomena – the present line of the Communist Party, USA (which is its direct descendent), and Euro-Communism. Both the CPUSA and the Euro-Communists share essential elements of Browderism – a contempt for theory, class collaborationist practice, and the liquidation of the party’s vanguard role. To criticize Browderism is, thus, no mere academic exercise; it is a starting point for understanding contemporary American and world revisionism.

Lenin, in his speeches and writings on the international Communist movement [1], insisted upon the importance of the development of Marxist theory and tactics in accordance with the specific features of each country. To this, we can add that revisionism, like Marxism, develops its own specific features in response to the peculiar nature of the social formation and the class struggle in the country in which it arises.

Browderism was a specific form of revisionism, the complexity of which prevents us from discussing it fully here.[2] We can only mention its abandonment of revolutionary theory, its liquidation of democratic centralism, and its practice of economism and reformism. We must go a little deeper, however, if we are to grasp Browderism’s fundamental political error, the error that led it to dissolve the Communist Party in 1944.

Browderism was a revisionism that arose in the United States, but its origins can be traced back to the line of the Communist International adopted at its Seventh World Congress in 1935. Marx and Lenin maintained that all forms of bourgeois state power were forms of class power, that is, even though the actual state machinery is in the hands of only one fraction of the bourgeoisie, that fraction rules for the class as a whole. In this way, the bourgeoisie, divided by economic competition and diversity, is given political cohesion through its exercise of state power.

Lenin, noting the secondary character of difference within the ruling class, argued that, while Communists were duty bound to exploit these differences, they also had to always maintain and develop proletarian independence in relation to other classes and were required to continually emphasize the contradictory and tentative character of any coincidence of interests between the working class and sections of the bourgeoisie.

The Seventh Comintern Congress opened the door to revisionism on this question by defining fascism not as a form of class power but as the dictatorship of a section of the bourgeoisie: the most reactionary elements of finance capital. Avoiding the fact that this section was able to rule only through the consent of the rest of the class, the Comintern produced a new strategy, the popular front, which posited a long-term strategic alliance between the working class, other classes and even sections of the bourgeoisie, all united against that other section of the ruling class – pro-fascist finance capital.

The line of the popular front tended to obscure the fundamentally similar class interests of different sections of the bourgeoisie, while at the same time it blurred the fundamentally different class interests of the various forces in the anti-fascist struggle. It turned a temporary tactical coincidence of anti-fascist goals, shared by the working class and sections of the bourgeoisie, into a long-term strategy to which proletarian independence was sacrificed. By thus abandoning a political line based on class analysis in the interests of “anti-fascist” unity, the popular front strategy fostered illusions among the masses as to the character and class motives of the bourgeoisie, and abandoned proletarian independence in favor of courting bourgeois allies.

Browderism was only the further development of this line in the context of allied cooperation in the final years of the Second World War. In the light of the allied agreement worked out at Teheran in December 1943 between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, Browder insisted that the “national unity front” necessary to defeat fascism and insure international cooperation in the postwar world had to be broadened to include not just sections of the bourgeoisie, but even important sections of finance capital as well [3]

In the process, Browder made explicit what had already been implicit in the popular front strategy: class struggle was no longer as important as class collaboration. Speaking of the need for Communists to change their attitudes toward class struggle and finance capital in the light of the Teheran coalition, Browder stated:

“If J. P. Morgan supports this coalition and goes down the line for it, I as a Communist am prepared to clasp his hand on that and join with him to realize it. Class divisions or political groupings have no significance now except as they reflect one side or the other of this issue.” [4]

Browder decided not to wait to see how J. P. Morgan would act; it was up to the Communists to make the first move. To show their commitment to national unity, he proposed that Communists dissolve their party and establish in its place a non-partisan political association. This was accomplished at a convention held on May 20-22, 1944. [5]

In this move, Browder had the support of the overwhelming majority of the party leadership and the bulk of the membership. The only members of the Party’s National Committee to express opposition to Browder’s proposals when they were first announced were Samuel Adams Darcy, who was head of the Communist Party in Eastern Pennsylvania and William Z. Foster.

But even this opposition did not go to the heart of Browder’s revisionism, only its extent. Foster, for example, supported the call for “the broadest national unity,” including “all of the capitalist elements who will loyally support the program.” He simply was opposed to the idea that “the main body of finance capital is now or can be incorporated into the national unity necessary to carry out the decisions of the Teheran Conference in a democratic and progressive spirit.” [6]

At the national committee meetings where they aired their views, Darcy and Foster met with a unanimous opposition. Foster thereupon decided to be silent and go along with the new line. Only Darcy felt strongly enough about his position to continue the fight. His reward? Expulsion from the Party (now called the Communist Political Association) in June 1944. Ironically enough, Darcy’s chief accuser and the head of the commission that decided upon his expulsion was none other than William Z. Foster.

The following series of events is generally well-known. Having been established in May 1944, the Communist Political Association was assailed, a year later, in May 1945, when an article written by the French Communist Jacques Duclos criticizing Browder appeared in the Daily Worker. Translated from the April issue of the French Party’s theoretical journal, the article characterized Browder’s views as “a notorious revision of Marxism.”

Although Browder himself refused to back down, soon all his former allies in the leadership deserted him. In July 1945, the Communist Party was reconstituted at a special convention and in February 1946 Browder was expelled, together with a few close associates.

The Campaign Against The Left: A Chronology

Those Communists who expected that the reconstitution of the party would lead to an energetic campaign against Browderism and a clean sweep of the old Browder leadership were disappointed. The new national secretariat and the majority of the national board of the reconstituted party consisted of individuals who had been officers of the Communist Political Association and loyal followers of Browder (with the exception of Foster).

More ominous were two other developments that seemed to indicate that the real campaign would not be against the right but rather against the left. In Foster’s speech to the special convention restoring the party, he warned against those guilty of “leftism,” those who wanted to “drop the slogan of national unity.” [7] At the same convention, the only member of the Communist Political Association national committee who demanded that Browder’s leading supporters accept some of the responsibility for the Party’s revisionism, Samuel Donchin, from Philadelphia, was disciplined and denied a place on the new national committee.

Among the cynical, the angry and the confused that belonged to or supported the party, a special phrase was coined to describe the new leadership and its policies: Browderism without Browder. One of the first shots to be fired against “Browderism without Browder” cam from an unexpected place – Vancouver, B.C., Canada – in the form of a book, Communism versus Opportunism, written by Fergus McKean.

Fergus McKean had joined the Communist Party of Canada in 1932. In 1935, he became Vancouver Provincial Secretary of the Party. However, in August 1945, he resigned his membership in protest against what he felt was the continuation of an essentially revisionist line. Shortly thereafter, he founded a dissident Communist group and published his book, which, in addition to castigating Canadian opportunism, had a lengthy section on Browderism in the CPUSA.

McKean went much further than Foster in his critique of Browderism. While the CPUSA continued to speak in support of a “Roosevelt, labor, democratic coalition,” McKean called for “a policy of class struggle, free from all elements of class collaboration or dependence upon the bourgeoisie.” [8]

McKean was not alone in his views. Scarcely a month after Browder himself was expelled, on March 15, 1946, a group calling itself the New Committee for Publications (NCP) was established in New York. Originally a study group, its stated purpose was “to bring about the establishment of a real Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist party in the United States.” [9]

Meeting on a weekly basis for discussions and reports, the NCP was headed by Lyle Dowling, who had previously been managing editor of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. Sam Darcy was active in the NCP initially, as were many who found themselves expelled from the Communist Party for leftism. On October 28, 1946, the New Committee for Publications began the production of a weekly mimeographed bulletin, the NCP Report.

The Communist Party leadership was not unaware of the left opposition and in the fall of 1946 began to move against it. Among the first expelled were two prominent writers and editors of the New Masses, Ruth McKenney and Bruce Minton, who had spoken out against the inadequacies of the anti-Browder campaign as early as August 1945. While McKenney and Minton belonged to the party organization in Connecticut, the bulk of the expelled members were either to come from California or New York.

While in New York most of the expulsions were of rank and file members, in California, important party leaders supported the left opposition. These included Vern Smith, a charter member of the CPUSA and for eight years successively labor editor and foreign editor of the California Party paper, the Daily People’s World.

Smith and seventeen others, including Walter Lambert, the former state trade union secretary, were expelled in September 1946. In fact, an entire party industrial branch was dissolved when it refused to break with “leftism.” These expulsions occurred in San Francisco where the Party leadership had sought to break a machinist strike. When the machinist branch of the party refused to support this policy, it was liquidated. [10]

Also expelled in California was Harrison George. Like Vern Smith, he was a founding member of the party, and like Smith he had previously been a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.). George had helped to found the Daily Worker in 1924 and for over eight years was editor-in-chief of the Daily People’s World. After his expulsion, George wrote and published a book, The Crisis in the CPUSA. [11]

Another prominent member of the Party, expelled in September 1946, was William F. Dunne. Dunne, who had been a founding member of the Party and active in its trade union work had been a co-editor of the Daily Worker from 1924 to 1927. Troubled by bouts with alcoholism, Dunne had been removed from leadership positions in the Browder period and sent to work in the National Maritime Union. Dunne was at sea when the party was dissolved and reconstituted, but he took up the fight against Foster from the “left” as soon as he returned to the States. After his expulsion, he organized one of several dissident Communist groups in the National Maritime Union and published a pamphlet, The Struggle Against Opportunism in the Labor Movement, For A Socialist United States [12]

The expulsions by no means affected only prominent figures. In the Bronx, the section committee demanded the expulsion of Earl Price, the leader of a Party youth club, the P.R. Club (named after Paul Robeson), after he criticized the failure to carry through a genuine campaign against Browderism. When the majority of the club rallied to Price’s defense, half the club, including its executive committee, was expelled.[13] Reconstituting itself as the P.R. Club, Communist Party (Expelled), in April it began publication of a monthly bulletin entitled Spark.

In San Diego, two party clubs were suspended from membership by the state leadership. In New York, a group of expelled Communists was formed in Queens around Bert Sutta, an expelled section organizer. Another group calling itself the Bill Haywood Club (Expelled) was formed in Brooklyn around Francis Franklin, a party historian and writer on the Black National question.

Other expelled groups were also established in the New York area, in Los Angeles, in Seattle, and in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Moreover, many individuals were expelled who did not join an expelled group, while a number of expelled groups kept in touch with left oppositionists who remained Party members.

As with the new Communist movement in its infancy, the multiplication of organizations gave rise to a situation in which many groups spent more time polemicising against each other than in any other kind of activity. Also like the new Communist movement, the lack of advanced theory and a correct general political line prevented these groups from working together and establishing any kind of principled unity.

Everywhere the expelled movement attempted to organize itself and issue propaganda directed both toward other expelled forces and toward those remaining in the CPUSA. In addition to the NCP and its NCP Report, and the P.R. Club (Expelled) and Spark, there was the San Francisco Committee for Correspondence, which published the S.F.C.C. Bulletin, and the Los Angeles Committee for Correspondence, which printed L.A. Notes. Also, there was the New York Maritime Committee for a Communist Party with its Fore ’N Aft, Francis Franklins’ group, which published Toward Socialism, and a group in Chapel Hill, which published The Road Ahead. For a short time, a group of trade unionists that adhered to the left opposition while remaining in the Party published a bulletin entitled Vanguard.

Those who didn’t issue periodicals wrote pamphlets. Harrison George wrote a supplement to his The Crisis in the CPUSA and a short piece on “The Party.” Burt Sutta published The Fight Against Revisionism in the U.S. Communist Party in March 1947. In July, he wrote The ’Spark’ and the Fight for a Revolutionary Party. In 1948, Sutta also published a number of articles in the collection Correspondence with Homer Mulligan.

The proliferation of organizations of expelled Communists around the country raised the issue of some form of national unity for the left opposition. In the summer of 1947, an effort was made to unite the major groups. The Los Angeles Committee for Correspondence issued a call for a common national publication and a meeting of all the New York groups was held. Both of these efforts fell through due to basic differences on a number of issues (which will be discussed later on).

Unity efforts were renewed in June 1948 in anticipation of the forthcoming 14th Convention of the CPUSA, slated for August. It was proposed that all the expelled groups unite on a common program to be distributed to the party membership before the convention. Nothing came of this effort nationally, again because of fundamental differences, but in New York, three groups, the P.R. Club (Expelled), the Maritime Committee for a Communist Party, and the trade union group which published the Vanguard united to issue the first number of a new publication, Turning Point (although by the second issue the Trade Union group had withdrawn).[14]

The Lines And Practice Of The Expelled Movement

The failure of all efforts at unification demonstrates the tremendous sectarianism that dominated the anti-revisionist forces in this period. In the beginning, the NCP sought to reprint and distribute the works of many other expelled groups and individuals. But the line of the NCP and Dowling’s own slander and suspicion of others soon isolated the NCP from all but the Los Angeles Committee for Correspondence.

For a while, the supporters of Harrison George and Francis Franklin worked together, but were unable to draw in other groups. In fact, each grouping tended to raise its own particular line to the level of principle and made acceptance of their line the condition upon which it would work with others.

Accompanying this sectarianism was a spy scare that was equally damaging to the expelled forces. Dowling was quick to charge anyone who disagreed with him with being a spy for the CP leadership within the expelled movement. Harrison George responded with the charge that Dowling himself was a spy, even suggesting to the Turning Point group that they enlist a “tail” to shadow Dowling and report on his activities. [15]

This sectarian infighting and the spy scare which followed it not only reduced the capacity of the expelled movement to present a clear line in opposition to the CPUSA, but it also reduced the appeal of the anti-revisionist forces to those within and without the Party who wanted to fight for a genuine Marxist-Leninist line.

A number of problems of organization and tactics divided the expelled movement, not the least of which concerned the question of which was the correct road forward for the anti-revisionist movement.

The expelled movement was united in its assessment that the CPUSA leadership had not broken with Browderite revisionism nor had it taken up the political line and practice necessary for the rectification of previous errors. All agreed that the Party continued to practice class collaboration instead of class struggle, that it was capitulating to the Democratic Party in its political practice and the trade union bureaucracy tied to capital in its work in the labor movement.

In this regard, the left opposition wrote a number of important articles detailing the economist and reformist line that the CPUSA was pursuing in the CIO. The expelled movement correctly identified the Party’s acceptance and support for the CIO resolution, adopted in 1946, which rejected “Communist interference” in the CIO in the interests of “unity” and an inexcusable capitulation to red-baiting and anti-Communist hysteria.

The events which followed – the wholesale destruction of the trade union left, and the CPUSA’s inability to mount an effective fightback were identified as the fruits of the CP’s long standing policy of making deals with bureaucrats, rather than building a base in the rank and file. The left demonstrated that the Party’s “left-center coalitions” were, in reality, nothing more than the left tailing after the center forces.

Finally, the expelled movement’s critique zeroed in on the central weakness of the Party’s work – its refusal to fight for socialism, to make the issue of socialism, in addition to the fight to day-to-day economic gains, an integral part of its trade union activity.

In spite of this common framework, major differences arose as soon as the question of how to fight back against revisionism was raised. The NCP considered the formation of a new Communist Party to be a top priority, but argued that it could be formed directly out of the existing expelled movement. Further, it rejected any work in the CPUSA as futile and divisive and treated anyone who was not yet willing to leave the Party) with disdain.

The Turning Point group agreed with the need to lay the basis for a new party, but saw it as a long process of hard work and propaganda. Considering the expelled movement far too small to constitute a new party and rejecting what it saw as dogmatism and left sectarianism in much of the expelled movement, Turning Point insisted that the majority of the Party rank and file could not be written off. It proposed a two-fold approach of building the expelled movement, while at the same time maintaining close ties and organizing within the Party rank and file.

These two approaches were in sharp contrast to that of much of the rest of the expelled movement, which placed its hopes not in the formation of a new party but in the rectification of the old one. Expelled groups in San Diego and Seattle, for instances, compared the call for a new party to dual unionism and insisted that in any country there could be only one Communist party. The Harrison George-Francis Franklin groups also rejected any talk of a new Communist party, and particularly any talk of factional work among the CPUSA rank and file. Franklin, for example, wrote: “I think it very important that we do not seek to justify factionalism in seeking to organize revolt against the present leadership, for the simple reason that our aim is to restore democratic centralism, which cannot tolerate factionalism.” [16]

By way of reply, Turning Point pointed out the contradiction between insisting that the CPUSA was not a Communist, democratic centralist party while at the same time insisting that genuine Communists should not violate the Party’s “democratic centralism.”

This “anti-factionalism” approach makes no sense unless it is understood in the context of the expelled movement’s conception of the world Communist movement, and its excessive reliance on external authority. After all, Browder was removed as a result of the intervention of foreign parties. With the formation of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in November 1947, the expelled movement was sure that it was only a matter of time before it would once again intervene, depose Foster and put them in power.

To insure their place in the next leadership, however, George felt the need to avoid any appearance of splitting or factionalism that might alienate the Communist Information Bureau. Rejecting Turning Point’s call for a new Communist party, George let the cat out of the bag: "The Cominform will understand any yielding to the ’new party’ slogan as a growth of anarchism in the Left Wing, and a failure to observe Leninist principles of Party organization." [17]

George and his supporters were willing to sacrifice a genuine struggle within the CPUSA to the hope that the Cominform would elevate him to leadership as a reward for his good behavior. Turning Point, on the contrary, while dedicated to all out struggle in the CPUSA, did not shrink from sending open letters to the Communist Information Bureau and even Stalin himself requesting their intervention in the U.S. Communist movement.

This practice strikingly foreshadowed the scramble of each group in the new Communist movement to win approval from first China and now Albania as their favored organization. Thinking that the prestige attached to having Chinese (or Albanian) support would be a ticket to success, these groups have sacrificed the long-term interests of the U.S. working class in having its own party to securing the patronage of a foreign party. In so doing, they have continued a long and dubious tradition in American Marxism.

These efforts were predicated on the proposition that the rest of the world Communist movement was healthy, while only the CPUSA was revisionist. The only expelled leader who openly challenged this view was Burt Sutta. In his Correspondence with Homer Mulligan, Sutta made a number of criticisms of the world Communist movement that anticipated certain elements of the current debate on the international line of our movement today. [18]

Sutta first targeted Stalin’s statements in favor of peaceful coexistence in the post-war world as an abandonment of proletarian internationalism. Likewise, he criticized the nationalism of the Cominform in calling upon European Communists to “put themselves at the head of the truly national, truly patriotic forces” as also violating proletarian internationalism.[19]

In this respect, Sutta was far ahead of his time and the rest of the expelled movement. He was equally astute in his critique of the expelled movement for its indifference to theory. Sutta divided the left opposition into two wings, the “actionists” and the “theoreticians.”

The “actionists,” according to Sutta, considered that both the party’s policy and the line of the world Communist movement were generally correct, only the practice of the CPUSA was deficient. This tendency, said Sutta, simply wanted to restore the same militant activity of the "good old days." The “theoreticians,” on the other hand, traced the failure of the party to its general line. Sutta wrote:

“They contend that this current bankrupt policy has its roots in the policy of the ’good old days.’ In the eyes of this group, it is necessary to reexamine the whole theory on which the activities of the Communist Party are based. This means going back to the classics of Marxism and testing them with real life to prove their validity. The position taken by the theoreticians is that without this, no amount of real struggle is worth anything. You cannot take a trip if you do not know where you are going and you cannot organize struggles correctly unless there is a correct line.– [20]

Unfortunately, Sutta refused to work with anyone who rejected his views and his opposition to the Soviet Union and the Communist Information Bureau was immediately labeled “Trotskyism” by the rest of the expelled movement for whom any criticism of the world Communist movement was anathema.

If the expelled movement demonstrated a pronounced sectarianism in its dealings with each other and with forces still within the Party, its political practice was characterized by an ultra-left disregard for the contemporary political situation and the ideological state of the working class. This is most apparent in the approach taken by the left opposition to the Progressive Party movement of Henry Wallace and the 1948 elections.

The NCP, William F. Dunne and Harrison George were united in their opposition to any support or work on behalf of the Progressive Party. NCP displayed its leftism by insisting that there were only two futures for the American working class – socialism or fascism. Since Wallace did not represent the former, any work on his behalf would only mislead the workers and divert attention from the formation of a genuine Communist party.

George, too, opposed the Progressive Party, for its pacifist ideology and its political impotence. Clinging to pre-conceived notions, he insisted that a genuine third party would only result from the federation of various organizations including a Communist party.

Only the Turning Point group among the expelled forces openly fought for Communist intervention in the Progressive Party. Arguing that the masses of American workers were not yet socialist minded, at a moment which required the broadest unity against fascism and the war danger, Turning Point called for an “anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, non-red-baiting third party” in which Communists would play a strong and independent role. [21]

Although conscious of the limitations of the Henry Wallace movement, Turning Point was similarly conscious that isolation from the motion of the advanced sections of the working class would be suicidal for the anti-revisionist Communist movement. Unfortunately, however, left sectarianism was not defeated and the weak and divided multitude of expelled groups was overwhelmed by the onrush of events that produced the Cold War and McCarthyism.


In June 1948, the Communist Information Bureau issued its first communiqué against Titoism and Yugoslavia. In July, the FBI under the Smith Act arrested twelve top leaders of the Communist Party. In November, Truman won reelection while smashing the Third Party dreams of the progressives whose candidate, Henry Wallace, received only a little more than one million votes instead of the expected ten to fifteen million.

The trial of Communist party leaders began in January 1949. The Party was presented with a choice: either resolutely defend the Marxist-Leninist strategy of proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat and face the consequences, or adopt a new peaceful legalist line on the transition to socialism, downplay Marxism-Leninism and hope to ride out the storm. The Party leadership, William Z. Foster and Eugene Dennis in particular, quickly decided on the second alternative.

Since the Smith Act forbade the advocacy of overthrowing the government by force and violence, the Communist Party’s legal strategy was to deny that the law applied to the Party inasmuch as it advocated only a peaceful parliamentary path to socialism. Party witnesses repeated this theme on the stand; party leaders repeated it in the press and to the mass media. It was written into Foster’s history of the Party and embodied in the 1954 party program. On the witness stand, the defense quoted a 1941 pamphlet written by Foster at the height of Browder’s influence which read: “Charges that the Communists advocate violence in this transition from capitalism to socialism are not true.... The masses, once having decided upon establishing socialism, will Inevitably turn to the ways of peace and democracy to achieve the legitimate purpose.” [22]

And, the defense concluded, Foster in 1949 continued to subscribe “completely” to this view Thus, In its efforts to defend itself, the party was reduced to merely defending the Browderite revisionism it had claimed to repudiate four ye previously. At the same time that it was defending Browderism, the party went Browder on step further – it officially adopted the line peaceful transition to socialism in the United States. But this was all to no avail. In October the party leaders were convicted and sentenced three to five years in prison. That same month the CIO met in convention and expelled the left led unions, a decision that intensified the retreat of Communists at all levels in the labor movement.

Understandably, this offensive against the left in general and the Communist Party in particular created an unfavorable situation for Communist work. The CPUSA was hit hard, but the tiny left opposition found the new conditions fatally harsh. Under the pressures, the expelled organizations began to break up. The North Carolina group embraced Titoism. Others felt the need to come to the aide of the Communist Part now under attack. One was Francis Franklin who, in October 1949, announced in the last issue of Toward Socialism that his group was dissolving, returning to the ranks of the CPUSA.

By 1950, the organized left outside the CP had all but disappeared. Only the Turning Point group, which renamed itself the Communist League in 1954, remained, publishing faithfully, if irregularly, Turning Point throughout the Fifties giving up only in 1962 on the eve of the emergence of the New Communist Movement. The Communist League continued its activity throughout these years, defending the Rosenbergs, criticizing Khrushchev's attacks on Stalin, supporting the Chinese and Albanian critiques of Soviet Revisionism, and always repeating the call for a genuine Communist party in the United States.

Few activists in the anti-revisionist struggles of the late 1940’s (other than the Communist League) politically survived the Cold War years. When the Provisional Organizing Committee (POC) was formed in 1958, the Communist League approached it. However, the POC rebuffed them with the epithet of “Stalinist.” Perhaps one reason for POC’s reluctance to work with these veteran anti-revisionists is the in that two of the principal New York Party leader who directed the expulsion of the left in 1946, Isadore Begin and Al Lannon, were themselves expelled from the party as leftists with the POC in 1958. [23]


The multitude of small groups and individuals who constituted the anti-revisionist Communist movement in the late 1940’s differed in their basic goals and methods. Some sought to reform the Communist Party, USA, others attempted to create a new revolutionary Communist party. Neither goal was realized. As we have noted, unfavorable objective conditions contributed to this result, but the character of the expelled movement itself also had much to do with it. Given the many striking similarities between the movement of the 1945-1950 period and the new Communist movement of our own day, it is useful to sum up some of the principal errors made in the post-war period.

Dependence on a Foreign Power. Given the long history of U.S. Communists relying on the Soviet Union for theoretical and political guidance, it is not surprising that the majority of the anti-revisionist forces continued this tradition. Unable to conceive of the possibility of building a U.S. Communist movement on our own theoretical-political efforts, the anti-revisionists looked to the Soviets and the Cominform to install themselves to replace Foster, just as Foster had replaced Browder.

Then, as now, this policy puts off indefinitely the task of advancing the theory and politics appropriate and necessary for Communist revolution in the specific conditions of the U.S. social formation, and reproduces the backwardness and dependence typical of a politically immature and isolated movement.

Dogmatism. The vast bulk of U.S. Communists in the post-war period had been trained in the Marxism-Leninism of the Stalin period. This statement is also true of the bulk of the anti-revisionist forces. Such Marxism, rigid and lifeless, capable only of justifying practice after the fact but not of giving it clear, scientific direction, went unchallenged by the anti-revisionist movement. Even though the anti-revisionists consciously sought out new approaches to the political problems they faced, no sound political line or alternative to the Communist Party emerged from this effort because the expelled movement was lacking the theoretical tools with which to forge such necessary revolutionary politics.

The failure of the post-war anti-revisionist movement, like the failure of the contemporary dogmatist parties, flows directly from the crisis of Marxism of which they were both a product. The difference is that, today, no one can ignore the signs that the crisis is upon us, what with China’s invasion of Vietnam, Euro-Communism and Hoxha’s polemics against Mao. An even more important difference is that today the elements for a theoretical break with the Soviet Marxism of the 1930’s are being produced and made available for our movement to put them to use in the solution of our pressing political problems.

Sectarianism. The majority of the expelled groups elevated the struggle to see their own particular line dominate the rest of the movement over any other consideration. This in-fighting dissipated much of the energy of the anti-revisionists while driving away interested potential supporters within and without the Communist Party. Many groups considered themselves to have a fully developed correct general line and rejected compromise on fundamental points. In so doing, they placed their own narrow group interest above the interests of the movement as a whole.

Then, as now, sectarianism is a tremendous obstacle to Communist unity. In periods like the late 1940’s and the present, when the Communist movement is divided into small local groups, sectarianism and localism feed each other, rendering a national perspective difficult to achieve and, to some groups, inherently suspect. The struggle against sectarianism requires not just a commitment to national unity but the theoretical and political practice that will make principled Communist unity possible.

Ultra-Leftism. Conjuncturally, the anti-revisionist movement of the post-war period could not have appeared at a more inopportune moment. The entire character of the working class movement was shifting from an essentially offensive to a basically defensive posture. The Communist movement was under attack. Efforts to develop a defensive strategy whereby the working class could fight to protect the gains made in the 1930’s were therefore imperative.

The anti-revisionist movement failed to approach their situation realistically and neglected to come up with tactics appropriate to reality. Many of the expelled forces continued to talk abstractly about the struggle for socialism and “revolutionary mass work” without any regard for the actual state of the class struggle or the consciousness of the masses. In this way, they further isolated themselves from the receding mass movements and put forward a line and practice which in no way helped the working class in its retreat prompted by the Cold War and the Taft-Hartley Act.

Then, as now, ultra-leftism preaches endlessly about revolutionary tactics and the struggle for Communism in the complete absence of any analysis of the state of the conjuncture, class forces and class consciousness. Then, as now, ultra-leftism is more concerned with the purity of its own tactics then it is with their effectiveness in bringing Communism to the working class.

Of course, these conclusions and criticisms apply with different weight to different expelled groups. Nonetheless, they apply to the overall character of the anti-revisionist movement, 1945-1950. As such, they constitute a grim warning to our contemporary movement of the danger that remains as long as these deviations are not defeated in our own theory and practice.

All statements made in the article are taken from these works or are referred to in them. The definitive work on this subject will, no doubt, correct many inaccuracies contained in the article. In the interests of space, however, we have kept the footnotes to a minimum.

[1]See Lenin, “’Left Wing’ Communism – An Infantile Disorder”, Collected Works, vol. 31, p.92.

[2]For an interesting, if contradictory, treatment of Browderism, see Chapter 15 in On the Roots of Revisionism (Revolutionary Road Publishers, 1979).

[3] Earl Browder, Teheran – Our Path in War and Peace (International Publishers, 1944).

[4]Earl Browder, “Teheran – History’s Greatest Turning Point,” The Communist (January, 1944), p. 8.

[5]The Path to Peace, Progress and Prosperity. Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the Communist Political Association (CPA, 1944).

[6] Marxism-Leninism vs. Revisionism (New Century Publishers, 1946), p. 8.

[7] Ibid., p. 78.

[8] Fergus McKean, Communism versus Opportunism, (1946), p. 88.

[9] NCP Report, No. 1, October 28, 1946.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Harrison George, The Crisis in the C.P.U.S.A. (1947).

[12] William F. Dunne, The Struggle Against Opportunism in the Labor Movement, For a Socialist United States (New York Communication Committee, n.d.).

[13] See the flyer An S.O.S. to All Communists from the P.R. Club, CP., issued in October, 1946, and the article, “11 Rank-and-File Communists Ousted by Party for Rebellion,” New York Times November 6, 1946.

[14] Turning Point, Vol. 1, No. 1, (3uly, 1948).

[15] Turning Point, Vol. 1, No. 2, (September, 1948), p. 34.

[16] Ibid., p. 43.

[17] Ibid., p. 50.

[18] For a discussion of the current debate on the Communist treatment of proletarian internationalism, see Paul Costello, “World Imperialism and Marxist Theory: On the International Line of the Communist Movement,” Theoretical Review, #9 (March-April, 1979).

[19] Burt Sutta, Correspondence with Homer Mulligan (n.p., n.d.), p. 33.

[20] Ibid., p. 1.

[21] Turning Point, Vol. 1, No. 1 (July, 1948), pp. 4-5.

[22] Quoted in The Communist Trials and the American Tradition (Cameron, 1956), p. 139.


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