Socialism & Communism in America

“In 1905, Upton Sinclair founded the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which soon had chapters in the leading universities. Lively young men and women discussed the “New Gospel according to St. Marx.” Universities [even then] were considered to be favorable ground for progressive thought.

Following the failed election of 1912, Socialist Party membership began to decline as some members cast their vote for Woodrow Wilson. Others were expelled, such as the Industrial Workers of the World [also called the ‘Wobblies’], of which Debs and labor organizer “Mother” [Mary Harris] Jones had once been members. The IWW had been organized in 1905, grew into a radical, direct-action wing of American socialism by 1910, and had up to 100,000 workers as members by 1915.

By 1917, Socialist Party membership had slipped to 80,000. Nevertheless, by 1920 Debs managed to garner 919,800 votes for his presidential candidacy, the most a socialist has ever received in America, albeit making up only 3.4 percent of the popular vote. Those votes were representative of Americans` disillusionment with World War I, and of Debs himself, who spoke passionately against the country`s involvement in that war.

Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Espionage Act of 1917 was crafted to jail “anyone who interfered with the draft or encouraged disloyalty [to America]” and provided for jail sentences of 10 to 20 years. The Sedition Act of 1918 extended further penalties to those found obstructing the sale of U.S. war bonds, discouraging recruitment, uttering “disloyal or abusive language” about the government, the Constitution, the American flag, or even the U.S. military uniform. Under those acts, the government arrested more than 1,500 people, including Eugene Debs.

The Socialist Party`s strength was further sapped by 1920, because of government suppression and public disapproval during World War I. Such anti-socialist hysteria as the “Red Scare”, and internal factionalism, aggravated by the presence of Communists, took their toll. Fears associated with the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power in Russia, bombings in the United States, along with a series of labor strikes, led to the Red Scare in 1919.

Unlike many of Franklin Roosevelt’s advisors, as we shall see, the vast American general public were skeptical and suspicious of the communist system and success in the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin. Their demands led the Republican administrations that dominated the 1920s to take action and suspected socialists and Communists were arrested and thrown into jail. In the end, of the 5,000 people who were given arrest warrants, only slightly more than 600 were actually deported.

In addition, the party`s failure during the 1920s was due to its inability to appeal to the upwardly mobile worker who yearned to be part of the middle class. [It was that old progressive bugaboo – Americans didn’t want to be “just like everyone else, they wanted to better themselves and “…move on up.”] The party also was divided along racial and ethnic lines [- surprising, I know]. Their broadest appeal was to the [allegedly] well-educated members of society – high society – who would elect one of their own in 1932. In 1928, the Socialist presidential candidate, Norman Thomas, received only 267,835 votes.

Thomas was a Princeton graduate and Presbyterian minister in New York. He succeeded Debs after the latter`s death as the perennial presidential candidate in the 1928, 1932 and 1936 elections. Thomas stood as more indicative of the Socialist Party member, which was made up of mostly intellectuals and some in the middle class, rather than a worker`s party that Debs had basically represented.

By the mid-Twenties, the party was deeply divided and failed to revive itself during the depression years of the 1930s. Socialists were also plagued by extreme doubt on the part of most progressives, who later were leading the charge to free America from the economic woes of the Great Depression [through federal government programs and policies – mostly unconstitutional] and were weathering deep hostility from conservatives.

During the election of 1932, the Socialist and Communist parties, who had insisted that capitalism had collapsed, pulled less than one million votes combined. American voters had grown weary of Republican laissez-faire policies and therefore Democrats won big in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, illustrating that Americans, [at America’s] moment of its greatest peril, had faith in their country and its institutions. In that election, Norman Thomas received only 892,000 votes.

During the election of 1936, Republicans painted Franklin D. Roosevelt as leading the country towards the platform of the Socialist Party. “Creeping socialism,” an expression used in modern times to describe America`s so-called drift towards a socialistic society, was coined by author F.A. Hayek in his book The Road to Serfdom. Published in 1944, Hayek`s book warned of the dangers of state control over the means of production, which he perceived to be occurring, especially in regards to the federal extortion involved in the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), during the New Deal administrations of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Hayek believed that excessive governmental controls on society did not deliver on their promises and that their ideology actually delivered dismal economic results. But more importantly, he averred (correctly, almost clairvoyantly, as it turns out), it produces a psychological change in the character of the people, in that man`s desire to better himself is what drives him to succeed and also improves the way of life for those around him. According to Hayek, socialism strips man of his desire to succeed.

Because of the Cold War, which began in 1946, McCarthyism, and the dominance of “Middle American” values, the Communist and Socialist parties virtually disappeared in the 1950s, when membership fell to below 2,000 members. Many Socialists left the party because it was seen that more progressive reform could be achieved through membership in the Democrat Party. Among those who departed were: Walter Reuther, Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin.

After the war, life became good for the average American, who worked fewer than 40 hours per week. Most received annual two-week vacations and had twice the income to spend as they had during the nation`s previous economic boom time in the late Twenties. There was no interest in changing a system that was working to the benefit of most of the people.

During the 1960s and `70s, the Socialist Party exerted little influence on American society because of intra-party conflict, as well as its refusal to support the anti-Vietnam War movement that was sweeping across America. In 1968 at the Socialist Party convention, members passed a resolution to support Democrat Hubert Humphrey for president, instead of nominating their own candidate.

And in 1972, the body chose to support George McGovern for President. But then for the first time in 20 years, in 1976, the Socialist Party decided to run its own presidential campaign with former Milwaukee mayor Frank Zeidler (1948-1960) for president and J. Quinn Brisben, a Chicago teacher, for vice president. Since that time, others have been nominated, including Willa Kenoyer (1988), J. Quinn Brisben (1992) and Mary Cal Hollis in 1996.

In American society today, socialist groups range in political views from the extreme right to the extreme left. The extreme right wing groups comprise neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and fascist groups such as the National Socialist Movement or NSM, whose purpose is to “purify” American society through violent and non-violent means. The NSM is said to wear the uniforms and paraphernalia of, and endorse the centralized thought control of, the Third Reich. According to their website, the NSM is an organization that is “dedicated to the preservation of our Proud Aryan Heritage, and the creation of a National Socialist Society in America and around the world.”

Representing the far left wing are such groups as the Socialist Party U.S.A. That party believes in what is called “Democratic Socialism,” defined as “a political and economic system with freedom and equality for all, so that people may develop to their fullest potential in harmony with others.” The party further [dubiously] states that it is “committed to full freedom of speech, assembly, press, and religion, and to a multi-party system” and that the ownership and control of the production and distribution of goods “should be democratically controlled public agencies, cooperatives, or other collective groups.”

Now, to communism. “Karl Marx, the 19th century father of [modern] communism and author of The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital(1867– revised several times until 1894), was apparently outraged by the growing gap between rich and poor. He saw capitalism as an outmoded economic system that exploited workers, who would eventually rise up against the rich because the poor were so unfairly treated. Marx thought that the economic system of communism would replace capitalism. Communism is based on principles meant to correct the problems thought to be caused by capitalism. Its basic organizing principle is, again: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Both the means of production and the distribution of wealth is state controlled.”

“The most important principle of communism is that no private ownership of property should be allowed. Marx believed that private ownership encouraged greed and motivated people to knock out the competition, no matter what the consequences. Property should be shared, and the people should ultimately control the economy. The government should exercise the control in the name of the people, utilizing central planning as the primary organizing principle, at least in the transition between capitalism and communism. The goals are to [have the federal government] eliminate the gap between the rich and poor and bring about economic equality [today, a central tenet of the PLDC].”

Marx’ proposition was implemented by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) in the new Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The economy of the ancient Russian Empire was in shambles when Lenin in 1919, and then Josef Stalin beginning in 1924, ruled the Soviet Union and was still in shambles when it fell of its own weight in 1989. Communism was an abject and historical failure.

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) is a communist political party in the United States. Established in 1919, it has a long, complex history that is closely related to the histories of similar communist parties worldwide and the U.S. labor movement. By August 1919, only months after its founding, the Communist Party claimed 50,000 to 60,000 American members. Members also included anarchists and other radical leftists. In contrast, the more moderate Socialist Party of America had 40,000 members.

The sections of the Communist Party’s International Workers Order meanwhile organized for communism around linguistic and ethnic lines, providing mutual aid and tailored cultural activities to an IWO membership that peaked at 200,000 at its height.

For the first half of the 20th Century, the Communist Party was a highly influential force in various struggles for democratic [and economic] rights. Along with Roosevelt’s Democrat Party, it played a prominent role in the U.S. labor movement from the 1920s through the 1940s, having a major hand in founding most of the country’s first industrial unions (which [in a delicious irony] would later use the McCarran Internal Security Act to expel their own Communist members) while also becoming known for opposing racism and fighting for integration in workplaces and communities during the height of the Jim Crow period of U.S. racial segregation.

“Historian Ellen Schrecker concludes that decades of recent scholarship offer “a more nuanced portrayal of the party as both a Stalinist sect tied to a vicious regime and the most dynamic organization within the American Left during the 1930s and ’40s”. In its heyday it had a strong network across the country, scoring several local election successes. Three Democratic congressmen were secretly Communist Party members. Earl Browder led the Communist Party USA from 1934-1945.

The House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC] was formed in 1938 to protect the US against Nazi infiltration, but soon became a vehicle for targeting suspected Communists in the trade unions, Hollywood, and the government. It gained a reputation for publicity seeking, playing on anti-Communist hysteria, and hectoring people with unconventional opinions.

But it did score one notable success, when persistent questioning by [California Congressman and] future President Richard Nixon resulted in the exposure as a spy of former high-ranking, socially well-connected Roosevelt State Department official named Alger Hiss, after revelations that espionage had allowed the Soviet Union to obtain an atomic bomb more than a decade before it was predicted, Congress passed the 1950 Internal Security Bill, which placed various restrictions on Communists and communist organizations. We have already seen its presence in the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s and ‘40s.

The same year, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin launched a crusade against communism, claiming that scores or even hundreds of Communists were working in the State Department. Four years of unfortunate witch-hunting by McCarthy resulted in thousands of innocent people losing their jobs and hundreds being imprisoned but, after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, formerly secret archives in Moscow revealed that much of McCarthy’s rhetoric was accurate – the American government had been infiltrated by Soviet spies – aided and abetted by the CPUSA!

The Communist Party’s early labor and organizing successes also did not last. As the decades progressed, the combined effects of the second Red Scare, McCarthyism, Nikita Khrushchev‘s 1956 Secret Speech denouncing the previous decades of Joseph Stalin‘s rule, and the adversities of the continued Cold War mentality, steadily weakened the Party’s internal structure and confidence. 

The Party’s membership in the Comintern (The Communist International) and its close adherence to the political positions of the Soviet Union made the party appear to most Americans as not only a threatening, subversive domestic entity, but also as a “foreign” agent fundamentally alien to the “American way of life”.

During the Cold War the CPUSA had a parallel underground structure, and a small number of their people spied for Moscow. Until the 1980s the party was receiving substantial amounts of Soviet funding, money that the FBI knew about and tracked. Many members left over Soviet repression in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, as the party maintained an orthodox, pro-Moscow line. 

Internal and external crises swirled together, to the point where members who did not end up in prison for party activities tended either to disappear quietly from its ranks or to adopt more moderate political positions at odds with the Communists’ party line. By 1957, membership had dwindled to less than 10,000, of whom some 1,500 were informants for the FBI.

The party attempted to recover with its opposition to the Vietnam War during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but its continued uncritical support for an increasingly stultified and militaristic Soviet Union increasingly alienated them from the rest of left-wing America, which saw this supportive role as outdated and even dangerous. At the same time, the party’s aging membership demographics and noticeably hollow calls for “peaceful coexistence” failed to speak to a new Left in the United States. 

With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and his effort to radically alter the Soviet economic and political system from the mid-1980s, the Communist Party finally became estranged from the leadership of the Soviet Union itself. In 1989, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union cut off major funding to the CPUSA due to its opposition to Gorbachov’s initiatives of glasnost and perestroika. 

The final split came when Gus Hall, leader from 1959-2000, supported the coup by Soviet hardliners against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1991, the party held its convention and attempted to resolve the issue of whether the Party should reject Marxism-Leninism. The majority reasserted the party’s now purely Marxist outlook, prompting a minority faction which urged social democrats to exit the now reduced party.

The party has since adopted Marxism-Leninism within its program, but in 2014 the National Committee dropped all references to Marxism-Leninism from the Party Constitution in the new draft adopted during the 30th National Convention. The new constitution still endorses government control of the means of production and distribution of wealth (for all but the party apparatchiks).

But, government control has an inverse relationship to personal freedom which is important to Americans.  The more control government has the less freedom individuals have. At the two extremes, you have either a total dictatorship or you have total anarchy. [Americans want neither.]

Today, not far from Wall Street, on the seventh floor of an elegant eight-story building on West 23rd Street, is the headquarters of this one improbable political survivor – the Communist Party USA. The office is bright and modern. On one wall are black-and-white photo portraits of major figures in the party’s history. The works of Marx, Engels and Lenin are stacked in bookshelves.

The building was bought to house the party in the 1970s, long before the surrounding neighborhood of Chelsea became the fashionable home of many young progressive/liberal/ Democrats. In a concession to capitalist reality, all but two floors are now rented out. The revenue supports People’s World, an online publication that is the direct descendent of the party’s long defunct newspaper, the Daily Worker.

Its ultimate aim, however, is still sweeping in its ambition. “Socialism will usher in a new era in this country,” the party program states. “The great wealth of the United States will for the first time be for the benefit of all the people.” “The longer-term goal is the communist society, the ending of all class divisions, a society of equality, the withering away of the state”.

The immediate task is to defeat America’s “extreme right” by contributing to a broader coalition of left-wing groups that campaign against economic inequality and for minority rights. “The climate in the country is changing, people are thinking about economic inequality.” [One can almost hear the same ideas at any Democrat National Nominating Convention.] A socialist society is the goal in the “foreseeable future”, CPUSA leaders say, with communism “probably much more distant”.

Critics who’ve followed the party’s course, however, are dismissive. “The positions they take are really indistinguishable from the left-wing, social-democratic groups [not to mention the Democrat Party Platform],” says Ron Radosh, a historian and writer who left the party after the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. “I don’t even know why anyone belongs to it.” Others call the party “a sect, a cult almost”, and says he stopped paying attention to it nearly 10 years ago, because it had become “essentially irrelevant”.”

But there are hints that the party may finally, quietly shed some historical baggage as it builds alliances with other groups on the American left. Looking ahead, some say the party wants to create an atmosphere in which “comrades” feel free to raise their concerns, including over the party’s name.

The Founding Fathers thought that about 40% government with about 60% personal freedoms was the best approach for the American Experiment. This balance allows free enterprise to flourish, with enough control to prevent abuses but not enough to encourage the abuse of the People. However, they realized this type of government would only succeed with an informed, moral and free population. 

As a society becomes more ignorant, corrupt and regulated, there are increasing  opportunities for government control of the population. The Communists realize the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah provide a moral framework for our society, and if they can destroy the Church, the Temple, the truth and society’s morality, it will be easier to impose Big Government controls on America. 

So why the long dissertation on the various socio-political groups that have played significant roles in the American story? Because it is necessary to recognize the true essence of the success of the American culture that brought us to the zenith of human history in 1945. Recall, the English-speaking Europeans, the heirs of thousands of years of Western Civilization, came to North America in the middle of the second millennium to begin a new chapter of history, free from religious and political persecution that had plagued Europe since the fall of Rome and the great schism in the Catholic Church which had survived the fall. 

There, the Europeans met a primitive aboriginal people and began the inevitable struggle for control of the land – a cycle that has been the catalyst for the advancement of civilizations since the first humans organized into tribes in Southeast Africa, and reflects who we are as human beings – like it or not. The outcome could never have been in doubt because of the technological gulf between the two peoples. Over the centuries, Latins, Mexicans, Asians, Muslims, socialists, communists and other groups have joined the aboriginals in contesting for significant power in the territory of the United States and Africans were brought in significant numbers as slaves.

Of these groups, only Asians have come from successful traditions and sustainable cultures – dating back thousands of years. Mexico is a failed state. Many Latin states have adopted socialism (or communism), Islam was a failed system that now has been hijacked by violent, militant, imperialistic, psychopaths who prefer to live by laws and customs constructed in the 7th Century. Socialism and communism have proven to be failed economic and cultural systems on a grand scale. The aboriginals have failed to assimilate into the American culture to any great degree. They prefer to live separately.

The Africans however, developed a successful African-American culture during their years in bondage, a culture of survival and of dreams, and when they won their freedom, their dream was to join the American parade. It took another cruel century but they finally had that dream within their grasp when the welfare-state, masquerading as the Great Society was imposed on America.

The point is, there is nothing of profound value that any other culture, which has been involved in the American experiment, has to offer that is more valuable than the features of the Constitutional culture left to us by the Founders.

I’m not talking menu items, dance rhythms, colorful fashions or the like. I’m talking about the moral ethos of the Western Tradition that recognizes right from wrong, good from evil, faith from folly – where art, literature, language, creativity, patience, individuality, education, religion, faith, invention, private property, law and order, success, love, reverence, respect, wisdom, truth, effort, and the long view of history are inherent, valued, timeless and essential elements of the American culture.

The influences of other cultures have changed America since 1945 primarily by devaluing these essential elements and these changes need to be reversed because their effect has been devastating to the traditional American culture and has weakened it to the point that America itself is in danger of imploding into chaos.

The essential question now becomes profound: Why has America changed so drastically and fundamentally since the end of World War II when America stood alone as the colossus of freedom and democracy handed down generation by generation from the Framers and Ratifiers in 1789?

The American people in the early 1950’s had endured more than twenty years of hardship and chaos since the stock market crash in October 1929, the Great Depression of the 1930’s and world war beginning at the end of that decade. Because of shared sacrifice and the victory over Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in 1945, the America I was born into was filled with informed, engaged, optimistic, self-reliant and supremely confident citizens convinced that they could and would rebuild their lives and global civilization to a stature unseen in human history. They went back to work and to school with a focused determination to succeed on a personal and national level. Even the sky would no longer be the limit.

Within five years they had rebuilt America’s peacetime economy; millions had finished their college degrees or had begun successful businesses or professional careers and most had begun traditional nuclear families – determined that their children would never have to experience the deprivations and hardships that they had endured.

Then, as a result of stunning duplicity, government failures and mistakes, wartime ally China fell under the influence of militant international communism; another wartime ally, the communist Soviet Union, developed its own atomic bomb and threatened its use amid charges that the technology had been provided by American and British traitors within their own governments – charges that later proved to be absolutely true – the Soviet Union beat America into space and finally, another war came to Asia.

The self-confidence of Americans was shaken. Questions began to be asked about our competency as the leader of the free world and scapegoats began to be targeted. Over the next several decades the fragile bonds between a government, granted limited power, and the People granting such power, began to fray because of the inappropriate use of that governmental power.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) wielded expanding government powers and targeted many civilian government officials, intellectuals and entertainers as suspected communist sympathizers. These unfortunates then became victims as “Blacklisting” emerged as an unjustified punishment to many who were denied due process under the law.

Radicals in the effected institutions struck back, first undermining the popular historical chronology of America that had inspired so many generations and then by undermining institutions through which America had risen to create a nation that was as broadly and deeply good as the world had ever seen. In the middle of it all, as they have been since the end of the abolitionist movement in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War in 1865, were the progressives, who had morphed into the liberal wing of the Democrat Party, and who now control the entire Party apparatus.

By the early 60’s, America’s intellectual landscape was riddled with socialist and communist aficionados, New Deal malcontents, counterculture celebrities, Cold War victims and all of their disciples – all discontented with the status quo. Radicalism and revolution were in the air. Through their efforts at disrupting America’s institutions, these progressive/liberal/Democrat operatives have done serious damage to the nation and have left many casualties in their wake.

Not the least of which are the capitalists – the “evil” capitalists – the ones who have grown this nation from a backwater agrarian colony to the most prosperous nation in the history of the world in only 156 years. The focus of my auntie’s fictional novel, they have been depicted over the last 80 years (except when they were called upon to defeat real evil in World War II) as the worst type of person – exploiting the poor, down-trodden “worker” for the sole sake of profit.

Profit now is a pejorative term that must never be celebrated because it is only possible from the backbreaking work of oppressed laborers. Never mind the overwhelming number of socially conscious, morally and ethically motivated modern corporations who are all sensationally smeared by the corrupt press/media for the sins of the few who are morally bankrupt. The progressive/liberal solution is to redistribute wealth – to “ensure” equal outcomes for all no matter the effort, no matter the contribution.

My auntie dealt with this view in a novel way (no pun intended) – the capitalists, the ones who knew how to get things done, simply left the scene. Of course, chaos followed. Sound familiar? Where did she get the idea – from the socialist and communist aficionados of her day.

Next time: the modern PLDC.

 

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