Preview: The CP, 1923–25 – Grandiose schemes and outmaneuvered maneuvers

The following is preview content from the forthcoming document The CP, the Sixties, the RCP, and the Crying Need for a Communist Vanguard Party Today: Summing up a century of communist leadership, organization, strategy, and practice in the United States so that we can rise to the challenges before us by the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries (US). This document will be published in early 2023 as kites #8. Check back here for pre-order info.

The following preview comes from the summation of the Communist Party, USA (referred to as the CP in this document – its official name from 1923–25 was the Workers Party of America.). See the table of contents to understand how this preview fits into the document as a whole.


Grandiose schemes and outmaneuvered maneuvers

In contrast to the post-WWI crisis, the Comintern analyzed the mid-1920s as a time of “partial stabilization” of the capitalist system that required a new set of tactics to avoid communist parties becoming too isolated from the masses when revolutionary politics were not immediately popular. What came to known as the Comintern’s “Second Period” (1923–28) approach dealt both with the reality of the post-WWI high tide of revolutionary struggle in Europe subsiding and the need to correct dogmatic errors in the ways in which newly formed communist parties interpreted the lessons of the Russian Revolution, as addressed in Lenin’s 1920 “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder. For the CPUSA, these “Second Period” policies were used as a rationalization for ill-conceived attempts to leap to the head of an emerging farmer-labor third-party electoral movement by virtue of organizational maneuvering.

Because capitalism is capitalism, even with “partial stabilization” and the affluence of the “roaring twenties” in the US, substantial sections of the masses faced bitter poverty, exploitation, and financial ruin. Impoverished farmers and segments of the proletariat were coalescing into an alliance that sought to challenge bourgeois power, including in the electoral arena. The emerging farmer-labor movement won significant electoral victories in Minnesota in 1922 and 1923, and began to strategize a challenge to the dominant two parties in national elections. Sections of organized labor, most notably the Chicago Federation of Labor led by John Fitzpatrick, saw an opportunity to develop an electoral vehicle to further their interests.1 The CP viewed this situation as an opportunity to get to the head of the farmer-labor movement and the electoral vehicle it was giving birth to. How a farmer-labor electoral party would serve revolutionary objectives was never solidly answered by the CP except with delusional grand schemes, and likely rested on illusions within the CP about the nature of state power. Nevertheless, it was correct for the CP to recognize and attempt to intervene in the emerging farmer-labor movement given that it involved large sections of masses.

The CP’s mistake was imagining that it could get to the head of the movement by way of organizational maneuvers. Foster and the TUEL had a previous relationship with John Fitzpatrick and ties with the Chicago Federation of Labor, which they used to play a prominent role in the July 1923 Farmer-Labor Party conference. This conference brought together various forces in the labor movement, with delegates representing 600,000 people. The CP used its disciplined organization to maneuver for organizational control at the conference by having its delegates ensure that votes went the way the CP wanted. Its maneuvers were interpreted by others, rightly or wrongly, as opportunism, and led to animosity between Fitzpatrick and the CP and to the TUEL being effectively cut out of the Chicago Federation of Labor. The CP emerged from this conference exercising leadership over the Federated Farmer-Labor Party, as distinguished from Fitzpatrick’s Farmer-Labor Party. While some CP leaders heralded the Federated Farmer-Labor Party as a great victory, the reality was that little political unity was won from non-CPers within it, so it never became a viable tool for accomplishing anything, electorally or otherwise. 2 The CP gauging success as gaining control of large organizations through tactical maneuvering rather than winning the masses in them over to its leadership through the development of their political consciousness and through concretely demonstrating its ability to lead, in the interests of the masses, through the twists and turns of the struggle would be a repeated problem in the CP’s history, and one that bred opportunist outlooks within its ranks. In this case, it also led to reneging on important matters of principle: at the Farmer-Labor conference, in the name of achieving unity, all but one CP member gave up on fighting for a platform that included Black equality and, as a result, “all references to social equality and an end to segregation were eliminated” from the Farmer-Labor platform.3

Within the growing farmer-labor movement, Robert LaFollette, a progressive Wisconsin senator, emerged as the most popular figure and the most viable candidate for national elections. The CP’s efforts to enter into an alliance with LaFollette and get him to adopt the platform of the Federated Farmer-Labor Party were rebuffed. LaFollette’s Conference for Progressive Political Action, held July 4, 1924, adopted its own platform, and LaFollette denounced communism as the enemy of the progressive movement. While the CP ran Foster as its presidential candidate, only garnering 33,300 votes, and busied themselves with denouncing LaFollette with harsh polemics, LaFollette managed to score an impressive 4,825,000 votes in the 1924 presidential election, against 15,720,000 votes for Coolidge and 8,380,000 for Davis. LaFollette’s votes came substantially from proletarians and poor farmers.4

The problem with the CP’s tactics in the 1924 election were not that it scored so poorly in a bourgeois election—that is a terrible gauge for the work of a communist party, especially in an imperialist country. The problem was that the CP failed to develop a way to relate to the farmer-labor movement, and the mass desire for a third-party in the elections, on the basis of revolutionary objectives. It opportunistically imagined it could leap to the head of the movement and use third-party electoral schemes to leapfrog over the need to consciously and conscientiously win over the masses to its politics. The CP needed to be addressing the masses who were drawn to the LaFollette presidential campaign with agitation and propaganda aimed at moving those masses from where they were at towards proletarian class-consciousness, which could not be achieved by dogmatic denunciations of LaFollette (though his limitations, and the limitations of bourgeois elections in general, needed to be pointed out to the masses). And the CP needed to move those masses practically towards a politics of militant class struggle. These are undoubtedly difficult objectives to achieve when a reformist politics holds sway among sections of the masses, but they are far better and more productive objectives than tactical maneuvers for organizational control and alliances founded on opportunism.

The CP’s attempted interventions in the farmer-labor movement and the LaFollette campaign started out as grandiose schemes for mass influence but ended up as fiascoes that further isolated them from the masses. On top of those disasters, when Samuel Gompers consolidated his leadership over the AFL at its 1923 conference, TUEL organizers were effectively expelled from it and no longer able to “bore from within” existing AFL trade-unions.5 Even though this setback was not the fault of CP leadership, it contributed to further isolating the CP from the masses. From 1923–25, the CP failed to lead any significant mass struggles.

Further down the spiral of unity – factionalism – unity

The grandiose schemes behind the CP’s actions in relation to the farmer-labor movement and the LaFollette campaign were theoretically and politically rationalized in CP leadership by John Pepper (Joseph Pogany). Pepper argued that agriculture was the weakest link in the US economy, and that a farmers’ revolution was on the horizon that would pave the way for a proletarian revolution. His two-stage revolution delusion was wrapped up in an analogy to the Russian February and October Revolutions of 1917, with LaFollette as the American version of Kerensky. This analogy had appeal to a still politically immature US Communist Party reared on the almost mythical stories of the how the Bolsheviks came to power, and Pepper was the right person to tell these tales. For Pepper was a Hungarian comrade who had participated in the short-lived revolutionary government in his country and, after its defeat, had worked for the Comintern. He came to the US as part of the Comintern delegation to the 1922 Bridgman Convention and stayed, becoming part of the CP’s leadership. He used the prestige of the Comintern to dazzle his US comrades, whose own culture of factionalism led them to treat Pepper’s insider knowledge of the Comintern as a tactical advantage. The fact that such a dubious character as Pepper had so much sway in the CP says much about how deeply factionalism was festering in its ranks.6

Pepper’s analysis was a shoddy, mechanical application of the experience of the Russian Revolution to American circumstances, and rested on a view of revolution as emerging out of spontaneous crisis. It led him to put forward one grandiose scheme after another and ignore the strategic failures those schemes were sprouting. He found an ally in the Party leadership in Ruthenberg, and the two of them pushed ahead with the Federated Farmer-Labor Party over the objections of others in Party leadership, including Foster, who was especially concerned about provoking an irreconcilable rupture with Fitzpatrick (probably more for opportunistic reasons of maintaining an organizational position in the labor movement than principle).7

What emerged from the internal struggle over the farmer-labor movement was a new round of factionalism. Foster and Cannon, two Party leaders associated with labor organizing, emerged as the leaders of the faction in opposition to Pepper and Ruthenberg. There were at times factions within factions, as well as a third, smaller faction led by Ludwig Lore of the German language federation. Rather than engage in principled line struggle, developing their positions and enabling the Party as a whole to debate them out and become more theoretically and politically capable in the process, the different factions maneuvered for organizational control over different spheres of the Party’s work, such as labor organizing, jockeyed to get a majority of Party members on their side not unlike bourgeois politicians, and appealed to Comintern leadership for support.8

With factionalism prevailing in the CPUSA, the Comintern frequently had to play the role of outside arbiter of internal disputes, and a spiral-like dynamic of Comintern-imposed unity giving way to factionalism and then (temporarily) resolved by Comintern-imposed unity shaped the CPUSA throughout the 1920s. While the Comintern sought to unite the factions around a revolutionary line rather than putting one in control over the other, it did frequently bolster one faction or another based on which faction’s tactics were more in line with the Comintern’s policies at the time. But whatever faction was more in line with Comintern policies at a given time, their unity with the Comintern leadership was only a surface-level unity based on the best tactics for the particular juncture rather than the deeper ideological, political, and strategic unity that communist organizations require. This “a new year, a new faction in command” dynamic was corrosive to the functioning of the CP.

Although the Comintern was overall struggling for principled unity within the CP, the culture of intrigue and opportunism that defined the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party out of which the Bolsheviks emerged as a revolutionary party seeped into the Comintern to some degree, especially through the figure of Zinoviev, who headed the Comintern at this time.9 Moreover, the mid-1920s witnessed life-and-death line struggles over the direction of the Soviet Union, with Stalin fighting to continue building socialism in the face of no revolutionary advances in Western Europe against Trotsky’s insistence on giving up the advance of socialism in the Soviet Union in the name of inadequate productive forces.10 While Stalin and the revolutionary line in the CPSU won these battles using overwhelmingly principled, aboveboard methods of line struggle, Trotsky employed opportunist methods, as did the subsequent factional opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev to Stalin’s revolutionary line. CPUSA leaders, many of whom had been steeped in SP petty-bourgeois political methods, bureaucratic union leadership practices, and American pragmatism, likely imbibed the intrigue and opportunism that seeped its way into the functioning of the Comintern rather than recognizing it as bourgeois baggage to be cast off. Indeed, CP leaders, factionalizing their way through the 1920s, often related to the Comintern from the perspective of tactically maneuvering to get the Comintern leadership behind their faction rather than struggling to unite around a revolutionary line.

Political, organizational, social, and cultural glue

While ill-conceived grandiose schemes and factionalism prevented the CP from making any practical breakthroughs in this period, its membership was sustained and its practice developed through a variety of publications, organizations, and institutions that came to constitute the political, organizational, social, and cultural glue of the CP. Party leadership and the political line in command were overall decisive in determining the direction of the Party, but that leadership and line was transmitted through publications and organizational vehicles, which, combined with the overall cultural life in and around the CP, defined the daily lives of Party members and supporters.

The CP established its main publication for a mass audience, the Daily Worker, in 1924, after Comintern prodding to establish a daily newspaper in English. The Daily Worker transmitted the CP’s views on everything from international events to US politics to sports, and alerted readers to changes in the CP’s line and leadership. In addition to the Daily Worker, various local, regional, and “shop” (serving a particular factory or factories) newspapers developed, as well as periodicals in languages other than English. Furthermore, many CP-led organizations developed their own regular publications, creating a considerable network of written propaganda. In late 1925, the CP reported having “twenty-seven publications in nineteen languages with a total circulation of 177,250.”11 The practice of developing a diverse array of publications serving different political purposes and audiences while maintaining a regular centralized publication for a mass audience is certainly something to emulate. However, communist publications should avoid dogmatic or, as Mao put it “stereotyped Party writing,” which CP publications certainly suffered from.12 Reflecting a substantial degree of what Lenin called economism, the Daily Worker tended to put too much focus on the immediate conditions of the factories and narrowed the focus of its audience to their immediate conditions of exploitation.

The CP also published a theoretical journal—The Communist13—and, later, a journal devoted to problems and challenges of organizing and leading the class struggle—the Party Organizer—to give summations of the Party’s work, go more deeply into political questions than could be done in the context of a newspaper, and debate out line questions within the Party. While the quality of the articles in these journals is of quite a mixed bag and the CP never produced theoretical work that left a positive, deep impact on the international communist movement, their journals did serve a need for deeper political engagement. At their best, these journals provided honest appraisals of the Party’s organizing efforts.

Besides publications, another form the CP developed to conduct political education was Party schools. The New York Workers School, opened in 1923 at Union Square, was the CP’s flagship in this respect, serving hundreds of mostly immigrant proletarian students in the 1920s and thousands in the 1930s. “Fundamentals of Communism” was the core course, with other courses serving to deepen students’ theoretical grasp of Marxism or train them in methods of organizing.

To carry out its political objectives and to organize people beyond Party members under Party leadership, the CP developed a variety of organizations, including unions and labor organizations, unemployed and tenants organizations, social and cultural groups, and efforts focused on particular political struggles. Some examples of such organizations set up during the 1920s include the National Council for Protection of the Foreign Born (opposing anti-immigrant hysteria and deportations), the All-American Anti-Imperialist League, the United Farmers’ Educational League, the Anti-Fascist Alliance of North America, and the Labor Sports Union of America.14 These organizations varied in shape and size; some consisted of mainly Party members and others drew in substantial numbers of Party supporters. Some developed into large mass organizations, and some were built as alliances involving non-Communist political forces. These organizations have been variously called Party auxiliaries, front groups, united fronts, and mass organizations. For purposes of our summation, a general term accurately encompassing all of them is Party-led organizations, and from there we can arrive at the specific function and achievements of particular Party-led organizations through concrete analysis and label them accordingly. While the quality of the CP’s Party-led organizations varied considerably, the sheer breadth of them was impressive, and points to an important necessity of revolutionary strategy: to create multiple avenues for different sections of the popular classes to come in contact with, work under the leadership of, and join the vanguard, a communist party must construct a wide variety of organizations that address an equally wide variety of political, social, and cultural questions are needed.

In addition to publications, forms for political education, and Party-led organizations were cultural institutions and the more general culture of Party members and supporters. Immigrant CPers were often part of social clubs based among people of their country of origin. The CP cultivated a variety of cultural institutions and events, from dances to summer camps, which reached their height in the 1930s and, at their best, promoted communist values among their participants.15

Around the membership of the Party, the CP developed and led a large network of sympathizers and supporters who did not have the same level of commitment as Party members, but took an active part in the Communist movement and provided important forms of support to the Party, including funds. Party supporters subscribed to Party publications, were active members of Party-led organizations, and were part of the cultural life around the Party.16 In this respect, there was a dialectical relationship between “things” and “people,” with publications, organizations, and institutions created and driven by, and in turn sustaining, the people involved in them in various ways.

An overarching form of political, social, and cultural glue that ran through virtually everything described above was identity formation—in particular, identifying as, or with, workers. This worker identity formation played a principally positive role, delineating an “us” from “them” with a clear sense of class antagonism, and addressed two important dimensions of class formation.

(1) The US was an industrial powerhouse during the 1920s and 30s, with large numbers of proletarians working in the so-called “basic industries”—industries central to industrial production such as mining, steel, and auto manufacturing. The industrial proletariat at this time was bitterly exploited in oppressive working conditions, and was concentrated in large numbers in conditions of production that were directly social in character, making it a class with considerable revolutionary potential. While the CP’s construction of a worker identity could be, and was, expanded to encompass other sections of the proletariat, sharecroppers, poor farmers, agricultural laborers, and even the lower petty-bourgeoisie, it tended to foreground the industrial proletariat. The negative side of putting this particular identity in the foreground was that it was male-centric (most workers in “basic industries” were men) and downplayed other, strategically important, bitterly exploited sections of the proletariat, such as garment workers (who tended to be women and children). Furthermore, foregrounding the industrial proletariat went alongside strong tendencies towards economism and the continued influence of syndicalism in the CP.

(2) The proletariat in the US was then and is now multinational, consisting of people of different nationalities, both US- and foreign-born. A key social dynamic that defined the objective conditions on which the CP operated was what historian Michael Denning describes as “the restructuring of the American peoples by the labor migrations of the early twentieth century from Southern and Eastern Europe and the sharecropping [US] South.” As a result of this dynamic and the prevailing structure of white supremacy in the US, “These people were ethnicized and racialized by that social formation.” Consequently, “Ethnicity and race had become the modality through which working-class peoples experienced their lives and mapped their communities.”17 That dynamic fed into the so-called “race riots” after WWI in which Black communities were violently targeted, and put various “white ethnics” (Jews, Italians, Eastern and Southern Europeans, Irish) in a competition with each other and against Black people for jobs and economic advancement. The bourgeoisie “resolved” this dynamic by fully admitting those “white ethnics” into the white oppressor nation,18 which it could do after World War II by virtue of its position at the top of the imperialist world order—imperialist plunder was used to raise the class position of most of those “white ethnics” into the bourgeoisified sections of the working class and the petty-bourgeoisie.

However, especially given that this multinational proletariat was very much in formation in the 1920s and 30s, there was the real basis for the Communist movement to resolve the contradictions between different ethnicities (or, in communist parlance, nationalities) among the proletariat on the basis of shared class interests and politically unify the multinational proletariat towards revolutionary objectives. As Denning’s analysis puts it, “Though the forms—the rituals and emblems—of ethnic cultures differed, the content had much in common: it was the content of working-class tenements, sweatshops and factory labor, and cheap mass entertainment. The invention of ethnicity was a central form of class consciousness in the United States.”19 While Denning is correct that class was then (and continues to be today) understood through an “ethnic” or racial lens, a fully proletarian class-consciousness, in the Leninist sense, required going beyond the “ethnic” class-consciousness he describes. To this end, the CP’s construction of a worker identity played an overall positive role as a means to politically unite proletarians from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds without necessarily assimilating them and subsuming their culture into a dominant white American culture (until the Popular Front period beginning in 1935, a complicated question we will save for later). Owing to the crucial role of the foreign language federations in forming the CP, the large percentage of immigrants in the CP, and the Comintern’s imposition of a correct line on the Black national question in the late 1920s, the CP did attend to the important cultural dimensions of the multinational proletariat, sometimes successfully, and sometimes veering in the direction of one or another error—tailing nationalism and chauvinism or subsuming national cultures and national oppression under a worker identity.

In any event, politically uniting the multinational proletariat was and remains a very real challenge for communists in the US in the strategically positive and negative sense.20 The CP’s worker identity was a mostly correct approach to navigating this challenge in the 1920s and 30s, but is not something that should be resurrected for contemporary conditions in the US. “Worker” is just not a popular identity among the masses like it was a hundred years ago; numerically, the industrial proletariat has sharply declined; and a substantial portion of the proletariat in the US today, especially among Black people, is a more or less permanent reserve army of labor locked out of employment—they’re not “workers.” Communists today will have to figure out what forms of identity formation can best unify the multinational proletariat around its common class interests and towards revolutionary objectives while attending to the particularities of national oppression and distinct cultures; popularizing the word and concept proletariat seems one important initial step towards addressing this challenge.

An aside on debates over historical interpretation of the CP

Here is probably as good a place as any to address the question of historical narrative. One thing we can agree with the postmodernists on is that history is the stories we tell about the past, not the past itself or a collection of facts from the past (although to tell accurate stories about the past, we need to collect the facts). History is always told through the prism of specific class outlooks to serve specific class interests, even if unconsciously, and different historical narratives will articulate different class outlooks and interests. Our evaluation of the CP is based on analyzing it as a vehicle to overthrow bourgeois rule through revolutionary civil war and lead the socialist transition to communism. As dialectical materialists, we believe such an evaluation can only be made with as accurate an understanding of the facts as possible. But how we interpret and present those facts, and what facts we choose to emphasize, is a decidedly partisan affair.

Our information comes mostly from the writings of historians who have carried out systematic research into the history of the CP. At times we also draw on their analysis and interpretations of that information, but the interpretation and narrative of this summation is our overwhelmingly own. To date, no historian has written about the CP from a communist perspective, evaluating the successes and failures of the CP from the standpoint of making revolution. Some have written with great sympathy for its ideals and respect for its role in the just political struggles of the masses, but even the most sympathetic of these historians is still coming from a fundamentally bourgeois-democratic, if radical, perspective.

The only well-researched, comprehensive accounts of the CP from its foundations to the late 1920s are written by Theodore Draper, a Cold War-era anti-communist whose narrative of CP history is of “Moscow” pulling the strings of the American Communists. The same class outlook and historical narrative is applied by Harvey Klehr to the CP of 1929 to the beginning of World War II in his book The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade (Basic Books, 1984). Despite the perspective of Draper and Klehr, their work pulls together a treasure of information and, taken together, provides a fairly comprehensive history of the CP in the 1920s and 30s, with a few notable blind spots, especially their inadequate (or distorted) attention to Black people and Black struggles. Because of their anti-communism, they are fairly attentive to the decisive role of the leadership and line of the CP (and the Comintern) in determining its direction and practice, even if their interpretations of the CP’s line comes through the prism of anti-communism.

In and around the 1980s, a new wave of scholarship on the CP was produced by so-called New Historians—professional historians who were part of or in some ways identify with the radical movements of the 1960s and, to some degree, with the postmodernist turn in liberal academia (but generally before that postmodernist turn reached the absurdities it has arrived at today). They called their scholarship “social history” or “cultural history,” and focused their attention on the everyday practices of the Communist movement rather than its leadership and political line in a conscious rejection of Draper’s and Klehr’s approach. To some degree these New Historians fill in important gaps in previous histories of the CP, flesh out the motion and development of the CP, paint a more vivid, nuanced picture of the Communist movement, and give due credit to its impact on US history.21 But their work largely dodges the decisive question of the political line leading the CP, which set the overall direction for the everyday practices of the Communist movement, even if those everyday practices involved the creative application and development of that line. These New Historians often try to fit the CP practices they value into their own radical bourgeois-democratic outlook, a trend aided by the fact that the CP substantially adopted radical bourgeois-democratic politics in the second half of the 1930s.22 At worst, the New Historians paint a picture of creative activity coming “from below,” from the rank-and-file of CP members and the masses, disconnected from or in opposition to the line and leadership of the Party.

In the 1980s, debate emerged among historians of the CP between Draper and the New Historians; representative views from each side can be found, respectively, in the “Afterward” to the 1986 edition of Draper’s American Communism and Soviet Russia and the Preface and Introduction to New Studies in the History of American Communism (Monthly Review Press, 1993). Ironically, the rabidly anti-communist Draper comes closer to our method (but not our class standpoint) of evaluating the CP because of his insistence on making the political line and leadership of the CP central to historical narrative. However, both sides of this debate among professional (that is, petty-bourgeois) historians share a more fundamental unity in their rejection of revolution as a viable or desirable goal and in insisting on separating communist vanguard leadership from the creative potential of the masses.

Why do debates within academia over CP history matter to us communists? Who reads this stuff anyway? While the readership of historical studies of the CP is relatively small, the new generation of Leftists in the US has certainly picked up some of these books,23 and, in the absence of a communist summation of the CP, is trained in a their historical narrative. But outside of that small readership, scholarship produced in universities—important ideological state apparatuses in bourgeois society—has a way of filtering down to the people, including the basic masses, and impacting their political outlook and understanding. So while we will not be going out of our way to contend with specific historical interpretations by scholars of CP history in this summation, our overall narrative stands in contrast to even the best of those historical interpretations due to our class outlook and thoroughly partisan political objectives.24

1Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia (Vintage Books, 1986 [1960]), 99, chapter 2.

2Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, chapter 2, 75–76, 80.

3Mark Solomon, The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917–1936 (University Press of Mississippi, 1998), 36–37.

4Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 83, 102–3, 113–20. The CP’s decision to run its own presidential candidate in 1924 was in part owing to a shift in Comintern policy away from advocating third-party candidates, but, if we are being honest, this policy shift in effect rescued the CP from its failed efforts within the farmer-labor movement.

5Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 76.

6Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 57–61, 82–84.

7Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 78–81.

8Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 87–95.

9While Draper’s anti-communist outlook makes him a dubious analyst of the inner workings of the Comintern, his description of Zinoviev as “a man of outward grandiosity and inner sleaziness, accustomed to use the Comintern as his personal fief” is probably accurate (American Communism and Soviet Russia, 105).

10Trotskyites erroneously and (no surprise) opportunistically characterize this as Stalin advocating “socialism in one country” and Trotsky advocating “world revolution.” An accurate description would be that Stalin was advocating persisting on the socialist transition to communism despite the objective difficulties of being the only socialist state, while Trotsky was advocating capitulation.

11Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 184, 206.

12See Mao Zedong’s Oppose Stereotyped Party Writing (1942) for an excellent critique of common problems in communist writing.

13The Communist was titled the Workers Monthly until 1927.

14Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 175–80.

15The remnants of some of these institutions still exist today; for example, if you have a Jewish friend who went, as a youth, to a longstanding summer camp in upstate New York imbued with “progressive values” where they did lots of arts-related activities, there is a decent chance that summer camp had its origins in the Communist movement.

16Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia, 184–85.

17Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (Verso, 2010 [1997]), 239.

18Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the white oppressor nation in the US was more of a stratified hierarchy, with “Anglo-Saxons” on top and “white ethnics” in various positions of subordination. Noel Ignatiev’s How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1994) is one helpful study of this phenomenon. Today’s dominant postmodernist understandings of “race” tend to treat the question in a rather rigid and deterministic, even biology-determined, way, ironically failing to understand how racial formation is actively constructed and changes over time (the irony being that postmodernists tend to view the world as being constructed by “discourse”).

19Denning, The Cultural Front, 239.

20Strategically positive dimensions include the ways that national oppression continues to give rise to sharp mass struggle and the breadth of cultural, social, and political experience of the multinational proletariat; a negative would be the ways that different nationalities among the multinational proletariat are pitted against one another, consciously by the bourgeoisie and unconsciously by the anarchy of capitalist production and the “social war” among the masses it creates.

21Standouts in this respect are Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (Verso, 2010 [1997]) and Robin DG Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (University of North Carolina Press, 2015 [1990]).

22One concentrated example of this trend can be seen in the following passage from p. 9 of the Editors’ Preface to New Studies in the Politics and Culture of US Communism (Monthly Review Press, 1993): “The party’s engagement in grassroots and community efforts to right the inequities of racism, poverty, and exploitation, and the strong presence it has had in the resistance of workers in the factories and fields of the US heartland, are of sufficient importance to warrant the claim that its story should be better integrated into the study and teaching of US history.”

23Well, mainly one of them, and fortunately one of the best ones, but still one whose class outlook remains ultimately within the narrow horizons of (radical) bourgeois-democracy.

24To be clear, that is not to say we are “better historians” than those scholars—we are referring to the class outlook behind historical interpretation here. Being a “good historian” is a skill in its own right, not reducible to class outlook, that requires a specific kind of work and training cultivated over years.