22. The Broad Democratic Struggle (1933-1936)
|Communists on parade in NYC during May Day Parade of 1935.|
THE NATIONAL NEGRO CONGRESS
These years marked a great political advance by the Negro people. The Negro masses battled militantly against job discrimination, Jim Crow, and lynching; they forged ahead and won national distinction in ' the fields of science, literature, the theater, and sports;1 they broke down the segregation walls of the labor movement and laid the basis for the present splendid army of a million Negro trade unionists; they stood in the front ranks of the democratic masses generally in every sphere of the class struggle.
The rising spirit of struggle among the Negro people during these years reflected itself in the National Negro Congress, organized in Chicago, February 14-16, 1936. The N.N.C. grew out of a conference held previously under the auspices of Howard University and the Joint Committee on National Recovery.2 The Congress, which included also whites, was a broad united front of Negroes from all democratic strata. There were Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Communists at the Congress; there were churchmen, workers, professionals, businessmen. All told, 817 delegates attended, coming from 28 states and representing 585 organizations with a "combined and unduplicated" membership of 1,200,000. Among those present were such notables as Ralph Bunche, W. E. B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, R. A. Carter, John P. Davis, James W. Ford, and others. A majority of the delegates came from the civic (226), educational (14), and religious groups (81). Eighty-three unions were represented and 71 fraternal organizations. The national president was A. Philip Randolph and the secretary John P. Davis.
The Communists played an important part in the organization of this significant Congress. The idea for the Congress was suggested two years before by James W. Ford, well-known Communist, in a debate with Oscar De Priest and Frank Crosswaith. Party forces also spent much effort in popularizing the Congress and in doing the extensive organizational work to bring the convention together. At the convention itself Ford and other Communists and sympathizers were very influential. In the National Council of 75 elected by the Congress, there were several Communists.
The Congress adopted a progressive program meeting the most pressing needs of the Negro people. It urged the participation of Negroes in trade unions, endorsed trade union unity, condemned the Jim Crow system and all types of reaction, and demanded full rights for Negroes. It supported the developing fight against fascism and war, and it repudiated the "neutral" attitude of the United States toward the invasion of Ethiopia. It proposed a plan for consumers' and producers' co-operatives and also the extension of the Workers Alliance. The Congress favored a world congress of the Negro people, and the church panel recommended that churches should devote every fifth Sunday to advancing the work of the Congress. On political action, the Congress voted for the ultimate formation of a farmer-labor party; however, in the meantime it declared, "We do not support any candidates, but we give you their records." The Congress did not take any stand as to its ultimate political goal, nor did it raise the question of the Negro people as a nation.
The National Negro Congress, a broad movement uniting Negro workers and middle class elements, had local councils in many cities. It became a vehicle for the expression of the leading role of the Negro working masses in the general movement of the Negro people. During the next years it was to prove an especially important agency for building the C.I.O. and for promoting trade union organization generally among Negro workers.
THE AMERICAN YOUTH CONGRESS
One of the most vital of all the mass movements that developed during the early New Deal years was the American Youth Congress. The United States had never before seen anything like it. Organized in 1934, the movement encompassed about 4,600,000 young people by the outbreak of World War II. Animating it was a militant protest of American youth against the bitter hardships of the young people during the great economic crisis, against the general neglect of their interests by the government, and against the looming prospect of fascism and another world war.3
The Roosevelt Administration early undertook to control this new and dynamic national force of the organized youth. Consequently, it selected as its agent a young woman, Viola lima, who with the backing of Mrs. Roosevelt, half a dozen governors, Mayor La Guardia, and other Administration forces, called a general youth convention in New York, in August 1934. The response was heavy, at least 1,500,000 organized young people being represented, including the Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., Y.M.H.A., and many other religious and fraternal youth organizations. The Catholics were there as observers. Both the Y.P.S.L. and Y.C.L. were present.
Miss Ilma, who had just returned from fascist Germany, obviously had acquired her ideas for the type of new youth organization from the Hitler youth. She seemed to think that the young people had come to the convention in order to be told what to do—as they were in school, in the factories, and in the army. But she entirely underestimated the new democratic spirit of the youth. Hence, when the convention tried to elect its own chairman and she refused even to entertain the motion, the convention overrode her arbitrariness and voted her down. She then quit cold, crying out in the newspapers that the Communists had captured the youth movement. Mrs. Roosevelt was stunned at the unexpected course of events, but the stakes were very high and she went along with the American Youth Congress then being formed. Gilbert Green, head of the Young Communist League, was a member of the National Board that was set up.
The next few years were full of activity for the Youth Congress. The A.Y.C. took an active part in the trade union organization of young people, fought for improved conditions in the government Civilian Conservation Corps youth relief camps, demanded a more enlightened program from the National Youth Administration (which was established in June 1935), condemned in unmeasured terms all discrimination against the Negro people, and fought against the rising dangers of fascism and war. The A.Y.C. formulated its immediate program of political youth demands in the American Youth Act, introduced in Congress on January 13, 1936. 4 This bill elaborated an extensive plan of vocational training and student aid, financed by the government and managed by the students. Although the bill never became law, it was widely popularized and served as the basis for much state and federal youth legislation.
Almost overnight the organized youth became a power in the land. Youth leaders—Waldo McNutt, William Hinckley, Joseph Cadden, Gilbert Green—were figures to be reckoned with. Even the A.F. of L. had to recognize the new youth movement at its 1935 convention, where for the first time in its history it gave favorable consideration to a series of youth proposals. The C.I.O. also sent delegates to the A.Y.C. congresses, cultivated youth strike demands, and otherwise actively supported the movement. Many trade unions and state farmer-labor parties developed youth sections, activities, and demands. Both the Republican and Democratic parties paid much attention to youth work of their kind.
An important development in the youth movement of this period was the formation in Columbus, Ohio, in December 1935, of the American Student Union, through the amalgamation of the National Student League (Communist-led, founded in 1932) and the much weaker Student League for Industrial Democracy (Socialist-led, founded in 1905). Characteristic of the A.S.U.'s many and various activities, it led a national anti-war strike of 184,000 students on April 12, 1937. Such strikes were continued until April 1941, those in 1938-39 totaling several hundred thousand students. Another, and very important, youth development of the period was the formation of the promising united front Southern Negro Youth Congress in Richmond, Virginia, in February 1937. Edward Strong was chairman. James W. Ford, James Jackson, and Henry Winston were also leaders in this vital movement, which for the next few years, throughout the South, carried on widespread educational work, supported strikes, popularized the National Youth Act, and generally struggled against Jim Crow. By 1939 this organization and the Southern Conference for Human Welfare represented at least 500,000 Negro youth in the South. Communists were very active in the work of these organizations.
Communist influence was powerful in the American Youth Congress, which followed an advanced policy. In particular, the young leaders of the broad organizations of young men and women were greatly attracted by the militancy of the Communists, by their understanding of the general youth question and specific youth demands, by their skill in developing the broad united front movement of elements which were widely divergent politically and religiously, and especially by their clear-headed and tireless struggle against the growing danger of fascism and war. Enemies of the A.Y.C.—Socialists and others—shouted that the Communists were in complete control of the youth movement. Gilbert Green was the chief Communist youth leader.
The Socialists, Lovestoneites, and Trotskyites, while maintaining a precarious affiliation with the A.Y.C., generally took such a sabotaging position toward the movement, in their hatred of the Communists, that they could only stagnate in their political degeneration. The Young Communist League, however, flourished as a result of its sound policies. Its active participation in the broad mass youth movement largely broke down its long-time sectarianism. The League grew in numbers, influence, and experience, and it acquired a more solid base among the young workers. At its ninth convention in 1939, it reported a membership of 22,000, as compared with 11,000 in 1936 and 3,000 in 1933. In Green, Winston, Thompson, Weiss, Gates, Strack, Ross, and others, the League was building a strong Marxist-Leninist youth leadership.
THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT
Women, who form one-half of the American electorate and about one-third of all wage workers, also took a prominent part in the broad mass upsurge that developed among all the democratic strata of the population during the early years of the New Deal. The women, however, did not create a strong and well-defined national organization such as those we have been describing in this and the previous chapter. They rather constituted a basic and very active part of all these mass movements. During the period we are dealing with, the most generalized form of the women's movement was that around the Women's Charter.
The Women's Charter was written in 1936 by a group of liberal and labor women. 5 It had the support of a vast range of organizations, including, with qualifications, the Communist Party. It was supported, among others, by such government officials as Mary Anderson, head of the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor. This signified that it had the backing of the Roosevelt regime. Eventually, in the ensuing few years the Charter was endorsed by organizations totaling several million women. It was incorporated in the Resolution on Equal Rights for Women adopted at the International Labor Conference in Geneva in 1937.
The Women's Charter was an assertion of the rights of women to full equality in all spheres of social activity. Mother Bloor welcomed it 6 also on the grounds that "it may be a great unifying force for peace—and the struggle against reaction and fascism." Ann Rivington says of it that it was for women the "high point of the united front during this decade." 7 Margaret Cowl Krumbein, head of the Party's Women's Commission during this period, gave the Charter active support.
Women wage workers made up a large part of the masses of newly organized workers in various industries—needle, textile, electrical, and others—and the Party paid its main attention to them. They constituted a vital force with the big network of women's trade union auxiliaries that grew up largely under Communist stimulation in the C.I.O. unions in steel, auto, and various other industries. The Party women workers also greatly concerned themselves with strengthening the activities of the Women's Trade Union League.
Communist women were always the Party leaders in the people's health movement. They organized the Workers Health Bureau of America in New York, and in June 1927, they held a national trade union health conference in Cleveland. Official delegates were present from the A.F. of L. state federations of Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington, and Rhode Island, and from many city central bodies and local unions. This pioneer conference concerned itself mainly with occupational hazards and diseases, and it worked out a program of extensive educational work, health protection, prevention of accidents, and workmen's compensation. In the later stages of the New Deal, the Party women were also most active in the big mass movement for federal health insurance and a broad national health program.
Besides fighting for their own specific demands, and especially for maternity insurance, protection in industry, and child care, the women advanced the whole program of the Party. They were particularly effective in fighting against the high cost of living and cuts in W.P.A. relief, and in supporting all the current strikes for better wage and working conditions. They devoted special attention to the needs and demands of Negro women. They also fought tirelessly against the reactionary Equal Rights Amendment, which was sponsored by the Women's Rights Party and endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties. They made the recurring International Women's Day, on March 8th, the occasion of big demonstrations. Women were especially effective in the fight for peace, and they formed the backbone of the American League Against War and Fascism.
The development of international fascism lent new fire to the struggles of the women, for as Dimitrov said at the Seventh C.I. Congress, "Fascism enslaves women with particular ruthlessness and cynicism, playing on the most painful feelings of the mother, the housewife, and the single working woman." The Communist women made effective propaganda use of the superior economic, political, and social status of women in the Soviet Union over that of women generally in all the capitalist countries. 8 The Party during these years was building up a strain group of women Marxist-Leninist leachers. The attraction of the Party for women fighters was exemplified by the fact that in the big recruiting drive of 1937 over 30 percent of the new members were women.
THE "PANACEA" MASS MOVEMENTS
Striking manifestations of the broad democratic upsurge of the masses during the early New Deal period were the many "panacea" mass agitations. These were wide movements of farmers, city middle classes, and proletarian elements, sometimes running into the millions. Generally it was the workers who gave vitality to these movements. Shaken by the deep economic crisis, these masses struck out blindly against capitalism, desperately striving for some remedy. Usually their programs were fantastically utopian, and the demagogic leaders were frequently fascist-minded, but the masses were full of democratic fighting spirit. That such confused movements could spring up testified to the ideological backwardness of the American workers and their lack of a broad political party with progressive working class leadership.
1. Technocracy: Fathered by Howard Scott and based upon a mishmash of ideas of the I.W.W. and Thorstein Veblen, this movement developed during the deepest phases of the economic crisis and ran like wildfire throughout the country in 1932-33, the entire capitalist press being agog with it. Technocracy was based on the fallacy that the evils of capitalism originated not primarily in its productions relations, but simply in its "distributive system." Its cure-all was to substitute a system of "ergs," or energy units, in place of the current "price system." Technocracy denied that the workers were exploited, repudiated the class struggle, and rejected the revolutionary role of the workers. In substance, it advocated a ruling aristocracy of engineers. For a while it had a big vogue among eh intellectuals, making a special appeal to engineers and technicians. It declined as swiftly as it arose, but some remnants still linger.
2. End-Poverty-in-California (Epic): This movement grew up rapidly in California and neighboring states following the publication, in October 1933, of Upton Sinclair's book, I, Governor of California. Epic was based upon the idea of self-help among the unemployed. It proposed that idle factories be turned over to the unemployed workers, who would operate them and develop a system of barter. It held to the utopian belief that a separate system of non-profit-making production and exchange could exist independently within the framework of the capitalist system, which is based upon private ownership and distribution. On the Epic ticket Upton Sinclair, Democratic candidate for governor of California in 1934, polled 879,000 votes against 1,138,000 for Merriam, after which the Epic movement gradually faded out. 9
3. The Utopian Society: This organization, launched by E. J. Reed, in the fall of 1933, soon grew to claim a million adherents in southern California. The Utopians, declaring for the "Brotherhood of Man" and "Plenty for All," hoped to achieve general prosperity through government ownership. Largely middle class, the movement rejected the class struggle and had no day-to-day demands. Its life span was short.
4. The Townsend National Recovery Plan: Animated by a fanatical enthusiasm and eventually claiming several millions of adherents, this huge mass movement was launched, in April 1934, by Dr. F. E. Townsend in Long Beach, California. It was basically a movement of the elderly and middle-aged. Its panacea was to establish maximum pensions of $200 per month for the aged, to be financed chiefly by a national two percent transactions tax. The $20 billion thus raised yearly, it was hoped, would not only provide for the aged but, keeping the industries in active operation, would provide a general and lasting prosperity for the whole population. The Townsend Plan failed to realize, however, that the basis of the crisis and destitution was the private ownership of the industries, and that only when this was abolished and socialism established could economic crises be averted and prosperity and full employment assured. The Townsend movement was a considerable pension force for many years and still exists. 10
5. The "Ham and Eggs" Movement: This was another mass panacea movement having a special appeal to the aged. It too, originated in southern California, where old people doubly abound. Formally known as the Retirement Life Payments Association, it was founded during the 1930's by L.W. Allen of Hollywood. In 1938 and 1939 the movement succeeded in placing on the referendum ballot a constitutional amendment providing that the state of California would pay $30 per week (every Thursday) for life to every unemployed or retired California citizen over 50 years old or over. The move was defeated both times at the polls. The official weepy organ was called National Ham and Eggs.
6. The National Union for Social Justice: This movement, in organized form, was launched in November 1934, in Detroit, by Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, Catholic priest. Fortune, at the time, estimated that this demagogue had ten million listeners to his weekly radio broadcasts. An expression of this movement was the notorious Christian Front, with its organized groups of hoodlums and storm troopers. Cough-lin's Utopia was built upon the traditional American illusion that prosperity could be achieved by issuing huge quantities of paper currency. His following was especially strong among Middle West farmers, city middle class elements, and Catholic industrial workers. Coughlin himself, a silver speculator and associate of big bankers, was a violent critic of everything democratic, and he undoubtedly aimed at establishing a fascist America—presumably with himself as the dictator. He was finally "silenced" by the Catholic Church, which apparently did not yet -want to be so completely identified with fascism in the United States. The Communist Party conducted a most active struggle against this dangerous movement.11
7. Share-the-Wealth: This mass movement sprang up in 1934 and spread with the rapidity characteristic of the "panacea" agitations generally. Its founder was Senator Huey P. Long of Louisiana. Long, the "kingfish," had as his main slogans, "Share the Wealth" and "Every Man a King." He proposed to take away most of the capitalists' wealth by a gigantic capital levy. The resulting $165 billion in the hands of the government he would distribute among the people, each family getting $5,000 down and each worker also being assured a yearly income of $2,500. The Share-the-Wealth movement was the most fantastic of all the panaceas and Long the most effective fascist demagogue the United States had yet seen. He set up a virtual dictatorship in Louisiana and also had a wide following among the poor farmers and workers all over the South. He was assassinated in September 1935, by a man whom he had victimized, after which his movement, fallen into the less capable hands of Gerald L. K. Smith and others, gradually disintegrated.12
The Communist Party paid close attention to the "panacea" movements. Although often led by dangerous demagogues, these movements were not wholly in vain. They dramatized the plight of the workers, the unemployed, the aged, the farmers, and the impoverished petty bourgeoisie. They also evidenced the determination of the people to fight against the outrageous conditions which engulfed them. The development of the reform aspects of Roosevelt's New Deal program was a fundamental factor in undermining and preventing the further development of such movements. That the "panacea" movements did not become perverted into a real base for American fascism was also due in no small measure to the activities of the Communist Party in exposing their economic fallacies, in combating their reactionary leaders, and in directing their masses into more practical channels of political struggle.
THE CULTURAL UPSURGE
From its inception, the Communist Party has challenged the domination of the capitalists in the cultural field. It has striven for the development of the arts and sciences in the interest of the people, not of the ruling exploiters. Over the years, despite its small size, the Party has exercised a powerful influence in this vital field. Its efforts, constantly improving in effectiveness, began to be especially felt during and after the great economic crisis years.
During the Coolidge boom of the 1920's monopoly capital greatly strengthened its control over the main media of mass cultural expression—the newspapers and magazines, the school system, the church, the motion picture, and the young radio industry. This resulted not only in an unparalleled standardization of the people's intellectual fare, but also in turning capitalism's cultural workers into a force to glorify the current "prosperity," the blessings of Fordism, and the wonders of the "new capitalism." It was consequently a period of unprecedented degeneration of bourgeois art and literature. Anti-Semitism and white chauvinism ran wild in every capitalist cultural area. The blatant and cynical Mencken was the most authentic bourgeois literary spokesman of the period. James-Dewey pragmatism, the hard-boiled philosophy which says that whatever the capitalists are and do is right, flourished and spread in bourgeois circles. Pragmatism's great value to the capitalists is that it robs the working class of a theory of society. It undertakes to substitute an idealist, rule-of-thumb practice for a scientific Marxian analysis of the laws of social development. This cynical philosophy permeates not only capitalist ranks, but also of the bosses' labor lieutenants, and it contaminates the entire fabric of the educational system of this country.
Democratic forces, mostly in the "little theater" and "little magazine" movements, fought an uphill struggle against the current overwhelming flood of standardized capitalist trash and reaction. But the most clearheaded and energetic in the fight for a real people's culture were the Communists and other lefts, including Art Young, Robert Minor, Michael Gold, William Gropper, Fred Ellis, and Moissaye J. Olgin, who were mainly associated with The Liberator and its successor, New Masses.13 In October 1929, the first John Reed Club, a left-wing literary organization, was formed in New York. Three years later there were a score of such clubs in all parts of the country.
The Communist Party during the 1920's, as part of its struggle against the deluge of reactionary capitalist cultural slush and for the beginnings of a democratic people's culture, also began to appreciate and evaluate the democratic, artistic, literary, and scientific elements that have been expressed historically within the framework of American bourgeois culture as a whole. This was the start of the breakaway from the traditional sectarian attitudes of American Marxists toward culture. It was an essential part of the maturing of Marxism-Leninism in this country.
The great economic crisis dealt a shattering blow to the whole dizzy capitalist economic propaganda structure of the Coolidge prosperity period. Exploded overnight were the complacency, conceit, and rosy dreams of the "new capitalism." Stark hunger preyed upon the country. The bourgeois intellectuals and artists, singers of the glories of capitalist "prosperity," also felt the blasts of the economic hurricane. They were thrown into ideological confusion and their economic position was undermined. Their incomes were slashed, almost as much as were those of the workers and farmers; about 30 percent of them were unemployed, and in May 1934, some 91,000 professionals were on the W.P.A. relief rolls.14 They began to listen to the Communists.
The big mass democratic upheaval, which brought Roosevelt to the presidency and was responsible for the building of the new trade unions, the "panacea movements," and the reforms of the New Deal, was also shared in by the artists and professionals generally. Overcoming their traditional bourgeois aloofness, large numbers of them made common cause with the workers and other democratic elements fighting against reaction. From bitter experience they had sensed that their previous individualistic attitude of each fending for himself was disastrous and that they had to make an organized struggle to protect their interests. Consequently, during these years nearly all the organizations of professionals, both of a technical and trade union character, experienced the greatest growth in their history. Teachers, actors, engineers, artists, lawyers, and newspaper workers shared in the movement, and "white collar" workers of all kinds for the first time became an important factor in the labor movement. These elements forced the Roosevelt regime to give them some consideration in the Federal Arts Projects for writers, musicians, and actors.
There was not only an economic but also an ideological content to this upsurge of the intellectuals during the New Deal years. They wanted to know the cause of the great economic crisis, of the decay of culture, of the threat of another great imperialist war. They attacked the bourgeois theories of "art for art's sake" and of the artist standing above the class struggle. The teacher, as well as looking out for her wages, began to have something to say about what she was teaching. The writers and actors of Hollywood and Broadway started to raise their voices against the mass of capitalistic swill which the movie moguls and theatrical producers were inflicting upon the American people under the guise of entertainment. With the great Theodore Dreiser at their head, the novelists struck a new note of revolt against outrageous social conditions. Dreiser himself became an ardent member of the Communist Party. The newspapermen, through their new national Guild, became a force for democracy in journalism. And the lawyers began to come forward with new and democratic concepts of what the law and court practice should be. The inspiring development of Soviet art, notably in the films, stimulated the whole cultural awakening.
The reactionaries looked with grave alarm upon this upsurge among the intellectuals and artists, upon whom they counted to drive their propaganda into the heads of the workers. But in the existing political situation, they were unable to stifle it.
This democratic movement among the professionals and cultural workers was given added strength by the shocking events under the barbaric policies of German fascism. What fascism held in store for the cultural workers was made quite clear by the dictum of the Nazi youth leader who declared, "When I hear the word culture, I cock my revolver," by the savage book burnings of May 1933, by the general strangling of art under Hitler, and by fascism's total subjugation of cultural workers of all kinds to the propagation of anti-Semitism and similar barbarities—excesses which, obviously, incipient American fascism would be only too eager to duplicate.15
The most general expression of the upsurge of the cultural workers was the formation of the American Writers Congress in New York on April 26, 1935. Present were 216 delegates from 26 states, with 150 writers attending as guests. There was a public attendance of 4,000, "the largest audience that ever participated in a literary event in this country." 16 Thirty papers were read at the Congress, dealing with many aspects of the writer's craft and social role. In accordance with the united front spirit of the times, the Congress was much broader in scope than the earlier John Reed clubs, which had pioneered the movement. For ie next few years the Congress was a powerful force in cultural circles, not the least in Hollywood. The Communists were most active in this development, as in nearly every other phase of the cultural movement of the period. The Communist Party was officially represented at the founding convention of this very important writers' united front movement. Another significant organization was the American Artists Congress, founded in 1936.17
The greatest and most lasting achievement of the cultural renaissance of the New Deal period, however, was the real stress it laid upon Negro culture. This movement was many-sided. Its most important aspect was the crushing attack it delivered through the distinguished anthropologist Franz Boas, many other scientists, and a whole group of Communist writers, against every attempt of the racists and white supremacists in science, in industry, in politics, on the stage, and everywhere else, to picture the Negro people as inferior beings. The movement also made real progress toward developing an understanding of the profound contributions that the Negro people have made to the best in American culture. The movement also began to develop an appreciation of the splendid body of artists and cultural workers that the Negro people had been developing in the face of a world of difficulties—Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, Sterling Brown, and many others. Especially important was the beginning made at revaluating the history of the Negro people-by James W. Ford, Harry Haywood, Doxey Wilkerson, James Jackson, Herbert Aptheker, Philip S. Foner, James S. Allen, Robert Minor, John Howard Lawson, and others—to free this persecuted people from the mountains of slanders and belittlement built up by generations of white chauvinist historians. 18 In this vital struggle with and for the Negro people in their fight for cultural recognition and development, it is hardly necessary to state, the Communists were the most devoted and tireless fighters, and their influence was far-reaching.
THE SEVENTH COMINTERN CONGRESS AND THE ROOSEVELT COALITION
The great mass struggles of workers, unemployed, farmers, Negroes, youth, women and intellectuals in the early New Deal years in the United States were directly related to the developing struggle against world fascism. Only in this sense can they be fully understood. The fight against fascism was clarified and organized on an international scale at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International, held in Moscow, from July 25 to August 21, 1935. At this historic congress, in which a strong delegation from theC.P.U.SA. participated, Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Comintern and hero of the Reichstag fire trial, swept aside the current liberal-Social-Democratic nonsense to the effect that "fascism is a revolt of the middle class" and exposed it in its full nakedness as "the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital." "Fascism," said he, "is a most ferocious attack by capital on the toiling masses; fascism is unbridled chauvinism and annexationist war; fascism is rabid reaction and counter-revolution; fascism is the most vicious enemy of the working class and of all toilers."19
Dimitrov proposed, and this became the political line of the congress, that to fight fascism a great anti-fascist people's front of workers, farmers, intellectuals, and all other toiling, democratic sections of the population must be built up. The purpose of this broad united front, said Dimitrov, is that "in countries of bourgeois democracy, we want to bar the road to reaction and the offensive of capital and fascism, prevent the abrogation of bourgeois-democratic liberties, forestall fascism's terrorist vengeance upon the proletariat, the revolutionary section of the peasantry and the intellectuals, save the young generation from physical and spiritual degeneracy. We are ready to do all this because in the fascist countries we want to prepare and hasten the overthrow of the fascist dictatorship. We are ready to do all this because we want to save the world from fascist barbarity and the horrors of imperialist war."20
Speaking of the United States, Dimitrov pointed out that "millions of people have been brought into motion by the crisis." He signalized the menacing fascist danger in this country and warned of its insidious approach. "It is a peculiarity of the development of American fascism," said he, "that at the present time it appears principally in the guise of an opposition to fascism, which it accuses of being an un-American tendency imported from abroad." He indicated the need for a people's front in the United States and stated that "A Workers and Farmers Party might serve as such a suitable form. Such a party would be a specific form of the mass people's front in America."
The people's front was the application of the historic united front policy to the conditions of the struggle against fascism and war. The Communists have long advocated and carried out the principle of the united front. In The Communist Manifesto, written over a century ago, Marx stated that the Communists fight for immediate demands in alliance with groups, classes, and parties which do not accept the long-range goal of socialism.
Dimitrov's statement on the workers and farmers party, which the American Communists had long advocated, as the form of the people's front in the United States, fitted right in with the traditions and conditions of the American class struggle. For a long time, even as far back as President Jackson's era, as we have noted in previous chapters, there has always existed a strong tendency for the workers and farmers to join forces together in united front political struggle against the common enemy, the capitalists. This trend was evidenced with especial sharpness during the important political fights of the Greenbackers, the Populists, and the LaFollettites. Indeed, the characteristic united front alliance of workers and small farmers has more of a background of political history in the United States than it has in industrial Europe, where Social-Democracy, ignoring the political potentialities of the peasantry, traditionally concerned itself almost exclusively with the fight of the proletariat and the middle class.
During the general period under consideration, 1933-38, the Communist Party greatly improved the character of its united front work. It broke more and more with the sectarian leftism which it had manifested to some extent in the depth of the great crisis. This was shown by its effective work among the trade unions, in the struggles of the unemployed, the Negro people, the youth, and in many other fields. The Party was playing a very important part in the ever-increasing fight against fascism and war.
The growth and activities of the C.I.O., the Unemployed Councils, the National Negro Congress, the American Youth Congress, the women's movement, the upsurge of the intellectuals, and the broad "panacea" organizations during these years were not isolated phenomena. They sprang from the same basic cause—the ravages of the great economic crisis; they had many direct ties and much spirit of solidarity with each other; they headed toward the same goal, die defeat of threatening reaction; and they tended naturally to coalesce in a general movement of struggle. The united front policies of the Communist Party greatly aided this unification. In the period of imperialism and the struggle against fascism and war, the historic American practice of the toiling democratic masses to fight side by side moved toward the creation of a people's front.
However, the incipient people's front movement of those years, a blood brother to the great people's front movements of Europe, never reached the stage of becoming a full-fledged mass "Workers and Farmers Party" as described by Dimitrov. This was partly because of Roosevelt's skillful maneuvering to keep the workers tied to the Democratic Party, and partly because of the timidity and treachery of the workers' own union leaders, who refused to break with the two-party system. Consequently, the movement never rose to a higher level than that of an uncoordinated popular coalition around Roosevelt, a loose "democratic front"; but it nevertheless proved powerful enough to halt, at least temporarily, the advance of fascism in the United States.
THE COMMUNIST PARTY AND THE NATION
A fundamental implication of the anti-fascist people's front developed by the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, in line with American tradition and political conditions, was the great stress it laid upon the reality that the Communist parties, besides being the leading parties of the proletariat, were by the same token also the basic parties of their respective nations. Marx and Engels had long before taught—and Marxists generally understood—that in defending the interests of the working class and other toilers, the Marxist party is thereby defending the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people. It is functioning in the interest of the nation against a reactionary bourgeois nationalism, against an exploiting capitalist class which always advances its own class interests at the expense of the people in general. The classic example of the Marxist party as the party of the nation was seen in the Bolshevik Party in Russia which led the people of that country, who had faced ruin and slaughter at the hands of their treasonable ruling class, in overthrowing tsarism-capitalism and building socialism.
In the situation confronting the peoples of the world with the rise of fascism during the 1930's, there was a supreme need for the Communist parties, with greater clarity and consciousness on the national question than ever before, to come forward as the defenders and champions of their respective nations against their treacherous bourgeoisie, and this they did. The big capitalists, frightened at the great cyclical economic crisis, at the deepening general crisis of the capitalist system, and at the revolutionary mood of the workers, were trying to betray and force their respective nations into the fateful traps of fascist tyranny and an imperialist world war.
It was to unite the respective peoples against this murderous treason by the ruling bourgeoisie that the Seventh Congress of the Comintern enunciated its famous call for an anti-fascist people's front. The new tactical orientation—namely, the creation of a broad alliance of all the democratic strata and the agreement for participation by the Communists in the people's front governments—was, in fact, the organization of the nation to save itself from disastrous betrayal by the capitalist class. "The socialist revolution will signify the salvation of the nation"21 said Dimitrov; and as he also indicated, here was a situation, under capitalism, where the workers, following the leadership of the Communist Party, had to save the nation from disaster.
There was a time, before the imperialist era, when the interests of the developing national capitalist class, in a measure at least, coincided with those of the nation. But that time is now forever past. The people, led by the workers, at the head of which stands the Communist Party, must take their fate into their own hands, in opposition to the treasonable capitalist class. "We Communists," says Dimitrov, "are the irreconcilable opponents, on principle, of bourgeois nationalism of every variety. But we are not supporters of national nihilism."22 The capitalists' pretense of leading the nation is a monstrous lie and betrayal. This historic fact was dramatically signalized by the anti-fascist people's front policy of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International. And it is now being further demonstrated by the peace fight of the Communist Party against the war-mongering, pro-fascist monopolists, who, for the sake of their own profits, are driving the people toward the national disaster of war.
1 It was during this time that the Communist Party began its long, tireless, and finally (in 1947) successful campaign to break down Jim Crow in major league baseball. The Negro press was very active in this fight.
2 James W. Ford in The Communist, April, May, June 1936.
3 Dave Doran, Highway of Hunger, N. Y., 1933.
4 Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book ), p. 70
5 Mary Van Kleeck in The Woman Worker, Feb. 1937.
6 The Woman Today, Feb. 1937.
7 Ann Rivington, unpublished manuscript.
8 Magaret Cowl Krumbein in The Communist, June 1937, Jan. 1938
9 Robert Minor in The Communist, Dec. 1934
10 Alexander Bittelman, The Townsend Plan, N.Y., 1936
11 A. B. Magil, The Truth About Father Coughlin, N. Y., 1935.
12 Alexander Bittelman, How Can We Share the Wealth? N. V., 1935.
13 Proletarian Literature in the United States, an Anthology, N. Y., 1935.
14 Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book 3, p. 109.
15. Sidney Finkelstein, Art and Society, N. Y., 1947; Louis Harap, Social Roots of the Arts, N. Y., 1949.
16 Michael Gold, The Hollow Men, p, 37, N. Y., 1941.
17. American Writers Congress (reports), N. Y., 1935.
18. Important new works are The Hidden Heritage by John Howard Lawson, and A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States by Herbert Aptheker.
19 Georgi Dimitrov, The United Front, N. Y., 1938.
20 Stalin was active in this famous congress.
21 Dimitrov, The United Front, p. 80.
22 Dimitrov, The United Front, p. 79.