Communist Party USA

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) is a Marxist-Leninist 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.

For the first half of the 20th century, the CPUSA was the largest and most influential communist party in the United States. 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 would later use the McCarran Internal Security Act to expel their 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 offers a "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 regards to the former charge, the CPUSA, claiming proletarian internationalism (while the U.S. Government called it espionage), sponsored an elaborate intelligence network on behalf of the Soviet Union, involving over 500 members acting as agents. The most prominent example dealt with the Manhattan Project in which the network was accused in giving the blueprints of the atomic bomb to the Soviets; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were thereafter convicted and executed as the chief architects of this plan. Subsequent examination of the trial record shows that while Julius was certainly guilty, some of the evidence against Ethel was conflicted and possibly false.

By August 1919, only months after its founding, the CPUSA claimed to have 50,000 to 60,000 members, though it is more likely the number was half that. Members also included anarchists and other radical leftists. In contrast, the more moderate Socialist Party of America had only 40,000 members. The sections of the CP'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.

But the CP's early labor and organizing successes 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 Communist Party's internal structure and confidence. CPUSA's membership in the Comintern and its close adherence to the political positions of the Soviet Union enabled anti-communist critics to constantly present the party as not only a threatening, subversive domestic entity, but also as a "foreign" agent fundamentally alien to the "American way of life". 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 CPUSA's party line. By 1957, membership had dwindled to less than 10,000, of whom some 1,500 were FBI informants.

The party attempted to recover with its opposition to the Vietnam War during the U.S. Civil rights movement in the 1960s, but the continued uncritical support of the CPUSA for an increasingly stultified and militaristic Soviet Union increasingly alienated them from the rest of the U.S. left, who saw this supportive position 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 CPUSA finally became estranged from the leadership of the Soviet Union itself; the USSR cut off major funding to the CPUSA in 1989 due to the CP's opposition to glasnost and perestroika. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 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.

The CPUSA is based in New York City. For decades, its West Coast newspaper was the People's World, and its East Coast newspaper was The Daily World. The two newspapers merged in 1986. Political Affairs Magazine is a monthly magazine. International Publishers is its publishing house.

Read more about Communist Party USA:  Presidential Tickets, Top Party Leaders

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