Communist party, in the United States: Early Years

Early Years

In May, 1921, under strong pressure from the Third (Communist) International, or Comintern, the Communist groups in the United States were united as the Communist Party of America. The Comintern also forced a change away from revolutionary militancy to working through established labor organizations and developing a mass following. Accordingly, in Dec., 1921, the Communists organized the Workers party of America, as a legal, acknowledged organization, and by 1923 the underground party had ceased to function. Attempts were made to work through the growing farmer-labor movement of the early 1920s, but they failed, opposed by most farmer-labor leaders and Progressive leader, Senator Robert La Follette. Unsuccessful Communist-led strikes among textile workers in Passaic, N.J. (1926), in New Bedford, Mass. (1928), and among New York City garment workers (1926) also lessened Communist influence in trade unions.

During this period two factions developed within the party. One, led by Jay Lovestone, was generally socialist in background and concerned with political theory. The other, led by William Z. Foster and Earl Browder, was more syndicalist in background and interested in union activity. These two groups alternated in party leadership until 1929, when the Comintern ordered that Foster's group gain control to carry out the Comintern policy line established at its Sixth World Congress (1928). The party was renamed the Communist party of the United States of America.

This era, called the Third Period, saw the development of the theory of “social fascism,” by which labor and socialist leaders were denounced as more dangerous enemies of the workers than the fascists. American Communists also made a major appeal for African-American support, calling for the creation of a black republic in the South, on the grounds that African Americans were a national, not a racial, minority. The adoption of the new party line coincided with the beginning of the depression of 1929, and as the economic crisis grew, Communist membership increased. However, its policies isolated the Communists both in politics and in the unions, so that despite increased membership and some success in organizing the unemployed, the party's influence remained small.

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