Communist party, in the United States: The Cold War

The Cold War

In 1945, Browder's policy was attacked as being one of the “right deviationism,” and he was replaced by William Foster. This change in line and the beginning of the cold war brought the party, which had achieved relative respectability during the war, under renewed attack. In 1948 the Communists supported the presidential candidacy of Henry A. Wallace on the Progressive party ticket, but he obtained only slightly more than a million votes.

Communist influence in labor unions came under increasing attack. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 denied the facilities of the National Labor Relations Board to unions that failed to file affidavits avowing that their officers were not Communists, and in 1949–50 the CIO expelled unions that were still Communist-dominated. In Mar., 1947, President Truman barred Communists or Communist sympathizers from employment in the executive branch of the federal government. The sensational confessions of former Communists, such as Whittaker Chambers, and increasing evidence of Communist espionage led to highly publicized investigations by Congress (especially by the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Government Operations), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and federal grand juries.

In Oct., 1949, 11 top Communist leaders were convicted on charges of conspiring to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. In June, 1951, the Supreme Court found the Smith Act of 1940, under which the convictions had been obtained, constitutional, and the government proceeded to bring many lesser Communist officials to trial. In 1950 the McCarran Internal Security Act required that all Communist and Communist-dominated organizations register with the federal government the names of all members and contributors, and the Communist Control Act of 1954 further strengthened the provisions of the McCarran Act by providing severe penalties for Communists who failed to register, denying collective bargaining power to Communist-dominated unions, and taking away the “rights, privileges and immunities” of the Communist party as a legal organization. At the same time many states passed “little Smith Acts,” with such provisions as the requirement of loyalty oaths from state employees and the denial of a place on the ballot to Communist parties. This was also the period of Senator Joseph McCarthy's hysterical search for Communists in all branches of government.

In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's excesses, along with the Russian suppression of the Hungarian revolt in that same year, created new schisms in the U.S. Communist party, which lost thousands of members. The Supreme Court has upheld many of the provisions of the Smith and McCarran acts as they apply to the leadership of the Communist party, but several decisions of the 1960s substantially voided sanctions against the rank and file except where some active conspiracy against U.S. security is proved. As a result the party resumed open activities in 1966 and ran candidates in presidential elections, but the contemporary party is a very minor political force. In the late 1980s, party leader Gus Hall criticized the Gorbachev reforms in the USSR, but as Communism collapsed in the USSR, it was claimed that Hall had received $2 million from the Soviet party. Subsequent declassification (1995–96) of intercepted Soviet cables confirmed that party members had indeed spied for the Soviet Union before and during the cold war, although some scholars questioned the extent to which the cables could trusted.

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