During the twentieth century, the popularity of the American Communist party was fueled less by its beliefs, than by the Government's ever-more-antagonistic attitude toward foreign influences in America. After the armistice of World War I, disillusioned by the political and social turmoil abroad, the United States sought to unify its people, and to eliminate foreign influences that might prevent the formation of a single American stream of thought. Since the nation was founded on democratic policies and based upon a democratic tradition, the American government sought to diminish the strength of any political philosophy counter-intuitive to democracy, so as to ensure the survival of democracy in its motherland, the USA. This helped prevent the red tide of communist ideology from making huge gains in America. Nonetheless, the popularity of communism in America increased during the Great Depression, as a result of both the government's relaxing its attack on alien ideas while attending to the depression, itself, and the fact that the ideals of communism offered hope to Americans, who suddenly found themselves homeless and jobless. The advent of the Second World War and the Korean War, however, once again heightened the American government's desire to control public opinion so as to increase the effectiveness of the American war-machine. This time, the government's more fervent and, even more relentless, attacks on foreign ideas reduced the membership and the prestige of the American Communist Party to a minimum, diminishing its political presence and influence. Although it would be foolish to maintain that the actions of the Soviet government in no way influenced the popularity of communism in America, it is fair to say that the American government's attitude was at least as, if not more important a factor. In fact, communism's prosperity appears to have been an inverse function of the amount of American governmental persecution of communism that was occurring during any particular period or time ' the more persecution the party suffered, the smaller its active membership. In fact, its popularity lasted only while persecution was at a minimum ' for above the freedom to follow the precepts of communist ' or, frankly, any other ' political or social ideology, Americans desire their physical liberty'to live their lives unknowing of prison bars and aloof from tyranny.
Since the year of its founding, the American Communist Party (CPUSA, the Communist Party of the USA) has been subjected to a number of discriminatory acts and actions that influenced public opinion regarding communism, as well as its party membership. The sudden capture of the Russian government by the Bolshevik Party, under Vladimir Lenin, in November of 1917, electrified radicals around the globe. Since there was massive political and social turmoil following the First World War, many felt that Marxist revolutions would soon occur in every country. In 1919, two Communist parties were formed by the American radicals: the Communist Party of America, under the auspices of Charles Ruthenburg, and the Communist Labor Party, led by John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow. In this first year, Ruthenburg's party boasted a membership of twenty-four thousand, while Reed and Gitlow's party consisted of about ten thousand members . At first, recent immigrants from the former Czarist Russia made up the majority of the two American Communist Parties. Both of the two parties were dedicated to the violent overthrow of the American government by a massive revolt of the working class. During the first few years of the parties, a number of members were tried in New York under its criminal anarchy law. But neither of the two Communist parties was outlawed and it was never declared a crime for an American citizen to be a Communist, although non-citizens could be deported for the same. Due to this early persecution, both of the parties were forced underground, their leaders adopted pseudonyms, and party papers were printed only in secret. This era of underground communism subsided in 1921, when Poland successfully repelled a Soviet invasion and thus turned away fears that American society could be overthrown by a small group of radicals. At the same time, Lenin set about bringing under his control the Communist revolutionary movements around the globe, via a body known as the Communist International (Comintern). Its headquarters were established in Moscow, and it received all of its funding from Lenin's regime. Under the pressure and guidance of the Comintern, the two American Communist parties merged in 1921, with Charles Ruthenburg as their leader. The American Communist Party was also ordered to establish above-ground operations. Still, for the majority of the 1920's, the American Communist Party remained divided and factionalized.
Following the first World War, the government of the United States sought to strengthen itself against foreign influence by bolstering American unity through various acts and court decisions. There was a serious feeling of hysteria surrounding communism, and thirty-three states quickly penned legislation against 'sedition,' 'criminal anarchy,' and 'criminal syndicalism,' adding their numbers to the two states which had had laws concerning such things prior to the War. In June of 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act, which stipulated that 'whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment services of the U.S.' faces penalties of up to 20 years in prison. About a nine hundred people went to prison under the Espionage Act. This opposition was easily put out of sight, while the visible national spirit was one of support for the war and the war effort. In 1925, 'the Left Wing Manifesto' was published in New York, calling for a militant revolution of the proletariat. With the red scare and the Soviet power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky as a backdrop, the Supreme Court ruled that 'such utterances by their very nature involve danger to the public peace and to the security of the state.' This ruling, handed down in Gitlow v. New York, allowed the courts to convict Communists simply on the grounds that the material which they were publishing promoted the idea of a violent overthrow of the America government. Through this act and court decision, the United States government was able to censor the information that reached the general public, thus keeping Communist ideals from reaching the masses and thereby limiting the possibility of the movement's achieving significant popularity.
In an attempt to establish American ideological homogeneity, the administration of President Wilson worked to ensure that immigrants embraced American ideals and policies, forgoing any conflicting principles and ideas of their former nations. During the 1910's and 1920's, Wilson created a number of patriotic ceremonies and holidays, since massive immigration stirred unease in the American populace. A number of agencies were established to teach immigrants English, instruct them in the ideas and ideals of America, and attach the immigrants to the country's system. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson issued the first proclamation of Flag Day. Starting in 1918, Flag Day was the first day of a week known as Loyalty Week, which was a period of patriotic activity. Wilson was intent upon assimilating immigrants into the American culture and creating an ideological homogeneity among all Americans. In fact, on May 10th of 1915, Wilson gave a speech at a naturalization ceremony in Philadelphia in which he stated that while love of one's country of birth was 'very sacred,' ''you cannot become American if you think of yourselves in groups.' 'America does not consist of groups,' he maintained. Soon other patriotic American days were created, such as September 17th, dubbed Constitution Day, and the most famous loyalty day of all, July 4th. That day, labeled Independence Day, was designed to include events such as the pageant in New York City, first held in 1918, in which various Americanizers and ethnic organizations put on a parade to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. Wilson and his band of American activists deemed it necessary to prepare immigrants for citizenship and encourage them to seek it, so they devised ceremonies and holidays to celebrate the achievement of this citizenship. As American foreign policy adopted a stance of isolationism after the Great War, American domestic policy attempted to eliminate foreign influences and unify the American people. As the United States withdrew itself from foreign affairs, it attempted to remove foreign influences. Americans denounced radical foreign ideas, condemned un-American behavior (such as not pursuing higher education), and let fewer immigrants into the United States. This idea tied right into Wilson's attempts to create patriotic holidays and naturalization ceremonies, as the U.S. government sought to eliminate the notion of 'groups' and to assimilate everyone to the mold of the ideal American.
Feeding upon the over-riding xenophobia that was sweeping the United States at the time, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer obtained both governmental and public support for a number of raids designed to eliminate the Russian-inspired 'Red Menace.' These raids marked the US government's first real attempt to eliminate the Communist presence in the United States since the party's founding in 1917. Without warrants, Palmer authorized a number of attacks on both private homes and labor organizations. Thousands were arrested across the country, and many were held for days, even though Palmer was unable to find signs of an imminent revolution at hand. In these massive invasions, Palmer attacked immigrants, many of whom were Russian, but only a few of whom were Communist. Still, the Red Scare stimulated greater patriotic devotion to the United States, and helped to create a general dislike for communism in America, as was exemplified by the slow growth of the party, which scarcely had 10,000 members by 1932.
Another factor that helped to retard the growth of the American Communist Party was the return of leftist-elements from the United States to the Soviet Union. During the 1920's and early 1930's, over 10,000 American Communist Party members returned to the Soviet Union from the United States so as to help build up this new socialist nation . Leftist American and Canadian Finns made up a large number of those who returned to the Soviet Union during this period, with the majority of them settling in the Karelian region of the USSR (that region that borders Finland, contains a number of Finnish residents, and has a number of residents that speak a Finnish dialect) . The transportation, the shelter, the food needs, etc. of these returning communists were taken care of by a combination of the Soviet Government, the Canadian Communist Party, and the American Communist Party, as the Soviets desired to modernize the Karelian region's lumber industry. Since an enormous number of the Finns who returned had been lumberjacks in North America, such a goal seemed possible as long as those lumberjacks were supplied with their basic living requirements (such as food). This migration helped to quickly bring the modern North American lumbering methods to this region of the Soviet Union. Migration was encouraged until the mid-1930's when the labor shortages creased to exist. Meanwhile, the migration had resulted in another negative affect to the Communist parties in Canada and in the United States ' it had stripped both parties of their more militant and radical, pro-Communist factions, leaving the parties in the hands of leaders with increasingly moderate beliefs . The returns, along with the raids, anti-Communist acts, and other attempts to create a homogeneous society, resulted in a surprisingly low number of registered Communists, more than ten years after the founding of the party. The 10,000 members participating by 1932 represented a smaller group than even when the party was first founded, indicating that the Communist purges during the 1920's were partially, though not wholly, successful.
In 1929, Benjamin Gitlow and Jay Lovestone were expelled at Stalin's orders'Ruthenburg had died two years earlier'and Earl Browder took over as the American party's leader. The Great Depression in the United States revived the Communists' hope of a revolution. During this period, the party led a number of demonstrations against unemployment. It also led a number of strikes and defended Blacks against racism. Among other things, it championed the cause of nine black youths, convicted of raping two white women in Alabama. It was at this time that some idealistic Americans who were looking for greater social justice joined the CPUSA. Membership remained low even though the depression radicalized thousands of Americans, as the majority of the disenchanted population was drawn toward Roosevelt's New Deal. During the 1930's, the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) was formed to organize various industries, such as automobiles and steel. By the latter half of that decade, about a fourth of the CIO's members were in Communist-led unions.
Although communism was made to look unattractive by the actions of the US government from the time the CPUSA was first established, it did, in fact, garner popular appeal during the late 1920's and early 1930's as a result of the Great Depression. The underlying Communist theme of revolution brought with it the prospect of hope and better times for the financially and psychologically battered people of the United States. At the time, unemployment rates ran so high that workers were willing to turn to new political factions when they felt that the American government was not properly addressing the situation. The American Communist party was, in fact, the first political organization to hold demonstrations against unemployment. Also, the Communist party gained support during the 1930's as some idealistic Americans joined the party due to its anti-racist policies and support of Black causes. It was also at this time that a number of Communist-led groups were prominent, such as the League of American Writers. Nevertheless, Franklin Roosevelt's radical New Deal, which helped to bring America out of the Depression, attracted a number of individuals who might have otherwise been attracted to the American Communist Party. Most people, in fact, were willing to embrace some of the Communist doctrines, so long as they were placed within the confines of the American Democratic tradition ' accepting these Communist beliefs in this manner insured freedom from persecution. Thus, although the American Communist party succeeded in gaining some prestige, its ideas and ideals were eclipsed by Roosevelt's New Deal, which took away many prospective members. At the same time, the fact that a number of Franklin Roosevelt's liberal policies bore similarities to certain doctrines of the American Communist Party caused many of his conservative adversaries to increase their anti-Communist activities. For example, in 1938, the Texan Congressman Martin Dies constructed a committee to seek out un-American activities, which was used to root out Communists in New Deal agencies and the CIO, and to keep FDR from straying down the road to communism.
In the latter part of the 1930's and into the early 1940's, the appeal of communism in America was bolstered, both by ever-improving relations between the United States and Russia, and the USSR's decision to join the Allied powers during the second World War. In 1933, Roosevelt formally recognized the Soviet Union, ending the American cold-shoulder treatment of the Soviet Union. With recognition, FDR hoped to secure an ally against Hitler and Japan and to generate a stronger trade partnership with the USSR. There were a lot of promises between the United States and the Soviet Union, which helped to improve relations between the countries. Still, these improvements can best be described as minor, for the majority of the promises which each country made to the other were not kept, including the Soviets' promise to keep revolutionary propaganda out of America. The CPUSA also raised a large sum of money in Hollywood to send thousands to Spain to fight against the Fascist-supported insurgents, as the Comintern, at its Seventh Congress in 1935, had advocated a popular front against Fascism. This helped the party to reach its greatest membership of 66,000 member by January 1, 1939, the number having grown from 54,000 on January 1, 1938 and from 38,000 on January 1, 1937. While the CPUSA was coming to prominence in the United States, millions were dying in the Soviet Union, as the collectivization of agriculture was occurring and as Stalin attempted to purge both Soviet society and the Soviet Communist party of members who were thought to be unreliable. In 1939, Stalin suddenly ...