Communism in the 1920’s

 
May 30, 2016
QI'm a student at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Washington. In my US history class I am doing a project on Communism in the 1920's. I was looking to learn about the start of the Communist Party USA.
AThere are a number of books and other resources you can check for which cover that period in our Party’s history. There is an “official” one written by our long time chair during the 30s and 40s and 50s, William Z. Foster, entitled “History of the CPUSA.” Large libraries should have a copy. There are several biographies of leaders of that period, including several books by Foster on his own life, and a bio of him by Arthur Zipzer. Other bios covering that period include one by Art Sheilds, a long-time labor journalist and Party member, “On the Battle Lines,” and anything about John Reed. Also “We Are Many” by Mother Bloor.

There is much more material available about the 1930s, both books about and bios and autobiographies.

If you want the standard anti-communist history, that is Draper’s “American Communism and Soviet Russia” a flawed and biased account.

A flawed but worthwhile resource is the movie “Reds” starring Warren Beatty, which includes in additional to the fictionalization of John Reed’s life, some interviews with various people including Party members reminiscing about that period.

The Party was founded in 1919—actually, for almost two years there were two parties, both splits from the Socialist Party, the differences being when each group split and exactly what issues were crucial for them. The two groups merged in 1921, encouraged by the Communist International—there are some scenes in “Reds” that cover this struggle. .The key issues in the founding were previous opposition to World War 1, the fight for recognition of the new revolutionary government of Soviet Russia, and the role of immigrants—many of the groups that left the Socialist Party were what were called “language federations,” organizations by nationality and language. It was not until later in the 20s that the Party reorganized around geographic and industrial lines rather than partially around ethnicities.

Another subject related to the early history of our Party was the Palmer Raids of 1920-21, orchestrated for the Justice Department by J. Edgar Hoover early in his career. Many immigrant members were deported, some 5 to 6 thousand people.

The Wikipedia entry about our Party’s history is fairly flawed too, but can offer dates and some names. Google Palmer Raids, Red Scare, for more material.

Comments (2)

Christopher Henderson | February 28, 2017 at 7:15 AM

James P Cannon’s book “The First Ten Years of American Communism” is excellent.

http://www.pathfinderpress.com/s.nl/it.A/id.106/.f?sc=8&category=83

The 20s was hard. Immediately after formation the Palmer Raids. Attempting to organize in the 1920s was difficult. James P Cannon was a founding member and wrote about the trials and struggles. Ultimately he grew to differ and split off to form the American Trotskyist opposition, but was by no means a Cold Warrior.

Jacob A Zumoff | January 26, 2017 at 5:05 PM

At the risk of sounding biased, I might suggest my own book, The Communist International and US Communism, 1919-1929 (Chicago, 2015): https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/712-the-communist-international-and-u-s-communism-1919-1929.

It was reviewed in the People’s World: http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/book-offers-analysis-on-communist-international/

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