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Steven Schaefer

Jun 27, 2024

June 7th marked the start of the 32nd National Convention of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), which has persisted in American politics in some form since its founding 104 years ago. Once a party that achieved significant gains for working-class Americans and endured unparalleled repression campaigns, it has since lost its way.

This convention continued a party line embracing liberal revisionism, deviating from Marxism-Leninism and Scientific Socialism. To understand the CPUSA's current ideological trend, we must examine its historic revisionist tendencies and past efforts to correct them.

The Early Years of Browder

Earl Browder began his career in revolutionary politics in 1907 at the age of 16, when he joined the Wichita chapter of the Socialist Party of America (SPA). In 1912, Browder would meet William Z Foster, a future leader of the Communist Party prior to Browder's reign and the man who would ultimately rebuild the party after what would become known as “Browderism” had run its course. At the time, Foster was a founding member and leader of the Syndicalist League of North America, an influence that would slowly pull Browder away from the SPA and its explicitly “anti-sabotage” policies, bringing him into the rapidly emerging fold of industrial union organizing.

At the start of the First World War, notably prior to US involvement, while working as a union organizer with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in Kansas City, Browder also became well-known as an anti-war demonstrator. Speaking in the streets about the class character of the war as an inter-imperialist conflict and attempting to discourage all US involvement. When the United States ultimately joined the war and began to fight in Europe in 1917, Browder was promptly arrested and charged with “conspiring to defeat the operation of the draft” and for his failure to register for the draft. Browder was sentenced to 3 years in jail but would be released in November of 1918.

Browder was rearrested in June 1919 on an additional conspiracy charge, causing him to miss a critical juncture in SPA internal discourse, which ultimately led to a split within the SPA and the formation of both the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party of America. Multiple mergers and splits continued among these parties, culminating in a final merger in 1921 that formed the Communist Party of the United States of America as we know it today. Following his release from prison, Browder quickly joined the now unified CPUSA.

During the 1920s, Browder began working as an agent of the Communist International (Comintern) and continued in various capacities until a 1929 plenary meeting of the CPUSA Central Committee.

Throughout the 1920s, the CPUSA was embroiled in a factional war between former Executive Secretary Jay Lovestone and Browder's friend, William Z. Foster. The Comintern viewed the Lovestone clique as reckless and adventurist but was unwilling to explicitly endorse Foster due to his perceived "unprincipled" behavior during the struggle. The Comintern endorsed Browder as General Secretary to shift power away from Lovestone and indirectly empower Foster. Although Browder refused the position of General Secretary, he accepted appointments to a three-member Secretariat and as head of the party's Agitation and Propaganda Department.

“Browderism” and the Fall of the Communist Party

In 1932, Browder fully consolidated power within the CPUSA and began advocating for the "Popular Front." Learning from the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany and the Communist Party of Germany's refusal to cooperate with Social Democrats against fascism, Browder instructed the CPUSA and the Young Communist League to start collaborating with the SPA and their youth league to create a large united front.

Browder won Comintern support for his strategy by suggesting that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt could develop into a fascist dictator. However, after Roosevelt introduced the "New Deal" policies, Browder made a significant course correction within the party, shifting to support Roosevelt.

Browder continued to lead the Communist Party throughout World War II, with the only lapse in his leadership occurring when he was rearrested in January 1940 after admitting to passport fraud during an interrogation with the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities.

In January 1944, a special meeting of the National Committee of the Communist Party was called. During this meeting, Browder stated, "Capitalism and socialism have begun to find their way to peaceful coexistence and collaboration in the same world." He advised the National Committee to dissolve the Communist Party, arguing that the need for militant, revolutionary class struggle had ceased.

 Browder did not allow any discussion on this matter, and although the National Committee was permitted to vote, the votes were predetermined, with all members instructed to vote in favor of dissolution. Browder then announced the formation of the "Communist Political Association" (CPA), which aimed to join the "family of free nations, led by the great coalition of democratic capitalist and socialist states," to promote world peace, expanding production, and economic well-being. The CPA expelled any members who advocated overthrowing the U.S. government and pledged to work exclusively within the American two-party system.

Following the end of World War II, the international Communist community began to condemn Browder and the dissolution of the Communist Party, as it became clear that capitalism and socialism would not peacefully coexist as Browder had theorized.

At the July 1945 convention of the CPA, the association was disbanded, and the Communist Party was reconstituted with William Z. Foster becoming General Secretary. Browder remained in the party until he started publishing a private subscription newsletter titled "Economic Analysis: A Service for Policymakers," which contradicted the party line. As a result, Browder was expelled from the Communist Party in February 1946.

Under Foster's leadership and with assistance from the Communist Party of France, the Communist Party launched a vigorous reconstitution campaign. They analyzed and criticized the previous "Browderist" revisionist tendency, developing a progressive Marxist-Leninist policy for the party's future direction. Despite these efforts, the damage caused by Earl Browder has left lasting wounds within the party that it has yet to fully heal.

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