Communist Party USA

Also found in: Acronyms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Communist Party USA

Known officially as the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the Communist party was formed in the United States in 1919, two years after the Russian Revolution had overthrown the monarchy and established the Soviet Union. Many American Communists had been members of the socialist party of america, but that party's socialist leadership opposed the Russian revolution and expelled those members who supported it. The Communists were even more left-wing than the Socialists and attracted a number of radicals and anarchists as well as Communists. By August 1919, only months after its founding, the Communist party had 60,000 members, while the Socialist party had only 40,000.

The administration of President woodrow wilson, fearful that American radicals might attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, began making mass arrests in the fall of 1919. Ultimately, 10,000 suspected subversives were arrested in what became known as the Palmer Raids (after U.S. Attorney General a. mitchell palmer), with 249 deported to Russia. The Palmer Raids ended in May 1920, and the American Communists began to gain strength. In 1924, the party founded a newspaper, The Daily Worker, which, at its peak, had a circulation of 35,000. That same year, the party nominated labor activist William Z. Foster as its first candidate for U.S. president. Foster received 35,361 votes. The death of vladimir lenin and the rise of Joseph Stalin caused dissent among the party in the United States, with some supporting Stalin and others supporting the views of Leon Trotsky. A number of Trotskyists formed the Communist League of America, and by 1920 the American Communist party had only 7,000 members. By then, the party was concentrating on helping to build labor unions and improving workers' rights. They lobbied for higher wages, a national retirement program, and unemployment insurance. With so many Americans affected by the Great Depression, the Communist message sounded a note of hope to unemployed workers, and Foster received 102,991 votes in the 1932 presidential election. Still, many people were more comfortable with the less radical Socialist party, whose candidate, Norman Thomas, received 884,781 votes.

The Spanish Civil War created a renewed interest in the Communist party, with many of its members opposing the government of Francisco Franco. Many American Communists went to Spain to fight against Franco's forces. Once again, there was a mounting fear of Communism in the United States. The Communist candidate for president in 1940, Earl Browder, was forbidden to travel within the United States and had to conduct his entire campaign through written statements and recorded speeches.

During World War II, the party had 75,000 members, and 15,000 registered Communists fought against Axis forces in Europe and Asia. The alliance with the Soviets did not survive beyond the war's end in 1945, and a wave of anti-communism swept the United States. Although the Communist party in the United States was arguably less radical than it had been in its early days (in 1948, the party endorsed the Progressive Party candidate, former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, for President), the Cold War created a spirit of considerable distrust. In 1948, a dozen leaders of the party were arrested for violating the Alien Registration Act, which made it illegal to advocate or assist in trying to overthrow the government.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated individuals who were thought to have Communist ties, and Senator joseph r. mccarthy (R-Wis.) claimed that Communists had infiltrated the federal government. Although many of these accused Communists had either never been party members or else had been involved briefly in the 1930s when the party was more active in organizing labor, invariably their lives were shattered. Membership in the Communist party dropped to about 10,000 by 1957, even though it was never illegal to be a member.

During the 1960s, the Communist party became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and also the antiwar movement. Gus Hall, longtime general secretary of the party, ran for President in 1968 (the party had not run its own candidate since 1940) and received only 1,075 votes. He ran in subsequent years and in 1976 he received 58,992 votes. In 1988, instead of running, Hall pledged his support to jesse jackson, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

In the new millennium, the CPUSA maintains its commitment to the same political ideas that drove the Russian Revolution, but it embraces a more peaceful approach to creating change and social justice. Among the ideas it actively supports are socialized medicine, improved Social Security benefits, stronger legislation to protect the environment, and full funding for education. The party also seeks greater cooperation with other political groups, believing that the best way to effect change is through the strength of broad-based coalitions.

Further readings

Communist Party, USA. Available online at <> (accessed November 20, 2003).

Foster, William Z., 1952. History of the Communist Party of the United States of America. New York: International Publishers.

Jaffe, Philip J., 1975. The Rise and Fall of American Communism. New York: Horizon Press.

Klehr, Harvey, 1984. The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York: Basic Books.


Independent Parties; Socialist Party of the United States of America.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
Any history of the Red Scare must also include some account of its putative adversary, the Communist Party USA. The party was habitually authoritarian in its internal regime and sectarian in its relations with others.
Instead of coalescing as a single Marxist Leninist revolutionary vanguard, the various "pre-party" groupings peeled off and each established its own, true variant of Marxism-Leninism: the Revolutionary Communist Party, Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), Communist Workers' Party, Democratic Workers' Party, Communist Labor Party, Communist Party USA (Marxist-Leninist), and Line of March, to name some of the more prominent sects.
Founded by the Communist Party USA in 1925 to defend what they called "class war prisoners," the ILD set out to mobilize mass protest and to provide legal defense for working-class activists who they believed were being unjustly prosecuted for their political activity.
The labor movement was internally divided, stripped of the hard work, willingness to sacrifice and fighting spirit of the members of the Communist Party USA, the predominant group on the left at that point in time.
Entailed are views of the Communist Party USA and "communists;" relations between early Jewish immigrants from Germany and later Jewish immigrants from Russia; efforts of the Composers' Collective to confront the Depression with real music; technologies of recording and dissemination; the Newport Folk Festival, where the "revival" imploded, its traces, like so much else, to be swept away by Rock 'n' Roll, a truer business-man's dream.
The Committees of Correspondence was initially formed in a breakup of the Communist Party USA in December 1991.
This year, 2019, marks 100 years of the Communist Party USA, founded as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union, yet the importation of communist ideas to America precedes even the founding of the United States.
It is presented as generally consistent with the consensus view of the Communist Party USA, although author Rubin (elected to the CPUSA's National Committee in 1959) does caution that the specifics of his views are his own.
Frank says that the "greatest danger lurking on the University of Oregon campus is conformity." He praises dissent, and then proceeds to list campus examples of opposition to orthodoxy: President Dave Frohnmayer's refusal to close a student paper for depicting a sexually aroused Jesus, the university's bored reaction to national criticism of a campus sociology professor who teaches Marxist theory, the invitation to the general secretary of the Communist Party USA to speak at the UO, and so on.
volunteers were recruited by or belonged to the Communist Party USA. The volume Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War argues, "from the very beginning, the Comintern and Moscow wanted these units under their control and saw to it that a majority of the troops, if not all of them, were members of the Communist Party....
A one-time member of the Communist Party USA, Ron Radosh was familiar with many of the Old Left stalwarts, and went to school with a veritable who's-who of the Left: Victor Navasky of The Nation; CPUSA vice-presidential candidate Angela Davis, punctiliously referred to in the media as a 'social activist"; Weatherman Kathy Boudin; and the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Full browser ?