Chapter Twenty-Six: The Fight Against Fascism and War (1935-1939)

26. The Fight Against Fascism and War (1935-1939)
American Communists and allies formed the
Abraham Lincoln Brigade to fight fascism in
the Spanish Civil War. The ABL was the first
integrated American fighting force, including
nurse and CPUSA member Salaria Kea, pictured here.

Immediately after Hitler took over power in Germany, one month and four days before Roosevelt was inaugurated President of the United States in March 1933, the Nazis, the agents of German big capital, launched their program of ruthless imperialist expansion. To solidify their home front, they banned the Communist and Socialist parties, seized and reorganized the trade unions and co-operatives, wiped out the rival bourgeois parties, abolished the Weimar Republic, and set up a fascist regime.

Declaring their determination to destroy the Versailles Treaty by force, the Nazis at once embarked upon a vigorous foreign policy of conquest. Rapidly they quit the League of Nations in order to have a free hand; began to rearm Germany in violation of the treaty; signed an anti-Soviet pact with Poland; engineered a fascist putsch in Austria; regained control of the Saar basin by a terroristic plebiscite; and forcibly reoccupied the Rhineland. Meanwhile, Germany's fascist allies, Italy and Japan, were busy with similar aggressions. In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia and subjugated that country, and Japan had been actively overrunning North China since 1931. In November 1936, Germany and Japan signed their anti-Comintern pact, "to fight communism," which Italy joined a year later.

The League of Nations stood impotent in the face of all these violent aggressions. This was because of three basic considerations: First, the ruling big capitalists of Great Britain, France, and other European countries were themselves saturated with fascist ideas, believing that Hitler, in Nazism, had found the means for finally disposing of the labor movement and for averting the danger of socialism. Second, they were sure that the war which the German fascists were obviously preparing would be directed against the U.S.S.R., and that in such a war both belligerents would about destroy each othier. The big capitalists in the United States had essentially the same ideas. So they all "appeased" Hitler and his fascist allies; that is, they gave him active economic and political support. Third, the Social-Democrats reflected the moods and policies of their capitalist governments and made no fight against the advance of Hitlerism.


The violent aggressions of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the group of satellite countries which they quickly gathered about them in Eastern Europe, manifestly threatened mankind with another world conflagration. The Hitler-Mussolini-Hirohito gang of imperialists were going to try to cut their way out of the general crisis of the world capitalist system by ruthless war and an attempt to bring the whole world under their sway. Humanity faced the most terrible threat of butchery and enslavement in its entire history.

In this grave crisis it was the Communists who came forward with the basic preventive means. True to its nature, the Socialist peace-loving country, the Soviet Union, presented the historic policy to check and defeat fascism. In the League of Nations, which the U.S.S.R. had joined toward the end of 1934 after the three major fascist aggressors had quit it, Maxim Litvinov, on behalf of the Soviet government, repeatedly proposed that the peace-loving countries get together in an international peace front and restrain the fascist aggressors. "Collective security," he called the policy.1 This peace proposal, had it been adopted, could have nipped world fascism in the bud and prevented World War II; for at that time the fascist powers were still weak and the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and their friends had an overwhelming superiority in armed forces, industrial productive capacity, and natural resources.

But the capitalist powers of the West were not interested in halting Hitler and fascism, for the reasons stated. As for international Social-Democracy, true to its nature as a prop of capitalism, it followed its capitalist masters and also rejected collective security. Roosevelt, who had recognized the Soviet government in November 1933, under broad mass pressure, made a couple of gestures toward collective security. He weakly moved to support oil sanctions against Italy for invading Ethiopia, and on October 5, 1937, in Chicago, he proposed to "quarantine the aggressors." But nothing came of all this. Even these mild moves toward checking the fascist Axis met with powerful capitalist resistance in the United States. Roosevelt, therefore, refused to back the Soviet Union's peace proposal, the only practical way to achieve collective security. He let Germany and Italy run their aggressive course without challenge, and he permitted a great flood of scrap iron and other war materials to flow to Japan, at that time engaged in overrunning huge sections of China.  The fascist powers pushed the world toward war, and the capitalist "democratic" powers refused to halt them.


Meanwhile, the Communists, who were the outstanding fighters for peace on the world scale, also took the lead in combating the fascist menace in their respective countries. This they did through the famous policy of the anti-fascist people's front. In Chapter 22 we have shown how this policy was developed at the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern in Moscow in 1935. The policy called for a united front of all those democratic elements—workers, peasants, intellectuals, small business people, Communists, Socialists, Catholics, and others—who were willing to make a common fight against fascism and war. These masses had to fight for their unions, their living standards, their democratic liberties, their very lives, and the Communists led the way in this. The Communists were giving another basic illustration of the truth that they were the leaders of the nation, as well as of the working class, in this time of dire national and international peril.

In the face of the malignant fascist-war menace, the people's front policy almost immediately scored important victories. In February 1936, the workers of France led an offensive of the broad democratic forces that smashed the domestic drive of the French fascists for power, launched a vast sit-down strike movement, increased the membership of the General Confederation of Labor (C.G.T.) from 900,000 to four million members, and that of the Communist Party from 40,000 to 270,000. They elected a modified form of people's front government in France. Simultaneously, the workers of Spain made a similar, but broader movement. On February 16, 1936, the people's front won an election victory in Spain, which raised the number of the left's seats in the parliament to 268 members, as against 205 for the reactionaries. In various other countries the people's front became a powerful force.

The Communist parties gave all possible assistance to the embattled people's front in France and Spain. But in each case a right-wing Social-Democrat became the prime minister—Leon Blum in France and Largo Caballero in Spain. From 1934 to 1939 the Second International refused ten different proposals from the Comintern for a general united front opposition to fascism, each time referring the matter to the national parties.2 In the countries where the people's front was strong the right-wing Social-Democrats, who still held the decisive posts in the labor movement all over Western Europe, would head such movements in order to decapitate them. The influence of Blum in France and Caballero in Spain was disastrous. The right-wing Social-Democrats everywhere added to the fascist-war menace by carrying on a poisonous campaign of Soviet-baiting.


Hitler and Mussolini, emboldened by the success of their aggressions (due to the pro-fascist policies of Britain, France, and the United States), at once set out to overthrow the People's Front Spanish Republic. On July 17, 1936, their stooge, General Franco, led a revolt in Morocco. Had the Republican government, headed then by Caballero, acted promptly, the uprising could have been speedily stamped out, but it was paralyzed by the usual Social-Democratic conservatism, so the fascist revolt gained headway. Hitler and Mussolini supplied large numbers of troops, guns, tanks, and planes to the Franco counter-revolutionaries, and soon the latter were knocking at the gates of Madrid.

In the League of Nations the U.S.S.R. repeatedly demanded collective action to halt the fascist aggression in Spain. But this was refused, and instead a policy of "non-intervention" was adopted. That is to say, while Hitler and Mussolini poured a flood of men and munitions into Spain, the various capitalist democratic countries, Great Britain, Fiance, and the United States, obviously hostile to the Spanish Republic, assumed a hypocritical "neutral" attitude, refusing to sell war supplies to either side. Roosevelt followed this policy under the Neutrality Act of January 8, 1937, and the Embargo Act of May First of the same year. Thus the legally elected People's Front Republican Government of Spain, which under international law had every right to buy munitions anywhere with which to defend itself, was placed at a disadvantage to the fascist bandits who freely got arms from Germany and Italy. This betrayal was another gross "appeasement" of Hitler. It doomed the Spanish Republic to defeat and opened the road for World War II. The right-wing Social-Democrats of the world supported the outrageous "non-intervention" policy, while the Communists everywhere denounced it.

The Communist parties gave all possible assistance to the embattled Spanish Republic. Most important of this help, they organized the International Brigades, which were made up of Communists and other antifascist fighters from all over Europe—France, Poland, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Great Britain, and elsewhere, and also from many countries of the Americas. Fifty-four nations were represented. All told, the International Brigades were estimated to number up to about 30,000 men. Their political leader was the well-known French Communist, Andre' Marty. The International Brigades constituted a tower of strength in the long and heroic struggle of the Spanish people.

The C.P.U.S.A. and the Y.C.L. organized the sending of some 3,000 soldiers, many of them non-Party, to the Loyalist forces in Spain. This was a tremendous job under the circumstances. On January 6, 1937, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion was formed, and shortly afterward, the George Washington Battalion. Later they were merged into the Lincoln-Washington Battalion. The American forces, together with the British, Canadians, Irish, and other English-speaking groups, belonged to the 15th Brigade. Officers and leaders of the American volunteers included I. A. Valledor, R. H. Merriman, Hans Amlie, Leonard Lamb, Milton Wolff, Dave Doran, John Gates, Robert Thompson, Steve Nelson, Joseph Dallett, George Watt, Bill Lawrence, Saul Wellman, Joe Brandt, and others. American medical units were headed by Dr. E. K. Barsky.

Among the 3,000 Americans there were several hundred Negroes who displayed characteristic heroism throughout the bitter war. Unlike the U.S. army, which is saturated with Jim Crow and discrimination, in the International Brigades Negroes came forward as officers and in skilled military fashion led their men, both Negro and white, in battle. Many gave their lives in the gallant effort to wipe out fascism, with its hideous racism and human slavery.

The American brigades fought in the Brunete offensive, at Jarama, Quinto, Belchite, Fuentes de Ebro, Teruel, Aragon, in the Ebro offensive, and in many other battles. They gave a splendid account of themselves, and their military achievements were noted far and wide in the American press, and among the great masses of the pople, who were sympathetic to Loyalist Spain. The medical units, working under the most primitive and dangerous conditions, rendered an heroic service. Along with the soldiers from the United States there fought some 500 from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and the Philippines. 3 The Canadians were mainly members of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the "MacPaps." They numbered 1,300. Dr. Norman Bethune of Canada, who later served with the Chinese People's Armies, introduced the first large-scale use of the blood bank under battle conditions.

The fight of the Spanish Republic was one of the most heroic in history, but the odds against it were too great. Betrayed, outnumbered, and outgunned, the brave Loyalist fighters were gradually defeated. Madrid fell on March 28, 1939, after almost three years of desperate struggle. Four days later the Roosevelt government rushed indecently to recognize the regime of the butcher Franco and to lift the arms embargo.

The casualties in the Civil War were frightfully heavy, not only from the fighting but also from the post-war massacres by the fascists. All told, Spain probably lost at least two million people killed. In Seville after the war 50,000 were shot; in Navarre, 20,000; and there were similar butcheries elsewhere. 4 Of the American volunteers, some 1,500, or about 50 percent never returned, and in the Canadian, British, and other battalions the casualties were equally heavy. Among our heroic dead were such well-known fighters as Dave Doran, Joseph Dallet, R. H. Merriman, and the young Negro leaders, Milton Herndon, Oliver Law, and Alonzo Watson.

The Communists of the United States may well be proud of the active part they took in the gallant defense of the Spanish Republic. It constituted the most glorious event in the entire life of the Party. The volunteers fought in the resolute spirit that Communists invariably have shown on the battlefields of Russia, China, and in many other parts of the world. The fight to save Spain was the fight to save the world from fascism and a second world war. It was a fight, therefore, in the interest of the American people. That fight was lost, owing to betrayal of the Spanish Republic by the western capitalist governments and by world Social-Democracy. In consequence, scores of millions of people had to die in World War II.


The fascist would-be world conquerors redoubled their aggressions after the successes in the Saar, Ethiopia, China, and Spain. In February 1938, Hitler sent his Wehrmacht into Austria, occupying that country. At the same time he cooked up a big crisis with Czechoslovakia over alleged injustices to the German minority there. President Roosevelt suggested that an effort be made on a general scale to adjust the critical European situation, whereupon Hitler organized the notorious Munich conference of May 1938. The heads of the governments of Germany, Italy, Great Britain, and France—Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain, and Daladier—got together and agreed that Germany should take over the Sudetenland, which meant eventually all of Czechoslovakia. This outrageous appeasement of the fascists, the latest in a long series of similar betrayals, was hailed all over the world by bourgeois and Social-Democratic statesmen and spokesmen as establishing "peace in our time." The Communists, virtually alone in so doing, condemned Munich as a criminal sell-out and war provocation. The objective of the fascist-minded ruling classes of Britain and France at Munich was not to establish peace, but to turn Hitler's guns eastward against the Soviet Union.

During this period, on March 10, 1939, Stalin stated the peace policy of the U.S.S.R. as follows: "We stand for peace and the strengthening of business relations with all countries. . . . We stand for peaceful, close, and friendly relations with all neighboring countries which have common frontiers with the U.S.S.R. . . . We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggressors and are fighting for the independence of their country. . . . We are not afraid of the threats of aggressors, and are ready to deal two blows for every blow delivered by instigators of war who attempt to violate the Soviet borders."5

In line with this policy, the Soviet government persisted in its efforts to organize an international peace front against the fascist bandits. Time and again it proposed joint action with the western democracies to save Ethiopia, to save China, to save Spain, to save Austria, to save Czechoslovakia, But the capitalist governments of Western Europe, and the United States as well, were not interested in any such peace front and joint action. The Soviet Union therefore agreed to put into effect its mutual defense pact and to defend Czechoslovakia, with the help of France; but France demurred. The U.S.S.R. similarly offered to defend Poland when Hitler was about to attack it, but Poland refused to allow Russian troops to cross its soil. Meanwhile, the efforts of the U.S.S.R. to negotiate a mutual assistance treaty with Great Britain during early 1939 failed—the Soviets already having made similar pacts with France, China, and a dozen other countries. Tory Britain, deliberately seeking to create a German-Russian war, wanted no such pact, and its negotiations with the Russians were a swindle. The delegation that it sent to Moscow had no mandate to make a pact; it was headed by a third-line hack diplomat, and it merely stalled along for the sake of appearance.

The Soviet government repeatedly warned Great Britain that its treacherous course was impermissible. Stalin on March 10 declared that the Soviet Union was not going to be a cat's-paw to pull British chestnuts out of the fire. Similar warnings came almost weekly from Litvinov, Zhdanov, and other Soviet leaders—all of which were ignored by the British government.

Finally, seeing that it was being flagrantly betrayed by Great Britain and France (as well as by the United States), the Soviet Union moved for peace on its own account by signing on August 24, 1939, a 10-year pact of non-aggression with Germany. Molotov said of this agreement: "The decision to conclude a non-aggression pact between the U.S.S.R. and Germany was adopted after military negotiations with France and Great Britain had reached an impasse . . . the conclusion of a pact of mutual assistance could not be expected [and] we could not but explore other possibilities for insuring peace and eliminating the clanger of war between Germany and the U.S.S.R."6 The Soviet Union was criticized by its enemies for this action. Later events showed, however, that the 22 months of breathing space gained by the U.S.S.R. through the pact, by enabling it to arm itself effectively, were a decisive factor in winning the eventual world war. The charge that during the pact the Soviets helped Hitler is a lie. The latter found the pact a hindrance to his plans—hence his invasion of the U.S.S.R.

Meanwhile, Hitler, who had been boiling up a big crisis with Poland, undertook to solve it by marching into that country on September 1, 1939. World War II, which had its beginnings in the invasions of China, Ethiopa, Spain, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, was now a reality.


With the development of the aggressive fascist expansionist drive of German, Japanese, and Italian imperialism, during the immediate pre-war years, the general policy of American imperialism (with certain differences within the capitalist ranks) was to direct the coming war blow against the U.S.S.R. This explains the American government's "appeasement" of Hitler, and also its endorsement of the Munich sell-out. When the war against the West actually began, however, the split in the American bourgeoisie, which had been more or less in evidence all through the great economic crisis (see Chapter 23) and in the pre-war years, became more pronounced. The Roosevelt group took a line of co-operation with Britain, while the Republicans and Tory Democrats gave indirect support to Hitler. Beneath these differences, however, American imperialism was basically aiming at securing the world predominance of the United States through the weakening of the U.S.S.R., Germany, and Japan, and the accentuated break-up of the British empire as a result of the war.

When Roosevelt brought about the long-delayed recognition of the Soviet Union on November 16, 1933, he was probably motivated chiefly by the need, in fighting the economic crisis, to develop an extensive trade with that country. But all through the pre-war crisis years he steadily refused to join in the repeated proposals of the Soviet Union to establish a system of international collective security-to save China, Ethiopia, Spain, Austria, and Czechoslovakia from the maw of advancing fascist powers and to avert a world war. Obviously, he, too, was not anxious to  divert   Hitler's   preparations   and   threats   of  war   from   the   East.

When war in Europe began, the Roosevelt Administration adopted the line of an informal alliance with Great Britain (a combination which it figured on controlling). This pro-British policy was largely explainable by the fact that of the total of almost $12 billion U.S. foreign investments at the time no less than 42 percent were inside the British Empire. Besides this big stake in the British Empire, Roosevelt also considered that the rise of militant German-Italian-Japanese fascist imperialism was a menacing threat to the position of American imperialism in Europe, the Far East, and Latin America. To avert this threat, he pushed aggressively the arming of the United States. He adopted a policy of active co-operation with Britain and France, which went through advancing stages from "aid to Britain" and "the arsenal of democracy," to "all means short of war," and finally to war itself.

The Republican-Tory Democrat opposition to Roosevelt, which had the support of the bulk of big capital, repudiated his pro-British policy and followed what amounted to a line of pro-German support. This was because this opposition, saturated with fascist ideas, favored a partial victory or a stalemate in Europe, believing that the United States was powerful enough to take care of itself in a fascist world. Its planned-for objective was a debilitating war between Germany and the Soviet Union, with the capitalist countries more or less supporting the former. It also looked for a growing break-up of the British Empire. The anti-Roosevelt forces were alarmed, however, by the advance of Japanese imperialism in China, which was imperiling their chosen field for imperialist expansion in the Far East, and they therefore favored an all-out war against Japan. In view of the strong anti-fascist and peace sentiments among the masses, even limited open support of the Axis powers was impossible; hence, the anti-Roosevelt opposition followed a policy of "isolationism" toward Europe. This, in fact, consisted of giving covert support to Hitler, and of opposing every form of aid to Great Britain and of collaboration with the Soviet Union.

All the fascist forces of the country rallied to this opposition as to a magnet. The Hearsts, Coughlins, Winrods, Smiths, Ku Klux Klanners, the men of Wall Street who had tried to get General Smedley D. Butler to organize an army of 500,000 veterans to' march on Washington, the German-American Bund, the fascist groups among the national minorities —they were all there. "Dr. Birkhead counted 119 pro-fascist organizations in the United States in 1936 and estimated that there were probably more than 250 of such organizations, having connections with at least 5,000,000 people."7 In June 1938, the so-called House Committee on Un-American Activities, headed by Martin Dies, was set up and began its pro-fascist campaign of thought control. The fascist danger in the United States reached the highest level it had yet achieved in the immediate pre-war years.

The Communist Party collided head on with the pseudo-"isolationism" of the pro-Hitler Republican-Tory Democrat opposition. It also opposed the pro-British line of the Roosevelt Administration, while actively supporting its domestic reforms. The Party fought for world peace, and it insisted that the only way this could be assured was on the basis of international collective security, as proposed by the Soviet Union. Its main slogans were against fascism and imperialist war. It declared, "Keep America out of war by keeping war out of the worldl" The Socialists and Trotskyites, buried in deep hatred of the U.S.S.R., found themselves virtually in the camp of the reactionary "isolationists."


During these crucial pre-war years the workers and other democratic strata of the American people were overwhelmingly opposed to fascism, particularly in its more obvious European types. But as for the trickier American varieties, hiding under pretenses of democracy and peace, their judgment was not always infallible. They wanted to aid those peoples who were being assailed and conquered by the fascist states, but generally in their organizations they did not rise to the heights of demanding a system of world collective security to restrain and defeat the aggressors. They were largely isolationist. Above all, they were flatly opposed to war.

At its 1938 convention, the A.F. of L., always cultivating the conservative bourgeois currents among the workers, condemned Hitler and Mussolini fascism, but decided to give the infamous Dies Committee "all possible assistance." It did, however, vote down the attempt of Matthew Woll and John P. Frey to have the New Deal condemned as "socialistic." But it rejected the O'Connell Peace Act and the "policy of 'quarantining the aggressors.'" It favored a boycott against Germany and Japan. Under the leadership of John L. Lewis, and especially the influence of the Communists, the C.I.O., at its first constitutional convention in Pittsburgh, in November 1938, gave a ringing endorsement to the New Deal and also to the policy of collective security.8

The Negro people were in the forefront of the forces fighting against fascism and imperialist war.   The National  Negro Congress held  its second general convention in Philadelphia in May 1937. It was a broad united front movement of 1,200 delegates, with figures such as Walter White (N.A.A.C.P.), Philip Murray, Norman Thomas, and T. J. Kennedy (U.M.W.A.) speaking there. Its mainspring was the Communist Party. The organization was a power in every anti-fascist, peace-striving movement, as well as in the fight for the special economic and political demands of the Negro people. The Southern Negro Youth Congress, an offshoot of the N.N.C., exercised considerable influence among the Negro people in the South, taking a strong position against fascism and for collective security.

A development of major importance in the life of the Negro people and the fight against fascism during this period was the formation of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama, in November 1938. This organization had the backing of the Roosevelt Administration, which had called the South "the nation's economic problem number one." Its founding convention attracted 1,350 delegates, among them many of the most outstanding liberals and labor men in the South. The Communist Party was officially represented and exercised much influence in the organization. Dr. Frank Graham was chairman, and John P. Davis, of the National Negro Congress, was a member of the council of 15 chosen to head the organization. The convention laid down a program calling for jobs, civil rights, and federal education for Negroes, also taking a sharp stand against lynching and other persecutions of the Negro people. For the next several years the S.C.H.W. was a considerable force against the hidebound tories of the South.9

The American Youth Congress, representing the bulk of the organized young people of the United States, held yearly conventions during the pre-war period. It took generally an advanced stand against fascism and for collective security. This, despite the disruptive efforts of Catholics, Social-Democrats, and Trotskyites, whose sole objective in the organization was to weaken the Communists' influence even if they had to wreck the Congress in the attempt. At the fifth convention of the A.Y.C. in July 1939, in an ill-advised attempt to fend off the charge of communism being directed against the organization, a resolution was adopted opposing dictatorship "whether Communist,' fascist, Nazi, etc." Among its many mass activities, the Congress organized a pilgrimage to Washington of 35 national youth organizations and youth-serving agencies "for jobs, health, and education." In August 1938, the Second World Youth Congress was held in Poughkeepsie, New York, with delegates from 53 countries, representing 40 million young people. In all these activities the Young Communist League took a very energetic leading part. One of the most important united front organizations of this period in the fight against the rising menace to democracy and peace, was the American League Against War and Fascism, of which Dr. Harry F. Ward was the national chairman. It was established on September 29, 1933, in New York. After its convention of November 1937, in Pittsburgh, the organization was known as the American League for Peace and Democracy. The Communist Party was affiliated with the former but not with the latter. In both it had much influence. This was a large united front organization, carrying on a general struggle for economic and political demands, for the rights of the Negro people, for democracy, and for collective security. Women were very active in the organization, as in all others fighting the fascist-war danger. The League held big annual congresses, with 2,000 to 3,500 delegates, representing as many as four million people. At these gatherings there were large delegations of Negroes, youth, and trade unionists. At its 1937 convention, for example, about 30 percent of the entire labor movement was represented, either by endorsements or by direct delegates. The League was a major influence in the fight for peace and democracy.


The mid-term elections of 1938 were fought out in an atmosphere of intense class struggle. The economic situation was bad, the cyclical crisis of 1937 having again knocked the bottom out of industry. There was wide discontent at the inadequacy of the New Deal reforms. At least ten million workers walked the streets idle, while capitalist profits soared. Obviously, the Keynesian "pump-priming" policy had failed. Although Roosevelt's huge subsidies to industry and to "strengthen the purchasing power of the workers" had added S16 billion to the national debt, they could not liquidate the "depression of a special kind." Only the approach of war, causing an enormous output of munitions, did that.

The big employers, violently antagonized by the organizing campaigns and strikes of the C.I.O., viciously attacked Roosevelt and the New Deal. At the same time, they demagogically promised a whole row of reforms to offset those of Roosevelt. Organized labor was badly divided in the elections. The A.F. of L. reactionaries were doing their best to kill off the C.I.O., and they also condemned Labor's Non-Partisan League, to which many A.F. of L. elements were affiliated, as being "as dual to the non-partisan political policy of the A.F. of L., as the C.I.O. is to the A.F. of L. itself."

The Communist Party put on an energetic campaign.  It fought for a democratic front of all progressive elements. It concentrated its fire against the reactionaries, while criticizing the Roosevelt policies, although inadequately. While putting up candidates of its own in various localities, it also supported "progressives" upon the Democratic and other tickets, including a few Republicans. It actively advanced the O'Connell Peace Bill (H.R. 527), designed to implement Roosevelt's "quarantine the aggressors" speech. Its central slogan was, "For Jobs, Security, Democracy, and Peace."

The Republicans had the best of it in the elections. They won 79 new seats in the House and eight in the Senate, as well as numerous governorships. Although both houses of Congress remained nominally Democratic, the Republican-Tory Democrat alliance dominated them. In the 1939 session, therefore, reaction proceeded to slash into the New Deal, reducing W.P.A. wages, cutting taxes of the well-to-do, lavishly financing the Dies Committee, supporting various anti-sedition and anti-foreign-born measures, and refusing to amend the Neutrality Act and thus to allow the United States to join in a concerted effort with other countries to prevent war.

A favorable by-product of this generally reactionary election, however, was the release in California by the newly-elected New Deal Governor Olson of Tom Mooney (on January 7, 1939) and Warren K. Billings (in October 1939). Mooney, his health ruined by 22 years in prison, did not long survive; he died on March 6, 1942. He was a warm sympathizer of the Communist Party. Matt Schmidt (of the McNamara case) was also paroled (in August 1939) but the heroic J. B. McNamara was left to perish in jail. He died on March 8, 1941, in Folsom prison, a member of the Communist Party, after serving 29 years. Four of the Scottsboro Boys were also released on January 24, 1937, leaving five still in jail. Ray Becker, the last of the I.W.W. Centralia prisoners of 1919, was also set free in September 1939.10


During the pre-war years here under consideration, years of rapid organization of the working class, the Communist Party made substantial progress. And this in the face of the growing Browder neglect of opportunities for Party building and even opposition to such work, as we have seen. The tenth Party convention in New York, in May 1938, registered 75,000 members for the Party and 20,000 for the Y.C.L. This was an increase in two years of 35,000 for the former and 10,000 for the latter. An important occasion at the convention was the announcement of the establishment of the People's World on January 1, 1938, in San Francisco, and of the Midwest Daily Record,11 on February 12, 1938, in Chicago.

The Party's progress was based upon an essentially sound political policy, although it made numerous individual errors, some of the most important of which we have indicated in passing. The Party conducted a militant fight for the workers' economic interests, for their organization into trade unions, for the rights of the Negro people, for the demands of the youth and women, and especially against the growing menace of fascism and war. In all these spheres the Party displayed initiative and leadership. It was greatly helped in developing the generally correct political line because of its active participation in the Communist International, where it had the benefit of the counsels of the leading Marxists of the world. Particularly helpful to the Party during these years were the books, Foundations of Leninism and History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, by Joseph Stalin, and also the writings of Georgi Dimitrov. The History especially is an encyclopedia of Marxism-Leninism and a work of immense educational value. It gives not only a history of the great Russian Revolution, but also of the developing theoretical work of Lenin. It contains a fine exposition of Marxist dialectical materialism.

An important element in the Party's expanding influence during these years—an influence which ran far beyond the scope of its membership totals and its votes in elections—was its united front policy. The Party was learning how to unite and lead the masses in their everyday struggles over burning issues. An important feature of this policy, stressed at the tenth Party convention, was the "outstretched hand" to the Catholic workers. This was in line with the Communist challenge all over the world to the attempt of the Catholic hierarchy, on the basis of their religious controls, to mobilize their huge following into the camp of reaction.

Communists, of course, have the same basic economic and political interests as Catholic workers. That friendly co-operation between the two groups is possible has been amply demonstrated by the fact that literally tens of millions of Catholics, in the post-World War II period, have joined the Communist Parties and Communist-led trade unions in France, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Latin America, and elsewhere. American Communists have also always worked in a most co-operative spirit with Catholic workers in the C.I.O. and other labor unions.

A very important development at the tenth convention also was the enunciation of the policy of the "democratic front." Previously, since 1935, the Party had held the position that the farmer-labor party was the specific American form of the people's front. With the development of strong left trends in the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party, however, the conception of the people's front was broadened to include this Democratic element, along with such bodies as the American Labor Party, Minnesota Farmer Labor Party, Washington Commonwealth Federation, the trade unions, the National Negro Congress, the American Youth Congress, and so on. This "democratic front," says the main resolution of the convention, "under the conditions prevailing in our country, represents the beginning of the development of a real people's front against reaction and fascism." This was essentially what later became known as tire "Roosevelt coalition."

The democratic front was undoubtedly a correct policy, and only by the grossest distortion of it was Browder able, a few years later, to arrive at his monstrous revisionist policy. He did this by rejecting an independent line for labor and following the lead of Roosevelt; by subordinating the class struggle to Roosevelt's policies; by refusing to build solidly the alliance of workers, Negro people, working farmers, and poor city middle classes; by failing to promote labor's influence and eventual leadership in the coalition; by repudiating the independent policy and vanguard role of the Communist Party; by failing to build the Party; and by the gradual watering down and elimination of Marxist ideology from the Party's mass work.

1 Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book 4, p. 215.
2 D. Z. Manuilsky, The World Communist Movement, N. Y., 1939.
3  The Book of the XV Brigade, Madrid, 1938; Edwin Rolfe,  The Lincoln Battalion, N. Y., 1939.
4 New Republic, July 13, 1939
5 Joseph Stalin, From Socialism to Communism in the Soviet Union, p. 7, N. Y., 1939.
6 V. M. Molotov,  The Meaning of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, pp. 6-7. N. Y., 1939.
7 A. B. Magil and Henry Stevens, The Peril of Fascism, p. 280. N. Y., 1938.
8 Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book 5, p. 134, N. Y., 1941.
9 Robert W. Hall in The Communist, Jan. 1939.
10 Labor Research Association, Labor Fact Book 5, p. 212.
11 Midwest Daily Record was discontinued as a daily on Nov. 13, 1939, and ran as a weekly until March 2, 1940.

Chapter 27

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