Some readers might think that I’m glorifying the Left and that I’ve chosen to ignore the atrocities of Stalin, but that’s not true. Today’s post deals with Khrushchev’s secret report on Stalin’s crimes.
In the 20 year span between the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, the American Left was dominated by the Communist Party. Before the Nazi-Soviet Pact, membership in the Party and its youth division numbered at around 100,000. When the Cold War and the anticommunist hysteria was in full force, membership was at 60,000. But in 1956 when Khrushchev delivered his report to the Soviet’s twentieth Communist Party Congress, membership fell to 20,000—a two-thirds drop.
There were two developments that caused this drop as well as the CPUSA’s influence: the hysteria that accompanied the Cold War, and the sectarian policies following the replacement of Earl Browder with William Z. Foster as Party Leader in 1945.
Under the Smith Act of 1948, persecution of Party leaders expanded rapidly and membership rapidly declined. In 1953, activists within the Party began to question the assumptions that mired it in isolation and by 1956 the first national committee was forced to discuss major new directions.
Khrushchev’s report was read to the national committee and not surprising the result was utter shock. Party members who had been devoted for decades in the pursuit of a better society had initially rejected the rumors of Stalin’s “supposed” crimes, but now faced with the irrefutable evidence from a source they couldn’t question. The primary issue was not only Stalin’s extreme paranoia, but a system that had allowed it to happen.
The immediate reaction was shifting the debate from Stalin and the USSR to changing the direction of the Party. Although Party leaders remained in the effort to make these changes, there was an exodus of members including those who had wanted the Party to head in a different direction. In 1957, in spite of massive changes, membership continued to drop in after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in late 1956. By 1957, the sectarians were back in power and the changes were reversed.
The New Left of the 1960s rose from void created by the breakdown of the CP. Thousands of ex-Communists continued to function actively in popular movements from anti-war marches to civil rights.
To get a better picture of CPUSA and what it champions in the 21st century, visit the CPUSA’s site and read its constitution.