From its founding in 1919 in the wake of the Russian Revolution until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Communist Party of the United States of America was an instrument of Soviet foreign policy. The Communist International, or Comintern, which was set up under Lenin in 1919 and then disbanded by Stalin in 1943 as a gesture of unity to his World War II allies, regularly sent delegates to oversee the C.P.U.S.A. and transmitted orders from Moscow dictating who should lead the American party and what policies it should pursue.
The dissolution of the Comintern did not end Soviet control over the C.P.U.S.A. Supervision was simply transferred to the newly formed international department of the Soviet Union’s own Communist party.
At certain times, this Soviet domination was blatant. In both 1929 and 1945, Moscow demanded, and got, a change of party leadership. Jay Lovestone had the support of 90 percent of the party members in 1929, but his support for the Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin led Stalin to remove Lovestone as the American party’s general secretary. When, at a hearing chaired by Stalin himself, Lovestone and several of his lieutenants refused to back down, Stalin angrily denounced them and turned the C.P.U.S.A. over to its factional opponents. When the Lovestoneites set up a dissident movement, fewer than 200 American Communists joined.
Later, Lovestone’s Stalin-approved successor, Earl Browder, concluded that the American-Soviet alliance of World War II would continue after the defeat of Nazi Germany. For this reason, in 1944, he boldly engineered the transformation of the C.P.U.S.A. into a pressure group designed to work within the Democratic Party. When Browder refused to accept Soviet criticism of his policies the following year, he, too, was unceremoniously removed — expelled from the party for his heresy.
With the C.P.U.S.A. reconstituted, virtually every Communist who had hailed Browder for years as the symbol of an Americanized Communism then shunned him. He was even forced to find a new dentist and a different insurance agent.
Harvey Klehr is a retired Professor of politics and history at Emory University. Much of his research has focused on the radical left in America. He has participated in several of the Jack Miller Center’s annual summits on higher education.