4-03-07, 8:59 am
[The following is a speech given on the occasion of the handing over the Communist Party USA’s archives to New York University’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, March 23, 2007 in New York City.]
Comrades, Brothers and Sisters,
This is a proud moment for our party. This collection contains tens of thousands of documents, books, pamphlets, photos, audio and visual records that show the real history of the Communist Party, USA. We treasure this collection. It is a priceless collection. It is the documented record of Party’s history. It shows that we are not now nor have we ever been part of some fictitious international conspiracy.
When I first joined the Communist Party forty-seven years ago, the Party was virtually outlawed under the provisions of the McCarran Act. The act itself defined the Communist Party, USA as part of an international conspiracy directed from Moscow. That definition came from Hitler; it was Hitler’s big lie and the Nazis used it to rationalize histories most heinous crimes. Under the McCarran Act every day that a Communist Party member did not register as an “agent of Moscow” the penalties were $10,000 fine and 10 years in jail. And if they did register they would be prosecuted as a spy. In short, membership in the Party meant personal bankruptcy and life in prison. The bill had a “concentration camp” provision, where if you were on the list at any time you could be rounded up and put in a prison camp.
At this point, you may ask, why did I join? As a young worker, I joined because the Party was actively fighting for civil rights and labor’s rights. I joined because the communists opposed the Cold War and the nuclear arms race and were for peaceful coexistence. I joined because the Party was anti-racist, multi-racial and multi-ethnic and I was working with a dedicated, group of active young people. I joined because the people most opposed to the things I was fighting for were the anti-communists.
The Party had a strong experienced leadership with a track record of unmatched struggle on behalf of the working class and racially oppressed. Gus Hall (former General Secretary) and Henry Winston (former National Chairman) were great leaders. I joined because the Party was committed to socialism and had a realistic plan on how to get there. And frankly, I joined as a young African American worker because I strongly wanted to protest the attack on the Party. I felt that I had the right to join and I resented the fact that people like J. Edgar Hoover and Pat McCarran—a well-known racist—thought they could tell me what organizations I could or could not join.
Harry Truman vetoed the McCarran Act but the Congress overrode his veto. He called the act, “the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press and assembly since the Alien and Sedition laws of 1789.” It is important to note that every provision of the McCarran Act that was allowed to go to the US Supreme Court was ruled unconstitutional.
The whole basis of the act was a big lie. So, when communists and progressives fought against this attempt to outlaw our Party, we were standing up for the right to dissent for all Americans. We were not conspirators. The conspirators were those who used anti-communist hysteria to rationalize bloody imperialist wars of aggression, like Vietnam then and Iraq now along with racist and anti-working-class policies in the US and all over the world.
Sisters and brothers, comrades, we were not nor are we now a part of any international communist conspiracy. We are what we say we are. We do what we say we do.
An honest reading of this magnificent collection will show that the Communist Party, USA has always been and will continue to be a proud and principled multi-racial revolutionary working class party. We are a US party that democratically makes it’s own decisions and decided its own program. I repeat: we are what we say we are.
The Party’s Contribution
When you read this material you will see a magnificent history of struggle on behalf of the rights of the multi-racial US working class and the victims of racial and gender discrimination. You will see the creative application of Marxist-Leninist science to different eras in history and different stages in the struggle that made it possible for the Communist Party, USA to play an outstanding role even under the most difficult conditions. It always has been a minority party with a majority program.
Some wonderful leaders founded this party. I think of the great Elizabeth Gurley Flynn—“the rebel girl”—Alfred Wagenecht, Charles Ruthenberg, “Big Bill” Haywood, William Z. Foster and John Reed.
During the great depression the Party grew to it largest size and influence. Capitalism was in crisis and had cast aside tens-of-millions of working people.
The Party was the first to put forward issue of the need for public works to meet the problems of massive joblessness, hunger, and homelessness. There was no government relief, only private religious charities, which could not meet the crisis—like Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative” won’t work today. Millions had fallen on hard times. The Party put forth the principal that the government had a responsibility to provide relief for its people. The Party then organized a successful mass movement of the unemployed, the hungry and the impoverished that forced the government to provide the social safety net—a social safety net that is now being shredded by the current occupant in the white house.
The Party put forward the demand for relief and for social security benefits so that elderly people didn’t have to face object poverty in the last phase of their lives. The Party did not do this alone but it played a decisive role in building this massive movement of black, brown and white working people. Those struggles improved the lives of millions of working people and made history.
The Party initiated the fight to organize industrial unions. It was the Communist Party that led a nationwide campaign to save the Scottsboro youths and many other victims of lynch justice in the Jim Crow South. The International Labor Defense headed by “Mr. Civil Rights” the legendary William L. Patterson was at the fore. The Party in the 30’s understood the necessity to fight racism in order to unite and organize working people including in the Deep South where it helped to establish the first union organizations of Blacks and whites since reconstruction and this was done in the face of Ku Klux Klan terrorism.
The Communist Party did amazing work in the North as well. One of the greatest examples was in Harlem where comrade Benjamin Davis a communist and heroic fighter became the second African American to be elected to the New York City Council. He joined his comrade, Italian-American Peter V. Cacchione, from Brooklyn and together they were the dynamic duo fighting against racism and for the rights of the working class and people of New York. The Party played a big role in making New York a labor town. This is our Party’s history.
The New Deal was a product of that great working class upsurge. And I say, “It wasn’t Roosevelt that made the New Deal but the New Deal that made Roosevelt. This is the real history of the party.
By the way, Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, nobody had to give us orders to do these great things. As Sam Webb put it in his recent letter to the New York Times, “Our orders came not from Moscow, but from ordinary working-class people whose struggles are our own.”
Back in the 1920s, the early days of the US communist movement, the Party was illegal just like trade unions in the early days were illegal and civil rights organizations working in the Jim Crow South were illegal.
In the early days these comrades were organizing unions they were organizing the unemployed. They were working against segregation and discrimination which was legal North and South and enforced by the lynch rope. Powerful financial interests were against them. They faced labor spies, provocateurs, Klan terrorists, hired gangsters and gun thugs. You had J. Edgar Hoover’s Palmer Raids in 1919, where thousands were rounded up, jailed and many deported. Yes, those comrades often had to write in codes to protect their work and the Party membership. It would have been foolish to do otherwise. The problem was the outlawing of democratic organizations. That was the problem.
You know, I have no respect for these Cold War hustlers who have made their money promoting the big anti-communist lie.
In the 47 years I have been in the Party, and the over forty years in national leadership, I have never received an order from Moscow. Moscow didn’t have to tell us the fight for civil rights, labor rights and youth rights. They didn’t have to tell us to oppose the war in Vietnam or oppose Apartied South Africa. We needed to be told to work to free Angela Davis, Sacco and Vanzetti, or Angelo Herndon? I don’t think so!
It true the Bolshevik Revolution had a huge international impact and set an example all over the world. The fact that the young Soviet State initiated a free health care system opened the door for socialized medicine all over Europe. (Our government is still way behind on this democratic question).
Communists all over the world have been in solidarity with the democratic and progressive struggles of the American people going back to Karl Marx and his opposition to slavery. In fact there has always been great solidarity and interest in the struggle in the United States and not by just communists. Yes, the Party took other comrades’ experiences and applied them here and (as quite as it’s keep) they borrowed from our experiences too.
You know, at the 7th World Congress of the Communist International (1937) the experience of the US and French Young Communist Leagues was brought to that meeting and their success in building a broad anti-fascist movement became the model for the United Front and Popular Front against fascism all over the world. So, by their logic, can we say that Moscow and the world communist movement were taking orders from us?
In fact John Abt, our brilliant attorney in the McCarran Act cases, once did research on this question and after looking at long list of political positions our Party and the Soviet Party agreed on, he found that 60% of the time the CPUSA took the position before the CPSU. So are the Cold War conmentators saying that 60% of the time Moscow was taking orders from us? Let’s get real here.
You know in 1949, William Z. Foster, in his “Twilight of World Capitalism” was the first to put forward the concept of the anti-monopoly coalition. That policy became the strategic approach of all the Communist Parties in the Western capitalist world. In 1940, the Communist Party, USA was the first party to withdraw from the Communist International. In 1944, it was agreed by most parties that it was no longer a viable forum and it was dissolved. Our Party and all the parties are independent and make their own decisions. We have nothing to confess. Today, international discourse on all kinds of political issues is going on everyday on the Internet. What’s wrong with that?
Today we are in active solidarity with all the socialist and new progressive states: Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, China, North Korea and others. Are we now under their control?
In fact, lets be real, our government has interfered in the internal affairs of other nations more then any government in the world. We have spent trillions of dollars to build opposition parties and to finance coups and assassinations to make the world profitable for US corporations. The list is endless. Our occupation of Iraq speaks volume here.
No doubt some of the cold war types will want to examine the collection. It’s a public collection. I don’t think they belong at this celebration tonight.
I ask you, did Martin Luther King invite Bull Connor to sit in on the SCLC meetings in Birmingham? Did George Washington invite the red coats to join him when he crossed the Delaware? I don’t think so. That’s our position.
You know, the Party achieves have been open to the public all along. Our files have contributed to hundreds of academic papers and books. Screen writers and illustrators from all over the world have used our materials. So it was not a “secret” collection.
The problem we faced was our archives were more than we could manage. It constitutes twelve thousand cartons, 20,000 books and pamphlets, a million photographs. And our lack of sufficient facilities and resources meant that the collection was deteriorating. We were comfortable opening a discussion with Tamiment Library on moving the collection here. We were comfortable because they already house the personal papers of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Peter V. Cacchione. Dr. James E. Jackson and Simon Gerson. Tamiment has done a good job taking care of those valuable papers. So after many discussions we decided to donate our collection to the Tamiment. I think this was a good decision.
This collection was put together initially by the Party’s history commission over many years. We must give due praise to Gus Hall and Henry Winston for setting up that commission which included Mary Licht, Ted Bassett, William Weinstone, Joe Brandt, Phil Bart and others.
Now that the collection is here, how many more scholars and writers and researchers will have access to the wonderful wealth of information. In time it will be accessible on-line, we hope. And large numbers of people will be able to read about the Party’s true history. There are many unsung heroes and heroines who built this party and the movement about which little is written, but their contributions are contained in this collection. People you may not have every heard of: shop workers, rank-and-file leaders, grassroots fighters in communities like Harlem, Harlan County, KY, East Los Angeles, East Harlem, Tucson, AZ and the South Side of Chicago. These were extraordinary people. This collection really belongs to them; to the working class movement. And now it will be accessible to large numbers of researcher. And let me tell you, there are a million hidden wonderful stories in this collection that need to be told and hopefully now maybe they will be told.
This collection will show the enormous contribution of the Communist Party, USA to the democratic movements and to the political process in our in general. This is our legacy and it will debunk the slanders and show that the Party was and is a force for good.
Before I end I would like to read a brief excerpt from a tribute to Dr. W.E.B. Dubois by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King made on Feb. 23, 1968 at a event sponsored by Freedomways Magazine. Speaking to a packed house at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Dr. King, boldly stated the following:
“We cannot talk of Dr. DuBois without recognizing that he was a radical all of his life. Some people would like to ignore the fact that he was a Communist in his later years. It is worth noting that Abraham Lincoln warmly welcomed the support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and corresponded with him freely. In contemporary life the English-speaking world has no difficulty with the fact that Sean O’Casey was a literary giant of the twentieth century and a Communist or that Pablo Neruda is generally considered the greatest living poet though he also served in the Chilean Senate as a Communist. It is time to cease muting the fact that Dr. DuBois was a genius and chose to be a Communist. Our irrational, obsessive anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking.” (February 23, 1968 on the occasion of the 100th birthday of Dr. W.E.B. Dubois)These are the words of Dr. King who in the last century was our nation’s greatest revolutionary democrat.
We look optimistically to the future when Bill of Rights Socialism will become a wonderful reality.
From . Jarvis Tyner is executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA.