Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Political Affairs, The Early Years

Political Affairs will be ending its print edition soon and, moving into the vanguard of 21st century media, become an all online publication. In recent years it has reached a far larger audience than the print edition. I go through my old issues to give all of us the sense of what PA was and is, since understanding the past and its relationship to the present makes history relevant to both the present and the future. In will start with two issue, the from November 1946 and the second from January, 1952.

PA, founded at the end of WWII, as a successor publication to The Communist, theoretical journal of the CPUSA since 1924. The depression and WWII and brought about major changes in the size influence and orientation of the Communist Party and the larger labor and progressive movements. As the war ended, the CPUSA in 1944. was temporarily dissolved and transformed into the Communist Political Association, more of a mass organization to influence labor and the left through the New Deal coalition than an independent Marxist-Leninist party.

But these policies, associated with General Secretary Earl Browder, produced major internal and international criticism and were reversed in 1945, as the Browder leadership was defeated by William Z. Foster, the CPUSA's most distinguished working class leader. Political Affairs was in effect born in the period of that struggle, but, while it was a theoretical journal it was never narrow and always written to reach a wide audience. In the November, 1946, issue, Max Weiss wrote about the Anniversary of the Russian Revolution and the fight for peace, warning
that the right was in the process of "undermining the New Deal and that Wall street was seeking a "Pax Americana, a peace which will insure world hegemony for American imperialism." Frederick V. Field wrote about "American Imperialist Policy in the Far East"(Field was a relative a number of generations removed of Robber Baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, an man with inherited wealth whose education and humanism had led him to first the Socialist and Communist parties. He was involved with the Institute for Pacific Affairs, a foundation founded research organization which was targeted by HUAC, the right-wing press, and after the Chinese revolution, Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was a casualty of the cold war consensus, its destruction removing an important voice of reasoned opposition to the policies that led to non-recognition of the Peoples Republic of China and U.S. involvement in the Korean and Vietnamese Wars.

Other materials in the November issue included a "Manifesto of the Communist Party of Spain," ten years after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and a year after those who put Francesco Franco into power, his fellow fascists Hitler and Mussolini, lost WWII. The Spanish Communists were hopeful that the establishment of a broad anti-Franco front would bring down a regime which was a pariah in postwar Europe.

The cold war, though would save Franco and in 1959, he would be greeting doubt Eisenhower in Spain, as Adolf Hitler greeted him in Berlin two decades earlier. From the CPUSA's national leadership came a statement about the internal struggles in the party over Browder's now abandoned policies. Finally, there was an analysis by John Williamson of the struggles facing the labor movement as anti-union forces outside the movement and anti-Communist forces inside pursued what were essentially complementary divide and conquer tactics against the background of a developing cold war.

By 1952, the Korean War was raging, the Communist Party's National leadership had been "convicted" under the Smith Act, and the political persecution of party leadership and membership was at its height. Yet, in the January 1952 issues, there remained optimism and hope.

Protesting the increased prison sentence given to Gus Hall, from the five years he received in the original Smith Act trial by one federal judge, the infamous Harold Medina, to a three year sentence added by another federal judge, the CPUSA national committee published a speech given by Hall to Cleveland Communists on the importance of Communist cadres before his imprisonment and called for the release of all Communist political prisoners and the repeal of the Smith and McCarran Acts, aimed at the party and the left, and the Taft-Hartley Act, aimed at the entire labor movement.

The issue also had articles by Alexander Bittelman, an old party activist who had spent his youth in the Czarist Russian empire and was a special target of American anti-Semites, wrote on the central nature of Lenin and Leninism, "Lenin's Teachings and the Liberation of Humanity. There was also a translated article by Palmiro Togliatti, then the leader of the largest Communist party in Western Europe, a review of the We Charge Genocide petition and document on the oppression of the African-American people which was brought before the United Nations and spread throughout the world although it was made invisible in the U.S. The prominent African-American Communist, Harry Haywood, was the author of the review. The issue also contained an article on the Vienna Session by Fred Montgomery, connecting the struggles for general disarmament with support for movements of national liberation and opposition to the United Nations sanctioned war in Korea.

Some comrades would leave in the subsequent struggles, from both left and right positions that would produce a fierce internal battle in 1956, on the heels of a decade of mounting political repression that represented the cold war at home. PA, as we will see tomorrow, was at the center of both that struggle and the party that would emerge from it. But in journal had rooted itself clearly in the struggles of American and world labor (the articles of John Williamson on U.S. Labor were both insightful and to the point) the struggle against racism, and the struggle for peace and imperialism.

As a postscript, as I read Alexander Bittelman's in both the 1946 and 1952 issues, I remembered that, after his release from prison, he responded gently to a writer who had mentioned that he had been a prisoner of the Czar. That was an error, he wrote. It was only in the U.S. with its proclamations of freedom and democracy (I am paraphrasing) that he was ever sent to prison for his political beliefs and activities.