Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Communist Historians of the U.S., Unite!

By Lawrence (LJ) Albright

Winston Churchill is alleged to have said the following: "I expect history will be very kind to me, because I intend to write it."

Whether or not Churchill did utter the above quote is virtually immaterial to the recognition that historical works have often served the interests and agenda of the writer. Nowhere is this more true than books about the Communist Party in the United States. A search on Amazon.com revealed there are 2,564 books that reference the CPUSA -- most of them with an anti-communist agenda.

This isn't surprising. The first tomes claiming to be about the CPUSA placed in print by mainstream publishers had a vested interest in promoting the idea that communists in the United States were a danger to all that was good, pure and decent. Indeed, our Party can take credit for the development of a cottage industry consisting of historians whose sole purpose seems to be devoted to the perpetuation of these negative concepts.

Believe it or not, I do not begrudge the anti-Communist historians their niche. There are a couple of reasons I have this view, one of them being that the interest of these anti-communist historians in the CPUSA tends to be focused on a limited historical period that ends with the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. But what does bother me is any perception that these historians have the franchise, as it were, for the historical study of the communist movement in the United States.

While there have been a number of outstanding books on the contributions of individual communists, Gerald Horne's wonderful biography of John Howard Lawson being a case in point, there hasn't been a history of the Party since William Z. Foster's book of the same name in 1952. While the Party did produce "Highlights of a Fighting History" in 1979 on the occasion of the Party's 60th anniversary, this was not a history as Gus Hall wrote in his preface; the articles reproduced there were "interesting and important flashbacks," in his words.

Next year, the CPUSA will be 90 years young. That in itself must be a boil on the hind quarters of the anti-Communists. As personally satisfying as that observation is, it is past time in my opinion for communist historians to take on the challenge of an up-to-date Party history. We have an obligation to the historical menu, and we can set the table. And whether or not the anti-Communists appreciate it, the fact is that the fork goes on the left.

One of the things that is sometimes not often mentioned in discussions is that the collapse of the Soviet Union and other states where socialism was said to exist in Europe is the impact it had not only on the communist movement, but on the social democratic movement as well. Notwithstanding the differences on many issues between communists and social democrats, the damage to socialism as a concept was real and more far reaching than many appreciated. For this reason, among many others, Sam Webb's "Reflections on Socialism" was both important and timely -- as was an article by Joe Sims bearing the title "Marxism Reloaded."

I know that the sound thrashing of the ultra-right is our immediate priority. I wanted to put this forward now for the purposes of discussion. There are numerous things that could be done including, for example, the gathering and transcription of oral histories and an e-zine devoted to communist perspectives on historical matters.

Communist Historians of the US, unite! We have nothing to lose but some of our free time!