“We Communists claim the revolutionary traditions of Americanism.” Earl Browder, patriotic communism, and the Communist Party USA
Throughout much of the 1930s and early 1940s the Communist Party USA, the United States’s officially-recognized Comintern representative, pursued a general ideological line which was for all intents and purposes ‘national-communist’ in orientation. Earl Browder, a Kansas-born accountant with a long history of involvement in the labor movement and in socialist activism, was largely responsible for this patriotic position. Through a series of tumultuous factional disputes Browder had risen to become General Secretary of the CPUSA in 1930, and under his leadership the Party attained a level of success that it would never reach again. In large part this was due to Browder’s national-communist strategy, which emerged around 1935 and lasted – to varying degrees of enthusiasm within the Party – until Browder’s ouster from the CPUSA in 1945. The slogan used to spearhead the ‘Browderist’ strategy was striking: “Communism is the Americanism of the 20th Century”. This maxim, which made its first appearance in the article transcribed below, became a key element in the Party’s mission to shake off its image as an organization of foreign ‘subversives’ and so appeal to a much broader section of American society. The essence of Browder’s thinking was that communism was just an advanced development of the original American revolutionary ideal. Lenin and Stalin had essentially inherited the radical mission of liberation first begun by Washington and Jefferson; communism and ‘Americanism’ were thus inherently intertwined, making Marxism-Leninism a patriotic ideology whose aim was to complete the American Revolution. In CPUSA propaganda Soviet leaders appeared on posters alongside Lincoln and some of the Founding Fathers; Party posters and illustrations began using traditional American revolutionary imagery; rallies were bedecked with dozens, or hundreds, of American flags. Browder’s strategy began to be phased out around 1938-39, likely as a consequence of the Comintern’s concerns that Browder was both too popular and too independent, and the ‘Americanism’ slogan had disappeared completely from CPUSA propaganda by 1945. The article below, which initiated the Party’s national-communist period, was first published in the June 25, 1935 edition of Marxist cultural magazine The New Masses. The version I have transcribed is taken from a later revision published in Browder’s 1936 book What is Communism? There are some slight differences between the two versions of the article, but they are incredibly minor – the original has one or two word differences, and an additional introductory sentence establishing that the article was originally part of a series.
Who are the Americans?
By Earl Browder
General Secretary, Communist Party USA
The question asked of Communists more frequently than any other, if we can judge from the Hearst newspapers, is this:
“If you don’t like this country, why don’t you go back where you came from?”
The truth is, if you insist on knowing, Mr. Hearst, we Communists like this country very much. We cannot think of any other spot on the globe where we would rather be than exactly this one. We love our country. Our affection is all the more deep in that we have watered it with the sweat of our labor – labor which made this country what it is; our mothers nourished it with the tears they shed over the troubles and tragedies of rearing babies in a land controlled by profit and profit-makers. If we did not love our country so much, perhaps we would surrender it to Wall Street.
Of course when we speak of our love of America, we mean something quite different from what Mr. Hearst is speaking about in his daily editorial diatribes. We mean that we love the masses of the toiling people. We find in these masses a great reservoir of all things admirable and lovable, all things that make life worth living. We are filled with anger when we see millions of these people whom we love being degraded, starved, oppressed, beaten and jailed when they protest. We have a deep and moving hatred of the system, and of those who fatten on the system which turns our potential paradise into a living hell.
We are determined to save our country from the hell of capitalism. And most of us were born here, so Hearst’s gag is not addressed to us anyway. But workers in America who happen to have been born abroad are just as much Americans as anybody else. We all originated across the waters, except perhaps a tiny minority of pure-blooded American Indians. The foreign-born workers have worked harder for less wages on behalf of this country than anybody else. They deserve, at a minimum, a little courtesy from those who would speak of Americanism. There is less historical justification in America than perhaps in any other major country for that narrow nationalism, that chauvinism, which makes a cult of a “chosen people”. Continue reading