WHAT WE MUST KNOW ABOUT COMMUNISM

Harry & Bonaro Overstreet

(New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1958)

Chapter Eleven - TACTICS AND STRATAGEMS: THE UNITED FRONT


HOW HAS the CPUSA been able, decade after decade, with its membership at top peak or low ebb, to exert an influence out of all proportion to its numbers? The best answer seems to be that it has had an incomparable skill in getting non-Communists to do its work for it.

Many non-Communists, of course, have been active sympathizers and collaborators. But the overwhelming majority of those whom the Party has used have never suspected the Communist source of various opinions they have accepted and relayed to- others; nor have they suspected how often they have looked at domestic and foreign problems through distorting lenses which the Party has held up before their eyes. It would take, in fact, a peculiarly naive or self-confident American to assert definitively that he had never thus been influenced.

It was said of Sir Galahad, the "perfect knight," that his strength was as the strength of ten because his heart was pure. The strength of the Communist has all too often been “as the strength of ten" because he has known ten persons of pure heart to serve his purposes: p have profoundly wanted peace; who have believe justice and equality; who have sorrowed over "poverty in the midst of plenty"; who have wanted to make an an-out stand for civil liberties.

If we could check this insidious multiplication of influence; if we could make the strength of each Communist as the strength of one only-not of ten or a hundred-most other problems that stem from the Party's activities among us could be taken in stride. For except where the aim has been to prevent actual subversion, sabotage, and espionage, governmental efforts to control the CPUSA have largely been stop-gap substitutes for a grassroots understanding @f Communist tactics of multiplied influence.

Among these tactics, none bas been more tenaciously relied on than the united front. Wherever Communists are in a minority, they work to extend their influence beyond their numbers by forming a coalition with other groups in behalf of some common cause -civil rights, social security, peace, or whatever-and then, gradually, taking over the leadership functions of the whole movement. Thus they further at least four aims.

The Party's first aim in thus working with non-Communists is to insinuate its “line" into their consciousness, so that they will unwittingly begin to talk its language about issues, will retail stories that it has planted about the abuses of the "ill capitalist police state,' and will echo its characterizations of individuals and its interpretations of events.

It might seem that influence by contagion, in an atmosphere of shared struggle, would be a two-way process. Sometimes it is; but usually riot. For the Communists are acting, on a calculated and concerted plan for influencing the noncommunist, which the latter are simply acting like individuals who want to get a job done, who know that the problems at issue are complex, and who welcome such clarifying insights as others have to give. The Communists, moreover, are insulated against reciprocal influence by their ideology, their contempt for "bourgeois liberals and reformists," and the sense of superiority they derive from knowing that they are manipulating the situation.

The Party's second united-front aim is to convert as large a body of people as possible into a "pressure group" that it and. The CPUSA has always set high propaganda value upon appeals and petitions with thousands of names attached. Such names are not too hard to secure within the "fellowship" of a united front, nor too hard to secure outside this front when once a few distinguished non-Communists who have not wanted to say No to companions in struggle or who, within the companionship of struggle, have seen no reason to say No-have been signed up as bait. The Party has set high value, also, upon mass meetings -with thousands in attendance and a "sampling' of distinguished individuals from non-Communist sectors of the united front in spotlighted roles.

These tactics have been particularly favored wherever the Party has wanted to pressure our government into abandoning some policy inimical to the free functioning of the CPUSA or to the interests of the Soviet Union. Even when, as it is in most cases. it fails to influence the government directly, it still wins. For it creates a situation in which a host of noncommunist have shared its failure. To the extent that these fellows in failure have been alienated from their own government, they will tend to say-as non-Communists-the sorts of things about this government which the Communists like to have said. Also, the shared experience of failure often softens their attitude toward the Party, making them more receptive to its interpretations of economic and social forces and to its claims of being a "persecuted" minority.

With regard to these "Pressure" tactics, in fact, it might be said that nothing succeeds like failure. Suppose, for example, a "mass" amnesty appeal has succeeded and a Communist martyr" bas been "rescued"-what then? The answer is: nothing. The case has lost all propaganda value; for what has chiefly been proved is that errors can be corrected under the democratic system-which is not what the Communists are out to prove. If the appeal fails, however, the case can be worked threadbare as an instance of what happens under the "capitalist police state.' This appears to be the reason why the Communists prefer cases that are not likely to end in such clearance and that have maximum propaganda value because of some "civil liberties" issue or because some whole segment of society -organized labor, the Negro community, or what not- can be persuaded to feel the cause as its own. We have found no instance of their devoting themselves to rectifying an injustice that could not be "politicalized."

Many liberals have been highly susceptible to amnesty appeals. Not feeling themselves to be in a position to know are the facts, and caring deeply about our Western heritage of political rights, they have preferred the risk of a guilty person's going free to that of an innocent person's being punished. Also, they have often let the Communists edge them into a corner where they have seemed to be confronted by an either-or decision: either to give the accused person a break by signing the petition, or to do nothing. Actually, however, two other possibilities are open. One is for them to write individual letters to the proper authorities -asking whatever questions or making whatever protest they feel to be in order, and giving their reasons, not Communist reasons, for being concerned. By all official testimony, such letters carry far more than their names would carry on a "mass' appeal. The other way -open at least to those in urban centers-is to form a new intellectual habit called for by our peculiar age and by Communist tactics: that of going to a law library, when disturbed about a case, and reading enough about the courts' handling of it and the appraisals by competent jurists to form a judgment not derived any one-sided petition.

The CPUSA's third united-front aim is simple and practical: namely, that of establishing contact with a large new body of non-Communists among whom it can carry on its “missionary" work. This aim is of prime importance right now -when membership is at low ebb and when, as if to compensate for this, the Soviet Union's "peace offensive" is one of the most appealing “causes” the Party has ever had at its disposal.

The fourth aim is that of discrediting "bourgeois reformation" It is doubtful whether any Communist leader would now think it expedient to state this aim as baldly as J. Peters did, in 1929, in his The Communist Party: A Manual of Organization: "United front means uninterrupted, patient, convincing work to destroy the influence of reformists and the bourgeoisie. (1) But if the Party is not stating this aim as openly as it once did, it is still enacting it--and far more adroitly than in earlier years.

Most liberal Americans, schooled in western history, put reaction at one extreme of the scale of social forces and both reform and revolution over on the side of the conservative midpoint: both of these being regarded as forces that challenge the status quo. They look upon reform as a natural first means of attack upon social ills; and as generally preferable to revolution because it allows society to continue its basic operations while change is in progress. They look upon revolution as a last means of attack upon these same ill means to be resorted to only after Patient, determined efforts at reform have proved unavailing. Hence, it is hard for them to believe that Communists who form a united front with them in behalf of some good cause are simultaneously working with them and against them. They think of them, rather, as persons who want pretty much what they themselves want in the way of results; who are willing to accomplish as much as possible by reform; but who, even while they thus work for reforms, doubt that enough can be gained by this method.

This is far from being the Communist view. The Communists locate reform at one end of the scale and revolution at the other, with reaction in between. They see both reformers and reactionaries as preservers of the status quo, and therefore as opposed to their own long-range aims. The archenemy, however, is not reaction, which by its very resistance to change helps to create a "revolutionary situation," but "reformism," which by alleviating conditions reduces the tensions of the "class struggle"-thereby rendering, more difficult the triumph of Communism.

Yet the Party cannot openly oppose reform, as it can, with good propaganda effect, oppose reaction. To do so would alienate the "masses," was corrupted" by "bourgeois democracy" and lacking in "class consciousness" refer a halfloaf of betterment not only to no loaf but even to a whole loaf the promise of which is contingent upon a vast revolutionary disruption of normal life.

Thus, the Communists have on their hands the odd double task of seeming to be allied with reformers and yet seeking both to discredit them and to prevent their getting problems well enough solved to lower "class tensions. For this task, the united front affords an ideal maneuvering ground. It makes "legitimate" the presence of Communists at problem points in our society where reformers are at work. Being on hand, they can make the most of every chance to assume "vanguard" role: to grab the spotlight by first inducing strife and then being more "brave" than reformers in fighting the "forces of reaction." Also, they can do what Marx recommended in his Address to the Communist League: namely, outbid the reformers by being less "timid" and more "generous" in the demands they make in behalf of the needy and discontented.

They enjoy here the same advantage Lenin enjoyed when he set himself to outbid and discredit the provisional government: namely, that of being irresponsible. Reformers, like the provisional government, take a responsible attitude. society, with all its faults. They do so because they regard our society as their own, and want to help make it function -not to prove that it is "bankrupt." Hence, they feel that they can, in good conscience, recommend only such solutions to problems as seem both workable and fair all across the board. Communists, being ideological expatriates, are not thus constrained. just as they profess a strictly "class" morality, so they propose strictly 'class" solutions to problems; and they shape their proposals, not in terms of workability, but of wide appeal and of educative" value with respect to the "class" nature of the "bourgeois capitalist State."

Reformers cannot deal in the Communist type of "immediate demand," -but they can be doubly discredited by it. By comparison with the more "courageous" and "generous" Communists, they can be discredited in the eyes of those who suffer privation and injustice; and by their united front association with the Communists, they can be discredited in the eyes of the conservative community. Thus, many times, they not only lose good will and practical support for the causes they care about but are themselves diverted from, these causes to problems of self-justification and self-defense.

The CPUSA's forty-year existence has held six united front periods. The first -1919-1928-was that of the "united front from above." Also, it was that of the Party's 'first fine careless rapture” -and of an amateurishness which it bas never since displayed in like measure. What the CPUSA then tried to do was to form a united front with non-Communist working-class groups by reaching agreements with leaders of these groups, making few appeals to the rank and file. Hence, the designation of this “front" as from above. The agreements which it tried to engineer had to do with demands-such as those for shorter hours and higher wages which non-Communist labor leaders were actively interested. Yet this first venture in coalition was not a striking success.

For one thing, the Communists in America-as in most European countries-had been repudiated by the Socialists when they signed the "conditions of affiliation' which bound them to the Comintern and pledged them to support the Soviet Union against all counter-revolutionaries." Many of the established labor leaders of the period, however, were Socialists; and even those who were not had seen eye to eye with the Socialists on the issue of the Communist International. They were not, therefore, overly inclined to make common cause with the CPUSA, even in behalf of their own policies. For another thing, the Communists overplayed their hand: while calling for a united front, they so constantly stressed their own program and revolutionary aims that those who represented other groups were both irritated and put on guard.

The second period -1928-1935- was that of the “united front from below.” Reversing its former strategy, the Party now appealed directly to the 'masses." Wherever possible, it tried to drive wedges between the non-Communist leaders of the labor movement and the rank-and-file members, to persuade the latter that only the Communists, with their program of the "expropriation of tlie expropriators," could serve their true interests. In the Party writings of this period, the very leaders who were courted during the united front from above" are branded as "traitors to the working class” and as "lackeys of imperialism.”

On a number of counts, this seven-year interval -overspanning the stock-market crash and the worst years of the depression -is one of the most revealing in the history of the CPUSA. For what the Party did at that time tells us much about what we can expect of it if our democratic society is again confronted by a major economic crisis.

The depression was, for all America, an experience so profoundly traumatic that almost any brand of radicalism which was then manifest has passed muster among us as a natural product of despair or of helplessness to relieve despair. Hence, we have tended to overlook certain facts. One of these is the obvious fact that Communism was in no possible sense a product of the depression. Another is that the depression was not, for the Communists, a time eof despair, but of unprecedented optimism. The very type of crisis that Marxism-Leninism had promised them had come to pass. America, at last -with millions unemployed, desperate farmers, bankrupt “petty bourgeoisie” -had become a field white unto the harvest. If communist laborers were few in comparison with the total population, they were fired by hope; they had answers to give where no one else had; and they were schooled in politicizing tension and unrest.

Ever since that time, their writings have been tinged with nostalgia for the depression years. Even John Gates, when he was still editor of the Daily Worker, acknowledged the existence of this nostalgia -while doubting its tactical wisdom: "Some comrades say that all we have to do is sit tight until the next depression and the return old days of the thirties. . . . The workers do not consider the days when they starved as the 'good old days'. (2)

What, then, did the Party do with a depression at its disposal? In 1929 -to quote John Gates again- the basic industrial workers were unorganized, the Negro people lacked organization and leadership," and the CPUSA "had a virtual monopoly in filling the vacuum." (3) How did it relate to America's need? How did it use its opportunity?

As we have already noted, it set itself to discredit the leaders of all non-Communist working groups and to win over their members for its own purposes. While it constantly agitated for reforms that appealed to large "ready-made” groups -and claimed the credit for any that were achieved -it always labeled these as transitional demands"' linked them up with propaganda for the abolition of capitalism and "bourgeois democracy."

To give itself new sources of Party membership and new spheres of influence, it created a host of “front" organizations: groups not formally connected with the Part, but dedicated to enacting its program. The leadership in these was securely in Communist hands; but the membership included as many non-Communists as possible. In the language of the Party, such "fronts" were "transmission belts” (using Lenin's phrase) between the "revolutionary van the "unorganized masses."

Through its press, it broadcast materials which both made the depression seem incurable by other than Communist means and gave instructions in the tactics and stratagems of revolution. Thus, International Publishers, New York, in 1932, put into circulation 100,000 paper-backed copies of Stalin’s “foundations of Leninism,” at ten cents a copy. Among other things, this book indicates the necessity and the means of dividing non-Communist societies into mutually warring camps and of fostering "implacable hatred" o capitalism among underprivileged and backward peoples.

Again, the Party represented all government efforts to relieve suffering and to get the economy back on its feet as efforts to fasten upon a people ripe for evolution “the yoke of still greater economic and political slavery.” A key document of the period, for example, was “The Way Out: A Program for American Labor. Issued on a mass basis by Workers Library Publishers, New York, this contained the Manifestos and Resolutions adopted by the CPUSA at its Eighth Convention, which was held in Cleveland, Ohio, April 2-8, 1934. All members were instructed to study this publication and to use it as a guide in their own work. In it, we read: “The ‘New Deal’ of Roosevelt is the aggressive effort of the bankers and trusts to find a way out of the crisis at the expense of millions of toilers.” The Party, therefore, “must combat the demagogy of Roosevelt and his supporters.” and “must explain to the masses that in the United States fascism is being carried through under the mask of democracy.”

In a similar vein, the Civilian Conservation Corps program is portrayed as part of a drive toward militarization and fascism; and the Party is told to “develop mass struggles in the CCC” -just as it is told to “utilize” all grievances and “manifestations of discontent” in factories. With respect to the CCC another party resolution of the period states: “Already 350,000 youth have been placed in conservation forced labor camps under army control and modeled after the Hitler youth camps.”

Finally, this era of the “united from below” was one in which the CPUSA threw caution to the winds and went all out in proclaiming its allegiance to the Soviet Union and the Communist International. It was in December 1930, for example, that William Z. Foster, testifying before a Congressional Committee, engaged in the following interchange:

"THE CHAIRMAN: 'Now, if I understand you, the workers of this country look upon the Soviet Union as their country; is that right?' "MR. FOSTER: 'The more advanced workers do.'

"THE CHAIRMAN: 'Look upon the Soviet Union as their country?'

"MR. FOSTER: 'Yes.'

"THE CHAIRMAN: 'They look upon the Soviet flag as their flag?'

"MR. FOSTER: 'The workers of this country and the workers of every country have only one flag and that is the red flag.

If the CPUSA was ready for revolution, the American people, as it turned out, were not: not even the unemployed and bankrupt. For a time, in the depths of the depression, the tactic of the "united front from below" netted the Party a host of new members; but, on its own testimony, it lost them as fast as it gained them. Thus, we read in a small pamphlet, issued by the Central Committee of the CPUSA and dated September 1932, a startling admission: "No fewer than 10,000 to 12,000 new members join the Communist Party of America every year, yet the total membership of the Party does not rise above 10,000 to 12,000. This means that every year practically the whole Party membership changes." (5)

On the basis of this and other evidence, we must conclude that the 'good old days" of the depression are remembered with nostalgia by veteran members of the CPUSA not because of any marked and durable success in building the Party but because revolutionary aims and allegiances could be openly declared, confidence was at flood tide, and "immediate demands" around which fervent programs of agitation could be developed were unlimited in number. In practical fact, the "united front from below" ended, not as a successful coalition of the party with authentic non-Communist groups, but simply as a drawing together of all the elements already sympathetic to Communism. it became, we might say, a coalition of the Party with its own "front" organizations.

How, then, shall we account for the fact that by 1939 the CPUSA had 59,000 members? The answer lies in the formation of the third united front: 'the People's Front Against Fascism." We can date this from the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, which met in Moscow, in July-August 1935, to deal with the threat to the Soviet Union represented by the Axis powers; and specifically, at that time, by the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo alliance. The key speaker at this Congress was Georgi Dimitrov, General Secretary of the Comintern, and he urged that Communist Parties, particularly in tlie capitalist countries, give up their "left sectarian" tactics and set about creating the broadest possible "front" against fascism. Their aim should be to establish "unity of action of all sections of the working class, irrespective of the party or organization to which they belong." (6)

When the American delegates to the Congress came home and set about implementing this new line, they discovered that, at last, they had struck pay dirt. Up to that time, the Party had built united fronts only around economic issues. But the new policy, as defined by Dimitrov, could center around any issue-economic, social, political, cultural-so long as the basic objective was antifascist. Thus, the CPUSA was able to enter into "shared struggle" with scientific societies, trade unions, veterans' groups, consumers' cooperatives fraternal and civic organizations, charitable and relief agencies -Soon-out of this wealth of possibilities--it began to select as prime targets various racial, religious, and national minorities; and intellectual groups that exerted a direct influence on public opinion.

This new "Popular Front" or 'People's Front" was a resounding success from the Party's point of view. In accord with what Dimitrov had called the "Trojan Horse" strategy, the CPUSA, in 1935, abruptly abandoned its former revolutionary line-so far as public appearances were concerned and began to call itself a "progressive" American party. In 1936, the Daily Worker quietly dropped the symbol of the hammer and sickle and became the "People's Champion Of Liberty, Progress, Peace, and Prosperity." By 1937, Earl Browder could publicly describe Communism as "Twentieth Century Americanism."

Within this broad united front, a host of new "front" organizations were formed; and the Party gave these thoroughly American names. This policy-never since abandoned-led through the years to the use of such names as American Youth for Democracy; Tom Paine School of Social Science and Art; American Committee for Spanish Freedom; Jefferson School of Social Science. Party speeches and writings became punctuated with such terms as "democratic action," peace freedom," and even "the brotherhood of man."

Americans, the CPUSA had learned, were not ready for revolution: not even with a depression on their hands; not even, for the most part, those whom the depression had destroyed. But they were ready for antifascism; and if antifascism seemed to call for a special brand of friendship for the Soviet Union-more than for any other country -this special aspect was largely overlooked in the midst of the struggle. Party membership soared and Communist sympathizers multiplied until the Party itself estimated-without exaggeration) it would seem- that they outnumbered cardcarrying members by a ratio of ten to one.

Then came August 23, 1939 -and Stalin’s mutual non-aggression pact with Hitler. Within a matter of days, Hitler invaded Poland and World War II was in progress. With an abruptness that matched these events, the CPUSA did an about-face. The "Nazi beasts" became "friendly neighbors" of the Soviet Union. The erstwhile "progressive" and "democratic ' nations of the West -Great Britain and France- became "imperialist war-mongers" who alone were responsible for hostilities. Slogans changed as rapidly as labels. Down with War and Fascism was no longer serviceable. Neither were slogans built around the theme of "collective security." Now that the war against the Nazis might, at any time, turn into a war against the Soviet Union also, the Party's rallying cries became Keep America out of the Warned The Yanks are NOT Coming.

A 16-page pamphlet with the latter slogan as its title was published and distributed on a mass basis -at 3 cents a copy- by The Yanks Are Not Coming Committee, District Council No. 2, Maritime Federation of the Pacific. It summoned Americans at large to form "working committees that will exert every known means of pounding across the fact that 'The Yanks Are Not Coming.

"Anybody can form a committee -a neighborhood, lodge, church, school, club or just a group of friends....

“You realize that this emergency transcends all other differences of opinion. All such disputes go in the pigeon hole so far as keeping out of war is concerned. As long as we agreed on that, we can disagreed on almost everything else under the sun and still cooperate."

Thus, the CPUSA demonstrated that it could scrap the outmoded paraphernalia of the 1935-1939 united front without scrapping what it had learned about tactics. The new united front simply bore the tag antiimperialist instead of antifascist. Many "front" organizations were dissolved; but new ones were formed. The American League for Peace and Democracy, for example, went out; but the American Peace Mobilization came in -to circulate propaganda in favor of neutrality and against lend-lease.

The Party, of course, suffered defections as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact; but also it gained adherents and sympathizers of a different type. Most intellectuals and internationalists were lost to it; but its "neutrality" line attracted certain isolationist elements and young men of military age. To satisfy the qualms of those who favored neutrality but found Stalin's pact with Hitler hard to take, the Party explained -as in its study outlines of this period- that the signing of this had really been a shrewd and strategic victory for Stalin. The pact did not mean that he liked fascism. But it had served notice that the USSR, was a 'peace-loving" nation, was not going to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for France and Great Britain.

While the chestnuts were thus being left in the fire, however, events took another turn. On June 22, 1941, the Germans suddenly invaded Russia -and thereby changed the 'imperialist capitalist war" into a "holy war of liberation," a "mighty people's crusade against fascism and oppression.'

Even though the CPUSA's propaganda line had again been disrupted without warning, the Party quickly "reoriented" its program to a "new tactical situation." "Peace mobilizations" and "anti-imperialist leagues" evaporated into thin air. In their place, there appeared a rash of new "front" organizations built around the themes of "national defense" and "all-out aid for the Soviet Union, Great Britain and China." Again the slogans changed -to open the Second Front Now and, in support of the war effort, Not an Idle Man, Not an idle Machine, Not an idle Acre. The favorite slogan of the previous era, The Yanks Are NOT Coming, was salvaged re addition of two words: it became The Yanks Are NOT Coming Too Late.

Thus, the "United Front to Win the War" took shape. For the first time in its history, the CPUSA dropped all criticism of America as imperialistic and reactionary -and even set itself to prevent strikes rather than bring them on. All talk about overthrowing capitalism was out; and the Party declared itself "ready to cooperate in making this capitalism work effectively.' (7) Its most drastic step, however -following the Soviet Union's example in dissolving the Comintern- was to dissolve as a party and become a seemingly mild Communist Political Association. Membership, in 1944, reached an all-time high; and countless Americans, looking toward long-range peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union, took it for granted that the Association could peacefully co-exist with other voluntary groups.

Even before war's end, however, as we have noted earlier, the USSR concluded that Hitler's defeat was certain enough to make safe a new propaganda attack on the West; and the line changed overnight. Once more, America became populated with "Wall Street Imperialists” and "capitalist oppressors." The Communist Political Association was abruptly reorganized the Communist Party -and set about making 'a clean sweep of the reformist trappings of Browderism." (8)

It is against the background of these five united fronts that we must judge the aims and integrity of the sixth: the "United Front for Peace" which was launched at the 1949 meeting of the Comintern and which has ever since been the mainstay of Soviet foreign policy.

The Communists assert that up to the end of World War II the Soviet Union was unable to exhibit to the full its peace-loving" character, because it stood alone against a hostile world. Under these circumstances, it saw no way open for the eventual triumph of Communism save that of revolutionary overthrow in one country after another. Now, however, they claim, all this has changed: the strength of the Communist bloc makes it possible for the Soviet Union to call a halt to Wall Street's "imperialist" plans and to take the lead toward that goal of world peace which it has always desired.

Many Americans, hungry for peace, find it hard to hold in mind certain things which Khrushchev has said and a long list of things which the Soviet Union has done since World War II which scarcely comport with the image of a "peace loving" nation.

Khrushchev has made it clear, for example-not once, but many times over-that the "peaceful co-existence" he calls for is to be temporary. It ushers in no era of live-and-let-live peace, but merely shifts the 'Permanent revolution" from the theater of open warfare to that of competition. The peacefulness" of this interim competition, moreover, does not rule out any tactic that can help to isolate the Western powers and bring on their collapse.

He has also made it clear-in his speech at the Twentieth Congress and on various occasions since that whether or not violence is employed, in the end, to effect the triumph of Communism in any given country will depend on how much resistance there is to the "expropriation of the expropriators." If the 'bourgeois democracies" resist, then they -not the Communists-must be counted the agents of violence; for the Communists would much rather take over by peaceful means.

This kind of "peaceful co-existence" puts us in mind of a rule which Lenin laid down for the Bolsheviks in 1906. It was, he indicated, wholly legitimate and necessary to "wage a pitiless struggle against the enemy." Any violence and destruction called for by this struggle must likewise, then, be counted as legitimate and necessary. With a sufficient "degree of organization," however, the Party might open up the possibility of a much more rational and advantageous outcome." Such an outcome would consist in "destroying the enemy" and "transferring all property to the people" without its being damaged by violence or "with the least possible damage." (9)

Khrushchev, to judge by word and act, sees hope now for the precise type of "rational and advantageous outcome" which Lenin thus projected. He sees hope, in brief, that the Communists can take over the world and yet keep intact both their own property and that which becomes theirs by conquest.

Where does the CPUSA come in on this? It comes in as the maker, in our country-as other Communist Parties a.-e in other countries-of that united front within which an overwhelming public opinion is to be rallied in support of the Soviet Union's brand of "peace." Interestingly enough, the term 'united front from below" is again m use-as between 1928 and 1934; for again, the appeals are to be directed toward the "masses." This time, however, the wedges are to be driven, not between the leaders of organized labor and the rank-and-file members, but between the government and the people.

To build this prescribed united front, the Communists have to sell their ideas to as many Americans as possible: -namely, that the Soviet Union is a "peace-loving" nation; that the West, in contrast, has its mind rigidly set on wars -and nuclear war, at that-as the one means of gaining its ends; that all forms of economic and technical aid offered by America to other countries are-unlike those offered by the Soviet Union- disguised forms of militarism and imperialism; that NATO and au other alliances for mutual defense among the Western powers are thinly disguised preparations for war against the Communist bloc; and that the Soviet "Peace offensive" is the only alternative now in view to the extermination of the human race. If these opinions can be planted in enough minds, then the Party's next task is to convert the 'mass" opinion into "mass" pressure on the government.

To point up the image of America which the Party is out to sell, we might quote the following: "During the post-war years, the United States continued increasingly to give the most dramatic proofs that it was indeed out to master the world. . . . No other interpretation than this could sanely be placed upon the intense military action in this country; the get-tough-with-Russia policies, the NATO, the atom bomb diplomacy, the Truman doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the crude domination of the United Nations, and the growing boasts of American imperialists that it was the fate and duty of the United States to lead (i.e., to rule) the world." (10)

The Soviet Union, meanwhile, is to be exempt from criticism; for the "innocent-looking proposition" that there should be discussion of the "shortcomings as wen as accomplishments' of the Soviet Union links up directly with Wall Street's war-mongering incitements." (11) In line with this attitude, the Report of the United Nations Special Committee on Hungary becomes a "self-serving distortion designed to fan the flames of anti-Soviet sentiment" and to help the American government to thwart 'disarmament negotiations." Those who cannot see that the Soviet Union acted as it did in, Hungary only to prevent the rise of "fascism: are persons “who have ceased to view historical developments in the light of the class struggle, and have substituted a bourgeois-liberal approach in which judgments are based on abstract, formal principles of morality and democracy.

We must not assume that statements as obvious as this -with the brash dismissal of morality and democracy -will be the Party's stock in trade in trying to "sell" its chosen image of the United States and the Soviet Union to the American people as a whole. What goes into Political Affairs, where the above was published, is Communist theory as designed for the "education" of Party members: it tells them what line to take in handling certain problems. We, therefore, can learn from it what to expect in broad terms- But when we ourselves-not Party members-are the target, we are subject to a far more subtle insinuation of the line.

Thus, for example, each Communist factory worker is told that in order "to gain the confidence of his work-mates," he must "stand out as a fearless defender of their interests." By this means, he can "establish close ties with non-Party workers m his department." Then: "By regularly consulting with them, he will gain their support and confidence...and inspire them to join the fight for peace." (13)

In a similar directive, this Communist factory worker is told that he must begin by simply raising 'issues and slogans around which the workers in the shop can be united. Thus, he can gradually create an atmosphere "wherein it will be possible to bring forward at least in discussion, if not for immediate action, propositions in support of peace and against all aspects of the war drive." (14)

Such instructions, however, are not for factory workers alone. They are for every member of the CPUSA. For "it is imperative that the peace forces in our country solidify their ranks in a broad, nation-wide front embracing the workers in the shops, the Negro people and their organizations, the farming masses, the urban middle classes, to organize and act for peace.

In any normal context, that final phrase -”to organize and acto for peace”- could be taken as expressing one of the deepest obligations of our anxious age. But when the tempting phrase is part of a directive to members of the CPUSA on how to persuade the American “masses” to pressure their government into accepting the Soviet Union’s version of peace, we must beware -no matter how much we would like to throw caution to the winds.

Because we have thus to be on guard, when we wish we did not have to be, it becomes necessary for us to understand some of the detailed tactics and stratagems which the communists have always relied upon, and which they still rely upon, for the multiplying of their influence through their united fronts. We turn, then, in the chapters that follow, to these tactics and stratagems.


Go to the American 1950s home page.
Go to Al Filreis's home page.

Document URL: http://www.writing.upenn.edu//~afilreis/50s/overstreet-what-we-must-know.html
Last modified: Monday, 02-Aug-2004 09:28:51 EDT