Tag Archives: Communism

Marcuse’s deep state ties

Marcuse’s first published article in 1928 attempted a synthesis of the philosophical perspectives of phenomenology, existentialism, and Marxism, anticipating a project which decades later would be carried out by various “existential” and “phenomenological” Marxists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as well as others in Eastern Europe and the United States in the post-war period. Marcuse argued that Marxist thought had degenerated into a rigid orthodoxy and thus needed concrete “phenomenological” experience to revivify the theory. He also believed that Marxism neglected the problem of the individual and throughout his life was concerned with individual liberation and well-being, in addition to social transformation and the possibilities of a transition from capitalism to socialism.

Marcuse published the first major review in 1933 of Marx’s just published Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, anticipating the tendency to revise interpretations of Marxism from the standpoint of the works of the early Marx. At the same time that he was writing essays synthesizing Marxism and phenomenology, Marcuse wrote a “Habilitations” dissertation on Hegel’s Ontology and Theory of Historicity (1932). The text stressed the importance of the categories of life and history in Hegel and contributed to the Hegel renaissance that was taking place in Europe. These works revealed Marcuse to be an astute student of Germany philosophy and he was emerging as one of the most promising young philosophers of his generation.

In 1933, Marcuse joined the Institut fur Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research) in Frankfurt and soon became deeply involved in their interdisciplinary projects which included working out a model for critical social theory, developing a theory of the new stage of state and monopoly capitalism, and providing a systematic analysis and critique of German fascism. Marcuse deeply identified with the “Critical Theory” of the Institute and throughout his life was close to Max Horkheimer, T.W. Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, Franz Neuman, and other members of the Institute.

In 1934, Marcuse — a German Jew and radical — fled from Nazism and emigrated to the United States where he lived for the rest of his life. The Institute for Social Research was granted offices and an academic affiliation with Columbia University, where Marcuse worked during the 1930s and early 1940s. His first major work in English, Reason and Revolution (1941), traced the genesis of the ideas of Hegel, Marx, and modern social theory, and demonstrated the similarities between Hegel and Marx. Marcuse argued for discontinuities between Hegel’s philosophy of the state and German fascism, placing Hegel instead in a liberal constitutional tradition. The text introduced many English speaking readers to the Hegelian-Marxian tradition of dialectical thinking and won Marcuse a reputation as an important interpreter of Hegel and Marx.

In December 1942, Marcuse joined the Office of War Information as a senior analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence. He prepared a report on “Presentation of the Enemy” that proposed ways that the mass media of the allied countries could present images of German fascism. In March 1943, Marcuse transferred to the Office of Secret Services (OSS), working until the end of the war in the Research and Analysis Division of the Central European Branch. Marcuse and his colleagues wrote reports attempting to identify Nazi and anti-Nazi groups and individuals in Germany and drafted a “Civil Affairs Handbook” that dealt with denaziification. In September 1945, he moved over to the State Department after the dissolution of the OSS, becoming head of the Central European bureau, and remaining until 1951 when he left Government service.

After working for the U.S. government for almost ten years, Marcuse returned to University life. He received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study Soviet Marxism, lecturing on the topic at Columbia during 1952-1953 and Harvard from 1954-1955. At the same time, he was intensely studying Freud and published in 1955 Eros and Civilization, an audacious synthesis of Marx and Freud which sketched the outlines of a non-repressive society. His vision of liberation anticipated many of the values of the 1960s counterculture and helped Marcuse to become a major intellectual and political influence during that decade.

In 1958, Marcuse received a tenured position at Brandeis University and became one of the most popular and influential members of its faculty. Marcuse published a critical study of the Soviet Union in 1958 (Soviet Marxism) which broke the taboo in his circles against speaking critically of the USSR and Soviet communism. While attempting to develop a many-sided analysis of the USSR, Marcuse focused his critique on Soviet bureaucracy, culture, values, and the differences between the Marxian theory and the Soviet version of Marxism. Distancing himself from those who interpreted Soviet communism as a bureaucratic system incapable of reform and democratization, Marcuse pointed to potential “liberalizing trends” which countered the Stalinist bureaucracy and that indeed eventually materialized in the 1980s under Gorbachev.

In 1964, Marcuse published One-Dimensional Man, which is perhaps his most important work. Marcuse’s wide-ranging critique of both advanced capitalist and communist societies analyzed the decline of revolutionary potential in capitalist societies and the development of new forms of social control. He argued that “advanced industrial society” created false needs which integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought. The result was a “one-dimensional” universe of thought and behavior in which the very aptitude and ability for critical thinking and oppositional behavior was withering away.

In One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse also analyzed the integration of the industrial working class into capitalist society and new forms of capitalist stabilization, thus questioning the Marxian postulates of the revolutionary proletariat and inevitability of capitalist crisis. In contrast to orthodox Marxism, Marcuse championed non-integrated forces of minorities, outsiders, and radical intelligentsia, attempting to nourish oppositional thought and behavior through promoting radical thinking and opposition. His book was severely criticized by both orthodox Marxists and academic theorists of various political and theoretical commitments. Despite its pessimism, it influenced many in the New Left as it articulated their growing dissatisfaction with both capitalist societies and Soviet communist societies.

(source)

To summarize: when the Frankfurt School academics fled Germany, they relocated their home institution to Columbia University. In December 1942, Marcuse joined the Office of War Information, FDR’s domestic and foreign propaganda agency. (For more on OWI, see here.) A few months later, he transferred to OSS (the predecessor of CIA), worked there until 1945, and then transferred to State. After leaving State in 1951, he received a Rockefeller Foundation grant (and even CIA has admitted that, at the time, the Rockefeller Foundation was closely tied to CIA) to study Soviet Marxism, and eventually wrote a book on the subject, which “broke the taboo in his circles against speaking critically of the USSR and Soviet communism”, and which pointed to potential ‘liberalizing trends’ that “eventually materialized … under Gorbachev”, soon before Gorbachev’s government abolished the USSR. Then he developed the New Left line on the proletariat.

What is Marxism?

When I pointed out that the Marxist tradition is still alive in American academia, the most common response I got was: “But the Marxist tradition isn’t Marxist!” For example:

Overall, I’d liken the place of Marx in academic sociology to that of a senior citizen who everybody publicly respects, but nobody really listens to. Even the remaining self-professed Marxists seem more interested in in things like ecology and identitarianism these days, even though (as I’ve fruitlessly tried pointing out to them) all that is at radical cross purposes with the Marxist enterprise in both its theoretical and political aspect alike.

Over a quarter of academic sociologists are self-professed Marxists, but if their self-profession is wrong

I’m not sure the quantitative surveys you quote do justice to the point Sandifer (may) have been making. The ‘old style’ Marxism where you do class analysis of a state, looking at what the interests of a class are, looking at how the material conditions of production affect ‘superstructures’ such as culture, ‘rights’, etc, is very rare in mainstream social science departments these days. I presume because such analysis might undermine some of the shibboleths of the ‘Cathedral’ – including ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘white privilege’, ‘patriarchy’, etc. Those who call themselves Marxists in the academy have mostly long since abandoned material conceptions of history for Judith Butler inspired charlatanry.

This charlatanry is better known as the New Left—or, if you prefer (and there’s no reason not to, since the term was used even before ’68), Cultural Marxism—or, if you’re Tom Wolfe, Rococo Marxism. “You proles aren’t down with us? It’s… it’s not like we ever thought you were the revolutionary agent of history anyway.” Or maybe the CIA made it, or maybe the CIA made Tom Wolfe. Whatever. But something is going on, and it’s been going on since 1931.

Marxism today isn’t a school of thought at all; it’s an idiom, a set of shibboleths. Imagined Communities decisively refuted Marxism—but it was written in the Marxist idiom, so nobody minded. Tom Whyman laments the loss of a grand unifying national myth and glorifies directionless, irrational mass violence, but he does it in the Marxist idiom, so he’s not a fascist (read: Sorelian), which he is. In fact, some ex-Communists tell me that their former circles were OK with anything, so long as it came from someone who’s very highly educated. Someone who knows words. Someone who has the best words.

Benedict Anderson’s decisive refutation of Marxism is that, to paraphrase, it served as an idiom for the expression of nationalism, or a strategic position for nationalists to adopt. Certainly this is true of Ho Chi Minh and Deng Xiaoping, but this could be generalized: it serves as an idiom for whatever the people who used it wanted to do anyway. In Vietnam, this was nationalism; in the USA, as we can see from true believers like Fredrik deBoer, it’s Menckenism.

Phil Sandifer complains in Neoreaction a Basilisk that Mencius Moldbug never engaged with Marxism, and writes that “there’s a confrontation that’s obviously waiting to happen that Moldbug endlessly deferred”. But, aside from deBoer, how many serious Marxists are there today? Moldbug may not engage with “the philosophical principles of Karl Marx”, but he does engage with the most popular use of the Marxist idiom today: the caste war.

Is Marxism marginalized in academia?

No.

Phil Sandifer sent me a copy of Neoreaction A Basilisk, because this is the internet and shouting a lot is a viable strategy. I don’t know, man. But it’s an opportunity to get this blog up to an average of one post per day.

Sandifer writes:

Indeed, there’s actually a significant leftist intellectual tradition that can fairly legitimately claim to be completely suppressed by the American media and education system, and that’s well-known for observing that revolutions and transitions between ideologies generally come down to people with material power protecting that power. …

Marxism, especially in its good old-fashioned “a spectre is haunting Europe” revolutionary sense (which is a much larger body of work than Soviet Communism, and indeed one that contains countless scathing critiques of Leninism and Stanlinism) is absolutely one of the positions most completely excluded from the Cathedral, its use in Anglophone politics restricted to a derisive term slung about in the way that “fascist” is applied to Donald Trump, only with less accuracy.

It’s certainly true that that’s the way “Marxist” is used in Anglophone politics—but is Marxism “completely suppressed” by the American media and education system? Given that the sitting president of the United States of America was a no-shit Marxist-Leninist in college, this is somewhat hard to believe.

According to the Open Syllabus Project, the Communist Manifesto is the third most-assigned text in college syllabi, with 3,189 citations—behind only Plato’s Republic, with 3,573 citations, and The Elements of Style, with 3,934.

I didn’t have to read the Communist Manifesto in college, but I did have to read it in high school. Right before Animal Farm, admittedly, but Orwell was a socialist, and we certainly weren’t reading Mises. When I went to college, one of the department heads was an outspoken pro-Cuba Communist, another was an ex-anarchist who had recently and reluctantly converted to Rawlsianism, and I was assigned to read Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, various texts on applied Marxism which I can’t remember because I never showed up to that class (because the professor made it obvious that anyone who turned in the papers and pretended to agree with Marxism would get at least a B), something by Robert Paul Wolff which I also can’t remember, some critical legal studies, and a chunk of Capital. The only author I was ever assigned who could be classified as a rightist, aside from the Fascist Manifesto (by a professor who hated Hegel, because he hated Hegel), was Nozick, who hardly counts.

I also took a class on activism taught by a team of self-professed Trotskyists who worked for the Democratic Party, so.

Back to the Open Syllabus Project. Marxists are not commonly assigned, but Marx is squarely within the canon. The Communist Manifesto is the third most frequently assigned book in college syllabi. The Communist Manifesto is more frequently assigned in colleges than Aristotle’s Ethics (#6), Leviathan (#7), The Prince (#8), Hamlet (#10), The Odyssey (#11), Orientalism (#12—yes, really), Canterbury Tales (#16), On Liberty (#19), Foucault’s Power (#26) On the Origin of Species (#27), Augustine’s Confessions (#28), Walden (#31), and The Wealth of Nations (#35).

Marx shows up again in the top 200 with Capital (#44) and The German Ideology (#158). Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed comes in at #99, and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth at #115. Scrolling down a bit, Adorno’s Culture Industry ranks #207.

An EconLog post links to a survey that finds that 11% of professors are ‘radicals’ and 3% are Marxists, but the survey went out to all professors, and one would not learn Marxism in a chemistry class. In the humanities, 5% are Marxists (but 19% are ‘radicals’); in the social sciences, 18% are; in liberal arts colleges, 12% are; and in sociology, 26% of professors are Marxists.

Also, the Harvard Crimson endorsed the Khmer Rouge, Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for Stalinist apologia, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, personally requested that Warner Bros. make, under close collaboration with the federal government of the United States, a movie based on a former US ambassador to the USSR’s pro-Stalin memoirs, which movie was of course itself pro-Stalin.

Salami tactics

It became obvious during the weeks preceding the elections that the Smallholders’ Party had obtained the majority of the votes of our peasantry, and the majority of the small bourgeoisie.

Nevertheless, the Communist Party made use of the election results in order to strengthen its positions further. Therefore, it demanded the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, which, after some delay, it obtained. In order to strengthen our influence within the Government, we created the Supreme Economic Council through which we gradually came to influence key positions in economic life. Thus, despite the election results, our Party extended its influence in the most important fields of Government power.

But officers and Horthyite Government officials began to flock back from the West. The purge of Government machinery slowed down. The old land-owners and their lawyers availed themselves of all kinds of legal claims to demand the restitution of their land from the new owners.

Under the impact of this situation, the new land-owners (who totalled more than 500,000) applied to the Communist Party for help.

At the same time we launched a counter-attack. In the villages and the towns we mobilised the masses, and in the form of “popular judgments” and “popular movements” we removed reactionary elements from the administration of villages and towns. Simultaneously with this action our Party launched a drive to unmask reactionary elements in the Smallholders’ Party. The Communist Party demanded that the Smallholders’ Party itself was to take steps against its reactionary elements to help ensure the result of the land reform, and dismiss from its ranks all the best-known reactionaries. These demands were openly supported also by the Left-wing of the Smallholders’ Party.

At the initiative of our Party a Left bloc was formed within the Independent Front early in March, 1946, which apart from the Communist party, the Social Democratic Party and the Peasant Parties, included also the T.U.C. The new organisation — the parties of which won nearly 42 per cent. of the votes at the elections — meant that the influence of the Communist Party on the workers’ class and the poor peasantry had increased.

To stress its demands, the Leftist bloc early in March arranged a demonstration of Budapest workers. At the threatening effect of the formidable mass meeting of more than 40,000 disciplined demonstrators the Smallholders’ Party had to comply with our demands and exclude 21 of its most compromised deputies. …

So, four months after the election victory of the Smallholders’ Party, a new turn came: not yet a general attack on capitalism, but we took vulnerable forward positions, which facilitated our progress towards the proletarian dictatorship.

In continuation of the successful counter-attack in March 1946, the unmasking, elimination and isolation of reactionary elements of the Smallholders’ Party continued without interruption. The Smallholders’ Party was continually compelled to exclude or eliminate individual members or groups of members thus compromised.

This work we called “Salami Tactics”, by which we cut out in slices reaction hiding in the Smallholders’ Party. In this incessant struggle we wore away the strength of the enemy, reduced his influence and at the same time deepened our own influence.

(source)

The New York Times

A handful of liberal and socialist writers, led by philosophy professor Sydney Hook, saw their chance to steal a little of the publicity expected for the Waldorf peace conference [the ‘Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace’, a pro-Moscow event organized by a CPUSA front group]. A fierce ex-Communist himself, Hook was then teaching at New York University and editing a socialist magazine called The New Leader. Ten years earlier he and his mentor John Dewey had founded a controversial group called the Committee for Cultural Freedom, which attacked both Communism and Nazism. He now organized a similar committee to harass the peace conference in the Waldorf-Astoria.

Hook’s new group called itself the Americans for Intellectual Freedom. Its big names included critics Dwight MacDonald and Mary McCarthy, composer Nicolas Nabokov, and commentator Max Eastman. Arnold Beichman, a labor reporter friendly with anti-Communist union leaders, remembered the excitement of tweaking the Soviet delegates and their fellow conferees: “We didn’t have any staff, we didn’t have any salaries to pay anything. But inside of about one day the place was just busting with people volunteering.” One of Beichman’s union friends persuaded the sold-out Waldorf to base Hook and his group in a three-room suite (“I told them if you don’t get that suite we’ll close the hotel down,” he explained to Beichman), and another union contact installed 10 phone lines on a Sunday morning.

Hook and his friends stole the show. They asked embarrassing questions of the Soviet delegates at the conference’s panel discussions and staged an evening rally of their own at nearby Bryant Park. News stories on the peace conference reported the activities of the Americans for Intellectual Freedom in detail. “The only paper that was against us in this reporting was The New York Times,” recalled Beichman. “It turned out years later that [the Times reporter] was a member of the Party.”

(source)

The primacy of the racial question, 1931

The anti-imperialist national liberation revolution, [Frank Waldron] argued, must be taken out of the realm of abstract slogans and turned into a daily battle on “little issues” that determine the everyday lives of the people, “such as reduction of rent and taxes, resistance to evictions, seizures of food and seed supplies, defense of every democratic right to organize, strike, free speech and assembly that is violated.”

In South Africa, nearly a year later, the problems were different, but Gene’s approach was basically the same. The Communist Party was emerging from a prolonged factional fight in which the all-white leadership and predominantly white membership had been charged with racism. In 1931 the Comintern had intervened from Moscow and the leadership, headed by Rebecca Bunting and her husband, were expelled. Their influence remained, however, and the issues were still being debated. The Buntings had rejected the primacy of the racial and national questions for South Africa. They opposed the Comintern’s goal for an Independent Native Black Republic with “guarantees for the white minority.” They had argued this would “favor a black race dictatorship that would turn the exploited whites into a subjected race.” The Buntings claimed that not a national liberation struggle of the Native Black majority was the strategic goal, but the establishment of socialism by the proletariat–black and white.

As in the Philippines, Gene devoted the first months in South Africa to traveling, asking questions. … Then he applied himself to the problems still tearing the Party apart. he helped initiate methods of collective work to strengthen the ability of the Black comrades newly placed into responsible positions of leadership. He helped establish the concept that the Party had to become, in the first place, the Party of Native Black workers, reflecting the Black Nation character of the country. At the same time, he called for an end to the practice of using “administrative, punitive expulsions” against those whites still influenced by the Buntings’ ideas. He urged “the need to win over vacillators.” He exploded the bombast of those white comrades who refused to work inside the white workers’ trade unions under the guise that they were militantly opposing white chauvinism. “White chauvinism is fought where it exists, not in words from the outside,” Gene countered. He argued, too, against those comrades who refused to work in the reformist organizations, white or Black, under the guise they were protecting the independence and purity of the Party. At the same time, he combated tendencies to subordinate the Party’s policies to accommodation with the reformist leaders, “in the interest of unity.”

Peggy Dennis, The Autobiography of an American Communist: A Personal View of a Political Life 1925-1975.

A Communist in Mecca

Scene: Peggy Dennis, a Communist activist, arrives in Moscow on Party orders to join her husband, who had fled there months before, also on Party orders, to escape a prison sentence in America.

Our train slowly crossed the border onto Soviet soil. With face pressed against the window, heart pounding, I hugged Tim tightly in my arms and my eyes blurred with tears. High above, the wooden arch through which our car moved proclaimed: “Workers of the World Unite.” I was in mecca.

When the uniformed border control with the Red Star insignia on their fur hats came to collect passports, I barely resisted giving them the clenched fist salute. I wanted to hand them my Party identificationa more fitting entry permit into the Land of Socialism.

Reunion with Gene, awaited so eagerly, was almost eclipsed by my excitement at being in Moscow. I wandered the streets at every opportunity. Every detail had special significance: the broken, cobblestoned sidewalks and boarded-up empty storessymbols of a painful past; Red Army platoons marching down the street, lustily singing revolutionary songssymbol of a land where the people’s army had triumphed. I smiled broadly at every beshawled peasant woman shuffling by in her knee-high, shapeless, stiff felt boots, the valenki I was soon to wear. I wanted to clasp the hand of each man and woman I passed. I wanted to shout “tovarich!” to all Moscow. Six thousand miles from home, I was Home. Here everything was truly “nahsh”ours, everyone was “nahsh braht”our brothers. After the last two years, the exhilaration at being one of the working class ruling majority was particularly gratifying.

Being an outsider, I sentimentalized the harsh realities of daily life. Life was tough and elemental that winter of 1931. Each day was a struggle to survive–personally, economically, politically. Stalin had declared: “We are fifty to one hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must cover this distance in ten years or we shall be crushed.” The socialist countries which were to follow could afford a slower pace; the first socialist state could not.

The First Five Year Plan to rapidly industrialize a backward, underdeveloped giant was being compressed into four years. The rest of the world, floundering in economic crisis, scoffed at this mad dream. Even more unrealistic, they said, was Moscow’s insistence that socialism would achieve this miracle of industrial growth without private foreign capital investment. There were no Italian Fiat plants in 1931, only the first Soviet AMO auto plant. There were no U.S. banks with branch offices in Moscow. Capital investment was squeezed out of a Soviet people who for many years were ill-housed, ill-clothed, and ill-fedbuilding for the future.

Yet even in those lean years there existed the concept of social benefits as an individual right. Free medical clinics, child care centers in factories, free education, rest homes, infinitesimally low rentsthese were available to all. Back in the States twenty million were out of work, millions more were hungry and homeless, social security was a revolutionary demand being fought for in the streets.

Peggy Dennis, The Autobiography of an American Communist: A Personal View of a Political Life 1925-1975.

Private foreign capital investment is one matter; private foreign capital support, in the manner of Olof Aschberg, is another. (Speaking of Olof Aschberg, Peggy Dennis isn’t the only Communist to have inherited the cause from her parentshere’s what Aschberg’s grandson is up to these days.)

But that’s beside the point.

Read the excerpt closely. Take note of all the social dynamics at work.

Aren’t humans interesting?

As for her claim that she was “one of the working class ruling majority”, she later writes:

Exhilarated at living in this international milieu, I was slow to realize that we were completely isolated from ordinary Soviet life. We did not even know any Soviet persons, except for Boris and Bob who lived in the Luxe and worked in the Comintern with Gene. All of the comrades living there and working at the Comintern were divorced from Soviet life. We were living in Moscow, but were not a part of it. No one could give me a plausible reason why this was so; no one I knew seemed to really care that it was so. …

Boris and [his wife] Musa had recently returned from Comintern assignment in China and Bob and [his wife] Valerie had been to India. The discussions in our room ranged from their experiences abroad to our asking them questions about Soviet life. But they were not typical Soviet citizens and our isolation was not lessened by them.

Upon our return to Moscow in 1937, we could find no trace of them. No one would or could tell us anything. During my third return trip in 1941, I saw Valerie walking towards me on Gorky Street. I started to greet her warmly, but she passed me with a slight flicker of recognition. Insisting upon answers from comrades, I was told that Bob had been executed and Valerie, only recently released from prison, carefully stayed away from all foreign comrades. I was told for her sake to leave her alone. We never heard anything at all about Boris and Musa. In the purges of the Comintern in 1937 and 1938, the very international activity and foreign travel demanded by the Comintern became the basis of charges of “foreign agent” that sent hundreds of Soviet and European Comintern workers to labor camps and firing squads.

Twentieth-century Americanism

Scene: Eugene Dennis (Frank Waldron), a Communist activist, is arrested during a protest and brought to trial.

Of the many arrested March 6, seventeen went on trial in April and for eleven days Judge Bogue, in a state of bewilderment, kept muttering from his bench, “Incredible! Absolutely astonishing!”

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Leo Gallagher, a deceptively mild-looking, grey-haired, wiry fighter, exploded the first shock for the startled Judge when he challenged the entire jury panel. Gallagher charged the defendants would have a better trial if the Commissioner would “stop passers-by on the street and take them into court for jury service”.

The Judge spluttered at Gene and Party organizer Carl Sklar who were acting as their own attorneys:

“You can’t make Communist speeches to prospective jurors. You can’t tell them there are different standards of law for the rich and the poor.”

On any given day now some fifty people were either in jail, in court, or beaten by police on the outside. Physical and legal self defense became simultaneous weapons of the local unionization and unemployed struggles. A delegated conference of local organizations set up a “general self defense organization” whose purpose was “the physical protection and defense of all militant struggles, organizations and demonstrations of the working class, to protect them from the reactionary attacks of the fascists and the state apparatus.”

On the legal front the International Labor Defense conducted orientation sessions throughout the city enabling arrested workers to defend themselves in court. Frank Spector, Southern California head of that organization, and one of the seventeen before Judge Bogue, told the court:

“When the laws are against the interests of the working class and the courts are essentially an instrument in the hands of the employer class, we advise workers that the laws be violated and the court decisions be ignored.”

In its summation, the prosecution intimidated the jury: “If you will not convict them, then you will show that you too are against our government.”

Gene told them:

“A verdict of guilty will mean you approve the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist government. It will mean you approve police brutality and that you agree with Police Commissioner Thorpe that we ought to be deported. But even if you put us in jail now, you can’t break our Movement. Hundreds, thousands of others will take our place and carry on the struggle until this system will be abolished and the dictatorship of the proletariat, as in the Soviet Union, will be established.”

Our comrades in the courtroom were no less startled than was Judge Bogue and the reporters to hear Gene tell the jury:

“It is because I love my country and the American people from which I spring that I fight today and will always fight in the interest of the people. It is our country, it is our Bill of Rights, it is our American way of life that you would betray here today.”

Peggy Dennis, The Autobiography of an American Communist: A Personal View of a Political Life 1925-1975.

The result:

The grand jury indicted seventeen T.U.U.L. [Trade Union Unity League] and [Communist Party activists on “conspiracy to foment revolution during the cantaloupe season”. This was later changed to the more stylized charge, “suspicion of criminal syndicalism” involving charges to overthrow the government on a number of separate counts that could total 42 years in prison for each defendant. Of the seventeen, fourteen were arrested, but the police could not find [Frank] Spector, [Carl] Sklar, and Gene. They had disappeared from sight after leaving the courtroom that April 14.

Spector, Sklar, and Gene “hid in friendly strangers’ homes, moving every few days to a new place. They stayed in contact with activity and decision-making processes through complicated courier systems. We were all waiting for a higher Party decision in New York as to whether they should or should not surrender to the Valley arrest warrants.” The Party voted to have Spector and Sklar surrender; Eugene Dennis remained a fugitive, under the alias “Tim Ryan”, and the Party eventually decided to have him flee to Moscow. His wife Peggy joined him there later with their son, although she had to fight her Party organizer, a new arrival from New York, to be allowed to do so: the organizer said, “We cannot handle this request routinely. We would be guilty of rank male chauvinism if we agreed to transfer this leading young woman comrade merely so she may join her husband.” About this, she wrote:

I had some heavy thinking to do. I was uncomfortable with my Party organizer’s defense of me as a leading woman comrade. The more I hassled with the feeling that something was wrong, the more I disliked the context in which the question had been placed. I felt like I was being subjected, with praise, to a subtle male chauvinism which rejected the possibility that a woman can be a wife and leading activist. Under the guise of upholding my rights, I was being told I had to choose between being a housewife at the beck and call of her man or becoming the classic version of an unencumbered male. … All I knew was that I wanted to join him. The framework for my activity would have to be found within that context, always.

Her parents disapproved.

The Trade Union Unity League

Four weeks after our return from Seattle, Gene wrote in the national Daily Worker of the 90,000 jobless in our city. From official statistics he noted that the majority of Mexican workers in the country were unemployed. He concluded, “with ninety percent of the working class outside the organized labor movement, our burning need is to organize the unorganized, militant industrial trade unionism and class struggle versus class collaborationism.”

Gene was now Southern California head of the Trade Union Unity League, a militant Left center organized first in 1922 as a rank and file movement inside the craft union, almost lily-white A.F.L. Now it was shifting, as was the Party, to greater emphasis on independent organization of the unorganized and the formation of new industrial unions outside the A.F.L.

A citywide general strike in the needle trades was Gene’s first initiation into his new work. The strike symbolized graphically the multi-aims of T.U.U.L., for it contained four fronts of struggle: the action against the employers; rank and file opposition to the old A.F.L. and Socialist Party leadership within the union; conflicts between the skilled, mainly male, dominantly Jewish craftsmen who were oldtime unionists and the young, unskilled, Mexican women workers new to the union and in their first strike; and the building of the T.U.U.L.’s Needle Trades Industrial Union.

—Autobiography of an American Communist, Peggy Dennis.

Dennis doesn’t see fit to mention it in her book, but the T.U.U.L. was part of the CPUSA. She doesn’t avoid the topic of the CPUSA in generalhow could she, when she was married to Eugene Dennis, who became the General Secretary of that party after Moscow removed Earl Browder? I suppose I’ll find out soon whether she bothers to mention the favor she and her husband must have had in the eyes of the Soviets. Anyway, here’s her obituary in the New York Times.


One page later, in March 1929, Dennis gets pregnant:

Basking in Gene’s excited pleasure, I nervously prepared to break the news to Mama, but made Gene promise to support my claim that it was an “accident.” With abortion completely out of our awareness at the time, the act was irrevocable. All I had to contend with was Mama’s displeasure. I carefully chose the moment as we rode the Brooklyn Avenue streetcar, so she could not make the scene I expected.

Mama was an intense feminist. She was more the protagonist for woman’s unshackled spirit than a sign-toting activist for equal rights. She believed the two to be inseparable, that individually women could live the first while fighting for the second. Frustrated by ill-health and transplanted to a foreign land and alien culture she refused to adapt to, Mama did not personally act on her beliefs, but she was determined that her two modern daughters would.

My sister and I were willing pupils, and we early absorbed Mama’s special pride in being female, destined for greater things than merely being some man’s wife. We acquired the conviction that personal love was not a sufficient singular purpose in life; that for women, no less thaan for men, there must be much more to an enriched life. Conventional marriage was the deadly trap and motherhood was the snaplock to that trap door.

Mama scorned housekeeping and cooking; they were unavoidable chores to be disposed of with minimum effort. She knitted, crocheted, and sewed beautifully, but she refused to teach us, saying we had more important things to do with our time and abilities—like studying, writing stories, making speeches, attending meetings, planning the revolution.

Papa had been a quiet supportive influence in all this. Slight of build and height, he was gentle and sensitive and there seemed to be no female/male roleplaying in our family. He often buffered with good humor and with dance and song Mama’s tense moodiness. He washed supprt dishes and scrubbed kitchen floors, urging us to go to the library or write the composition due at school. …

When Bill began staying overnight in my bed, Mama kept the fact secret from his parents, for his sake. When we were legally married to mollify his mother, Mama was furious. In joining Gene, a year later, I was exercising my courage to go my own way, as they had taught me. Now I was pregnant and I had betrayed twenty years of revolutionary and feminist conditioning.

I could not define to Mama or to myself the changes in me. I was torn with the contradictions between my emotions and my theory. With Gene I had become the classic handmaiden to love, a role blatantly contrary to what I believed in, and yet I was revelling in it.

The making of a Communist

When Mama and Papa came to America they were not seeking the legended golden mecca. As young Jewish revolutionaries, they knew they were coming to a capitalist America, but at least it was not tyrannical, monarchistic Old Russia. …

The 1905 revolution in Russia raised jubilant hopes among the young emigrés, and Mama, pregnant with my sister, made plans to go home. The revolution failed; going-home talk slowly receded, but Mama and Papa and the aunts and uncles did not assimilate into the new country. They rejected the mores of capitalist America. They were critical of those among their emigré circles who adjusted and tried to make it by the exploitative measures needed to succeed. Their goals remained alienated from those of this country. They wore their poverty like a badge of honor, continued to meet in small groups which at least now were no longer illegal as in Old Russia, and talked about the needed revolution. …

Through it all we children grew and played in this self-contained, foreign-born, radical community. We were enrolled in the Socialist Party sunday school at the Labor Temple at the time we started public school kindergarten, and the former was more important than the latter. Among my early memories are those of being lifted each week onto a table in stark meeting halls and lisping my way through recitations of revolutionary poems by Yiddish writers my parents and their comrades loved so passionately. Papa coached me at home, explaining the pathos and courage and hope of the words I was to recite. …

In 1922, at the age of sixteen, my sister Mini, already a Young Communist League member, organized the first Communist children’s group in Southern California. I was her first recruit and rapidly became that organization’s public spokesperson—a fiery, tense thirteen-year-old. In school I was selected to recite James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphan Annie” poems at PTA meetings; out of school I made eloquent speeches at Communist mass meetings, denouncing the Rockefeller and Morgan warmakers and urging support of the new children’s revolutionary movement.

Peggy Dennis, The Autobiography of an American Communist: A Personal View of a Political Life 1925-1975