‘The Communist Party and the People’s Front’ by Alexander Bittelman from The Communist. Vol. 16 No. 8. August, 1937.

1939 rally.

A leading figure of U.S. Communism in the 1920s through the 1940s, Alexander Bittelman was closely associated with William Z. Foster’s faction in the Party and editor of the theoretical monthly ‘The Communist’ in which this was printed as the Party discussed the move to a ‘People’s Front’ with the Roosevelt wing of the Democratic Party. From the speech delivered at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee, June 17-20, 1937.

‘The Communist Party and the People’s Front’ by Alexander Bittelman from The Communist. Vol. 16 No. 8. August, 1937.

Comrades, the report of Comrade Browder and the resolution presented to this plenum have given our Party a powerful weapon for initiating the most important work before us today. That is the building of our Party as a more effective and leading force in the struggle for the united and People’s Front. I am convinced that, as a result of this Central Committee meeting, if the Party takes hold of these documents, the report of Comrade Browder, the resolution, and the summary of the discussion which we are having here, and uses them to arouse the Party, to draw every member into the task of building the Party, it will really begin the road toward making a mass party out of our organization.


From this angle, I should like to discuss further some of the highlights of Comrade Browder’s report, first of all, about the political situation. Comrade Browder said that the political condition of the country is in flux, that class relationships are changing, and that as a result, although not in the same tempo, changes are taking place in the parties which necessarily reflect the shifting of class forces. This is a fundamental point in understanding the present-day political conditions, as well as the perspectives.

Alexander Bittelman during his Smith Act Trial in 1951. He would serve three years in prison.

It is a fact, as Comrade Browder explained, that the Republican Party of today is not the same party, not the same traditional Republican Party. Nor is the Democratic Party. It is a fact which no one will deny, a fact which we made known some time ago, before the last November elections— that the Republican Party has become the center of reaction and fascism, the main concentration ground of these forces, and that the Democratic Party under pressure from the independent struggles of the masses in the country, as well as the progressive elements within, is moving generally in a progressive direction. That is correct. From this, certain very important conclusions follow as to the immediate perspectives in the struggle for the Farmer-Labor Party, concerning our tactics and policies.

What is the perspective of the reactionary forces in this country so far as alignments are concerned? We don’t have to guess about it. We know it. The reactionaries are doing their best today to undermine and break up the Democratic Party. It might be more correct to say that they are trying to undermine and break up the hold of President Roosevelt the Democratic Party. It is not hard to understand why they are trying to do this.

First, from the point of view of immediate consideration. If the reactionaries can destroy Roosevelt’s hold on the Party machine, this will weaken the very modest program of the Democratic Party and therefore create for themselves a new basis for consolidation of the reactionary forces. That would immediately reflect itself on such questions as balancing the budget, taxation, relief, or anything that is vital to the interests of the masses, and which determines today class alliances and class struggle.

But aside from the immediate point of view, reactionaries view this condition from the angle of the longer perspective. There are going to be important municipal elections this year, and then a Congressional election in 1938, and then the next Presidential election. The reactionaries feel that if they can weaken the Democratic Party by undermining Roosevelt’s standing in that party, they have created the possibility of preventing the progressive forces in the Democratic Party from playing an important role or a decisive role in the political life of the country.

It is not absolutely certain to anyone what will happen, but so far as reactionary plans are concerned, it is clearly visible what they are driving at. They cannot hope to bring the Republican Party to victory either in the next Congressional elections or in 1940, unless they destroy the New Deal in the Democratic Party, or the Democratic Party as such, as a major political party.

The wide masses of workers, especially those who are being drawn into the big mass movements—the C.I.O., Labor’s Non-Partisan League— while they might not always be conscious of the implication of events, today sense this situation. They feel that as things are now, and until the national Farmer-Labor Party emerges as a power, the only effective force that stands between them and a victory of reaction on a really large scale is Roosevelt’s hold upon the Democratic Party.

From this, of course, all kinds of conclusions and many of them wrong conclusions. But the fact in itself nevertheless remains a fact, that at the present time, when there is no mass Farmer-Labor Party powerful enough to contest for power and win, the masses know that if this is not in existence there is something else in existence, the Democratic Party which, though it includes reactionaries, fascists and semi-fascists, is dominated nationally by middle-of-the-roaders like Roosevelt himself, supported by people to the Left, well to the Left, progressives, labor men, and potential adherents to the Farmer- Labor Party in the United States, and that due to certain developments in the country this has become a force that stands in the way today of a wider extension of reaction either on the economic or political field.

Comrade Browder has demonstrated this very concretely and constructively in his report. The conclusion is that we must take into account this attitude of the wide masses, and especially that of the C.I.O. and groups around it, and from this, and on the basis of this, proceed to push further the development toward the Farmer-Labor Party.

Does that mean that we accept all the illusions that some of the C.IO. people may have about this situation? Of course not. And we must not be quiet about such illusions. Where we find illusions existing that stand in the way of promoting further the advancement of the progressive movement toward the Farmer-Labor Party, we must dissipate them by propaganda and agitation. This is how the vanguard can function at the present time.


You see, there is no need to have any blueprint worked out for the van- guard, for all times and all countries. Marx didn’t do it, Lenin didn’t do it and Stalin didn’t do it either. It depends upon the political maturity of the class forces and Party forces in a given situation, in which the proletarian revolution develops and the vanguard functions.

Now, to give you an example—the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in October, 1917, was the vanguard of the Russian working class, and as the vanguard, it proceeded to organize the socialist revolution. The Communist Party of the United States, being a Communist Party, a Party of Lenin and Stalin, is the vanguard of the working class of America. But nobody will conclude that therefore we must decide to organize now the socialist revolution in the United States. This, of course, is extreme. It is made purposely, so as to show the historic approach to the question of what a vanguard like us can do at various historical periods. It always must be a vanguard, but in what sense? It must always fight shoulder to shoulder in the front ranks of its class for the interests of that class. That is true always, under all conditions.

Second, the Communist Party, while fighting for the daily needs of the masses as part of that class, must always by propaganda, by agitation, and by our independent actions, show the workers the deeper meaning of their struggles; show them the next step, and work with this aim—that the whole movement, not only we alone, become ripe for making these next steps.

A Communist Party whose struggle, whose class relations are more acute, whose political struggle is more mature, will play a more leading role than others, though all Parties are destined to play a leading role in the class struggle and in the people’s movement generally. I say this in order to emphasize what has been explained by Comrades Foster and Browder and in the resolution. The point is to emphasize it so that it stands out very clearly. We cannot permit ourselves to work in mass organizations like any other member does. We must always work as Communists, which means something more.

And to further emphasize why we, as the vanguard, must always endeavor to bring the movement forward to its next step, let me discuss the idea of pushing forward the whole movement and not just ourselves. There was a time when our Party and the situation in the country were much less mature than today. We were a Party mainly of propaganda and agitation and leaders of minority movements. Very important ones. Movements which played a very great role in making possible the present-day upsurge, but, nevertheless, minority movements. Then, we could more easily afford to make a more rapid transition in the direction from a lower stage to higher stages. But today, when we have the C.I.O. and a new working class movement of the country marching in the direction of progress, it has become somewhat different. It becomes possible not only for ourselves and minority movements to become ready to make the next step, but by working properly, in a correct way, to prepare the ground for the whole movement making that next step. And I believe that by carrying forward these policies in the true spirit of The Communist Manifesto, our Party can really build itself as a mass party in this country.


Comrade Browder in his report said that the fact that our Party is not growing as it should grow, and that our Daily Worker, one of the best papers in this country and a Communist paper at that, is growing so slowly, is an intolerable situation. I should like every comrade to take back home exactly this fact—that it is an intolerable situation. It must be changed. We have to make our Party understand why it is intolerable. And why is it? Is it on some general abstract ground that it is intolerable? And are there some more immediate and more acute reasons why it is intolerable?

I want to communicate to you a certain opinion relating to this problem given to me by a sympathizer of our Party, a very intelligent person and very helpful to the Party in many ways and a friend in the best sense of the word. And he wanted to know why it is that the Communists are so anxious about getting more members in the Party. He said: “You have about 40,000 members, or thereabouts, conscious Communists, well-organized, well-disciplined. They are really leaders, not just rank and file. You have a press. You have a program and a political strategy which commands attention among the widest masses throughout the entire world, and you are making your general political influence very strongly felt in many places, thus enabling the movement to go in the correct direction.”

“Is it true,” he wanted to know, “that the general direction in which the C.I.O. is going is the direction in which you would like it to go?”

And I answered: “Yes.”

“Then why,” he asked, “are you so anxious about the slow growth of the Party? The social revolution is not yet around the corner. For the present, you can fulfil all your important tasks with the approximate number that you have.

“If you begin to grow, since, even from your own point of view, you will have to work with the progressive allies, will these allies not become fearful of a much larger Party? Would it not be better strategy to remain about your present size and still influence the movement sufficiently by your correct policies? Of course, you have got to recruit, but why be so impatient?”

National Negro Congress, 1937.

I found the exposition of this point of view very important, from this angle —that it contains a certain plausibility, that truth and untruth are so well mixed here that I should not be surprised to find that this is not only the viewpoint of this sympathizer, but that there are perhaps many other sympathizers with the same point of view. Perhaps some within our own Party hold this view. There may be a feeling that: Well, of course we want to be a bigger Party; who doesn’t want the Party to be a bigger Party? But why is it so essential that we now must go ahead and become bigger? Well, why is it necessary?

Let me go back to Engels for a minute and what he thought was the peculiar nature of the American labor movement. He said: One thing that distinguished the American labor movement from other countries, at that time, was that the American working class has been making numerous starts, beginnings, upsurges, of tremendous importance in scope, in militancy, and in revolutionary display of instinct, and suffered just as many set-backs. We know that to be a fact ourselves. That is true. And then Engels said: Why was it so? And he answered: Because these big mass movements of the American proletariat lacked the backbone of a revolutionary party, the vanguard. Engels said: Of course setbacks are inevitable, though we always fight against them, but when there is a revolutionary party within the working class, the setbacks will not occur so often. And when they do occur they will not be so disastrous, but when there is no revolutionary party within the working class, they will always be disastrous.

Stalin and Dimitroff in 1936.

Today we are facing an upsurge of the working class, unseen and unheard of in the United States before, an up- surge which Comrade Dimitroff is able to characterize as the birth of the American working class as a class. The objective conditions today, if we see them nationally and internationally, and we cannot separate the two, are very favor- able for the continued growth of this new working class into a position, both organizationally and politically, of continued power and strength.

Yet it is perfectly just to ask, are we guarding against setbacks? No, we are not. Things may take place which we cannot foresee. But we can see the strong reactionary power and strength in this country, there is plenty of reserve power, economic and political, for reaction to give us plenty of head- aches and troubles in the coming months and years. We are not insured against setbacks, even for this tremendous change that is taking place in the country today. And if we will remember the history of the American labor movement and its lessons, then we will realize why it is important to have a bigger, a mass Communist Party to cement and push forward the present upsurge, for its success, and thus bring nearer the socialist revolution. It is, I believe, for this reason that Comrade Browder in his report, Comrade Foster in his speech, and the political resolution before us, say that the slow growth of the Party and the Daily Worker is intolerable, that we have to begin to build the Party and to make it a mass party.

Again, by way of emphasis, the Party will be built if every Party member takes part in the building of it. The Party will be built and the Daily Worker will be built if every Party member and every Party organization makes this one of their main tasks.


Now in this connection I should like to say a few words. Is it correct to put up as one against another, as being in opposition, the building of the Party and the building of the mass movement? Can we say that when we build the trade unions, the People’s Front, we build it for somebody else? And when we build the Party, we build for ourselves? I do not think so. I do not think that in this fashion we will really mobilize the Party to build the Party.

What is wrong with our organizational condition and methods today? It is precisely that we do not do these two things simultaneously, both things, build the Party and build the mass movement as part of an all-inclusive great task of preparing the victory of the working class in this country. It is only when we can make every Party member understand that if he is a good trade union organizer but does not utilize every action in his trade union work, in whatever form that conditions may dictate, to build the Party, recruit for the Party, raise the prestige of the Party’s paper, he is not doing a complete job, a Communist job. In the same way, if he goes about recruiting Party members, building the Party press circulation, but is not doing it in a way to build the general movement, the People’s Front, he is not doing a complete job, a Communist job. A Communist job, a complete job, is to strengthen the mass movement; and to strengthen the mass movement is to get better results for building the Communist Party. Only in this way can and will we build the Communist Party.


In conclusion, on one of the essential phases of building the Party. I mention only one phase, because many have been discussed already, and time does not permit to discuss all of them. The one phase I want to pick is the propaganda of Marxism among the masses, the propaganda among the masses of the special role of our Party, and of the special class tasks of the proletariat in the struggle for social- ism. The Daily Worker has not been fulfilling this task as it should, and if the Daily Worker doesn’t do it, the chances are that in the Party as a whole the job will not. be done well. The prestige of the Daily Worker is growing, not only in the Party but outside also. It is therefore becoming an important, more potent and influential weapon in building the mass movement and building our Party. It is, therefore, necessary when we speak of improving our propaganda on a wide mass scale, the propaganda of Marx- ism, that we first of all turn our attention to the Daily Worker, the Sunday Worker, and how we can best organize the work through these mediums. When we speak today of the propaganda of Marxism—the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin on a mass scale—we are not indulging in the use of phrases but we are proposing to meet not only a need, but something possible and realizable. It wasn’t always so. But today, listening to the re- ports of the comrades from the districts, what did they report? That the workers today are thinking politically, they have problems and want them solved. And if the workers have political problems and want them answered, this is our opportunity to bring to them Marxist answers to their questions. Therefore, instead of spreading Marxism on a small scale. we must become active on a large scale and meet the needs of the masses by the widest circulation of Marxist literature.

In this Marxist propaganda, I wish to emphasize two points. First, something which we seem to forget—the special role of our Party in the given historical conditions—not abstractly, but in the given historical conditions. I think it could not have been better put than by Comrade Dimitroff in his recent article, when he said that in the present historical conditions the Communist Party fulfils the role of the vanguard by being a factor of unity in the ranks of the working class as well as in the ranks of the People’s Front—a factor that promotes political enlightenment and understanding among the masses, pushes the movement forward, makes impossible the victory of fascism and thus creates the prerequisites for socialism.

Earl Browder.

Second, in connection with this, the role of the working class as a class and the struggle for socialism in the United States. When we speak of propaganda of socialism, we do not mean merely copying the traditions of the Social-Democratic abstract presentation of socialism. When we speak of propaganda of socialism today in the present historical period, what do we mean? We mean the following: Systematic exposure of capitalist exploitation and of the fact that fascism is a product of capitalism. It means, second, that we must always point out the leading role of the working class in the liberation of mankind from the horrors of capitalism. It means systematically popularizing the victories of socialism in the Soviet Union. If we do that, we will thereby create the possibility for a much wider conversion of the workers to the Communist Party and will also be building the independent power of the working class for influence and leadership in the struggle against reaction, fascism and war.

There were a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This ‘The Communist’ was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March, 1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v16n08-aug-1937-The-Communist.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s