Chapter One: Orders from the Comintern
THE COMMUNIST INTERNATIONAL sent thousands of written instructions to the Communist Party of the United States of America. Some were short, only a paragraph or two, while others went on for pages. Some were general enough to allow American Communists to interpret them to suit local conditions, while others were highly detailed, leaving no room for variation. To be sure, not all the Comintern's orders were carried out. It was not unusual for Moscow to order the CPUSA to do something, or even to do many things simultaneously, that the party did not have the personnel, the resources, or, most important, the popular support to accomplish.
But failure on the part of the CPUSA was rarely due to unwillingness to obey the orders; rather, it was the result of an inability to do so. On the few occasions when CPUSA officials objected to a Comintern order, they usually pleaded that the Comintern did not understand the situation or that a particular Comintern representative had exceeded Moscow's mandate. One finds no documents in the Soviet archives, either in the records of the Communist International or in those of the CPUSA, that show American Communist leaders refusing to carry out Comintern orders as a matter of principle. There are no American assertions of independence from Soviet authority; no minutes from the CPUSA's Political Bureau, Central Committee (CC), or national convention attest to debate over American autonomy. Instead, the archives contain unqualified assertions of American Communist loyalty to the "first land of socialism."
In this chapter, we reprint Comintern orders from the early 1920s to the mid-1940s. Although most historians agree that the Comintern basically controlled every aspect of American party affairs during the 1920s, some scholars have asserted that after that time, as the CPUSA matured, the movement became "Americanized," and the party exercised a large degree of autonomy. These post-1970s historians maintain that American Communists of the 1930s and 1940s generation were essentially democratic in their outlook and that, although they still honored the Soviet Union symbolically as the first and most powerful socialist country, the CPUSA was neither Stalinist nor totalitarian in outlook or conduct.
But as the documents in this chapter show, even in the 1930s, Moscow decided how the American Communist movement would be run in matters of policy, organization, and choice of personnel. The Comintern not only guided the overarching strategy of the American Communist party but selected the party's leaders, rescheduled CPUSA conventions to suit Comintern needs, and ordered that a ranking American Communist official whose personal habits were deemed unacceptable be disciplined. These documents also show that although the Comintern's