HISTORY 546

AMERICAN COMMUNISM AND ANTI-COMMUNISM

 

SOME QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

 

*What difference did it make that American Communism was connected to a foreign power?

*Who joined the Communist Party and why? How did this change over time and place?

* The everyday life of American Communists - working class, middle class, ethnic, intellectual....

* Who joined the ANTI-Communist cause and why? How did this change over time and place? (“The everyday life of American anti-Communists - working class, middle class, ethnic, intellectual.... “)

* What was the CP’s relationship to other organizations?

* People at the time made much play of the idea of Communist front groups, “Comsymps” etc. Were they right?

*What is a front group? How do they work? Why are they used? What are the dangers in using them?

* Defense Committees

* Was there really a red menace? Do we really have to choose between the ideas of a red scare and a red menace?

* Was there ever a serious threat that the CP would gain significant power, whether political, economic or social, and if so, what impact would this have had?

* The CP was tightly structured. How structured were ANTI-communist organizations? What evidence do we have of the structures and institutions of the anti-Communist cause?

*Relationship of the CP to major national institutions like the Democratic Party and CIO.

*Why did the great red scare happen in the early 1950s  - or did it? Were things worse in 1953 than 1940 or 1920 - or 1900? Worse by what standard? Or was it better known?

*Why did the COURTS act as they did?

*How did the red scare (s) affect the development of American law and constitutional thought? The growth of state mechanisms and law enforcement.

* Are “red scares” necessarily connected to wars and war threats?

 

More basically:

 

Tell me about why ordinary people joined the party and, often, stayed in it?

What was party life like?

What were the rewards and penalties (physical, emotional, psychological) of being a Communist?

How did the world view of ordinary communists differ from their neighbors? How did it differ from that of an ordinary mainstream person today?

How NORMAL were Communists?

Gender issues - family

How did party life differ from region to region?

Who was an ordinary Communist or was there no such thing?

How successful are they in drawing non-Communists into their activities?

How do they recruit?

How do they handle the media, or do they?

How do they spread their message?

What did communists actually DO (when they weren’t stealing nuclear secrets!)

Describe the ritual year - great events - demonstrations and protests

What was the impact of sectarianism in everyday life.

What did they read?

Some people say there is a religious character to Communism and communist life: how does communist life parallel that of sectarian believers?

 

 

For our next class, I'd like to give some more specific directions about the readings, to help give focus to the rather amorphous materials. In each book, I would like you to take TWO individuals from the US, two "agents" or "spies" - avoid the really famous ones like Hiss and the Rosenbergs, and concentrate on the small or middle ranking players on whom new evidence has emerged from VENONA and the Soviet archives. In each case, be prepared to talk about the individual, how s/he was allegedly recruited, what they did for the Soviets, how they were unmasked, etc - and were these people really of any great use or importance to the Soviets? What does each case tell us about the relationship between the CPUSA and the Soviets? However, focus closely on issues of evidence. How do we know what we think we know? What exactly is the basis for the claims made? Are alternative explanations possible? Are Klehr, Haynes, Weinstein etc making a reasonable case for their claims? Understand, I do NOT want a major presentation, but just have enough to provide examples for a wider discussion.