File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-29.113, message 52

Date: Tue, 28 Jan 1997 11:44:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: M-I: CP History (Post #1)

Since nobody has mentioned it, I might as well point out that there is a big
split among CP historiographers. The Theodore Draper approach is to
emphasize the dependency of the American party on Moscow. Draper found the
American Trotskyist James P. Cannon an all-too-willing accomplice in his
research since Cannon basically saw only this aspect of the CP.

In the 1960s, a new generation of historians shaped by the New Left began to
take a more nuanced view of the CP and emphasized its ability to sink deep
roots in the working-class and black communities and lead powerful struggles
to victory. One of these is Mark Naison, who wrote about the CP in Harlem.

I have been involved in some deep research lately for background on the CP
in connection with the interviews I have been conducting with Fred Baker the
film-maker. Fred's father was a Furriers Union militant and Fred himself
sang in choruses connected with the CP in the 1940s. He knew Pete Seeger,
Howard DaSilva, Hazel Scott and many other CPers who made their living in
the arts.

The story of the Furriers Union is simply amazing. I am consulting Philip
Foner's 700 page out of print history of this union led by the CPers Ben
Gold and Irving Potash. This was one of the first industrial unions of the
1930s and the CPers supplied the leadership to make it successful. One of
the key battles took place in 1931. The craft unions in the garment industry
were riddled by gangsters, particularly the Jewish gangsters of Murder
Incorporated such as Louis Lepke and Morris Gurrah.

One day Lepke went over to the headquarters of the CP led furriers union
with a bunch of his gun thugs and started beating people up and firing guns.
Somebody yelled out the window, "Gangsters, gangsters at the union hq" and
thousands of furriers came streaming out of their shops into the union hq.
They beat the shit of the gangsters. There is a photo of Lepke and his gang
sitting on the sidewalk outside the union building. They are a mess.
Black-eyes, torn clothing, the works.

The CP's role in culture and the arts is another inspiring story. One of the
things that they did was fight for racial equality for black artists. Cafe
Society was started by a CPer by the name of Barney Josephson. This was the
first cabaret in NY where black and white artists would be featured on the
same stage night after night.

There is no better example of how ordinary working people can wage
successful struggles against the capitalist system in the US than the CP,
and to a much smaller degree the Trotskyist movement. Except for the
Teamsters Union, the SWP history is rather lackluster no matter what the
Militant newspaper would tell you.

The socialist party we need will combine the best elements of the Debs SP,
the CPUSA and the indigenous forms of American radicalism represented by
Malcolm X and the feminist movement. Such a party does not exist yet. My
hope is that when such a broad formation comes into existence that it will
include the best fighters of the CPUSA, either individually or as a bloc.

Louis Proyect

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