September 15, 2009


(The Communist Party USA in 1947 - Come Brother, let us go underground together!)

Most people have no idea there was a legitimate Communist Party of the USA from 1919 to the early 1950s. They had candidates for various offices, from President to City Council, had conventions and were rather visible. In fact, they were so visible, a lot of people joined up - and that's what got them in trouble from around 1939, when the Dies Committee started investigating Un-American activities until their official banning during the Cold War period in the late 1940s. At their peak they boasted some 200,000 members, which shrank considerably when the Soviet Union signed the non-aggression pact with Germany prior to the Invasion of Poland. The Communist promise, at least Soviet style, left a bad taste in many mouths.

But in 1947 the debate heated up as to whether such an organization could any longer be considered a legitimate political group, with the current state of frozen relations between the U.S. and the Communist bloc countries. The fear was the American Communists would seek to overthrow the government with direct orders from Moscow and reek havoc in the process of doing it. The argument against banning them was, forcing them underground would make them more difficult to locate, as the actual bomb-tossing, agitating fringe were routinely rounded up and arrested on espionage charges when the group was legal anyway.

It's the old human nature argument that when you tell someone they can't do something, it makes them want to do it more. But there was big fear in the country at the time and this episode of Town Meeting Of The Air from April 3, 1947 asked the question "Should The Communist Party Be Banned In The U.S.?" brought a panel that consisted of Joseph McCarthy, newly elected Senator from Wisconsin. Former Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall, Edward Arthur Hayes of the American Legion and Leo Cherne of the Research Institute of America.

Leo Cherne (in answer to Edward Hayes): “There are times when democracy operates at a disadvantage in a contest with authority. We reach our decisions slowly and painfully. We can never have the efficient unity that a Fuhrer or a Commissar imposes. And in a Democracy Mr. Hayes, the liberty to speak, to write and to politically influence is available even to the fool, the charlatan, the bigot, the Fascist or the Communist. Why do we tolerate these threats to our institutions by the enemies in our house? We do it because we believe Democracy as a method can build a stronger and a better community, because dissent is still the only source of change, of growth, of progress. That doesn’t mean that every dissenter contributes to progress or justice. I know the Communist uses the right of speech and press and political action to destroy those freedoms. But the one thing about the Communists I do not fear is that he will win in the battle of ideas or in the open political contest. I believe in civil liberties because I know Mr. Hayes, that you cannot kill any idea good or bad by suppressing it. You only drive it further out of your reach. I wish there was some way of forcing the Communists into the spotlight. That’s why I fight a proposal that will merely push him further into the shadows. The history of political suppression is a history of failure. Neither kings nor emperors nor inquisitions not ruthless tortures have ever stifled an opposition."

It's interesting to note that this is probably one of the earlier appearances of Senator McCarthy. It was mostly likely a preview of things to come just a few short years later.

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