Jan 1, 1930: You are Chairman of the US Communist Party

I was wondered whether it was ever possible for the communist party to take over the US like it did the Russian Empire.

So, it just became 1930, and you are chairman, newly ‘elected’ (or secretary? whatevs).

What could you do to actually take power? (You can use your 2010 historical knowledge of what would happen otherwise in history if you like).

Is it possible at all for you to win? Would the Communists want to maintain democracy or turn it into a Soviet style government?

What can you do, if anything, to avoid turning to McCarthy’s b*tch-boy in 25 years?

There are several ‘communists’ on the board, plus a few socialists, so they will probably weigh in. I’d say that there would be nothing you could do to gain control of the US. You couldn’t gain control in the traditional way (i.e. by making your party one of the Big Two, then getting a majority in the House, Senate and get a President elected, then trying to get sympathetic justices into the SCOTUS), and you couldn’t do it via armed insurrection either. For instance, I don’t see how a coup would be possible, or would have the outcome of putting the communists into power or control of the US.

So…I don’t see how you could do it, even with foreknowledge of the future. Be interesting to see what the boards actual communists think, assuming they weigh in on this.


Well, you can take the autogyro or whatever to Wisconsin and take him out, Sarah Connor style.

Most of the communist revolutions of the 20th century were more like counterrevolutions. Look at the reforms Alexander II made in Russia in the 1860s. The cultural will just wasn’t there in the United States, and still isn’t. The US can’t and never could have become communist.

If you are chairman of the CPUSA in 1930, you are firmly under the thumb of Joe Stalin, and will do whatever his people tell you to do. Or they’ll find someone else to be chairman.

Given this fact pattern, I suppose there are would be two distinct ways of meeting our objectives.

First, the direct route. It is 1930, the country is entering the Great Depression, there is mass discontent. We get in touch with the Soviet leadership, explain that the US is ripe for liberation, and ask for limited financial support (remember, the USSR was largely unaffected by the depression). We use half of the funds to buy food and medications, and half to buy guns and explosives. We hand out the food and the meds to the desperate unemployed citizens; Hamas-style, we become a true grassroots-level organization with wide support on the streets. We use the opportunity to spread our ideology and rail against capitalism, culminating in mass protests throughout the US. The US army being the US army, somewhere down the line a massacre occurs. We declare war on the oppressors and start giving out guns and bombs. We subvert most of the armed forces, and finally charge governmental buildings in DC en masse.

As you can see, that is a parallel to the Bolshevik approach, and there is really no reason why it should not have worked in 1930s US. People are people everywhere, after all.

But let’s assume that we cannot win through direct violence. In that case, we go the same route of Soviet financing and ground-level charitable work, but do not arm ourselves. We rebrand ourselves as something like the “People’s Party,” and position ourselves as the voice of the lower classes. With our knowledge of future events, we preempt the New Deal with our own social works/welfare projects, gaining a significant political foothold in the process. We follow the economic recovery with a nation-wide racial integration campaign; we lose some white supporters, but gain many more minority voters. In 1938, we sign a mutual defense treaty with USSR; in 1939, we honor our obligation by declaring war on Germany. Together with the Red Army, we quickly liberate and carve up Europe. Everyone celebrates, and the world falls in line behind the two socialist superpowers. The Cold War is averted, saving untold trillions of dollars and ushering in a new age of global and national prosperity. McCarthy drowns in a mysterious boating accident; failing that, he is marginalized as a right-wing fanatic in a socialist world, goes insane, and dies in a hail of bullets after a shootout with the US KGB.

“Dies of natural causes”

“Acute lead poisoning.”

Did you forget we’re talking about Soviet-style communism?

Curious as to how big and how potent the communist party was in the US in the early 1930’s. I’ve got the impression it was a lot bigger than people of the red scare or texting generation assume, but I could be wrong.

Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle and to a lesser extent The Grapes of Wrath heavily featured communists.

Do what the KKK tried to do in the 20s and set up a grassroots organization that builds enough momentum that it eventually takes over several state governments. After you have enough of a base in the states try to influence the national government.

The problem is the people most open to communist ideology had the least political power (blacks, asians, the poor, etc). So the KKK came to power because it appealed to well of WASPs. Communists appealed to disgruntled laborers, blacks and immigrants who didn’t have the kind of cultural influence or political power whites had. Plus as the communist party got powerful it would alienate all the more ‘mainstream’ members of society who didn’t want to be associated with a movement of blacks, rural farmers, factory workers and immigrants.

I don’t think armed insurrection would work. Russia was a totally different situation than what the US was going through.

Er, I hate to burst your bubble, but during the time period in question “a movement of blacks, rural farmers, factory workers and immigrants” would pretty much represent the vast majority of US society. I can only assume that by “mainstream” you mean the rich and the very rich. Hmmm… No, in a voting situation, I think I’d rather bet on the prior than on the latter.

That is an illogical over-generalization. Given enough popular support, an armed revolution will work absolutely anywhere. Depending on the nation, you may need more or fewer followers to generate critical mass, but there has never been a human society that was completely immune to popular revolt.

Moreover, I would argue that 1917 Russia was almost identical to 1930 US from a sociological viewpoint. Both had a combination of inept heartless leadership and a growing sense of popular discontent. The starting points were the same, even if the outcomes were different. Absent the New Deal, the US could easily have gone the way of Bolshevik Russia, much to everyone’s advantage.

We had a Communist running the country in the 1930’s. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The CPUSA renounces all ties to the Soviet Union (at least openly). It pledges to only run candidates who might win. It adopts a policy of supporting whichever major party candidate best protects the working class. It works to develop a regional bases in ethnic (German, Russian, Jewish, Black) populations.

The goal is to remain legal and in the public eye.

You’d totally have to renounce the atheism of the Communist Parties of Europe & Russia, and even try to recast it as “Social Christianity”.

“Social Christianity” would be quite close to Corporatism and Vocationalism, both of which were toyed with in Ireland as a sort of Friendly Fascism. Communism sort of has an anti-religious bias baked in and would have a hard time with doctrines so pro-Catholic.

It’s impossible. Communist revolutions emerge out of the labor movement, and the labor movement was never as strong in America as it was elsewhere, because of widespread racism. In 1930’s America if you try to organize white workers, the employers will hire black workers. If you try to organize black workers, the employers will hire white workers and the police will beat up the black workers. You can’t organize them both in the same movement because there are too many white workers who don’t want to be in the same organization as blacks.

Which is why I think the party would have trouble here. Communism gets a lot of support from people on the economic and social fringes of society. They did a lot of good in US society (the labor movement was largely started by communists, the scottsboro defense attorneys were communist, the communists were pushing for racial justice long before Brown vs. board of education, etc). But any movement that starts to be associated with the working poor, blacks and immigrants from Europe & Asia would likely be ostracized and marginalized.

I don’t know tons about european communism, but I know in Germany before the Nazis took over the communists were one of the 3 major parties. No idea how big they were in other European countries though, but I can’t see them getting that big in the US. We are a nation that is too divided along ethnic and racial lines for any movement that empowers those at the bottom of the socio-economic totem pole to cobble together 51% of the vote.


<SLAPS Captain Midnight with a Wet Trout>

Not even you believe that.

In the alternate-history book Back in the USSA, by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman, Eugene Debs leads a successful Socialist revolution in 1917 – but, I don’t think the authors mean to seriously propose that as a viable point-of-divergence; it’s really a framing device for a series of stories in which the U.S. takes the role of the U.S.S.R. throughout the 20th Century. (Al Capone plays the role of Stalin, J. Edgar Hoover is head of the Federal Bureau of Ideology, etc.) Still a fun read, though.

Different reactions to the October Revolution in Russia split the American left into a pro-Soviet Communist Party and an anti-Soviet Socialist Party. They were mutually hostile, like Catholics and Protestants in the Reformation. Maybe if they could have joined forces, they could have accomplished something.

In It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks study the question and conclude the failure of socialism here resulted from a combination of factors, including:

  1. American poltical culture is uniquely antistatist, individualist and libertarian, even compared with other English-speaking countries.

  2. Leaving out the systematic submergence of certain ethnic and racial groups, there has never been a rigid social (as distinct from economic) class system in the United States, such as characterized the societies of Marx’s Europe.

  3. Unlike their counterparts in Western Europe and elsewhere, American socialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries failed to build a power base in the labor unions, which were mostly concerned with bread-and-butter issues like wages, hours and working conditions.

  4. Unlike their foreign counterparts, American socialists failed to build alliances with traditional religious believers, and in fact alienated them, to the point where the American Catholic clergy became openly hostile to socialism.

  5. In the early 19th century, European socialists got their foot in the door, and established their political presence as defenders of the people, by campaigning for such things as press freedom and universal suffrage. Although these were radical ideas in Europe at the time, they were well established (at least for white men) in the United States from earliest decades of the republic, which deprived American socialists of the opportunity to fight for them here and reap political benefits thereby.

  6. The winner-take-all, first-past-the-post system marginalized American socialists, compared with other countries that had proportional-representation systems. This systemic barrier, however, has marginalized all American third parties of all ideologies.

  7. The American federal system prevents Congress, if it ever had a socialist majority, from enacting any thoroughgoing program of socialism on a national scale. However, this cuts both ways: The federal system also provided socialists with more opportunities to contest and win elections at the state and local levels. (See below.)

  8. Although American socialists won important offices at the state and local level in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and even controlled the governments of some cities, socialist leaders at the national level failed to build on these achievements. In fact, such non-revolutionary municipal reforms local socialist leaders were able to achieve were dismissed and derided as “sewer socialism” by national party leaders.

  9. Compared with more practical and compromise-oriented socialists in other countries, American socialists were unfortunately given over to extremism, sectarianism, and splitting over minor points of doctrine.

  10. The ethnically diverse character of the American working class led American workers to identify with their ethnic group before their class, inhibiting the development of “class consciousness” here. White American proles, for instance, have never wanted to think of themselves as being in the same social class as the blacks.

  11. The Socialist Party made the crucial mistake of opposing U.S. entry into World War I. This made the party much more popular among German-Americans, but it also drove a lot of Anglo-Saxons out of the party, especially in the Midwest.

For some reason, Marks and Lipset end their analysis with the 1930s and '40s – the period when much of the Socialist Party’s agenda was co-opted by Roosevelt in the New Deal; the party became even more marginalized by sectarianism; many of the Communist Party members, on Stalin’s orders, hid their party affiliation while they sought positions of influence in government and the labor unions, and indeed went so far underground that those who escaped the McCarthy-era purges gradually stopped being Communists at all; and the Cold War taught Americans to identify the idea of socialism with treason. But the political upheavals of the '60s and ‘70s apparently do not even merit discussion as lost opportunities for socialism in America, in Marks’ and Lipset’s view.