WHICH SIDE WERE YOU ON? by Maurice Isserman


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The American Communist Party During the Second World War Past histories of the American Communist Party are deficient, Isserman contends, because they focus exclusively on party leaders and Moscow dictates. They make it ""hard to understand why anyone with intelligence and integrity would have remained in such a movement for more than the few days or weeks required to discover its gross inadequacies."" He would like to show not only why intelligent people joined and stayed, but also that they struggled to create a party appropriate to American conditions. In all of this, he fails completely. What he has produced instead is a chronicle of the leadership struggle between Earl Browder, who championed the Party's united front strategy, and William Z. Foster, Browder's nemesis and advocate of a narrower, more doctrinally pure approach. The ups and downs of this pair, moreover, are directly related to the needs, wishes, and desires of Moscow, which first elevated Browder and then shot him down (""Browderism"" became a term of derision). Isserman argues that the united front tactics dictated by Moscow, whereby the Party was to ally with others against fascism, provided the opportunity for the American Communists to come out of the closet and practice a type of politics that was more ""American"" than their previous semi-clandestine activity. That argument is undercut here, however, by Isserman's need to depict the party's slavish and stupid adherence to Moscow's whims: no one has yet been able to recount Communist flip-flops engendered by the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and its subsequent abrogation, without making the party member look silly and despicable; and neither is Isserman. He tells a story of Browder giving a speech to 20,000 members in New York one night, and after the speech had been set to run in the next-day's Daily Worker, receiving word from Moscow changing the party's line. Browder then gave an ""exclusive"" interview which ran on page one and contradicted the speech buried inside. There is a story to be told of the kind Isserman wants to tell; but his concentration on leaders, and the ever-present line from Moscow, make this a disappointment.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1982
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press