- Paperback: 498 pages
- Publisher: Routledge (April 2, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765805138
- ISBN-13: 978-0765805133
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,328,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Roots of American Communism
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"His research has been thorough and resourceful... He never forgets that history is the history of human beings."
– Eric F. Goldman, The Progressive
"Provides the indispensable foundations for any understanding of American Communism."
– Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The New York Times
"This is an outstanding contribution to knowledge and understanding of the Communist movement in this country."
—George F. Kennan
About the Author
Theodore Draper is the author of many books on contemporary politics and international relations. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Both The Roots of American Communism and American Communism and Soviet Russia were commissioned by the Fund for the Republic series on Communism in American Life edited by Clinton Rossiter.
Top customer reviews
One reviewer condemns Earl Browder, but Browder, for all his mistakes, sought to overcome the view (and, too often, the practice) of American Communism something regular, working class Americans could identify with, not a foreign transplant, steeped in jargon and dogmatism. Browder believed, perhaps too much(?), in the United Front as a basis for building a broad, and democratic, alliance against the more reactionary, aggressive and imperialist forces within the American ruling class. Alternative leaders, like William Z. Foster, while heroic in many ways, remained too dogmatic to provide the leadership the American Left needed. (I personally loved Steve Nelson, who some were promoting for a higher leadership position during the confusion of the 1950s, but that didn't happen).
I do not know how many progressives are will (or ABLE) to study the mistakes and successes of the American CP. But this book is a good place to become familiar with the early history of the organization, presented in a fair way. One needn't agree with Draper's views on everything. He presents enough information in a fair manner so we can draw our own conclusions.
Also useful for this period in conjunction with these two volumes and to round them out, from the pro-Communist partisan perspective of one of the main leaders, is James P. Cannon's The First Ten Years of American Communism and the Prometheus Research Library's James P. Cannon and the Early Communist Movement. Absent from Mr. Draper's analysis is any real feel for why the early leaders and rank and file of the party put themselves on the line, faced harassment, imprisonment or worst to create an American Bolshevik party. While there is no dearth of memoirs of other participants in the early movement, Cannon's analysis most honestly fills that gap.
That said, why must militants read these works today? After the demise of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe anything positively related to Communist studies is deeply discounted. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the American Communist Party (and its offshoots) needs to be studied as an ultimately flawed example of a party that failed in its mission to create a radical version of society in America when it became merely a tool of Soviet diplomacy. Now is the time for militants to study the mistakes and draw the lessons of that history.
For those not familiar with this period a few helpful introductory chapters by Mr. Draper give an analysis of the forces that made up the radical scene prior to World War I. Those forces included the International Workers of the World (IWW), independent syndicalists influenced by the French movement and the anti-war left-wing of the Socialist party, including various foreign language federations. Thus, in its formative period the American party (or parties, to be more correct) gathered all those fresh elements which responded to the Bolshevik victory in Russia, saw it as the wave of the future and wanted to establish that kind of socialism here. As this writer has noted elsewhere, while those diffuse forces proved to be difficult to organize, this mix provided for a better internal party life than, say, in England where the more radical Celtic and anarcho-syndicalist elements were not recruited resulting in a `stillborn' party.
Mr. Draper also addresses the various important faction fights which occurred inside the party. To make sense of this is sometimes no simple task. That overview also highlights some of the now more obscure personalities, where they stood on the issues and insights into the significance of the crucial early fights in the party. These include questions which are still relevant today; a legal vs. an underground party; the proper attitude toward parliamentary politics; support to third party bourgeois candidates; trade union policy; class war defense as well as how to rein in the intense internal struggle of the various factions for organizational control of the party.
This presentation makes it somewhat easier for those not well-versed in the intricacies of the political disputes which wracked the early American party to understand how these questions tended to pull the party in on itself. In many ways, given the undisputed rise of American imperialism in the immediate aftermath of World War I, this is a story of the `dog days' of the party. Unfortunately, that American imperialist rise combined with the international ramifications of the internal disputes in the Russian Communist Party and in the Communist International shipwrecked the party as a revolutionary party toward the end of this period. That subject is more fully addressed in the second volume. Read this book.
One surprising point is that some members of the public misperceive Draper's motives. Several editors at a popular online encyclopedia say that Draper was a "professional anti-communist" attempting to justify his position. Actually he was a fellow traveler whose professional work included editing the Daily Worker and other communist publications. He wrote this book to clear the air after the controversies of the 1950s.