Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview

menace of Hitlerism and Mussolini fascism, Pete and the Party had spoken up, even when it was not popular to do so.

Pete and his comrades understood that his election arose out of a complex of historic circumstances. Without the great mass movements, particularly the unemployment struggles, the surge of unionization typified by the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the battles of the Black people, the exposure of the scandal-ridden Tammany machines and the growth of political independence, Pete's victory would have been impossible.

Even these factors were not the complete answer, however. After all, there were other periods of great upheaval and enormous activity by Communists without Communist electoral triumphs. What was decisive in 1941 was the Communist Party and its policy of the united front. The application of the united front policy to the electoral scene, with its strong currents of independence from the two old parties -- and the democratic advance of proportional representation -- made the difference.

Communists had long stressed the need for unity, particularly among the workers. In the twenties, the Communists and especially William Z. Foster, who came out of the trade union movement, called for amalgamation of existing craft unions, for industrial unionism and for independent political action through a labor party or a farmer-labor party. It carried on an unceasing criticism of the reward-your-friends-and-punish-your- enemies political philosophy of AF of L President Samuel Gompers and his successors, a policy which wound up with support of the two old parties.

What had been largely ignored in the so-called prosperity twenties had a new ring in the depression thirties, especially when one looked at Europe where Adolph Hitler, backed by heavy industry, had come to power in Germany at the head of a jack-booted horde. While Britain and France stood by mute -- some circles in both countries even applauded -- Hitler shrieked imprecations against the Soviet Union, communism, Marxism, the Jews and "degenerate democracy." Communists, Socialists, trade unionists, Jews, liberal Catholics and pacifist Protestants were hounded, imprisoned, tortured and killed. The holocaust was on, and over the land of Goethe and Schiller the swastika fluttered, and schoolchildren greeted teachers each morning with "Heil Hitler!"

It was in this lowering political landscape that the Communist Party's fight for the united front took on new meaning and vitality. Georgi

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