IT IS Possible to say many true things about the American Communist movement and yet not the whole truth. It is possible to be right about a part and yet wrong about the whole. The most contradictory things can be true--at different times and in different places.
After almost forty years, the Communist movement is like a museum of radical politics. In its various stages, it has virtually been all things to all men. All kinds of men and women have been able to find in it almost anything they have wanted to find.
In political terms, it has been "Left" and "Right," "sectarian" and "opportunist," "extremist" and "moderate." It has been a small sect and a rather large organization. It has been almost totally isolated from American life, and it has enjoyed broad influence out of all proportion to its numbers. It has operated under illegal, underground conditions, and it has flourished legally and openly. It has been shunned by other parties and groups, and its support has been welcomed by the most powerful and respectable institutions. The outward appearance and behavior of individual Communists, the discipline and type of activity expected of them in the party, the very language or expressions in vogue from time to time, have changed sharply with the changing political "line."
There are many ways of trying to understand such a movement, but the first task is historical. In some respects, there is no other