Intimations of Things to Come
By the summer of 1939 the Communist Party of the United States had reason to be pleased with itself. Only ten years earlier it lay in the slough of despond. It then admitted to a membership of only 10,000 or so and was making little headway among the dispossessed whom it championed-- workers, blacks, the poor in general. Why was obvious. American capitalism was simply too successful. And so, the Great Depression, when it struck, caught the party off guard as much as it did the capitalists and the politicians and everyone else, but the party quickly recovered and engaged in widespread protests that brought it a good deal of notoriety. But the gains it made, impressive only if compared to pre-Depression days, were disappointing under the circumstances: for example, as of 1935 it could claim no more than a three-fold increase in members and did no better among industrial workers, small farmers, and minorities, despite the quite heroic struggles it had been conducting in their behalf. Why then did the Communist Party suddenly prosper, becoming the supreme force on the far left, with its membership rolls, its army of fellow travelers, well-wishers and hangers-on, its trade unions, its front organizations and auxiliaries, its influence on culture and the arts, having swelled beyond its most sanguine anticipations? Why this suddenly occurred in the latter half of the decade helps explain its peculiar vulnerability to McCarthyism and so requires further discussion.