WHEN I began this work, I knew little of the history of the first ten years of the American Communist movement. I assumed that the "real" history of American Communism had begun with the economic depression of the early nineteen-thirties. Originally I conceived of writing the whole story in one volume, of which the opening chapter would briefly outline the party's "prehistory" from 1919 to 1929.
But the more I studied the party's actions and policies from 1930 to 1945, the period on which I had intended to concentrate, the more dissatisfied I became. It gradually became clear to me that the controlling forces and motivations of the chief characters in the story could not be understood from the actions and policies of the Popular Front and war years. At every crisis and turning point, such as the outbreak of war in 1939 or the downfall of Earl Browder in 1945, the leaders seemed to be responding to influences and pressures out of the distant past rather than in the immediate present.
What were those influences and pressures? And how far in the past?
With some reluctance, I began to search for a deeper understanding of the entire movement by learning more about the party in the late nineteen-twenties, then in the early nineteen-twenties, and finally about its remote origins. It was for me a voyage of discovery because I found scholarly exploration almost completely lacking, sources uncollected and often unknown, and most of the available material encrusted with personal bias and political propaganda.