The Age of Unrest
THE generation to which the first American Communists belonged was tormented by intense doubt and anxiety about the state of American capitalism. The troubled conscience of this generation was fed far more by Populism and Progressivism than by socialism and syndicalism. All of them combined to create a general mood of discontent in the middle class as well as in the working class. The formative years of three typical native Communist leaders--William Z. Foster (born in 1881), Charles E. Ruthenberg (born in 1882), and Earl Browder (born in 1891)--were spent in an America deeply dissatisfied with the status quo.
For over a century and a half, every popular American movement has been openly antagonistic to or keenly critical of the course of American capitalist development. In Jefferson's time, the enemy was the fattening mercantile class. In Jackson's time, it was the monopolistic national bank and the privileged moneyed powers. After the Civil War, the trade unions, the Knights of Labor, the Greenback movement, the Single-Taxers, and many other local parties sprang up to protest in one way or another the headlong onslaught of industrialism. The chief political expression of Western economic unrest in the 1890s was Populism. James B. Weaver, the Populist presidential candidate in 1892, polled more than a million votes on a platform calling among other things for government ownership of the railroads.