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Marx’s Disenchanted Salesman
December 1971 | Volume 23, Issue 1
No, not so many. Very few. A few hundred American intellectuals who had been Soviet fellow travellers under the illusion that the Soviet Union was a sort of godfather for American international relations and would bail America out of the war danger. I never had that illusion.
How did you arrive at the decision to endorse the pact? What was the logic behind it?
That the Soviet Union was only trying to do what America had already done: opt out of the coming war. They were trying to copy American isolationism.
What was your reaction to the ridicule that was heaped on you and the party as a result of your endorsement of the pact?
I thought it was very unfair and very cockeyed in its view of international politics. It was very unreal. I never expected the Soviet Union to go into a war against Hitler while America stayed out of it. I proposed that America get into the war against Germany in cooperation with the Soviet Union and England and anyone else we could pick up.
What were your personal feelings about Stalin and the other Soviet leaders?
I was very confused at that time. I wasn’t sure who was responsible for the difficulties in the Soviet Union. I didn’t blame Stalin at the time. I agreed with Truman, who during the war spoke of “Dear Old Joe” and “Good Old Joe.” He said that he [Stalin] was a prisoner of the Politb’fcro. Well, it turned out that the politburo was a prisoner of Joe. But if Truman couldn’t know that, you couldn’t expect the secretary of the American Communist Party to know it.
During the late thirties rumors were already abroad about the purges m Russia. What was your reaction to those rumors?
I didn’t know what to think about them. As they were most zealously propagated by the enemies of the Soviet Union I didn’t place much faith in them. I learned about the purges from Khrushchev’s speech [the 1957 speech to the party congress]. I couldn’t believe the stories coming from any other source because they’d said so many things I knew were lies about Stalin. So I didn’t know about the real crimes of Stalin, which were mostly against the Russian people.
You were, during much of the time that you headed the parly, regarded by a great many people as being practically a Soviet agent.
I was a follower of Stalin in the international Communist movement.
But weren’t you subjected to some abuse as a result of your position? During the 1936 election campaign, for example, weren’t you jailed at one point?
Oh yes. I was even subjected to mob action in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Tampa, Florida. [Browder was imprisoned in Terre Haute for “vagrancy” immediately after stepping off the train. On a subsequent campaign stop there demonstrators pelted him with tomatoes and rotten eggs. In Tampa a Browder rally was disrupted when “rowdies” overturned the speaker’s platform.]
Did your faith in the American people wane as a result of this?
No. It was never a reflection of mass sentiment. It was all concocted by small minority groups.
Was there any substance to the charge that you were more concerned with the interests of the Soviet Union than with those of the United States?
There can’t be a simple yes or no answer to that. There were historical grounds for suspecting that we were antiAmerican under Soviet influence. In the sense of our being puppets of the Soviets, that was a caricature in the public mind. As a matter of fact, while I was secretary of the Communist Party, I had a good deal of leeway, I never felt much pressure from the Soviet Union until the final pressure came, and it came as a simple dragooning me out of the Communist movement.
Did you ever influence Soviet policy toward the L mied States?
Yes. On a number of occasions. In 1936, for example, when Roosevelt ran for the second term, the Russians wanted the American Communists to endorse him. I opposed it and won the Russians over finally, on the grounds that if it were possible to endanger Roosevelt, that would do it. An endorsement would lose him more votes than it would gain him. And so I became the [Communist] candidate for President upon the understanding that I was to campaign in such a way as to support Roosevelt in fact.
Why did the Russians want Roosevelt to win?
Because it was to their interest. They needed Roosevelt then. They needed him as a counterweight to Hitler, who was the greatest menace to the existence of the Soviet Union at that time.
What were your personal feelings about Roosevelt as a man and as a leader?