Marx’s Disenchanted Salesman

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I liked Roosevelt. He was a man working under great pressures and great handicaps and succeeding. He was putting across his points. I never met him, so I don’t know how we would have gotten along together, but I never met Stalin either.

Didn’t Roosevelt attack you during the campaign of 1936?

Not very viciously. And Truman—that was in ’48 wasn’t it?—accepted the Communist Party’s endorsement on behalf of the administration.

Would you agree with those historians who say that P.D.R. saved America for capitalism?

That’s right.

You say you never knew Roosevelt personally. Were you acquainted with any of the Establishment political figures of the time?

Yes, I knew a great many of them and was close friends with several. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, [Elbert D.] Thomas of Utah, I knew him quite well.

Were you in contact with any members of the Roosevelt administration?

Not in regular contact. I saw some of them from time to time when I was called upon to appear in Washington before various congressional committees.

Did you find them politically compatible with you?

In some areas. In 1940, when we were espousing a policy of nonintervention in Europe, a great many people in the administration supported us in that position, along with most of the people in the country. I won’t name them because there’s no sense in causing them embarrassment in retrospect.

How active was the Communist Party in the labor movement?

Very active. That was our main activity, union participation, mostly with the C.I.O., when it was independent. We were a big influence there, sometimes the predominant influence.

How did the party gam a foothold in unions?

We had been driven out of the A.F. of L. before we reached the thirties, and by the thirties we were winning our way back in. But when the C.I.O. came along we joined forces with them, although we always maintained vestiges of interest in the A.F. of L.

The enemies of the Communists in the early labor movement were the ones who brought the Communists back. For example, John L. Lewis. He was the main enemy of the Communists and practically obliterated the Communists in the miners’ union, but in the general labor movement he brought us back in. And we were the best organizers.

Were the Communist union people of that time fervent revolutionaries?

No. They were what now would be labelled trade-union Communists—trade unionists first and Communists as a secondary matter, Democrats in practical politics.

Most of your rank-and-file supported Roosevelt?

Yes.

What was the party’s role m the civil-rights activities of the period? Did it have a position on black people?

The Communists were the first to initiate organized action on behalf of the blacks. The [Angelo] Herndon Case and the Scottsboro Case in the early thirties established that. It was through those cases that we got the original Supreme Court decisions that paved the way for the modern movement that began with the desegregation of education [in 1954].

You were frequently accused of giving more attention in those cases to gaining propaganda points than to helping the defendants. Tou were even accused during the Scottsboro Case of obstructing justice. Is there any justification for such charges?

We were the ones that made the Scottsboro Case. The rest of the country would never have been interested in it if we hadn’t made it an international issue. When the others came into the case, they did so on the condition that the Communists get out of the [Joint Defense] committee. When we received satisfactory guarantees that they would take up the Scottsboro Case and we were satisfied with the attorney that they had chosen, we did that. That was against the will of the Scottsboro defendants and their families. They didn’t want us to drop the case. We didn’t drop it—we simply handed over control to the nonpartisan committee.

Was the party’s involvement in civil-rights cases primarily an effort to recruit blacks or was it based on a more basic kind of commitment?

We were always interested in the issue of civil rights, and we thought everything depended on that, including all progress whatever for America. So you can’t place one against the other.