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Marx’s Disenchanted Salesman
December 1971 | Volume 23, Issue 1
Tracing your personal history, how did you first become involved in radical politics?
Through my father, who was a Socialist. I became acquainted with Eugene V. Debs and maintained contact with him until his death.
At what age did you become active m Socialist Party politics?
I joined the Socialist Party at seventeen—illegally. It was against the Socialist bylaws. They set eighteen as the age, before which you had to join the Young Socialists’ League. But I didn’t pay any attention to the niceties.
You were then active in unions?
I was active in the labor movement. Contrary to most Socialists I was active on the side of the A.F. of L. before the [First World] war. I became an organizer for the A.F. of L. Not formally. Privately I was employed by the Standard Oil Company and behind the scenes I was organizing.
Where were you in 1917-18 when the American Communist Party was formed?
I was in prison for antiwar activities. I was convicted twice: for refusing to register [for the draft] and for conspiracy against the draft law. That means that I helped arrange meetings opposing the draft. In all I spent two and a half years in prison. As soon as I got out, I joined the Communist Party, while the Comintern was still trying to unify it. It was three different parties. I joined one of them.
What were the circumstances that led to your elevation to general secretary of the party in 1930?
I think probably it was because I had been to China. [Browder had gone to China in 1926 to attend a PanPacific Trade Union meeting and was elected secretary of that organization.] I stayed in Shanghai for nearly two years, and I came to know many of the Chinese Left Wing leaders—not MaoTse-tung but others—quite well.
I had made a reputation for myself in China, so the Chinese proposed me as the American [Communist Party] secretary. There was a Russian candidate who was withdrawn when the Chinese stubbornly insisted that I be elected.
You remained the general secretary of the party from 1930. through 1945 and actually left it entirely in 1946, is that right?
Well, I broke all connections with the Russians, what I consider the decisive break, in 1950 at the outbreak of the Korean War. I felt then that there was no longer any hope of straightening out the policies of the Communists.
What led to your dismissal? Where do you think the Russians went wrong?
Oh, there’s a long history to that. There was a period when the Russians were purging the Communist parties of the world, when the term “Browderism” was an epithet that justified execution throughout the Communist movement. It was when the Russians were holding the purge trials throughout Eastern Europe.
I was identified with the Right Wing, with those who favored coexistence with the West, and then, at the beginning of the Cold War, the Russians didn’t want that.
When I was expelled, among the Leftist parties that were responsible for initiating my expulsion, and that gave the Russians strong support, was Tito’s of Yugoslavia. Later they became my best friends and they published some of my writings supportive of their policy of resisting Russia.
At the time I was expelled the leaders of the Right Wing, with whom I was identified, were the Chinese. Now they’re the symbol of Left communism that finds the Russians too tame. You can’t keep up with that kind of thing.
Did your disillusionment with the international Communist movement alter your faith in America as well?
I think this country has led world progress for years and will continue to do so.
If you were a young man today, what would your position be? Would you identify yourself with the demonstrators, with those calling for law and order, or would you fall somewhere in between the two?
I’ve never changed my mind that the policy of the United States government, whether under the Republicans or the Democrats, has consistently been wrong-headed in international politics. They’ve always chosen the wrong people as our partners. They’ve made so many mistakes of that kind over a period of years that it looks like we have an inborn natural inclination in that direction. So I never did align myself with the U.S. government.
Would you then identify yourself with the antiwar anti-Establishment demonstrators?
No. I think they’re worse than the government. They’re self-defeating. They repeat all the old mistakes.
What mistakes are those?