Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chapter One: Early American Class Struggles (1793-1848)

1. Early American Class Struggles  (1793-1848)

The history of the Communist Party of
the United States is the history of the vanguard party of the American
working class. It is the story and analysis of the origin, growth, and
development of a working class political party of a new type, called
into existence by the epoch of imperialism, the last stage of
capitalism, and by the emergence of a new social system—Socialism. It is
the record of a Party which through its entire existence of more than
three decades has loyally fought for the best interests of the American
working class and its allies—the Negro people, the toiling farmers, the
city middle classes—who are the great majority of the American people.
It is the life of a Party destined to lead the American working class
and its allies to victory over the monopoly warmongers and fascists, to a
people's democracy and socialism.

The life story of the Communist Party is
also the history of Marxism for a century in the United States. The
C.P.U.S.A. is the inheritor and continuer of the many American Marxist
parties and organizations which preceded it during this long period. It
incorporates in itself the lessons of generations of political struggle
by the working class; of the world experience of the First, Second, and
Third Internationals; of the writings of the great Socialist
theoreticians, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin; and of the great revolutions
in Russia, China, and Central and Eastern Europe. It is also the
continuation and culmination of American scientific, democratic, and
artistic culture, embracing and carrying forward all that is sound and
constructive in the works of Franklin, Jefferson, Douglass, Lincoln,
Morgan, Edison, Twain, Dreiser, and a host of American thinkers,
writers, and creators.

The Party history is the record of the
American class struggle, of which it is a vital part. It is the story,
in general, of the growth of the working class; the abolition of slavery
and emancipation of the Negro People; the building of the trade union
and farmer movements; the numberless strikes and political struggles of
the toiling masses; and the growing political alliance of workers,
Negroes, farmers, and intellectuals. The Party is the crystallization of
the best in all these rich democratic and revolutionary traditions of
the people; it is the embodiment of the toilers' aspirations for freedom
and a better life.

The story of the Communist Party is also
necessarily the history, in outline, of American capitalism. It is the
account and analysis of the revolutionary liberation from British
domination and establishment of the Republic, the expansion of the
national frontiers, the development of industry and agriculture, the
armed overthrow of the southern slavocracy, the recurring economic
crises, the brutal exploitation of the workers, the poles of wealth and
poverty, the growth of monopoly and development of imperialism, the
savage robbery of the colonial peoples, the great world wars, the
barbarities of fascism, the bid of American imperialism for world
domination, the fight of the people for world peace, the general crisis
of capitalism, and the development of the world class struggle, under
expanding Marxist-Leninist leadership, toward socialism.


The American Revolution of 1776, which
Lenin called one of the "great, really liberating, really revolutionary
wars,"1 began the history of the modern capitalist United States. It was
fought by a coalition of merchants, planters, small farmers, and white
and Negro toilers. It was led chiefly by the merchant capitalists, with
the democratic masses doing the decisive fighting. The Revolution, by
establishing American national independence, shattered the restrictions
placed upon the colonial productive forces by England; it freed the
national market and opened the way for a speedy growth of trade and
industry; it at least partially broke down the feudal system of land
tenure; and it brought limited political rights to the small farmers and
also to the workers, who were mostly artisans, but it did not destroy
Negro chattel slavery. And for the embattled Indian peoples the
Revolution produced only a still more vigorous effort to strip them of
their lands and to destroy them.

The Revolution also had far-reaching
international repercussions. It helped inspire the people of France to
get rid of their feudal tyrants; it stimulated the peoples of Latin
America to free themselves from the yoke of Spain and Portugal; and it
was an energizing force in the world wherever the bourgeoisie, supported
by the democratic masses, were fighting against feudalism. The
Revolution was helped to success by the assistance given the rebelling
colonies by France, Spain, and Holland, as well as by revolutionary
struggles taking place currently in Ireland and England.

The Revolution was fought under the
broad generalizations of the Declaration of Independence, written by
Thomas Jefferson, which called for national independence and freedom for
all men. It declared the right of revolution and the dominance of the
secular over the religious in government. But these principles meant
very different things to the several classes that carried through the
Revolution. To the merchants they signified their rise to dominant power
and an unrestricted opportunity to exploit the rest of the population.
To the planters they implied the continuation and extension of their
slave system. To the farmers they meant free access to the broad public
lands. To the workers they promised universal suffrage, more democratic
liberties, and a greater share in the wealth of the new land. And to the
oppressed Negroes they brought a new hope of freedom from the misery
and sufferings of chattel bondage.

The Constitution, as originally
formulated in 1787, and as adopted in the face of powerful opposition,
consisted primarily of the rules and relationships agreed upon by the
ruling class for the management of the society which they controlled.
The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the Constitution,
providing for freedom of speech, press, and assembly, religious liberty,
trial by jury, and other popular democratic liberties, was written into
the Constitution in 1791 under heavy mass pressure.2

Great as were the accomplishments of the
Revolution, it nevertheless left unsolved many bourgeois-democratic
tasks. These unfinished tasks constituted a serious hindrance to the
nation's fullest development. The struggle to solve these questions in a
progressive direction made up the main content of United States history
for the next three-quarters of a century. Among the more basic of these
tasks, were the abolition of slavery, the opening up of the broad
western lands to settlement, and the deepening and extension of the
democratic rights of the people. The main post-revolutionary fight of
the toiling masses, in the face of fierce reactionary opposition, was
aimed chiefly at preserving and extending their democratic rights won in
the Revolution.

It was a great post-revolutionary
political rally of these democratic forces that brought Jefferson to the
presidency in 1800. Coming to power on a program of wresting the
government from the hands of the privileged few, Jefferson sought to
create a democracy based primarily upon the small farmers, but excluding
the Negroes. From this fact many have drawn the erroneous conclusion
that his policies were a brake on American industrial development.
Actually, however, by the abolition of slavery in the North, the opening
up of public lands, the battle against British "dumping" in America,
and the extension of the popular franchise, all during Jefferson's
period, the growth of the country's economy was greatly facilitated.

The extraordinary rapidity of the United
States' economic advance in the decades following the victorious
revolution was to be ascribed to a combination of several favorable
factors, including the presence of vast natural resources, the relative
absence of feudal economic and political remnants, the shortage of labor
power, the constant flow of immigrants, and the tremendous extent of
territory under one government. Another, most decisive factor was the
immense stretch of new land awaiting capitalist development, the opening
up of which played a vital part for decades in the economic and
political growth of the country. It absorbed a vast amount of capital;
it largely shaped the workers' ideology and also the progress and forms
of the labor movement; and it was a main bone of contention between the
rival, struggling classes of industrialists and planters. As Lenin, a
close student of American agriculture, noted, "That peculiar feature of
the United States ... the availability of unoccupied free land" explains
"the extremely wide and rapid development of capitalism in the United


The swiftness of the industrial growth
of the United States was matched by that of the working class. In
pre-revolutionary days the stable part of the free working class was
largely made up of skilled craftsmen—ship-builders, building mechanics,
tailors, shoemakers, bakers, and so on—who inherited much of the
European guild system, with its relations of masters and journeymen. The
shift of the center of production from home to mill, however, and the
development of the factory system, especially after the war of 1812,
revolutionized the status of American labor. The development of the
national market enabled the budding capitalists, with their expanding
factories and large crews of workers, soon to replace the master
craftsmen employing only a few mechanics at the bench. The new
capitalists resorted to the most ruthless exploitation of the workers,
which included huge numbers of women and children, and they displaced
skilled labor by machinery.

The conditions of the workers in this
period were abominable. The hours of labor extended from sun-up to
sun-down—13 to 16 hours per day. Wages were often no more than a dollar a
day for men, and far less for women and children. In the shops the
workers were subjected to the worst boss tyranny. Health conditions were
unspeakable, and safety precautions totally absent. The workers also
had no protection whatever against the hazards of unemployment,
accidents, sickness, and old age.   When they could not pay their way,
they were thrown into debtors' prisons—as late as 1833 there were 75,000
workers in these monstrous jails. Irish immigrants and free Negro
workers were employed building turnpikes and canals, and they died like
flies in the swamps.

The workers were faced with the
alternatives of going west, of submitting to the harsh conditions of
this work, or of fighting back. Inasmuch as the great bulk could not
afford the expense of going west and taking up land, they stood and
fought the exploiters. Mostly their struggles, at first, were in the
shape of blind, spontaneous strikes. But soon they learned, particularly
the skilled workers, that in order to fight effectively they needed
organization. The trade union movement began to take shape, and strikes
multiplied. But the employers struck back viciously, using the old
English common law, which branded as "conspiracies" all "combinations"
(organizations) to improve wages and other conditions of work.

Before the 1819 economic crisis there
were already many unions in various trades and cities. During that
industrial crash these early unions collapsed, but no sooner had
industrial conditions begun to improve again when the workers, with
ever-greater energy and clearer understanding, resumed the building of
their unions. The next decade saw very important strikes of the new-born
labor movement.

The unions, in this early period, began
to extend into many new occupations and to combine into city-wide
federations. By 1836 such union centers existed in 13 of the major
seaboard cities. The unskilled were also being increasingly drawn into
the movement. A high point in the rising labor movement was reached in
1833-37, when 173 strikes were recorded—chiefly for better wages and the
shorter workday. During these years, in March 1834, the National Trades
Union, the workers' first attempt at a general labor federation, was
organized. It lasted three years.4

The panic of 1837 again wiped out most
of the trade unions, yet the great struggles of the 20's and 30's had
produced lasting results. In addition to the 10-hour day gains,
imprisonment for debt was abolished, a mechanics' lien law passed, a
common school system set up in the North, and property qualifications
for voting as yet only by whites in the North "were practically


The workers of young America, oppressed
by ruthless exploiters, had been quick to learn the value of trade
unionism, and the most advanced among them also saw early the necessity
for political action on class lines. They realized that it was not
enough that they had the voting franchise; they had to organize to use
it effectively.

Bourgeois historians have coined the
theory that the American workers historically have resorted alternately
to economic or political action, as they lost faith in one form and
turned to the other. The facts show, however, as indicated by these
early American experiences, that the same working class upsurge that
produced great economic struggles, also found its expression in various
forms of political activity. Thus, the city of Philadelphia, the first
to build a labor union, to organize a central labor body, and to call a
general strike, was also the starting place for the first labor party in
the United States.

The call for a political party issued by
the Philadelphia labor unions in 1828 declared that "The mechanics and
working men of the city and county of Philadelphia are determined to
take the management of their own interests, as a class, in their own
immediate keeping."5 The New York Workingmen's Party was launched a year
later, and during the years 1828-34, some 61 local labor parties were
established, with 50 labor newspapers. These local parties, despite
ferocious attacks from the employers, made many gains such as the
10-hour day on public works, the free public schools, and limitations on
the labor of women and children. The workers dovetailed this political
struggle with the economic battles of the trade unions. But within a few
years the local parties had passed out of existence.6

Although these local labor parties did
not develop into a permanent national organization, they nevertheless
prepared the ground for the next phase of the political struggles on a
national scale—the farmer-labor alliance that formed around Andrew
Jackson during the 1830's. Labor, although still weak, was particularly
attracted to support Jackson, the frontiersman president, because of his
vigorous attacks upon the United States Bank, the darling project of
the budding capitalists of the time. This movement in support of Jackson
was the beginning of labor's organized functioning in the support of
bourgeois political parties, a policy which was to become of decisive
importance in later decades. The disappearance of the early labor-party
movement was to be ascribed to various reasons. The local parties were
torn by internal dissension, cultivated by outside politicians, who
sought either to lead them back to the bourgeois parties or else to
destroy them. They were undermined also by political confusion,
engendered by various schemes and panaceas of Utopian reformers. They
were subjected, too, to extreme attacks from the reactionaries on moral
and religious grounds. Besides, the major bourgeois parties, largely for
purposes of demagogy, took over much of their program. Underlying all
these weaknesses, however, was the basic fact that the continued
existence of the frontier made possible the persistence of Jeffersonian
illusions and prejudices which prevented the development of a stable
working class and the establishment of an independent class political


The American labor movement entered the
industrial era with a Jeffersonian ideology inherited from the agrarian
and colonial past. The mass of workers who took part in the struggles of
the 1820's and 30's of the immature working class, could not and did
not raise the question of the overthrow of the existing social order.
Their fight, instead, was directed toward realizing the promises of
1776, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. They held
tenaciously to the concept of a government representing the interests of
all the people. They saw the solution of their problems, not in
changing the existing order, but in improving and democratizing it.

The workers predominantly held the
Jeffersonian theory of democracy. This was largely the adaptation to
American conditions of John Locke's conceptions of "natural rights" and
"equalitarianism." These ideas, seized upon by the revolutionary
bourgeoisie in its struggle against feudalism, had become the dominant
ideology of the Revolution and as such were absorbed by the workers. The
great influence of the Declaration of Independence upon working class
thinking during the pre-Civil War decades was evidenced by the
repetition of its language and form in many union constitutions and

But the bitter capitalist exploitation
soon began to give a different class content to the outlook of the
working class. The workers' demand for equality was no longer limited to
formal equality at the ballot box; it was also directed against
economic inequality and exploitation. Crude but penetrating attacks upon
the capitalist system began to be formulated in proletarian circles.

"We are prepared to maintain," said the
Mechanics' Free Press of Philadelphia, "that all who toil have a natural
and inalienable right to reap the fruits of their own industry, and
that they who labor ... are the authors of every comfort, convenience,
and luxury."7 The Workingmen's Political Association of Penn Township,
Pennsylvania, declared that "There appears to exist two distinct
classes, rich and poor, the oppressors and the oppressed, those that
live by their own labor and those that live by the labor of others."8
The Workingmen's Advocate of New York demanded a revolution which would
leave behind it no trace of the government responsible for the workers'
hardships.9 And Thomas Skidmore, one of the most famous radicals of the
times, proposed a co-operative society which would "compel all men,
without exception, to labor as much as others must labor for the same
amount of enjoyment, or in default thereof, to be deprived of such
enjoyment altogether."10 The land reform theory of George Henry Evans
fell under this general head. Many poets and writers—Thoreau, Whittier,
Emerson, and others—expressed similar radical ideas.

These anti-capitalist expressions
represented a groping of the masses for a program of working class
emancipation. But they lacked a scientific foundation and a firm set of
working principles. It was the historical role of Marxism to give the
needed clarity and purpose to this early proletarian theoretical revolt
and to raise it to the level of scientific socialism.


The crisis of 1837, and the twelve long
years of depression that followed it, profoundly influenced the thinking
of labor and the progressive intellectuals. In their search for a way
out of the bitter evils which encompassed them, many advanced beyond the
limits of capitalism proper. In the face of the reduced standards of
the workers, the sufferings of the unemployed, and the general paralysis
of industry, they concluded that what was needed was a new social
system which would end the exploitation and oppression of the many by
the few. Lacking a scientific analysis of the laws of capitalist
society, however, they had no recourse but to devise or support various
ingeniously concocted plans for newsocial orders. Thus was initiated an
era of Utopian experiments.

While these Utopian schemes originated
mainly in Europe, they were most extensively developed in the United
States. At least 200 such projects were undertaken within a few years.
American soil was particularly inviting for them. There was ample land
to be had cheaply; the people were burdened with few feudal political
restrictions; and the masses, near in experience to the great
Revolution, were readily inclined to try social change and

Indeed, America, long before this time,
had already had considerable experience with co-operative regimes. The
Indian tribes all over the western hemisphere had been organized on a
primitive communal basis.11 Also the colonies in both Virginia and
Massachusetts, during their early critical years, practiced some sharing
in common of the general production.12 And from 1776 on numerous
European religious societies, on a primitive communal basis—Shakers,
Rappites, Zoarites, Ebenezers, Bethel-ites, Perfectionists, etc.—took
root in the United States and expanded widely. But the three Utopian
schemes most important in the pre-Civil War era were those of Robert
Owen, a Scotsman, and Charles Fourier and Etienne Cabet, both

Owen, a humanitarian industrialist,
planning to found a society in which all the workers would own the means
of production and where there would be no exploitation, came to the
United States in 1824 and established co-operative colonies in New
Harmony, Indiana, and also in a few other places. At first these
enterprises attracted wide attention, but by 1828 they had all perished.
Owen was invited to speak to Congress. In 1845 he called an
international Socialist convention in New York, but it amounted to very

The Fourierist Utopians made even more
of a stir than the Owenites. Differing from Owen, who abolished private
property rights, Fourier preserved individual ownership. Unlike Owen
also, Fourier considered industry an unmitigated evil and relied upon an
agrarian, handicraft economy. The Fourierists, with the support of such
prominent figures Albert Brisbane, Horace Greeley, James Russell
Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, and Henry Thoreau, during
the 1840's set up some forty "Phalanxes," or colonies. The most famous
of these was Brook Farm, near Boston. By 1850, however, the movement had
virtually disappeared. The Cabet, or Icarian movement established its
first agrarian colony Texas, in 1848. Various others were soon set up in
Missouri and Iowa.

Some of these co-operative ventures
lingered on in skeleton form until as late as the 1890's. During this
same general period Wilhelm Weitling, a German immigrant worker, tried,
with but little success, to establish a utopian-conceived labor exchange
bank, from which the workers would receive certificates to the full
value of their product. It was Weitling's idea that this scheme would
gradually replace capitalist production; but it soon went the way of all
such enterprises.

In the 1840's and 1850's a big movement
also developed toward producers' and consumers' co-operatives, which the
numerous Utopians advanced as a social cure-all. Many of the great crop
of land reformers of the period were also filled with grandiose
conceptions of fundamental social change, largely of a Utopian
character. Even as late as the 1890's traces of this agrarian utopianism
were still to be observed, as for example, in the Debs colonization
schemes  (see page 94).

The many Utopian colonies and movements
which sprang up in the pre-Civil War period eventually died out because
they were not based upon the realities of material conditions or upon an
understanding of society and its laws of growth and decay. They were
constructed according to arbitrary plans, emanating from wishful
thinking. These little island colonies were artificial creations and
could not survive in the midst of the broad capitalist sea, which
inevitably engulfed them one and all. They proved, among other things,
that it is impossible "to build the new society within the shell of the
old."  The  more  definitely Utopian schemes, with the exception of
Weitling's, never greatly attracted the workers, who turned to more
practical projects, such as trade unionism and political action. They
were mostly anti-slavery, but they had few Negro members. The supporters
of the various Utopias consisted chiefly of white farmers and city
middle class elements.

The great European Utopian leaders, with
their artificially constructed social regimes and ignorance of the
leading role of the workers, could not lay the foundations of a solid
Socialist movement. Nevertheless, they performed a very useful service
for the workers by their sharp condemnations of capitalist exploitation.
As Marx and Engels pointed out, they were definitely the forerunners of
scientific socialism. And as Engels said: "German theoretical socialism
will never forget that it rests upon the shoulders of St. Simon,
Fourier, and Owen, the three who, in spite of their fantastic notions
and utopianism, belonged to the most significant heads of all time, and
whose genius anticipated numerous things, the correctness of which can
now be proved in a scientific way."

This, briefly, was the course of the
class struggle in this country before the rise of Marxism. The workers
were with increasing vigor combating their exploiters economically,
politically, and ideologically, but in this fight, because of the youth
of capitalism, the working class still lacked the class consciousness,
energizing force, and clear direction, which finally was to manifest
itself in the Communist Party.

1 Herbert M. Morais, The Struggle for American Freedom, pp. 254-57, N. Y., 1944.

2 V. I. Lenin, Capitalism and Agriculture in the United States, p. 40. N. Y., 1946.

3. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, pp. 97-180, N.Y., 1947.

4 Mechanics' Free Press, Philadelphia, Aug. 16, 1828, cited by Foner,  History  of the Labor Movement in the U.S., p. 127.

5 Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the U.S., pp. 121-41.

6Mechanics' Free Press, Oct. 25, 1828.

7Mechanics' Free Press, June 5, 1830,
cited by John R. Commons and associates, History of Labor in the United
States, Vol. 1, p. 193, N. Y., 1918.

8The Working Man's Advocate, Oct. 31, 1829, cited by Commons, History of Labor in the U.S., Vol. 1, p. 238.

9Thomas Skidmore, The Rights of Man to Property, p. 6, N. Y., 1829.

10 Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society, Chicago, 1907.

11 Richard T. Ely, The Labor Movement in America, pp. 7-8, Boston, 1886.

12 Charles Nordhoff, The Communist Societies of the United States, N. Y., 1875.

13  Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, p. 28, N. Y., 1926.

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