Celebrating 90 years of the CPUSA: A kid in a candy store

The Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA) is currently celebrating its ninetieth anniversary. September 2009 through September 2010 marks a year-long commemoration of nine decades of struggle for socialism, equality, democracy and peace.

While many Communist Party districts, clubs and members have already begun celebrating the CPUSA’s 90th Anniversary, January 2010 marks the beginning of a series of weekly articles and/or interviews that aim to celebrate 90 years of struggle.

The series will utilize archival documents (photos, fliers, personal correspondence, posters, Party publications, etc.) from the CPUSA archives donated to Tamiment Library at New York University, as well as archival documents from other sources across the country. Additionally, the series will include video interviews of CPUSA members – veterans and new members alike – as well as articles highlighting the People’s World and Mundo Popular print predecessors, the Daily World, Voz del Pueblo and the People’s Weekly World, among other CPUSA-sponsored publications.

The CPUSA has a rich, proud history. While this series is historical in scope, it does not aim to be comprehensive. Rather, it aims to provide a snapshot, a glimpse into some key moments of struggle that defined people’s lives and our history.

Below is the first in our series.

When I was first asked to coordinate the 90th Anniversary work for the Communist Party USA, I wasn’t sure what to expect, what direction to go in, or how much work would be involved. As a working-class kid from St. Louis, Mo., who prides himself on being an avid reader of party history, I couldn’t wait to get started. In other words, I was really, really excited.

However, my excitement could not prepare me for the treasure trove of documents, pamphlets, posters, photos, personal correspondence, official party communications, minutes of meetings, etc. that I will have the pleasure of thumbing through. In fact, as I stared hour after hour into a microfilm screen at NYU’s Tamiment Library I had to remind myself to take a break, to let my eyes rest, to drink a little water and grab a bite to eat.

You see, for me coordinating the 90th Anniversary work for the CPUSA isn’t an assignment. It’s not work. It’s like I’m a kid in a candy store.

How could I not be excited? Before my eyes were:

A 1952 letter from William Pennock, president of the Washington State Pension Union, to CPUSA leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn regarding her “shameful and outrageous” imprisonment during the McCarthy era. Pennock writes in his letter, “I can’t tell you where Elizabeth Gurley Flynn leaves off and the people begin.”

A 1947 letter addressed to Secretary of State Marshall from CPUSA General Secretary Eugene Dennis demanding that the U.S. government adhere to the Bill of Rights.

A Luzerne County, PA Communist Party flier detailing the ‘Real Meaning of the 4th of July.’

A communication from the CPUSA Central Committee regarding the Scottsboro Boys and the International Labor Defense. It urges the “intensification of the defense movement.” “At all mass meetings…take up the present status of the Scottsboro case, pass resolutions demanding that the trial be held in Birmingham, the unconditional release of the boys and the safeguarding of their lives. Send all resolutions and telegrams to Governor B.M. Miller, Montgomery, Alabama.”

A 1947 letter from New York City Communist Councilman Pete Cacchione urging voters to support fellow communists Israel Anter, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Benjamin Davis in their respective electoral campaigns.

A California Communist Party flier detailing a ‘Victory Program for California Women’ that includes demands for the establishment of child care centers, training programs for women in industry, equal pay for equal work, industrial safety and health safeguards and a housing program.

A series of fliers from St. Louis, MO (my hometown) about the first African American women running for city office – Mary Lewis, a member of the Communist Party.

As may be obvious, the final example has a deep, personal resonance. As a young Party activist, I’m told stories of how the Communist Party in St. Louis led the struggle to desegregate Sears Roebucks, Wagner Electric and Washington University. I heard mention of people like William ‘Red’ Davis, William Sentner and Herschel Walker.

And I was told stories of how the Communist Party ran the first African American woman for city office in St. Louis.

But now I know her name! It was Mary Lewis. The first African American woman to run for city office in St. Louis was a Communist by the name of Mary Lewis. She has a story! Maybe one day someone will tell her whole story, her trials and tribulations; the racism, sexism and anti-communism she confronted.

However incomplete, over the next couple of months we hope to tell part Mary Lewis’ story, and part of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s story, and part of Eugene Dennis’ story, and part of other communists’ stories – leaders and rank and file members alike. We plan to tell stories, to humanize the face of the thousands of faceless union members, activists, community leaders, communists who struggled so tirelessly for socialism, equality, democracy and peace.

We hope to celebrate their lives and their struggles and in the process celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the Communist Party USA.



Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.