Earl Russell Browder (1891–1973) was from Wichita, Kansas. He was an American political activist, functionary and leader of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Browder is best remembered as the General Secretary of the CPUSA during the 1930s and first half of the 1940s.
|Chairman of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA|
|Preceded by||William Z. Foster|
|Succeeded by||William Z. Foster|
|General Secretary of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA|
|Preceded by||Max Bedacht|
|Succeeded by||Eugene Dennis|
|Born||Earl Russell Browder
May 20, 1891
|Died||June 27, 1973
Princeton, New Jersey
|Political party||Communist Party USA|
|Spouse(s)||Raissa Berkman Browder|
|Occupation||Labor leader, politician|
|Part of a series on|
the United States
|Parties and organizations|
Earl Russell Browder (1891–1973) was from Wichita, Kansas. He was an American political activist, functionary and leader of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Browder is best remembered as the General Secretary of the CPUSA during the 1930s and first half of the 1940s.
During World War I Browder served time in federal prison as a conscientious objector to conscription and the war. Upon his release Browder became an active member of the American Communist movement, soon working as an organizer on behalf of the Communist International and its Red International of Labor Unions in China and the Pacific region.
Following the removal of Jay Lovestone as head of the CPUSA in 1929 and a short interregnum during which the party was headed by former Lovestone factional associate Max Bedacht, Browder was made General Secretary of the CPUSA. For years thereafter Browder was the most recognizable public figure associated with American Communism, authoring dozens of pamphlets and books, making numerous public speeches before sometimes vast audiences, and running for President of the United States in 1936 and 1940.
Browder also took part in clandestine activities on behalf of Soviet intelligence in America during his period of party leadership, placing those who sought to convey sensitive information to the party into contact with Jacob Golos, one of the Soviets' primary handlers of such material.
In the wake of public outrage over the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, Browder was indicted for passport fraud. He was convicted of two counts early in 1940 and sentenced to four years in prison, remaining free for a time on appeal. In the spring of 1942 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the sentence and Browder began what proved to be an 14 month stint in Federal prison. Browder was subsequently released in 1943 as a gesture towards wartime unity.
Browder was a staunch adherent of close cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II and foresaw continued cooperation between these two military powers in the postwar years. Coming to see the role of American Communists to be that of an organized pressure group within a broad governing coalition, in 1944 he directed the transformation of the CPUSA into a "Communist Political Association." However, following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Cold War and internal red scare quickly sprouted up. Browder was expelled from the re-established Communist Party in 1946, due largely to a refusal to modify these views to accord with changing political realities and their associated ideological demands.
Browder lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity at his home in Yonkers, New York, attempting with little success to influence American government policy and public opinion as the author of numerous books and pamphlets.
Earl Browder was born in Wichita, Kansas on May 20, 1891, the eighth child of an American-born father sympathetic to populism. He joined the Socialist Party of America in Wichita in 1907 at the age of 16 and remained in that organization until the party split of 1912, when many of the group's syndicalistically oriented members exited the organization in response to the addition of an anti-sabotage clause to the party constitution and the recall of National Executive Committeeman William "Big Bill" Haywood. Historian Theodore Draper notes that Browder "was influenced by an offshoot of the syndicalist movement which believed in working in the AF of L (American Federation of Labor)." This ideological orientation brought the young Browder into contact with William Z. Foster, founder of an organization called the Syndicalist League of North America which was based upon similar policies and James P. Cannon, an IWW adherent from Kansas.
Browder moved to Kansas City and was employed as an office worker, entering the AF of L union of his trade, the Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Accountants union. In 1916 he took a job as manager of the Johnson County Cooperative Association in Olathe, Kansas.
Browder was aggressively opposed to World War I and publicly spoke out against it, characterizing the fighting as an imperialist conflict. After the United States joined the war in 1917, Browder was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act conspiring to defeat the operation of the draft law and nonregistration. Browder was sentenced to 2 years in prison for conspiracy and 1 year for nonregistration, sitting in jail from December 1917 to November 1918.
In 1919, Browder, Cannon and their Kansas City associates started a radical newspaper, The Workers World, with Browder serving as the first editor. In June of that year Browder was jailed again on a conspiracy charge, however, with Cannon taking over as editor. Browder's second prison stint, served at Leavenworth Penitentiary, lasted until November 1920, putting him out of circulation during the critical interval when the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party quit the SPA to form the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party of America. A series of splits and mergers followed, with the two Communist parties formally merging in 1921.
Released from prison at last, Browder lost no time in joining the United Communist Party (UCP), as well as the fledgling Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) being launched by his old associate William Z. Foster. Browder found employment as the managing editor of the monthly magazine of TUEL, The Labor Herald.
In 1920 the Communist International (Comintern) headed by Grigory Zinoviev decided to establish an international confederation of Communist trade unions, the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU, or "Profintern"). A founding convention was planned to be held in Moscow in July 1921 and an American delegation was gathered, including members of the American Communist Parties and the Industrial Workers of the World. Earl Browder was named to this delegation, ostensibly representing Kansas miners, with the non-party man Foster attending as a journalist representing the Federated Press. This trip to Soviet Russia incidentally proved decisive in bringing the syndicalist Foster over to the Communist movement.
Throughout the early 1920s, Browder and Foster worked together closely in the TUEL, trying to win over the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor in the establishment of a new mass Farmer-Labor Party that would be able to challenge the electoral hegemony of the Republican and Democratic parties.
In 1928, the estranged Browder and his girlfriend Kitty Harris went to China and lived in Shanghai where they worked together on behalf of RILU's Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, a Comintern organization engaged in clandestine labor organizing. The pair returned to the United States in January 1929.
The year 1929 marked a major turn in the Communist Party of the United States of America. Party leader Jay Lovestone, having won a massive factional victory over the Chicago-based rival group headed by William Z. Foster at the 6th National Convention of the organization, ran afoul of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) and the ultra-radical program which the member organizations of the Comintern were instructed to pursue. Lovestone headed a 10 member delegation to Moscow to appeal his case to the American Commission of ECCI; things did not go well for him and in the squabble over autonomy Lovestone attempted a factional coup involving the seizure of party assets.
On May 17, 1929, ECCI ordered the removal of Lovestone. He was replaced on a provisional basis by a five person secretariat which included former Lovestone associate Max Bedacht as "Acting Secretary" and well as opposition factional leader and trade union chief Bill Foster; two relatively independent figures in the persons of cartoonist-turned-functionary Robert Minor and former Executive Secretary of the underground party Will Weinstone; and Comintern Representative Boris Mikhailov (pseudonym "G. Williams") as the unpublicized power behind the throne.
While the center of gravity in the leadership of the CPUSA was rapidly shifted, Browder remained largely outside of the ongoing machinations of power, continuing to function as an employee of the Comintern. In August 1929 Borwder was dispatched to Vladivostok, located in the far eastern reaches of Soviet Siberia on the Pacific coastline, to attend the final formal gathering of RILU's Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat.
Browder returned to the United States again in October 1929, just in time for a critical plenary session of the Central Committee of the American party. Allies in the Comintern had already began to promote the trusted Browder as the best figure to head the American Communist Party, with Solomon Lozovsky taking up his banner in Moscow while Mikhailov-Williams lent his support from America. Foster's credibility had been badly tarnished in Moscow as a result of his role as a leader of the frequently unprincipled factional war which had paralyzed the American party throughout the decade of the 1920s. Placing Browder — the man responsible for bringing Foster into the Communist movement — in authority was seen as a means for shifting power decisively away from the former Lovestone group without opening a new round of factional warfare which would have inevitably resulted had the mantle been given directly to Foster.
Browder deferred from the position of party Secretary, however, not feeling himself sufficiently acclimated to the political situation in the CPUSA. The October plenum therefore returned Bedacht and Minor to a collective leadership, dropping Foster and Weinstone. Weinstone was named as the new American Representative to the Comintern, replacing the recently expelled righthand man of Jay Lovestone, Bertram D. Wolfe, in the position. Browder was added to this new three member Secretariat, named head of the party's Agitation and Propaganda department.
The 4th quarter of 1929 saw the wheels fall off the wagon, marked by the October 24 Wall Street Crash and the beginning of a massive economic contraction remembered to history as the Great Depression. As head of the CPUSA's Agitprop, Browder was responsible for generating party literature intended to transform the unemployment crisis into a mass movement for revolutionary change. Browder was instrumental in planning American activities relating to International Unemployment Day, March 6, 1930 — an international day of mass protest against unemployment set in motion by the Comintern. A network of Unemployed Councils were established under Communist Party auspices.
Another change of the top level leadership of the CPUSA took place at the party's 7th National Convention of June 21–25, 1930. Max Bedacht, formerly a top figure in the hierarchy of the Lovestone faction who had only recanted his views at the 11th hour in front of the American Commission of ECCI in Moscow was removed as Secretary and moved to a less sensitive leadership role as head of the International Workers Order. A new three person Secretariat was appointed, with Browder as Secretary of the political department while Will Weinstone and Bill Foster heading the organizational and trade union departments, respectively. With Weinstone in Moscow as the CPUSA's Comintern Rep and Foster in jail for his connection with the March 6 International Unemployment Day demonstration, which had ended in street fighting in New York City, Browder's position as chief decision-maker of the party was at least temporarily bolstered.
Browder's status as the de facto first among equals among members of the Secretariat of the American CP was further emphasized at the 11th Plenum of the Comintern, held from March 26 to April 11, 1931. There it was Browder who delivered the main report of the CPUSA, indicative of his prime position in the organization.
Tension developed between the trio, with Foster seeing his long-desired place as CPUSA chief foiled by a man who had formerly been his lieutenant at the Trade Union Educational League; both the midwesterners distrusted the ambitious, college-educated New Yorker Weinstone. Browder's considerable administrative skills, his ability to intelligently defend his ideas, and his willingness to yield to others when necessary scored points for his personal cause in Moscow.
By the end of 1932 Browder's primary leadership role was consolidated. Protracted squabbling with Weinstone, returned from Moscow and anxious to once again pursue the top party leadership positions, over party policy threatened to erupt into a 1920s-style factional war. In August the Comintern Representative, sensing such a danger, advised Moscow of "some strong person" to stop the "squabbling." The third member of the Secretariat, William Z. Foster, the party's candidate for President, suffered an attack of angina pectoris and was ordered by doctors to cease campaigning and to undergo bed rest — with visitation and dictation similarly proscribed. With Foster out of the picture and a big majority of the party leadership backing him over Weinstone, Browder appealed to the Comintern to resolve what he called "impossible relations" with Weinstone by assigning one of them for Comintern work abroad.
On November 13, 1932, after extensive debate, the Comintern ruled in Browder's favor, determining that Weinstone would be removed from America to once again serve in Moscow as the CPUSA's official representative there. Moscow's vision seems to have been for a joint party leadership between Browder and Foster. The unexpected factor proved to be the chronic and incapacitating nature of Foster's heart ailment, which left Browder in a position of effective unitary leadership.
Although Weinstone had been removed from America to break up an incipient factional war, he continued to campaign for the position of party leader. In the spring of 1933 he obtained the final test of strength he had been looking for, in the form of a dozen meetings of the Comintern's Anglo-American Secretariat in Moscow spread out over 29 days. Throughout April Browder and Weinstone leveled charges and counter-charges against one another, examining the Communist Party's activities in the United States in fine detail. Despite significant criticism of certain of his actions, Browder emerged from the Moscow sessions in a firm position of authority. Weinstone, accepting defeat at last, remained in Moscow as the CPUSA's CI Rep until 1934.
While Earl Browder was one of the top leaders of American Communism during the so-called Third Period of the early 1930s, he came into his own during the interval which followed, the era of the Popular Front against fascism. With the rise of Adolf Hitler to Chancellor of Germany at the end of January 1933, the balance of power in Europe was shifted. Formerly home to one of the most powerful Communist organizations, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) was quickly and easily suppressed. The failure of the KPD to cooperate with workers adhering to the rival Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was seen by many Comintern officials as a major contributing factor to the disaster. New tactics building a broad alliance in opposition to fascism seemed to be indicated.
Browder was an enthusiastic supporter of this new party line. By the middle of 1934 the Browder-led Central Committee of the CPUSA was pushing the leaders of its youth section, the Young Communist League, to establish a working alliance with the youth section of the rival Socialist Party, the Young People's Socialist League. In the same vein, Browder himself picked up hints from Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas that joint work between Socialists and Communists might be possible on specific issues, in reply to which Browder issued a letter formally proposing a large scale united front of the two organizations.
Still imagining President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a fascist dictator in the making, Browder and the Communists began to examine their political isolation from the American working class and to envision the establishment of a new labor party which would include both Communists and Socialists within its ranks. In December 1934 Browder won Comintern approval for his scheme, arguing his case in person in Moscow. Browder returned to the United States at the end of the month, revealing his plan to a surprised party membership in a public speech delivered on January 6, 1935. The Socialist Party, for its part, remained skeptical, having been on the receiving end of more than a decade's worth of vilification and violence.
In conjunction with its newly found interest in building bridges with non-Communist progressives, the CPUSA launched potent new mass organizations such as the American League Against War and Fascism (September 1933), the American Youth Congress (1935), and the League of American Writers (April 1935). Moreover, as the 1930s progressed and the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration became established, the Browder-led Communist Party moved from a position of bitter opposition to critical support.
After 1935 the Communist Party maintained only nominal opposition to the Roosevelt administration, with Browder heading the party's 1936 ticket as its candidate for President in the election of 1936. He received 80,195 votes.
In practice, progressives of both parties were seen as key constituents in a broad "People's Front" against fascism and a bulwark of the movement for collective security in Europe against German aggression. The Communist Party attenuated its message of the historical inevitability of revolution, emphasizing progressive trends in American history and attempting to cast itself as an indigenous reform movement under the slogan "Communism is 20th Century Americanism." The stark phraseology of Marxism, based upon the inevitability of class struggle, was replaced by a fuzzy critique of capitalism using Rooseveltian terms like "economic royalism."
Earl Browder was not only the leading party decision-maker but also the public face of this effort. He was, one historian later noted, a man who "paid lip service to 'proletarian internationalism'" and who "knew better than to oppose Soviet-imposed policies, however inappropriate they might be for American conditions," but who "wanted to be a leader of a national movement with power and influence of its own."
The "Communism is 20th Century Americanism" campaign, during which Communism was portrayed as an integral part of the American democratic tradition, was successful in building the size and scope of the party organization. But with this growth came a correlated expansion of Browder's personal ego. A cult of personality began to be nurtured among the party faithful in miniature reflection of the systemic adulation of Joseph Stalin in the USSR. In the words of Maurice Isserman:
"The constant praise of his colleagues and the party press, and the adulation in which the membership held him (among his papers Browder saved a letter from a Seattle Communist addressed to the 'Greatest of Living Americans, Earl Browder'), transformed the once unassuming apparatchik of the 1920s into an arrogant and uncompromising party dictator.
Browder's chief rival in the Communist Party leadership in this interval was William Z. Foster. When a new recession struck in 1937, stifling tax revenue, President Roosevelt and Congress responded by cutting funding for its signature Works Progress Administration by 50 percent in an attempt to help bring the budget into balance. Foster sought for the CPUSA to renew a militant stance against capitalism and the government in response to the economic downturn.
Browder, on the other hand, pushed the party towards moderate criticism of the administration, urging increased expenditures on public works and unemployment relief and lauding Roosevelt's move away from isolationism in foreign policy in the wake of the rising tide of fascism in Europe. A short-lived revival of the Farmer-Labor Party idea was scrapped under Browder's direction, and the New Deal coalition endorsed as the practical base upon which a People's Front could be constructed. Over question of Foster's militance versus Browder's accommodation with New Deal realities, the Comintern ruled decisively in favor of Browder.
Browder made his final trip to the USSR in October 1938, where he made arrangements with Comintern chief Georgi Dimitrov to establish shortwave radio communications in the event that international conflict made direct communication impossible. No communications of this sort were made until late in September 1939, when the CPUSA's political line on the dramatically changed European situation would be specified.
European geopolitics were fundamentally altered on August 23, 1939, when Foreign Ministers of the USSR and Nazi Germany formally signed a mutual non-aggression treaty known to history as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The agreement, which included secret protocols providing for the invasion and division of Poland. Germany's September 1 invasion of Poland brought an immediate response from its treaty partners France and Great Britain, who declared war on Germany on September 3. World War II had begun.
The Soviet Union invaded Eastern Poland on September 17, its path cleared by the lack of British and French military activity against the Nazis in Western Poland and a desire to build a cordon against German military strength west of the Soviet Union's national border. Then the Stalin regime went still further, however, making its nonaggression pact into a de facto Friendship Pact by signing a joint statement with the Germans characterizing the partition of Poland as a fait accompli, calling for an end to hostilities, and placing the onus for any escalation of the European conflict on the governments of Great Britain and France.
Virtually overnight the political lines of the Communist parties of the world shifted. What were formerly the greatest cheerleaders for collective security against the danger of Germany now became staunch opponents of American intervention in the European military situation — reflective of the newly revised needs of Soviet foreign policy. All anti-fascist propaganda was immediately terminated, overt criticism of German action was minimized, the culpability of the governments of France and Britain were exaggerated. Claims were made by Browder's CPUSA that machinations were afoot among Hitler's foes to escalate the ongoing European conflict into a counterrevolutionary offensive against the USSR.
The result of the sudden shift of the party line caused shock and confusion among many members of the Communist Party USA, a goodly number of whom had joined during the period of the Popular Front against fascism. Browder declared at one Philadelphia rally that only "a dozen or so" had left the CPUSA over the change of line; in actuality the party's ranks fell by 15% between 1939 and 1940 and recruitment of new members in 1940 fell by 75% over 1938 levels. The public image of the USSR as a main bulwark against fascism and claims of the CPUSA as an indigenous radical organization were severely undermined.
Moreover, the CPUSA's new propaganda offensive against American participation in the so-called "Imperialist War" brought it into political conflict with the Roosevelt administration, which had begun to question the wisdom of isolationism. In the summer of 1939 Texas Congressman Martin Dies, Jr., chairman of the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), learned that the U.S. Department of Justice had begun to investigate old charges that Earl Browder had travelled abroad under assumed names, making use of false documents, during the 1920s. Dies proceeded to subpoena Browder to appear before the committee to give testimony on the matter. On September 5, 1939, just days after the German invasion of Poland, Browder made his appearance before HUAC, providing exhaustive testimony over the course of two days.
Midway through the first day of testimony Browder was asked in passing whether he had ever travelled abroad under a false passport. Before party attorney Joseph Brodsky could stop him, Browder answered, "I have." Although he subsequently refused to answer follow-up questions about the matter, citing the protection against self-incrimination offered by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the damage caused by Browder's admission under oath had been done. Conservative politicians such as Congressman J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey attempted to make political hay by intimating that the Roosevelt administration had coddled the country's leading Communist, calling Browder "swaggering [and] apparently untouchable" despite being Stalin's "number one stooge in this country."
With popular feeling against Communism raging in the wake of European events and political heat rising in Washington, the Justice Department moved to action. On October 23 a federal grand jury in Manhattan indicted Earl Browder for passport fraud, a felony. The formal charge against him specified that Browder had made multiple returns to the United States using a passport bearing his own name, but which had been obtained on the basis of a falsely sworn statement. Indictments of CPUSA treasurer Wiliam Wiener and Young Communist League leader Harry Gannes on passport charges followed in December and the Communist Party sent several of its top leaders into hiding in anticipation of a broader crackdown.
On January 17, 1940, Browder's trial for passport fraud began at federal court in New York City. Browder faced a two-count indictment, upon which conviction would have carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $4,000 fine. Owing to expiration of the statute of limitations on earlier passport offenses, the government found itself of only being able to prosecute Browder on the basis of his use of his passport during the years 1937 and 1938. To aid dramatic effect, recently convicted Soviet spy Nicholas Dozenberg was placed on the stand to identify Browder's photograph on papers obtained in Dozenberg's name. After the court refused a long series of motions by Browder's attorney, G. Gordon Battle, Browder took control of his own defense in the courtroom, reminding jurors that the trial did not concern false documents from the distant past and proclaimed that the actual charges against him were based upon a "web of technicalities."
Jury deliberations in the Browder case lasted less than an hour, with a guilty verdict returned. Browder was sentenced to 4 years in prison and a $2,000 fine — a result less than the maximum but in excess of sentences given to others in similar circumstances. The conviction was unanimously affirmed on appeal on June 24, 1940, and the Supreme Court concurred on February 17, 1941. On March 25, 1941, Browder surrendered to U.S. marshals, who transported him by rail to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
Two days later, with his face masked behind a pillowcase to hinder photographers, Earl Browder was led into the penitentiary to begin serving his four-year term. He would not emerge against for 14 months.
Two pivotal world events happened during the months of Earl Browder's imprisonment in Atlanta. On June 22, 1941, some 3.9 million Axis troops launched Operation Barbarossa, a massive and bloody invasion of the Soviet Union. Immediately the political line of entire world communist movement shifted from one of anti-intervention in the so-called "imperialist war" to one of shrill advocacy for anti-fascist intervention around the slogan "Defend the Soviet Union." On July 12 the governments of Great Britain and the USSR exchanged pledges of mutual aid, setting the stage for military cooperation between the capitalist democracies of the West and their historic Bolshevik foe.
Then on December 7, 1941, the air force of imperial Japan launched a sudden and devastating attack upon the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A German declaration of war on the United States followed and direct American participation in the Second World War was begun. The interests of the American government, the Soviet government, and the American Communist Party were thereby unmistakably aligned.
In Atlanta, treatment of Earl Browder was relaxed and he began to be allowed regular visits from acting CPUSA leader Robert Minor. The Communist Party had previously conducted a "Free Earl Browder" campaign on behalf of its jailed leader but with little success owing to bitter public sentiment over Stalin's allegiance with Hitler and the CPUSA's kowtowing to the temporal needs of Moscow. By early 1942, however the party's pleas on behalf of Browder began to gain traction among government officials.
On May 16, 1942, just prior to a visit to the United States by Vyacheslav Molotov, Foreign Minister of the USSR, President Roosevelt decided to remove one minor impediment to the closest possible wartime relations between the two powers by commuting Earl Browder's sentence to time served. In a statement to the press, the Roosevelt administration declared that Browder's early release would "have a tendency to promote national unity and allay any feeling...that the unusually long sentence in Browder's case was by way of penalty upon him because of his political views."
Browder discreetly returned to New York City and resumed his place as General Secretary of the Communist Party, USA. Throughout the early years of the war the CPUSA conducted continual agitation for the establishment of a second military front in Europe to alleviate pressure exerted by Axis forces upon the Soviets in the east. The Communists proved to be enthusiastic supporters of the war effort and the party press did its best to mobilize public sentiment by printing accounts of Nazi atrocities in Germany and abroad. Browder directed Communist Party members to concentrate upon "problems of a centralized war economy and production for the war," using their place in the labor movement to help ameliorate labor discord.
It would be incorrect to say that Browder personally devised the wartime policies of the CPUSA — the main elements of party policy such as advocacy of an immediate second front, opposition to strikes, an end to discrimination in job hiring, and total support of Roosevelt's internal policy initiatives, were already well established by the time of Browder's release in May 1942. Nevertheless, Browder made himself the public face of this set of policies, authoring a book in the fall of 1942 called Victory and After which was frank in its setting aside of revolutionary illusions in favor of class collaboration as essential to the cause of victory.
Browder went still further, however, postulating the cooperation between America and the Soviet Union would continue into the postwar period. A victory of the "United Nations" would "make possible the solution of reconstruction problems with a minimum of social disorder and civil violence in the various countries most concerned." This belief in longterm cooperation between the Allied powers abroad and civil peace at home were the hallmarks of what was later known as "Browderism."
By the end of 1943 the tide of the war in Europe had shifted and there was no doubt either about the survival of the USSR or the ultimate outcome of the Second World War. With the Red Army moving inexorably westward, even the possibility of a Communist Europe seemed within reach to the party faithful. Cooperation between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union was at its zenith following the conclusion of the Tehran Conference, held November 28 to December 1, 1943.
On January 7, 1944, the 28 members of the governing National Committee of the CPUSA were called into session in New York City. Although they usually conducted their business in closed executive session, the members of the National Committee were surprised to learn that their session was to be held in a large room in front of about 200 invited guests. In his keynote report to the gathering, General Secretary Browder revisited the close cooperation indicated at the Teheran Conference and declared that "Capitalism and Socialism have begun to find their way to peaceful coexistence and collaboration in the same world."
The Communist Party found itself in the position of advancing its policy initiatives through political cooperation with New Deal supporters, Browder indicated, and he declared that "Communist organization in the United States should adjust its name to correspond more exactly to the American political tradition and its own practical political role." Consequently, the name of the Communist Party USA would be changed to the "Communist Political Association," Browder noted — advising those gathered of a decision which had already been rendered by the Political Buro of the party. A series of speakers followed Browder, each lending support to the predetermined change of party name and shift in conception of the organization's role in the American political firmament.
The National Committee voted unanimously in support of Browder's proposals and established committees to draft a new constitution for the organization and to prepare for a May 1944 convention to ratify the changes. Factional opposition to Browder's change took the form of a letter to the party leadership by Browder's nemesis William Z. Foster and Foster's friend, Philadelphia District Organizer Sam Darcy, signed only by the former. The pair took aim at Browder's view that the bourgeoisie would continue its wartime coordination with the Roosevelt administration after the war and predicted a breakdown which would require an aggressive response by American Communists.
Browder only allowed the Foster-Darcy letter to be circulated to a handful of top party leaders, who at a February 1944 meeting of the Polburo voted to reject the letter. Foster's objection was muted when Browder made clear that open criticism would have been regarded as a punishable breach of party discipline. Darcy refused to submit to party discipline on this matter, however, viewing it as a matter of fundamental principle, and he was subsequently expelled from the CPA by a committee headed by Foster himself.
With the end of the Great Power alliance at the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, so-called "Browderism" came under attack from the rest of the international Communist movement, particularly with respect to the restructuring of the American party in 1944. In April 1945 the French Communist Party's theoretical magazine, Les Cahiers du communisme, published an article by French party leader Jacques Duclos which outspokenly declared that Browder's beliefs about a harmonious post-war world were "erroneous conclusions in no wise flowing from a Marxist analysis of the situation." Browder's "liquidation of the independent political party of the working class" was held by Duclos to constitute a "notorious revision of Marxism."
This "Duclos letter" was immediately recognized by American Communists as flowing directly from Moscow, which had been largely out of contact since it had itself liquidated the Communist International in 1943 as its own gesture to wartime harmony. Duclos otherwise had no reason to criticize the activity of a fraternal party, American Communists maintained. Moreover, Duclos quoted directly from the Foster-Darcy letter — a document known to only a handful of top American party leaders, with a copy dispatched to Moscow.
The American Communists lost no time reversing Browder's political line, stripping him of executive power in June 1945 and reconstituting itself as the Communist Party of the United States of America at a snap convention held in July. Predictably, Browder's nemesis Bill Foster, elevated in stature by being quoted in the "Duclos letter," led the opposition to Browder and "Browderism" and was named to replace "the man from Kansas" as party Chairman in 1945. Eugene Dennis, an individual held in high esteem by Moscow, was named Browder's successor to the more important position of General Secretary. Browder was subsequently expelled from the party early in 1946.
In April 1950, Browder was called to testify before a Senate Committee investigating Communist activity. Questioned by Joseph McCarthy, Browder was willing to criticize the American Communist Party but refused to answer questions that would incriminate former comrades. He also claimed under oath that he had never been involved in espionage activities. Browder was charged with contempt of Congress, but Judge F. Dickinson Letts ordered his acquittal because he felt the committee had not acted legally. Browder was never prosecuted either for his perjury before the committee or for his spying on behalf of the Soviet Union.
In March 1950, Browder shared a platform with Max Shachtman, the dissident Trotskyist, in which the pair debated Socialism. Browder defended the Soviet Union while Shachtman acted as a prosecutor. It is reported that at one point in the debate Shachtman listed a series of leaders of various Communist Parties and noted that each had perished at the hands of Stalin; at the end of this speech, he remarked that Browder too had been a leader of a Communist Party and, pointing at him, announced: "There-there but for an accident of geography, stands a corpse!"
An unsuccessful attempt was made to reinstate Browder to the good graces of the CPUSA following the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, a period in which some within the American Communist Party briefly sought to exert its independence from Moscow. This effort at liberalization was soon defeated, however.
Although remaining committed to the cause of socialism, Earl Browder remained outside of the Communist Party until his death in Princeton, New Jersey on June 27, 1973. He was survived by three sons, Felix, William, and Andrew, all distinguished research mathematicians who have been leaders in the American mathematical community. His grandson Bill Browder (son of Felix) is head of the investment group Hermitage Capital Management.
On June 2, 1957, Browder appeared on the television program The Mike Wallace Interview, where he was grilled for 30 minutes about his past in the Communist Party. Host Mike Wallace quoted Browder as having recently said "Getting thrown out of the Communist Party was the best thing that ever happened to me." When asked to elaborate, Browder replied:
"That's right. I meant that the Communist Party and the whole communist movement was changing its character, and in 1945, when I was kicked out, the parting of the ways had come, and if I hadn't been kicked out I would have had the difficult task of disengaging myself from a movement that I could no longer agree with and no longer help."
"I was involved in no conspiracies," Browder adamantly declared to Wallace and his television audience.
Browder repeatedly connected longtime Communist Party activist and Soviet agent Jacob Golos with CPUSA members who had come forward offering to share sensitive information that they thought the party should know. While initially most of these would-be informants were employees of private industry, later party members who were employees of the federal government were brought into Golos's circle of contacts. Browder was also periodically given access to important information by Golos before its transmission to his superiors in Moscow.
Browder's public protestations were further belied by the 1995 release of the so-called Venona documents, secretly decoded material which confirmed that Browder was indeed engaged in the recruitment of potential espionage agents for Soviet intelligence.
In 1938 Rudy Baker (Venona code name: SON) was appointed to head the CPUSA underground apparatus to replace J. Peters, after the defection of Whittaker Chambers, allegedly at the request of Browder (Venona code name: FATHER). According to self-confessed NKVD recruiter Louis Budenz, he and Browder participated in discussions with Soviet intelligence officials to plan the assassination of Leon Trotsky.
While in custody, Browder never revealed his status as an agent recruiter to U.S. authorities, and was never prosecuted for espionage. Venona decrypt #588 April 29, 1944 from the KGB New York office states “for more than a year Zubilin (station chief) and I tried to get in touch with Victor Perlo and Charles Flato. For some reason Browder did not come to the meeting and just decided to put Bentley in touch with the whole group. All occupy responsible positions in Washington, D.C.” Soviet intelligence thought highly of Browder's recruitment work: in a 1946 OGPU memorandum, Browder was personally credited with hiring eighteen intelligence agents for the Soviet Union.
Members of Browder's family were also involved in work for Soviet intelligence. According to a 1938 letter in the Comintern archives from Browder to Georgi Dimitrov, then General Secretary of the Comintern, Browder’s younger sister Marguerite was an agent working in various European countries for the NKVD. Browder expressed concern over the effect it would have on the American public if his sister’s secret work for Soviet intelligence were to be exposed: “In view of my increasing involvement in national political affairs and growing connections in Washington political circles ... it might become dangerous to this political work if hostile circles in America should obtain knowledge of my sister’s work.” He requested she be released from her European duties and returned to America to serve “in other fields of activity.” Dimitrov forwarded Browder’s request to Nikolai Yezhov, then head of the NKVD, requesting Marguerite Browder’s transfer. Browder's half-niece, Helen Lowry, (aka Elza Akhmerova, also Elsa Akhmerova) worked with Iskhak Akhmerov, a Soviet NKVD espionage controller from 1936–1939 under the code name ADA(?) ADA was Kitty Harris (later changed to ELZA)). In 1939, Helen Lowry married Akhmerov. Lowry was named by Soviet intelligence agent Elizabeth Bentley as one of her contacts; she and Akhmerov and their actions on behalf of Soviet intelligence are referenced in several Venona project decryptions as well as Soviet KGB archives.
|Party political offices|
|General Secretary of the CPUSA