The New York Times published an op-ed over the weekend, reminding readers of a time when the American progressive movement was centered around communism. The movement fizzled only after the horrors of Stalin and the Soviet Union were revealed to the world.
“My parents were working-class socialists,” Gornick explained. “I grew up in the late 1940s and early ’50s thinking of them and their friends as what they themselves called progressives,” she said, asserting that the movement included everyone from communist party organizers to left-wing sympathizers.
“They spoke and thought within a context that lifted them out of the nameless, faceless obscurity into which they had been born, and gave them the conviction that they had rights as well as obligations,” Gornick said, extolling the power of the proletariat and Marxist world view.
The author describes a hopeful, pragmatic vision for communism, one centered around the empowerment of the working class. The dictatorship of the proletariat, as Karl Marx envisioned, was the ultimate goal and one shared by American progressives of the time.
Coal miners and fruit pickers joined with teachers, scientists and writers to form the communist party of the 1940s and ’50s, Gornick reminisced. Thousands of working men and women of all stripes joined together for an “urgent sense of social injustice.”
“It is perhaps hard to understand now, but at that time, in this place, the Marxist vision of world solidarity as translated by the Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified,” Gornick said. “It was to this clarity of inner being that so many became not only attached, but addicted.”
But the growing fervor of the American communist movement came to a screeching halt in February 1956.
Communist party leader Nikita Khrushchev revealed the atrocities of Joseph Stalin to the world, according to the op-ed. Khrushchev, a longtime confidant of Stalin, denounced the tactics and purges that he himself took part in. Khrushchev gave a private speech to communist party delegates on February 25, 1956 that denounced Stalin to the fullest extent.
Khrushchev blasted the cult of personality that formed under Stalin’s rule. He referred to Stalin as a tyrant, a murderer and a torturer. The speech was so controversial, according to Gornick, that party leaders agreed to keep it unpublished and behind closed doors.
The shocking revelations against the recently deceased Stalin lead to some party officials reportedly committing suicide.
The speech text made its way to foreign press outlets, which brought the horrors of Stalinism and the communist party to the world. The New York Times and the Observer printed a version of the speech in the Spring of 1956, leading to the demise of the American communist party.
The secret speech “brought with it political devastation for the organized left around the world,” Gornick stated. “Within weeks of its publication, 30,000 people in this country quit the [Communist] party, and within a year it was as it had been in its 1919 beginnings, a small sect on the American political map.”
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