1919 September 1

U.S. Communist Party Founded; Greeted by Police, Repression


The Communist Party was founded in the U.S. on this day in Chicago, as part of a series of tumultuous events that resulted in three radical socialist/communist parties. In a harbinger of things to come,the birth of the Communist Party was greeted by police interference and repression.

The birth of the Communist Party grew out of a split with the long-established Socialist Party, which had been a sizeable party with a number of elected officials across the country prior to World War I, but which was devastated by the wartime repression under President Woodrow Wilson. After the war, and with the example of the Communist-led Soviet Union where the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917, many socialists believed that a more radical communist party was needed in the U. S.

The conflict came to a head in Chicago between August 30th and September 2nd in Chicago, where the Socialist Party was holding its national meeting. (Party leader Eugene V. Debs was in prison at the time, having been convicted under the Espionage Act for a speech on war and capitalism on ____). On the first day, the radical Left Wing Section of the party, led by the famous author and radical John Reed, arrived but were barred from the meeting. In fact, the Socialist Party leaders even called in the Chicago police to help expel the radical faction. (The officers, in fact, were part of the police department’s Anarchist Squad.) On September 1st, a separate group of radicals formed the Communist Party. The next day, September 2nd, the Reed-led group formed the rival Communist Labor Party. Their stated goal was the get as far away as possible from the “corpse” of the Socialist Party. (The rivalry continued into the early 1920s, until Soviet Union leaders ordered a merger into a single party.)

Repression greeted the rival communist parties from the moment of their birth. The Chicago police, including the Anarchist Squad, raided the Communist Party meeting on September 1st and ordered the removal of red flags and their replacement with American flags. When S. B. Montgomery, a lawyer protested, he was arrested. On September 2nd, Dennis Batt, a Communist Party organizer, was arrested and charged with violating the newly-enacted Illinois Sedition Act.

Police raids, denial of freedom of assembly, and prosecutions under state sedition laws would harass the Communist Party over the next forty years.

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