From Ohio History Central
File:Ruthenberg , Charles Emil: Funeral.jpg|
Communist Party leader Charles Emil Ruthenberg in casket surrounded by saluting children, 1927. Ruthenberg was the son of German immigrants and a native of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1909 he joined the Socialist Party and quickly became an active organizer. When the United States entered World War I in 1917 Ruthenberg's political activities became increasingly radical. He was arrested for speaking out against the war and began to identify with Russian communists. Eventually he became Secretary General of the Workers (Communist) Party of America. When he passed away his ashes were interred at the Kremlin in Moscow.
In 1919, the Communist Party of the United States of America was established. This party calls for the world's people to unite together to extend democracy, to eliminate racism and sexism, and to secure justice for all people. The Communist Party seeks to convert the United States government to a political and economic system based on socialism. Socialism is a governmental and economic system that emphasizes government ownership of all farms, factories, and other businesses. Under this system, the federal government would meet the basic needs of all people, although some people would have more political and economic power than others. Once a socialist system is in place, the Communist Party believes that the American government will naturally evolve into a communist one. A communist system would consist of a classless society, where everyone, no matter their gender or race, would work together for their common benefit. Under communism, everyone would be equal and own all property jointly.
As World War I was ending, a fear-driven, anti-communist movement known as the First Red Scare began to spread across the United States. In 1917, Russia had undergone the Bolshevik Revolution. The Bolsheviks established a communist government that withdrew Russian troops from the war effort. People in the U.S. believed that Russia had let down its allies, including the United States, by pulling out of the war. In addition, communism was, in theory, an expansionist ideology, spread through revolution. It suggested that the working class would overthrow the upper classes.
Once the United States no longer had to concentrate its efforts on winning World War I, many in the U.S. became afraid that communism might spread to the United States and threaten the nation's democratic values. Fueling this fear was the mass immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans to the United States as well as labor unrest in the late 1910s, including the Great Steel Strike of 1919. Both the federal government and state governments reacted to that fear by attacking potential communist threats, including the Communist Party. They used acts passed during the war, such as the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act, to prosecute suspected communists. The Ohio legislature passed a law known as the Criminal Syndicalism Act, which allowed the state to prosecute people who used or advocated criminal activity or violence in order to obtain political change or to affect industrial conditions.
With the Cold War's outbreak during the late 1940s, many in the U.S. again feared communism's spread. A majority of people in the U.S. became convinced that the Soviet Union sought to spread its communist ideology around the world, overthrowing the United States' capitalist economy and representative democracy. During the Cold War, the United States military participated in several military conflicts, namely the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and the American government implemented several programs to prevent communism's expansion.
Many in the U.S., including some Ohioans, persecuted members of the Communist Party during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. In 1951, the Ohio General Assembly implemented the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee, a joint committee of state representatives and senators charged with determining communism's influence in Ohio. The committee was based upon the federal government's House Un-American Activities Committee, and its members received sweeping powers to question Ohioans about their ties to communism. The committee was especially interested in determining the identity of Ohioans who were members of the Communist Party. Between 1951 and 1954, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee, headed by House member Samuel Devine, questioned forty Ohioans, asking each person, "Right now, are you an active member of the Communist Party?" Every person refused to answer, citing the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects those in the U.S. against self-incrimination. Most of the accused were college students or people during the 1930s who advocated socialist or communist programs to end the Great Depression. Various grand juries eventually indicted the forty people, with fifteen of these accused being convicted for supporting communism. In 1952, the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee contended that 1,300 Ohioans were members of the Communist Party. Approximately seven hundred of these people supposedly resided near Cleveland and worked in various industrial occupations, while four hundred more resided in other northern Ohio cities. Only two hundred communists supposedly resided in central and southern parts of the state.
In 1953, the Ohio General Assembly, with Governor Frank Lausche's approval, extended the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee's existence. Lausche generally opposed the committee's actions, but he faced great pressure from Ohio voters who feared communism. The governor contended that the committee's actions might put into "grave danger. . .the reputations of innocent people against whom accusations can be made on the basis of rumor and frequently rooted in malice," but he also stated that "Communism is a menace to our country." Lausche did veto a bill that would assess jail terms and hefty monetary fines for anyone found guilty of communist leanings, but the Ohio General Assembly, at Samuel Devine's urging, passed the bill over the governor's veto. The Ohio Un-American Activities Committee continued its investigations for the next several years.
Despite various attempts to rid the United States of communists, the Communist Party never ceased to exist. It continues to operate today, promoting socialist and communist ideals. The party, however, remains small and does not play a major role in national politics.
- Draper, Theodore. The Roots of American Communism. New York, NY: Viking Press, 1957.
- Howe, Irving, and Lewis Coser. The American Communist Party. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1957.
- Jaffe, Philip. The Rise and Fall of American Communism. New York, NY: Horizon Press, 1975.
- Klehr, Harvey. The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1984.