[Previous] [Next]

Revelations from the Russian Archives


The Soviet Communist party evolved from the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party's Bolshevik wing formed by Vladimir Lenin in 1903. Lenin believed that a well-disciplined, hierarchically organized party was necessary to lead the working class in overthrowing capitalism in Russia and the world. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in St. Petersburg (then called Petrograd) and shortly thereafter began using the term Communist to describe themselves. In March 1918, the Bolsheviks named their party the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). The next year, they created the Communist International (Comintern) to control the Communist movement throughout the world. After the Comintern's dissolution in 1943, the Soviet party's Central Committee continued to use Communist parties from other nations as instruments of Soviet foreign policy. Each national party was required to adhere to the Leninist principle of subordinating members and organizations unconditionally to the decisions of higher authorities.

Strongly influenced by the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, American socialists and radicals met in Chicago in 1919 to organize an American Communist party. But the Americans were so divided they created two parties instead. One group consisted primarily of relatively recent Russian and East European immigrants, who emphasized adherence to Marxist orthodoxy and proletarian revolution. The other group, dominated by native-born, somewhat more pragmatic American radicals, sought mass influence. Such conflicting goals combined with the discrepancy between Communist doctrine and American reality, kept the Communist movement in the United States a small sectarian movement.

In 1922 the Comintern forced the two American parties, which consisted of about 12,000 members, to amalgamate and to follow the party line established in Moscow. Although membership in the American party rose to about 75,000 by 1938, following the Great Depression, many members left the party after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939. Others left in 1956 after Nikita Khrushchev exposed some of Stalin's crimes and Soviet forces invaded Hungary. Only the hard-core members remained after such reversals of Soviet policy. The American party, a significant although never major political force in the United States, became further demoralized when Boris Yeltsin outlawed the Communist party in Russia in August 1991 and opened up the archives, revealing the continued financial as well as ideological dependency of the American Communists on the Soviet party up until its dissolution.

Testimony of Comrade Gitlow

Translation of document

Go to the Next Section of the Soviet Archives exhibit

Return to the Table of contents for the Soviet Archives exhibit

Go to the Library of Congress Home Page

Library of Congress
Contact Us ( August 31, 2016 )
Legal | External Link Disclaimer