Williams College Conference Explores 100 Years of Communism in America

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., October 31, 2018—One of the biggest political developments of the last century was the rise and fall of the American Communist Party. A conference at Williams College titled “One Hundred Years of Communism in the USA” will explore the party’s evolution, leadership, and demise since its founding in 1919 and illuminate political, social, cultural, and economic trends in American society. This event is free and open to the public and will be held on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 8 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. in Griffin Hall, room 3.

Introducing long overlooked archival material and fresh interpretations of the historical record, conference panelists will discuss such topics as the U.S. government’s reaction to radicalism after World War I, the rise of African American activism, the heyday and later decline of the American Labor Movement, and the role of communists in Hollywood, both real and imagined, as well as in the farm belt and other regions of the country.

Panelists will also explore the efforts of Americans to assist Soviet causes both at home and abroad particularly during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, as well as the U.S. government’s response to Soviet agents’ own infiltration here, a response that has affected the U.S. security state in American life to this day. Participants will also explore the legacy of the party’s role in such areas as film and politics, even after its eclipse following Khrushchev’s secret speech against Stalin and its near disappearance after the Cold War, a legacy still colored with lasting acclaim for its record on social justice issues.

This conference is inspired by the work of editors James Ryan, Katherine Sibley, and Vernon Pendersen’s forthcoming volume, One Hundred Years of Communism in the USA: The CPUSA at Home and Abroad Since 1919.

Schedule of Events

8 to 9:45 a.m. “Party Leaders and the Path to Revolution in America”

This panel will explore the evolution of the Party line and the ideas of Party leaders as they promoted revolutionary change in America. James Ryan, professor of history at Texas A & M and co-organizer of the conference, will speak about Earl Browder and the Soviet Union. Edward Johanningmeier, adjunct faculty of the University of Delaware, will discuss William Z. Foster and American communist leadership. This panel will also include two papers on California communism; one by Beth Slutsky, scholar of modern American women’s history of University of California, Davis, on local California leaders and the gendered radicalism in that state, and another by Bob Cherny, professor emeritus of San Francisco State University, who will speak about former Communist party members in the San Francisco Bay Area.

10 to 11:45 a.m. “Red Scares at Home and Abroad”

This panel will look at the Red Scares in the U.S. in 1919 and the McCarthy period. This session will also consider the impact of these scares at home and abroad, with panelists discussing the Communist Party USA’s relationship with the Soviet Union. Lori Clune, associate professor of history at California State University Fresno, will discuss the reaction of the public to the Rosenberg case. Denise Lynn, associate professor and director of gender studies at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, will talk about the roots of anti-communism in the party. John Sbardellati, associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, will speak about the FBI and the Hollywood Red Scare. A paper by Veronica Wilson, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, will explore the work of ex-communist FBI witnesses.

Noon to 1:45 p.m. Lunch speaker

Randi Storch will give a luncheon talk titled “‘Run Quick and Find the Reds’: Historians’ Search for American Communists.” Storch is chair and professor in the history department at SUNY Cortland. All are welcome to join. Lunch will be provided.

2 to 3:45 p.m. “The Party and its Causes”

This session will look at the party’s involvement with movements for racial equality, women’s rights, social justice, labor activism, and peace activism. Vernon Pedersen, professor of history, head of the Department of International Studies at American University in Sharjah, and co-organizer of the conference, will speak about the role of the party in the Spanish Civil War. Bill Pratt, professor of history emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, will discuss the party and the farmers movement. Eric McDuffie, associate professor of African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will speak on the relationship between party and the anti-racism movement. Victor Devinatz, Distinguished Professor of Management at Hobert and Marian Gardner Hinderliter Endowed Professor at Illinois State University, will conclude this session by discussing the role of the party in labor unions.

4 to 5:30 p.m. “Soviet Espionage, Propaganda, and Un-American Activities”

This panel will look at the party’s involvement in espionage and propaganda efforts to spread its messaging in the United States with journalists and other agents of influence. The panel will also consider the implications of the espionage and propaganda efforts on U.S.-Soviet relations. This panel will feature Katherine A.S. Sibley, professor of history and director of American Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and co-organizer of the conference, who will speak on early Cold War espionage. Steve Usdin, independent scholar and journalist, will discuss the Rosenberg spy ring. This panel will conclude with a paper by R. Bruce Craig, specialist in the history of espionage, on the Hiss case and its controversies.

6:15 to 7:45 p.m. Legacy Roundtable

The fifth and final session will explore how the Communist Party affected the lives of Americans, from its message to the working class, to its scrutiny by the U.S. government, to any related consequences of the party activism. Ellen Schrecker, writer and retired professor of history at Yeshiva University, will speak about McCarthyism. Harvey Klehr, Andrew Mellon Professor Emeritus of Politics and History at Emory University, will discuss the relationship between the party and Moscow. Maurice Isserman, professor of history at Hamilton College, will discuss revisionism and the Moscow archives. Glen Gebhard, Emmy Award-winning film and video director of documentaries and narrative films, will discuss his documentary film work, including an interview with Gus Hall, a leader and chairman of the Communist Party USA and its four-time U.S. presidential candidate.

This conference is sponsored by the Stanley Kaplan Program in American Foreign Policy and the Department of Political Science.


For building locations on the Williams campus, please consult the map outside the driveway entrance to the Security Office located in Hopkins Hall on Main Street (Rte. 2), next to the Thompson Memorial Chapel, or call the Office of Communications 413-597-4277. The map can also be found on the web at www.williams.edu/map