Known officially as the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the Communist party was formed in the United States in 1919, two years after the Russian Revolution had overthrown the monarchy and established the Soviet Union. Many American Communists had been members of the SOCIALIST PARTY OF AMERICA, but that party's socialist leadership opposed the Russian revolution and expelled those members who supported it. The Communists were even more left-wing than the Socialists and attracted a number of radicals and anarchists as well as Communists. By August 1919, only months after its founding, the Communist party had 60,000 members, while the Socialist party had only 40,000.
The administration of President WOODROW WILSON, fearful that American radicals might attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, began making mass arrests in the fall of 1919. Ultimately, 10,000 suspected subversives were arrested in what became known as the Palmer Raids (after U.S. Attorney General A. MITCHELL PALMER), with 249 deported to Russia. The Palmer Raids ended in May 1920, and the American Communists began to gain strength. In 1924, the party founded a newspaper, The Daily Worker, which, at its peak, had a circulation of 35,000. That same year, the party nominated labor activist William Z. Foster as its first candidate for U.S. president. Foster received 35,361 votes.
In 1932 Communist Party presidential candidate William Z. Foster (left) received 102,991 votes. He is pictured with his running mate James W. Ford, the first African American to run for vice president.
The death of VLADIMIR LENIN and the rise of JOSEPH STALIN caused dissent among the party in the United States, with some supporting Stalin and others supporting the views of Leon Trotsky. A number of Trotskyists formed the Communist League of America, and by 1920 the American Communist party had only 7,000 members. By then, the party was concentrating on helping to build LABOR UNIONS and improving workers' rights. They lobbied for higher wages, a national retirement program, and unemployment insurance. With so many Americans affected by the Great Depression, the Communist message sounded a note of hope to unemployed workers, and Foster received 102,991 votes in the 1932 presidential election. Still, many people were more comfortable with the less radical Socialist party, whose candidate, Norman Thomas, received 884,781 votes.