Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

BROWDER, EARL (1891-1973)

Leader of the American Communist Party (CPUSA) during the movement's heyday, Earl Russell Browder was born into an impoverished, radicalized Wichita, Kansas, family on May 20, 1891. Forced to leave school before completing third grade, he rose eventually to become an accountant, while wandering around Kansas City leftist movements. World War I draft resistance sent him to Leavenworth Penitentiary in 1919. Upon release, he located New York Leninists and soon led a delegation to Moscow. There, he befriended Soviet labor expert Solomon Lozovsky. Between 1922 and 1926 Browder assisted domestic working-class hero William Z. Foster and supported Joseph Stalin, who was bureaucratizing the Soviet Union's revolutionary state. In 1926 Browder married Raissa Luganovskaya, a former Russian commissar of justice, who pestered Lozovsky to give Browder a career break. Covert work for the Communist International (Comintern) in China quickly followed. By 1932 Browder led the cpusa, and soon he was championing Comintern head Georgi Dimitrov's antifascist Popular Front policy, which sought to replace revolution with reformism and advocated collective security with the Soviet Union against Germany. Rapidly the Communists became the largest political party left of the Democrats, bringing unprecedented influence.

In 1939 the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression treaty with Nazi Germany, abandoning the tactic of collective security. Browder vacillated, caught between the Soviet Union's demands and domestic radical needs. In 1941 the U.S. government sent him to Atlanta Penitentiary on an ancient passport technicality. Amid a national "Red Scare," the cpusa hastily broke official Comintern ties. In June 1941 Germany invaded Russia, and that December the United States entered the war, making possible the Grand Alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western powers. Communists gave the conflict their total support, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt freed Browder on May 16, 1942.

Unlike his experience in Leavenworth twenty years earlier, imprisonment in Atlanta left Browder with permanent psychological damage. Wisely, in 1938 he had secured his sister's release from Soviet secret police work, citing his own high profile. Yet recklessly he maintained espionage contacts because of curiosity, a need to outpace former mentor Foster (now a rival), and to impress the Russians. In 1943 Stalin disbanded the Comintern. Browder, ever vain, assumed he now led an independent Communist movement. By 1944 he considered himself a world Marxist thinker, akin to Chou En-lai. Browder converted the CPUSA into a leftist pressure group, the Communist Political Association. He thereby abandoned the movement's Leninist vanguard role. Once Allied victory became inevitable, a message from Moscow brought the cpusa's reconstitution and Browder's expulsion. He spent his remaining years a pariah and died on June 27, 1973, unmourned by any Communist publications.

James G. Ryan Texas A& University at Galveston

Browder, Earl. Papers. Syracuse University Library, Syracuse University, Syracuse NY.

Ryan, James G. Earl Browder: The Failure of American Communism. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Ryan, James G. "Earl Browder and American Communism." In American Reform and Reformers, edited by Randall M. Miller and Paul A. Cimbala. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1996: 71–82.

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