Sunday, October 9, 2011

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn-- “Here is where I belong!”: The Communist Party of the USA

“America needs socialism. It has outgrown capitalism. All the patching and stretching will not make capitalism fit the America of today and tomorrow”

-Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “Horizons of the Future for A Socialist America”, 1959

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a gallant fighter for workers and justice as a girl of 13 up until her passing in 1964 while holding the position of National Chairwoman of CPUSA.  She was a living embodiment of the history of American Socialism and Communism, starting her career as "Rebel Girl" agitator extraordinaire of the I.W.W., presiding over legendary labor strikes: “In 1913 I was a leader in the Paterson, New Jersey silk strike; in 1916, in a strike of the iron ore miners on the Mesaba range in Minnesota, where the mines are owned by the U.S. Street trust... I saw workers clubbed, beaten and shot down." (Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Statement at the Smith Act Trial, 1951)

She tells here of her life-changing decision to enter the ranks of the Communist Party, USA on the eve of the heroic fight against world-wide fascist oppression in 1936: 

"George Dimitroff was a Bulgarian Communist who had been in exile in Germany and while there was framed in the infamous Reichstag fire case. Dimitroff was freed. He took refuge in the Soviet Union, where he delivered this speech in 1935 at the Congress of the Communist International. It is an eloquent and dramatic appeal to fight fascism, which he describes as the most vicious enemy of mankind. It is addressed to Communists especially and other progressive people elsewhere, to put aside all immediate partisan or sectarian interest or differences or ultimate political aims to unite to stop fascism. We will prove that this is what is meant by “united front.” This policy brought Communists together with all other honest and patriotic people who were determined to save their country from the ravages of fascism. We will show that Hank Forbes, one of our party organizers who might otherwise be here as a defendant, lost his life at the Anzio Beachhead in pursuance of that policy, as did hundreds of American Communists in World War II.

I resolved when I read this powerful appeal, “Here is where I belong. As soon as I am well I will again apply to join the Communist Party.” I did so. William Z. Foster, whom I first met in 1909 in the I.W.W., and Ella Reeve Bloor, whom I knew from the old Socialist Party, presented my application in the winter of 1936 and 1937. It was accepted and publicly announced in the press.”

Flynn's time in the ranks of the I.W.W. had exposed her to the thousands ills of capitalism, however their policy of non-political organizing and adherence to decentralized governance showed the flaws of this pursuit as the momentum of this phase of the labor movement withered away.  The passionate Rebel Girl of yore set her sights still further, with the help and guidance of the clear-headed and sure footing of Marxism-Leninism.

“This science of Marxism-Leninism, which is expounded in the books as evidence had its origin over a century ago with two great political thinkers, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels...(who) declared that what happens to humanity is not a matter of blind fate nor the will of great men, nor must it be accepted as irrevocable. They said mankind can find a scientific explanation for wars, famine, economic depression and poverty, and that mankind, especially the working class, can help to change society, can alter and direct the course of history, can abolish these evils and institute a planned social order, based on the well-being of all. Out of their profound analysis of all human history, and especially of its present stage known as capitalism, they developed the system of scientific socialism...”

Marxist-Leninist writings today fill thousands of books in all known languages...they are studied by millions of people throughout the world, but we will prove to you that these great beacon lights are not blueprints, are not hard-and-fast directives but are only a guide, modified to conform to the developments of history and to new social conditions. Programs, immediate programs are their application.” --
(Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Statement at the Smith Act Trial, 1951)

After the defeat of the fascist Axis powers by the victorious   Allies, with the warm and heroic support of the Soviet Union, Flynn again took up her pen, writing this time to address the domestic struggles against monopoly, hunger, racism, and  economic injustice that still  raged on the home front.  She lent her wisdom in making clear the efforts, conflicts, and rights of women under capitalism in America.  Women helped win the war  and deserved a better life than a return to silent drudgery in the home.  Sister Flynn used the occasion of International Women's Day of 1947 to show the clear links of all forms of oppression under capitalism:

Communists Want Socialism

Sometimes I am sure you ask yourself, "When will it all end, when will we be able to live peacefully, happily, with work and plenty for all?" It is an important question to ask ourselves. It is a hope of women around the world.

I am writing this pamphlet as a daughter of a Socialist and suffragist, as an American woman who has been active in the labor movement for forty-one years, and as a Communist. (Don't go away. Remember Red-baiting, union smashing, anti-Semitism, and racial "superiority" theories are the pattern of the Nazis.) We Communists believe it is possible to have a system of society with peace, work, and abundance for all—Socialism. We believe in fighting hard to hold every gain made by the unions and the people generally in their democratic struggles. But we go further. We believe in the abolition of capitalism. It is no more the last word in human progress than was savagery, barbarism, or feudalism. To finally solve the economic and political problems of the American people, we believe we need Socialism. It will abolish private ownership by a few, men and women, of the land, natural resources and the industries of our country, which they use to make tremendous profits on the labor of others without working themselves.

Crimes of Capitalism

Our country is beautiful, our people are capable. But its vast resources and its people are exploited by a handful of greedy monopolists. Their crimes are innumerable. They allow veterans to remain homeless, children to starve around the world, miners to die in the depths of the earth. The capitalist system causes war, unemployment, depressions, prostitution. It takes advantage of colonial people, depriving them of independence. It helped build up the Nazis and fascists through international trusts (cartels). It is now building up Germany and Japan as buffers against the Socialist country— the Soviet Union. It deprives youth of education and self-development. It has kept women in an inferior position, has not safeguarded maternity or childhood, nor taken drudgery out of the home (except for its own women). It pits people against each other on the basis of sex, color, religion, national origin. It has created the Jim Crow system against the Negro people, that disgraces us everywhere. It retards the full use of the resources of our country, of inventions, and the benefits of science for health, and progress. It cramps the intelligence and cheapens the cultural life of our country.

Get Ready for 1948

We know the majority of the American people are not yet convinced, as we Communists are, that this is all true. Meanwhile we Communists do not place ourselves apart from the masses of people nor wait for them to agree with us, before we work together. Irrespective of what views honest and progressive people may have on Socialism, they do not constitute a bar to unity for all our immediate and important daily struggles. We have no interests separate from the welfare of the people of our country, of which we are a part. Communists are workers, farmers, housewives, veterans, Negroes, professionals—a cross section of our population. We engage actively, with other like-minded people, in struggles against that which oppresses these groups. Communists are producers, consumers, parents, voters, and as such join together with others who have the same interests—for higher wages, housing, education, against the high cost of living and to unite all progressive forces for the critical election of 1947 and 1948. These elections will be a show-down, we hope a defeat for those who represent Big Business (monopoly capital), who would enslave the American people and hurl us into an atomic war. To support those who fight these dangerous reactionary forces, progressive men and women candidates who stand for democracy at home and friendly relations with other countries, is our common obligation for the elections ahead. 

Women, 46 million eligible voters in our country, have a great responsibility. They have a tremendous political power to put our country in the vanguard of human affairs or to turn it in the direction of fascism. The Communist Party of the U.S.A. greets the women of America on International Women's Day in 1947, and expresses its confidence in their understanding and devotion to the cause of peace, for the American standard of living, for the rights of labor and the people generally. We believe that the great mass of American women can and will do their duty in the grave political struggles ahead, that our country and its people will be saved from the disaster of fascism. Let us all pledge, in keeping with the fighting tradition of International Women's Day, the annihilation of all open or disguised fascist ideas, tendencies and policies in our country.”  - Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Women’s Place In The Fight For a Better World, 1947

In this pamphlet,  Sister Flynn evokes the wisdom of Lenin, who firmly stated  "Unless we learn to apply all the methods of struggle, we may suffer grave and sometimes even decisive defeat, if changes beyond our control in the position of the other classes bring to the forefront a form of activity in which we are especially weak. If, however, we learn to use all the methods of struggle, victory will be certain, because we represent the interests of the really foremost and really revolutionary class, even if circumstances do not permit us to make use of weapons that are most dangerous to the enemy, weapons that deal the swiftest mortal blows. Inexperienced revolutionaries often think that legal methods of struggle are opportunist because, in this field, the bourgeoisie has most frequently deceived and duped the workers (particularly in "peaceful" and non-revolutionary times), while illegal methods of struggle are revolutionary. That, however, is wrong."  Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, V.I. Lenin,  1920

  American Communists use their resources and analysis to preserve and strengthen the working class:   “We Communists have never believed, as many of our forerunners did, that it is necessary to wait for socialism before all wrongs could be righted and all grievances settled. We have fought injustice, cruelty, violence, oppression, wherever it existed and against those responsible”  -Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “Horizons of the Future for A Socialist America”, 1959
Not long after this, Sister Flynn entered the fight of her life, against the lies and accusations of the capitalist courts of the US, under the Smith Act, which charged several of the leaders of the Communist Party, USA with a desire to overthrow the American government by force.  Elizabeth Gurley Flynn delivered an address to the courts in an eloquent defense of the beliefs and tasks of CPUSA:

"We will prove that what is called capitalism has existed only a comparatively short time in the United States, less than two centuries, and it is not identical with government. It is neither the first nor the last stage of human society. Only those who profit by it consider it the Alpha and Omega, the best of all possible conclusions.

Before capitalism there was feudalism, when the feudal lords owned the land and lived on the labor of their serf.

Before that there were chattel slavery, barbarism. Capitalism developed and supplanted feudalism. With the advent of power-operated mass production machinery, it expanded rapidly, controlled by an ever-smaller group as free competition was replaced by monopoly.

When we speak of abolishing capitalism, we do not mean of course to abolish the rich natural resources of our country, nor the vast productive industries which have been developed by the labor of its people. We will prove that we mean abolishing the private ownership of the basic means of production and the profit-making system it engenders, which permits a few, the capitalistic class, to exploit the many.

We mean that the natural resources, and the mines, mills, factories, railroads, means of communication, shall be owned in common by all the people as state property to be administered by a government representing the working class, as well as all other people.

We don’t mean that personal or private property is abolished in those things which are the result of saving or for personal use. What will be abolished is the use of private property to exploit the labor of another. For example, in a socialistic society the principle applied would be from each according to his ability to each according to this work, which is identical with what St. Paul said to the Thessalonians, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

In a Communist society, as differentiated from a socialistic society, when an abundance of everything needed for human life, development and comfort is assured, the principle would then be from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

This will be Communism, the fulfillment, we believe, of an ideal human society, which we believe to be possible and desirable.

In answer as to how we expect socialism will be brought about, in contradiction to the theory of force and violence, we will prove, as I have said, it cannot be the result of our efforts alone but it can be the result of the action of the majority of the people of the United States when they are ready and willing to make such a change.

Here, as in England and elsewhere, we Communists strive for a peaceful road to Socialism. We will show that we would do everything in our power to prevent the use of force and violence in establishing Socialism, which we know full well cannot be undertaken here or elsewhere unless it has the support of the majority of the people. But we cannot, of course, guarantee that the enemies of the people will accept the decision of the people to move to Socialism. Socialism, however, is not yet on the order of the day, let me repeat, in the United States. The immediate political program of our Party, we will prove, is anti-war and anti-fascist, for a people’s front government, a government dedicated to assure the well-being of the people. What will take place after that along the road to Socialism in the United States of America is something history and the American people will determine, but which no one can here blueprint.” -(Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Statement at the Smith Act Trial, 1951)

This tireless fighter for socialism was eventually cleared of all seditious charges and lived to see the end of prosecutions of Party members under this terrible and suppressive law.   Sister Flynn passed away after a life of service to humanity while abroad in the USSR.  Her life and achievements were celebrated by the Soviets with a procession in her honor in Moscow.  By her request, she rests in the Forest Home Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois with the Haymarket Martyrs,  Emma Goldman, William "Big Bill" Haywood, Lucy Parsons and other comrades in struggle. 
“The future will be the reward for us all. On our 40th anniversary we of the Communist Party, USA say proudly, in the words of Gabriel Peri, editor of L’Humanite’, the French Communist newspaper, who was executed by the Nazis: ‘If it had to be done all over, I would take this road again.’”

-Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “Horizons of the Future for A Socialist America”, 1959 

Enjoy the song "Rebel Girl" written for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn by labor martyr Joe Hill.  This video features a recorded introduction of Sister Flynn speaking of the origin of the song.   

Song "Rebel Girl" in the YouTube video sung by Hazel Dickens.


  1. Once again, a wonderful post. I didn't realize it had come out so early (based on when I found it on Facebook). A great woman and a great rendition of the song. Thanks!

  2. I sang this song today at the Patrick's Day Parade for All in Queens, NY. I taught it to a woman
    who was carrying a sign that honored Gurley Flynn.