City Journal
Adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935, the Popular Front tasked communists in the West with building "progressive" coalitions with various institutions--including political parties and labor unions--that the party had previously denounced as bourgeois and corrupt. The front reflected fears haunting Stalinist Russia at that time. "Hitler had shown a strength that made Communist predictions about his imminent collapse seem grotesque," observed left-wing historians Irving Howe and Lewis Coser. "In the Far East, Japan kept growing bolder. The Kremlin leadership...now felt its sole hope lay in a military-political blockade with the Western powers." Following this new strategy, the American Communist Party suddenly asserted that it wanted to build upon, not destroy, American institutions. "Communism is 20th century Americanism," Earl Browder, the American party's general secretary, enthused, while extolling Abraham Lincoln in speeches. The Popular Front sought to enlist Western artists and intellectuals, some of them not party members but "fellow travelers," to use art, literature, and music to insinuate the Marxist worldview into the broader culture. The murals of Diego Rivera, the poetry of Langston Hughes, the novels of Howard Fast--all exemplified this approach. It's an irony that communists should seek to change the culture, of course, since Marxism holds that culture is merely a reflection of underlying economic structures, whose transformation will bring about capitalism's inevitable collapse.
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