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American Communists in Moscow


Notes: This text was originally published in: Shifter Magazine 16 special issue on Pluripotential. Edited by Sreshta Rit Premnath & Warren Neidich

1. American writer and Communist John Reed’s house, where he lived in 1920.
2. Red Square, where Communist Party USA Chairwoman Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was given state funeral in 1964.
3. Kremlin Wall, where John Reed and Charles Ruthenberg, one of the founders of the American Communist Party were buried.
4. The Comintern (“Communist International”, also known as the Third International), an international Communist organization founded in Moscow in March 1919.
5. Moscow State University, where the founder of the American Communist Party Charles Ruthenberg studied in 1921-1924 and where in 1979 American Communist activist Angela Davis was made an honorary professor.
6. “National” Hotel, where American singer Paul Robeson lived during his visits to the Soviet Union.
7. Column Hall of the House of the Trade Unions, where James Cannon, the first chairman of the American Communist Party, attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928.
8. Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, where the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA Gus Hall studied in 1931-1933;
9. “Lux” Hotel, where most of the international Communist rank and file coming to Moscow lived starting 1920s, including Bill Haywood and Gus Hall.
10. Communist University of the Toilers of the East, where African-American Communist Haywood Hall studied in the 1920 and who later became vice-chairman of the Negro subcommittee of the Comintern.

2. Red Square.

U.S. Communist Party chairwoman Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dies of pulmonary aneurism in Moscow on September 5, 1964 at age 74. After a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending, a half of Flynn’s remains were placed in the Kremlin Wall, the others were returned to the U.S. to be buried in Wladheim Cemetery near the graves of Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood, and the Haymarket Martyrs of 1886.

Flynn was born in New Hampshire in 1890. The family moved to New York in 1900, and Flynn was educated at the local public schools. Her parents introduced her to socialism. When she was only 16 she gave her first speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women”, at the Harlem Socialist Club. As a result of her political activities, Flynn was expelled from high school.

Flynn was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

In 1936, Flynn joined the U.S. Communist Party and wrote a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she was elected to the national committee.

In July 1948, 12 leaders of the Communist Party were arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. Flynn launched a campaign for their release, but in June 1951, was herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act.

After a nine-month trial, she was found guilty and served two years in the women’s penitentiary at Alderson, West Virginia. She later wrote an account of her prison experiences in The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.

After her release from prison, Flynn resumed her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She became national chairperson of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961.

9. “Lux” Hotel.

Most of the international Communist rank and file coming to Moscow, starting 1920s, including Bill Haywood, lived here.

William Haywood (February 4, 1869 – May 18, 1928), better known as Big Bill Haywood, was a prominent figure in the American labor movement. Haywood was a leader of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and a member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America. During the first two decades of the 20th century, he was involved in several important labor battles, including the Colorado Labor Wars, the Lawrence textile strike, and other textile strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey.

In 1918, he was one of 101 IWW members convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. While out of prison during an appeal of his conviction, Haywood fled to Russia, where he spent the remaining years of his life.

In Russia, Haywood became a labor advisor to Lenin’s Bolshevik government,but Lenin’s illness and death and Stalin’s rise to power ended his role as an advisor to the Soviet labor movement in 1923. Various visitors to Haywood’s small Moscow apartment in later years recalled that he was lonely and depressed, and expressed a desire to return to the United States.

In 1926 he took a Russian wife, though the two had to communicate in sign language, as neither spoke the other’s language. At the invitation of CPUSA member Gus Hall, Idaho newspaper reporter John Chapple traveled to Moscow in late 1927 in an attempt to interview Haywood, only to find him barely coherent and suffering from advanced diabetes.

On May 18, 1928, Haywood died in a Moscow hospital from a stroke brought on by alcoholism and diabetes. Half of his ashes were buried in the Kremlin wall; an urn containing the other half of his ashes was sent to Chicago and buried near the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument.

10. The Communist University of the Toilers of the East

or KUTV (also known as the Far East University) was established April 21, 1921, in Moscow by the Communist International (Comintern) as a training college for communist cadres in the colonial world. The school officially opened on October 21, 1921. It performed a similar function to the International Lenin School, which mainly accepted students from Europe and the Americas. It was headed in its initial years by Karl Radek, who was later purged from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The curriculum included both theoretical and practical matters, including Marxist theory, party organization and propaganda, law and administration, theory and tactics of proletarian revolution, problems of socialist construction, and trade union organization. KUTV had regional branches in Baku (in Azerbaijan), Irkutsk, and Tashkent (in Uzbekistan). The University published Revolutionary East. KUTV was closed in the late 1930s. Its tasks were transferred to smaller, local institutions in the various Soviet republics.

The African-American layer and communist William L. Patterson lived in Russia from 1927-1930 and studied at Communist University of the Toilers of the East. Patterson married a Russian woman with whom he had two daughters. In Russia he experienced an exhilarating lack of racism: “it is as if one had suffered with a painful affliction for many years and had suddenly awakened to discover that the pain had gone”. The African American Brothers Otto and Haywood Hall, who became Communists after 1917 revolution, went to the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s and also studied at Communist University of the Toilers of the East. Haywood Hall visited Stalin in Kremlin in 1927 and became vice-chairman of the Negro subcommittee of the Comintern. He returned to the United States in 1930 to continue his Communist organizational work.

Website of Yevgeniy Fiks