A disciplined organization that demanded strenuous commitments and frequently expelled members, the CP was not an open mass organization in the manner of the Socialist Party or the NAACP. Membership levels remained below 20,000 until 1933 and then surged upward in the late 1930s, reaching 66,000 in 1939, falling off during the Nazi-Soviet detente, then rebuilding after 1941 as the US and the Soviet Union joined in a World War II alliance. Party membership surpassed 75,000 at the start of 1947 before starting its Cold War decline.
The CP developed a unique geography, centered in big cities of the North and Pacific West. New York (District 2) at some points accounted for 40-50% of party members.
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Note: These data are from internal Communist Party records. The numbers from 1922 to 1934 reflect average dues collections per year or part of year. From 1937 to 1950 the data are for registered party members. Dues payments fluctuated from month to month and underestimate actual membership, particularly in the early 1930s when many members had trouble keeping up with dues. Party officials estimated that registered membership exceeded dues collections by 10-20%.
Sources: The following documents can be found in Files of the Communist Party of the USA in the Comintern Archives (IDC publishers): The Membership of Our Party (1922); Membership Figures According to Dues Payments (1923)(1924)(1925 January-June) all in Dello 739; Communist Party USA Social and Industrial Composition of Jan. 1, 1928 (Dello 1358); 1934 (Dello 3457); Table B (Dello 2723); Dues Sales by District (Dello 2723); Organizing Department (Dello 2723); 1932 Average Dues Paying Membership (Dello 2723); Material for American Discussion (Dello 4083). From the Earl Browder Papers,1891-1975 (ProQuest microfilm), reel 3: Registration 1944-1945.
Data from years 1946-1950 are from FBI files generously shared by Trevor Griffey and Ernie Lazar who obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act. The files indicate that the data were obtained from confidential informants thought to be reliable. File numbers: 100-NY-80638 Serials 140, 182, 239, 331, 349, 384, 440, 441, 448.
Research and data compilation: James Gregory, Rebecca Flores
Maps: James Gregory