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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Washington Commonwealth Federation and Popular Front Politics

Commonwealth News, published by the WCF, supported Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election while fielding a slate of left-leaning Democrats in state and local campaigns (August 1, 1936).
Founded in 1935 and representing a broad alliance of radical organizations, unions, and liberal activists from around the state, the Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF) was one of the most successful manifestations of Popular Front politics anywhere in the United States.

Operating as a left-wing caucus within the Democratic Party, the WCF nominated progressive candidates for state and local offices, electing many of them including Senators and Congressmen.

With tens of thousands of members, an influential newspaper, and an array of linked organizations, for the better part of a decade the WCF mobilized progressive Washington State residents into a political caucus that was broadly influential. By the end of the 1930s Washington State had some of the most liberal and comprehensive labor and social legislation thanks to the political power of the WCF.

We have detailed reports about the WCF and its impact on Washington politics:


Building the People's Republic in Washington State: The Washington Commonwealth Federation, Comintern Foreign Policy, and the Second World War, by Skyler Cuthill

The changes in Soviet foreign policy heavily influenced the foreign policy of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, leading to successes and losses in state politics and public influence.



The Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Washington Pension Union, by Jennifer Phipps

Washington's Communist Party was central to two broader political formations that reshaped state politics, reform, and social services.

“Fascism and Its Ally, Racism”: The Complexities of the Washington Commonwealth Federation's Stance on Civil Rights, by Catherine Roth

The civil rights policies of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a labor/left political coalition, mirrored the zigzags of the international Communist Party's politics, swerving from defending them to silence around Japanese American internment in World War II.

The Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Japanese Boycott, 1937-1938, by Chris Kwon

The labor/radical reform coalition, the Washington Commonwealth Federation, organized an "anti-fascist" boycott against Japanese goods as part of an effort to oppose Japanese imperial expansion into China. However, this stance bled into anti-Japanese sentiment that would culminate in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

The Spanish Civil War and the Pacific Northwest, by Joe McArdle

Nearly seventy men volunteered to fight with the Abraham Lincoln Brigades during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1937. on the side of the democratically elected Spanish government against Franco's fascists. This paper surveys the political attitudes and backgrounds of those volunteers, with an emphasis on University of Washington students who enlisted.

“To Vote Democratic, Vote Commonwealth”: The Washington Commonwealth Federation's 1936 Electoral Victory, by Drew May

The left/labor political coalition launched a 1936 electoral campaign to challenge the right wing, anti-New Deal Democrats in Washington State, as well as advocate radical propoerty redistribution and social insurance policies.

Washington Commonwealth Builder/Washington Commonwealth, newspaper report by Jessica Dunahoo

Read a history of the newspaper of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a left-labor-communist political coalition that reshaped state politics during the Depression.

Washington New Dealer, newspaper report by Jonathan Stecker

The New Dealer was the final paper, from 1938-1942, of the radical-labor political coalition, the Washington commonwealth Federation.



See also the reports, photographs, and oral histories in the Communism in Washington State History and Memory Project