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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

A Brief History of the Communist Party in Washington State

Historical accounts of the Communist Party in particular locales are rare. Here in nine chapters is the decade by decade story of the CP in one of the states where the party made its greatest impact. For a quick overview start with the timeline created by Marian Spath and Gordon Black. Then read the rest sequentially as chronological chapters or skip around.

History of the Communist Party of Washington State: Introduction by James Gregory

An overview of the history of the Communist movement in Washington State, this essay introduces the nine chapter narrative history of Communism in Washington State.

Ch2: Rough Beginnings - The 1920s by Daeha Ko

Founded in 1919, the Party faced severe repression and locked itself in sectarian battles with other left and labor groups during its first decade.

Ch3: Organizing the Unemployed - The Early 1930s by Gordon Black

The Depression brought challenges and opportunities. In the early 1930s the Party attracted new members after it launched the Unemployed Councils and waged militant battles for relief assistance for the homeless and unemployed.

Ch4: Organizing Unions - The 1930s and 1940s by Brian Grijalva

Turning to union organizing in 1933, the CP played a role in the successful campaigns to build unions of longshore workers, timber workers, and others.

Ch5: The Washington Commonwealth Federation and Washington Pension Union by Jennifer Phipps

The WCF endorsed candidates in primary races and served for a decade as the left wing of the Democratic Party. At first excluded from the WCF, CP activists moved into leadership roles after 1936 and saw the organization as one of its most successful popular front operations.

Ch6: Race and Civil Rights - The 1930s and 1940s by Shelley Pinckney

The CP was one of the first left groups to take up the issue of racism and civil rights in Washington State. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the CP promoted union desegregation, public education about racial injustices, and legal support for civil rights activities.

Ch7: War and Red Scare - 1940-1960 by Stephanie Curwick

From the Hitler-Stalin pact to the Soviet-U.S alliance of World War II to the Cold War Red Scare, shifting international alliances meant dramatic changes for those who supported Communism. The Red Scare devastated the Party and affiliated movements. Some members went to jail, some underground.

Ch8: A Partial Revival - The 1960s by Paul Landis

Fighting the laws and rules that kept Communists and former Communists from various jobs and that limited free speech on campuses and elsewhere, the Party made a modest comeback in the 1960s, participating in the antiwar movement and civil rights campaigns.

Ch9: Closing the Century - 1970-2002 by Marian Spath

Still a presence in 2002, the Washington State Communist Party is maintained by a small and aging cadre of dedicated members who are also active in a variety of labor and social justice causes.


Additional articles on the history of Communism in Washington State:

Communist Civil Rights: The Seattle Civil Rights Congress, 1948-1955 by Lucy Burnett

From 1948 to 1955, the Seattle Civil Rights Congress (CRC) provide legal defense and civil rights counsel to numerous Communist Party members and people of color while informing the public about civil rights. During its seven years of activity, the Seattle CRC maintained an active voice of dissent in an era of Red Scare tactics and silence on the subject of civil rights. Their efforts laid the groundwork for future civil rights activism in Seattle.

The Pacific Northwest Labor School: Educating Seattle's Labor Left by Lucy Burnett

Founded in 1946, the Labor School bought together left-wing union leaders, rank and file members, University of Washington academics, and community and religious organizers to promote labor and develop the intellectual skills of working people. But as the Cold War took shape, the school became a lightning rod for anti-Communist charge and attacks from the political right. Although it folded in 1949, the school made an important impact on the labor culture of the region.

Harold Pritchett: Communism and the International Woodworkers of America by Timothy Kilgen

Canadian-born Harold Pritchett helped organize the International Woodworkers of America in the mid 1930s and became the first president of the huge timberworkers union. But his Communist Party affiliation made him a target and in 1940, US immigration authorities banned him and he was forced to resign the Presidency. This paper explores the life of a Communist union leader.

Blocking Racial Intermarriage Laws in 1935 and 1937: Seattle's First Civil Rights Coalition by Stephanie Johnson

In an era marked by racial segregation, Washington was an anomaly: one of only eight states without laws banning racial intermarriage. When anti-miscegenation bills were introduced in both the 1935 and 1937 sessions of the Washington State Legislature, an effective and well-organized coalition led by the African American, Filipino, and Labor communities mobilized against the measure.

Black Longshoreman: The Frank Jenkins Story by Megan Elston

Frank Jenkins (1902-1973) was a Seattle longshoreman and one of the first African Americans to hold leadership positions in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. A participant in the 1934 strike that created the ILWU, for the next thirty-three years he served Seattle's Local 19 in various leadership capacities and was regularly elected to the Coast Labor Relations committee of the International union.

Revels Cayton: African American Communist and Labor Activist by Sarah Falconer

On February 19, 1934, a group of Communists decided that discrimination toward African Americans and Filipinos in Seattle must come to an end. Led by a young, African American, Revels Cayton, the group entered a Seattle City Council meeting demanding laws that would make discrimination based on race illegal. This essay examines the activism of Revels Cayton, son of the prominent middle class black leaders Horace and Susie Cayton, brother of the influential sociologist Horace Cayton, Jr.

The Voice of Action by Christine Davies

Based in Seattle, The Voice of Action was a weekly newspaper published by the Communist Party from March 1933 until October 1936. This report describes the newspaper and includes digital images of selected articles.

The Washington Commonwealth Builder and Washington Commonwealth News by Jessica Donahoo

The Washington Commonwealth Builder and the Washington Commonwealth were the first of a series of names given to a weekly paper issued by the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a leftwing group in which Communists were active after 1936. This report describes the newspaper from 1934-1936 and includes digital images of selected articles.

The Washington New Dealer by Joshua Stecker

The Washington New Dealer was the fifth in a series of weekly newspapers sponsored by the Washington Commonwealth Federation (WCF). Published between 1938-1942, it was edited by Terry Pettus and strongly influenced by the Communist Party. This report describes the newspaper and includes digital images of selected articles.

Richard Correll and the Woodcut Graphics of the Voice of Action by Brian Grijalva

We have compiled a remarkable collection of woodcut illustrations from the Voice of Action. Many were crafted by Richard V. Correll, who later became famous and whose art is now much prized. Between 1933 and 1939, his striking and powerful woodcuts enlivened the pages of Seattle's radical press.