The Communist Unity Committee of America (CUC) was a short-lived organized faction that came into existence in January 1921 over the apparent inability of the leaderships of the Communist Party of America and the United Communist Party of America to negotiate their differences and merge their organizations in compliance with the explicit instructions of the Communist International. The leading figure in this organization was its secretary, Alexander Bittelman, a former member of the CEC of the CPA who had been expelled from the organization for his criticism of the CEC majority of his party. The group claimed an active membership including members of both Communist parties and attempted to forge unity around a compromise on the divisive and polarizing issue of language federations.
The CEC published 7 issues of a bi-weekly newspaper in New York, called Communist Unity. This publication was unique in the annals of American radicalism in that it was a tri-lingal publication, including material in English, Russian, and Yiddish. For fear of repression by the Central Executive Committees of the two Communist parties against their members, the ranks of the CUC were kept secret, with the only signatures of any articles being the pseudonyms of the already-expelled Bittelman, a Russian called "Maksim," and an English-speaker signing "J.W." It is believed that German Communist leader Ludwig Lore of the UCP was also a member of this grouping.
The CUC outlined its program for unity in a Feb. 1921 memorandum to the Comintern and further fleshed out its position with an open letter to Lenin.
[fn. Communist Unity [New York], v. 1, issues 1-7, set in RGASPI f. 515, op. 1, d. 44, ll. 1-29]
"Memorandum to the Executive Committee of the Communist International in Moscow from the Communist Unity Committee in New York City, Jan. 21, 1921." With both the CPA and the UCP attempting to sabotage American Communist unity on the Communist International's terms, each for their own reason, it was left to pro-unity elements from both parties to provide unbiased information and to attempt to build consensus from the bottom up. The Communist Unity Committee was the organized expression of these pro-unity forces. This letter to the Comintern indicates that from an initial membership of about 55,000 in the fall of 1919, the combined Communist parties "have now hardly 15,000 members." The letter relates the existence within the 20,000 or so members of a Socialist Party a left wing group who enthusiastically support the Russian Revolution and who seek to join the 3rd International. "The Socialist Party is disintegrating rapidly. The Communist parties, what there is of them, are not in a position to carry on the work, since they are composed mainly of foreign speaking elements, and make no effort to reach the American workman in a manner that he can understand," the letter advises. The ground is ready for an organization of 50,000 or so "class-conscious elements" to join in a new, legal organization, the letter opines. It adds: "Only this work must be done openly, above ground, avoiding the legal restrictions of the 48 separate states, to as great an extent as may be found necessary. Secret agitation here will only invite spying, corruption, and eventual disintegration."
"Memorandum on the Present Situation of the Communist Movement of America: Adopted by the Communist Unity Committee for Submission to the Executive Committee of the Third Communist International." [c. Feb. 1, 1921] Lengthy set of theses to the Executive Committee of the Comintern on the unity situation in America representing the official perspective of the Communist Unity Committee, a group headed by Alexander Bittelman and containing members of both the Communist Party of America and the United Communist Party. Both Central Executive Committees are blamed for the failure of the American Communists organizations to unite in accord with Comintern directives. Origins of the split are linked to language, with English-speaking elements seeking postponement of formation of a Communist Party in America until after the 1919 Emergency National Convention of the Socialist Party so as to maximize the number of English-speaking revolutionary socialists brought into the fledgling communist movement. Upon formation of the dual organizations, the CEC of the CPA is said to have "almost unanimously adopted the position that, since the CLP is by its composition, leadership, and program a centrist organization," therefore rendering unity impossible. This feeling had been attenuated by the protracted underground period, which many CEC leaders had felt had largely purged CLP ranks of its former centrist elements. In March and April 1920 pro-unity factions in both organizations had virtually achieved organic unity of the rival groups, only to be sabotaged by the leaderships of both parties. In the aftermath, the anti-unity CPA majority conducted a purge against pro-unity elements following the July 1920 2nd Convention of the organization. Meanwhile, the UCP embraced the theory that "all evils come from the foreign language groups" and came to exert an ever more divisive role on the American movement. The Communist Unity Committee, representing the pro-unity factions within each party, casts itself here as a force for a united party bringing together both English-speaking and Foreign language elements. "The ruling groups of both parties have neither the conception nor the ability to build and lead such a party," the document notes.
"Letter to an Unnamed Comrade in Moscow Regarding the Communist Unity Committee from Alexander Bittelman in New York, February 1, 1921." Letter from recently-expelled CPA leader Alexander Bittelman of the Communist Unity Committee to an unnamed comrade in Moscow offering supplemental information to be presented to the Executive Committee of the Communist International on the current unity situation in the American Communist movement. "It may be said with absolute certainty that the great majority of the members of both parties is in heartfelt sympathy with our criticisms and aims," Bittelman asserts, adding that such sympathy was generally not translated into "joining and actively supporting our activities." Bittelman states that the CECs of the two parties, in an attempt to break the organizational stalemate, were attempting to create splits in the ranks of their rivals, with the UCP attempting to split out English-speaking elements from the CPA and the CPA attempting to cause the departure of foreign language federationists from the UCP. "If the Central Committees of the two parties are allowed to continue in this manner, they may succeed in creating a new split that will definitely break the movement into two hostile parts -- English-speaking and foreign language-speaking -- and that will make unity between them impossible for a very long time to come," Bittelman warns. Bittelman urges his correspondent to press for ECCI recognition of the Communist Unity Committee as the vehicle for merger, stating: "If the Executive Committee of the Third International could see its way to officially endorse the CUC, we would instantly carry with us at least 80% of the membership of both parties, and achieve unity within six (6) weeks."
"Circular Letter to All District Organizers of the United Communist Party of America From Executive Secretary Alfred Wagenknecht, February 1, 1921." A cover letter for the first two copies of the organ of Alexander Bittelman's "Communist Unity Committee," sent out by Executive Secretary Wagenknecht of the United Communist Party so that the UCP's DOs might "be better able to meet the propaganda of this 'third party' committee." Wagenknecht relates Bittelman's saga -- failing to be able to keep the Jewish federation neutral in the CPA/CLP split, then joining the UCP. Bittelman was offered the job of editor of the UCP's legal Jewish newspaper, but he declined, seeking to edit a narrow theoretical journal instead. Wagenknecht says he then led 15 Jewish members out of the UCP and into the CPA -- which accepted the rank-and-filers and refused membership to Bittelman! Outside of both organizations, Bittelman established his "Communist Unity Committee" so as to "establish a leadership for himself," Wagenknecht says.
"The Only Issue (Statement of the Communist Unity Committee)." [Feb. 15, 1921] With majorities of the leadership groups of the Communist Party of America and United Communist Party of America each trying to obstruct Comintern-mandated organizational unity in their own way, another group of leaders -- headed by expelled CPA member Alexander Bittelman -- attempted to "go over the heads of the obstructionists by making a direct appeal to party members under the aegis of the "Communist Unity Committee." This document reprints a basis programmatic statement of the CUC from the group's short-lived newspaper, Communist Unity. The question of language federations and their autonomy vis-a-vis the central party organization is identified as "the only issue" standing in the way of organizational unity. The CPA's historic contention that the American Communist movement must be directed by the "100 Percenters" of the Communist movement, the CPA language federations "holds good no longer" since over the subsequent two years of underground existence the remaining English-speaking elements had shaken free of the Left Social Democrats ("Left Wingers") who had attached themselves to the movement. "They are either nothing -- and out of the movement -- or they are conscious and reliable Communists," the CUC writer contends. Moreover, by now the Executive Committee of the Comintern had emerged to serve as the "keeper of principles," further belying such a role for the CPA "100 Percenters." Control should instead be exerted by a unitary central organization "led only by those trusted and respected by the rank and file of the movement, be these CP or UCP men," which would be quickly established by a joint convention held free of the machinations of the rival Central Executive Committees, the author contends.
"Open Letter to V.I. Ulianov (N. Lenin) in Moscow from the Communist Unity Committee in New York, circa Feb. 28, 1921." Lengthy public letter to Lenin by the Communist Unity Committee of America attempting to explain the political situation blocking unity between the rival American Communist parties. "The present divisions between our two parties do not at all run along the familiar lines of European Communism. At the bottom of our factional struggles lies a specific American problem -- the so-called problem of federations," the CUC declares. The issue of "centralization vs. federalism" with respect to the language federations is a strawman, the CUC contends, instead framing the question instead as follows: "1. Should the Communist activities in America be conducted in one language only (English), or in as many languages as there are nationalities among the proletariat of the United States? 2. If the languages of our propaganda are to be the languages spoken and understood by the various nationalities of the American proletariat, should this foreign language propaganda be conducted directly by the Central Committee of the Party, or should each foreign language group be given the right to itself provide for its own matters of propaganda and organization under the final supervision of the Central Committee of the Party?" Both the CPA and the UCP were composed of an "overwhelming majority" of non-English Communists and the CUC, in the quest to fulfill Comintern-mandated unity between the groups seeks Lenin's "advice."
"Letter to a Comrade in Moscow regarding the 2nd National Conference of the Communist Unity Committee from Alexander Bittelman in New York, March 12, 1921." With the 2nd Conference of the Communist Unity Committee completed, the group's Secretary, Alex Bittelman, sends an update on the American situation to its unnamed man-in-Moscow. While the CPA had gone backwards, giving more authority to its Central Executive Committee, CUC unity propaganda was having and effect among the leaders of the UCP, Bittelman indicates. As for the 3 member American Agency of the Comintern, that body had proved ineffectual, with Karlis Janson-"Scott" of the UCP and Louis Fraina of the CPA essentially sticking to the lines of their parties and "the so-called impartial chairman [Sen Katayama], is helplessly floundering between the two." Bittelman indicates that the CUC intended to demand that both underground organizations hold conventions in every district to pass resolutions upon party unity between the rival organizations. While "in general our position is very strong," Bittelman notes that "our future tactics will, of course, depend in a large measure upon the attitude of the Comintern toward the CUC. I will ask you, therefore, to make haste with your report, and communicate with us as quickly as possible."
"To the American Council of the Communist International: An Open Letter." [April 1, 1921] In an effort to resolve the factional war that had split the American Communist movement and to better organize the radical movement in Mexico and other countries in the Western hemisphere at the end of 1920 the CI appointed a 3 member "American Agency," consisting of UCP member Karlis Janson-"Scott," Louis Fraina of the CPA, and an independent, the Japanese Marxist Sen Katayama, who had spent many years in the country. The American Agency proved largely ineffective in negotiating unity but ultimately supplied Moscow with sufficient information that a "shotgun wedding" could be arranged. This open letter to the American Agency appeared in the press of the Communist Unity Committee, an organized group headed by Alexander Bittelman which included pro-unity members of both the CPA and the UCP. This document is a comment upon Feb. 20 and 27, 1921 unity proposals of the American Agency to the two rival American Communist parties and their membership. The letter indicates the fight between the two governing Central Executive Committees which was obstructing unity had merely been taken underground following the Comintern's formal directive for merger. The open letter of the CUC is critical of the American Agency for its failure to "determine the reasons that brought to a deadlock the unity negotiations of the two Central Committees" and to reveal to the rank and file "how this deadlock could be broken and unity achieved." The CUC declares that neither proportional nor equal representation of the two organizations will result in authentic unity at a joint convention unless the rank and file is persuaded of the necessity of such a merger and empowered to bring it about.
"The CUC to the American Agency of the CI (An Open Letter)." [April 17, 1921] Another document in the ongoing unity dance between the obstructionist United Communist Party and the Communist Party of America on the one hand and the pro-unity Communist Unity Committee and American Agency of the Comintern on the other. The American Agency's April 4, 1921 communication to the unwilling partners had been met with "subterfuge and evasion" by the CPA, the open letter notes. The UCP had formally accepted the AA's proposals, "but unofficially they will put all kinds of obstacles in the way of unity," the Communist Unity Committee warns. The CUC declares that "The situation calls for deeds of a decisive and determined nature. You must be prepared to act in the interests of Unity, as your mandate actually empowers you to do, over the heads of the two ruling cliques. But for this you need an organ of expression, since you cannot expect the official party press to be at your service." Access to the CUC's publication, the bi-weekly newspaper Communist Unity, is offered to the American Agency, who is cautioned that unless a successful unity convention were to be held within the next 4 weeks, the two parties would declare the American Agency's efforts a failure and send new delegations to Moscow for the 3rd World Congress of the Comintern, where the fight would be reopened anew.
"Our Movement in Crisis." [April 20, 1921] With the 3rd World Congress of the Comintern on slated to open on the other side of the world in June, as April came to a close a practical deadline for unity of the American Communist movement was fast approaching. This is a published summary of the situation by the pro-merger Communist Unity Committee. The timeline according to the CUC was as follows: on April 2 the three member American Agency of the Comintern had at last received a mandate from the Comintern to force unity between the two obstinate American Communist parties. This had been followed on April 4 by a letter to the two Central Executive Committees submitting this mandate and 9 conditions for merger. The UCP formally accepted the same, but covertly continued its policy of obstruction. The CPA had accepted only the concept of a unity convention presided over by a "neutral" chairman, while holding out reservations to the other 8 conditions of the American Agency. The leadership of the CPA "contest the right of the Agency to bind the convention with conditions. The fact that the Agency has been given by the Communist International full power does not worry them a bit. They just don’t want to accept the conditions." The threat of a permanent split of the American movement loomed, in the view of the CUC. It was therefore up to the rank and file to "be ready to properly perform its supreme and difficult task of electing the right persons to the Joint Unity Convention," since the ruling machines "will stop at nothing, no matter how low, to crush and exterminate the real and sincere defenders of the cause of Unity," the CUC declares.