Florida Congressman Allen West was wrong when he suggested that there were dozens of communists in the current Congress. Misled by crank websites, the out-there Republican from Florida said Tuesday, “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party… They actually don’t hide it. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”
It would be generous, indeed, to suggest that West is confused.
The Congress is not currently a haven for followers of Karl Marx.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has over the years included a few friends of democratic socialism—which espouses an economic and social justice vision every bit as far removed from the Stalinist excesses that West seems to be decrying as the current Republican Party’s views are from those of its radical founders.
The democratic socialist connections and tendencies that exist are no secret. The CPC was once led by US Senator Bernie Sanders, who has always identified as a socialist, and it is includes as a longtime member former House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, who (like former US Senator Ted Kennedy and the Reverend Jesse Jackson before him) has worked with groups such as Democratic Socialists of America to advance proposals for single-payer “Medicare for All” healthcare reforms.
But the vast majority of CPC members are run-of-the-mill progressive Democrats, very much in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson when it comes to domestic policy and to their support for civil rights and economic fairness.
As for Marxists, they’re in short supply in this current Congress.
But West might take a measure of comfort in knowing that he is not entirely wrong about the fact that the Congress has included readers of Marx, ideological allies of the Communist Party and members who were elected in alliance with the Socialist Party.
For the most part, these radicals have operated under a single banner. But it is not that of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—and certainly not that of the Democratic Party.
The banner around which radicals have historically gathered in official Washington has been that of the Republican Party.
Founded at Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854 by utopian socialists and militant abolitionists, the early Republican Party included many German-American immigrants who had come the United States after the wave of European revolutions that stirred in 1848 fell short of its radical goals. Among the first Republicans were allies and associates of Karl Marx, such as Joseph Weydemeyer, who would eventually serve as as a Civil War colonel.