Were the U.S. Communist party (CPUSA) and its various front organizations legitimate phenomena of domestic American political life, despite the fact that they espoused a radical—even heretical—political program? Or did these forces represent a foreign and essentially artificial growth on the American body politic? Did they merely draw together proponents of an unpopular political agenda, or did their practices and goals constitute a conspiracy to advance the interests of a foreign power?
The debate over the nature of American Communism has turned on this set of questions virtually since the birth of the CPUSA. During the McCarthy era, scholars like the late Sidney Hook argued that, for all practical purposes, the American Communist movement was, in fact, something on the order of a conspiracy—a conspiracy bent on political subversion. As Hook saw it, the Communists were unlike members of any other radical sect, in that their primary allegiance was to a foreign power.
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