For this purpose, an organization known as the ‘Communist International’ or ‘Comintern’ was formed. Its purpose was to coordinate the various communist parties which existed in different countries around the globe.
At first, the Comintern articulated a clear strategy of “violent revolution.” This took the form, in the United States, of a wave of bombings in 1919 and 1920.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an organization which seemed prima facie to be a labor union, but which was actually an arm of Soviet communism, held the city of Seattle hostage in a general strike. The ordinary citizens of Seattle were denied basic necessities of life for several days while the IWW controlled the city.
In the long run, however, it became clear to the Comintern that a strategy of direct violent revolution would not likely succeed in some of the globe’s major industrialized democracies. The words “violent revolution,” which had previously appeared prominently in the literature of the Communist Party in the United States (CPUSA), slowly disappeared from the party’s printed materials.
Instead, the Comintern directed the CPUSA, the IWW, and other Soviet agencies to act in a more gradual, insidious, and subversive manner. The Comintern developed a strategy of using “front” organizations.
The development of communist fronts carried several advantages for the Soviets. The organizations could be formed and controlled, sometimes visibly or sometimes behind the scenes, by Soviet agents or by members of the CPUSA. But the members of the organizations didn’t have to be CPUSA members, which made it comfortable for more people to join these organizations, and made those members more useful to the Soviets, because those members could exert influence inside the United States without being obvious extensions of the Soviet Union.
Of the people who joined or supported communist front organizations, some did so knowingly: they were sympathizers, who might not be Soviet agents or members of the CPUSA, but who were in favor of the Comintern’s general goals. Others aided the Soviets unwittingly: they were “dupes” who thought that they were helping some noble humanitarian cause, and who had been fooled by the front.
Historian Kermit McKenzie describes how the Comintern developed the strategy of using front organizations:
In summary, it may be said that the Comintern outlined for the Communist parties in the capitalist countries during 1935-1939 an imaginative, flexible program of strategy and tactics, in which Communists were permitted to exploit the symbols of patriotism, to assume the role of defenders of national independence, to attack fascism without demanding an end to capitalism as the only remedy, and, most importantly, to enter upon alliances with other parties, on the basis of fronts or on the basis of a government in which Communists might participate. In all of this the fundamental aim of world Communism through violent revolution was retained, and the new pattern of strategy and tactics was pictured as excellent preparation toward that end.
Many of the communist fronts operating inside the United States assumed the pose of humanitarian or relief work. Others seemed to support cultural, artistic, or educational work. In reality, they worked to effect the violent overthrow of the United States government and to reduce the liberties enjoyed by citizens, and to do so in ways which could only result in human misery and loss of life.
Among these front organizations (approximately 200 of them were clearly identified; others may have escaped detection) were the American Council on Soviet Relations, the American Jewish Labor Council, the American League for Peace and Democracy, the American National Labor Party, the American National Socialist Party, the American Nationalist Party, the California Emergency Defense Committee, the Chopin Cultural Center, the Michigan School of Social Science, the Philadelphia School of Social Science and Art, the Voice of Freedom Committee, and the Wisconsin Conference on Social Legislation.
The organizations named are merely a sampling of the many and varied fronts used by the Comintern.
Individuals in these fronts could exert influence in society or among policy makers; they could retrieve information and send it back to the Soviet Union; and they could do so largely avoiding suspicion. The Comintern learned well that a gradual subversive presence could do more harm to the United States than an overt attempt at violent revolution.