Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup Blog Video Facebook Twitter Instagram

Earl Browder

Earl Browder, former head of the Communist Party in the United States, talks to Wallace about Nikita Khrushchev, Joseph Stalin, the Cold War, and American Communism.

Watch Video

Guest: Earl Browder

WALLACE: Good evening. What you're about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My role is that of a reporter. I've asked my guest, Earl Browder to express his true feelings; his opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's, or my sponsor's, Phillip Morris, Incorporated, but whether you agree or disagree we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast. My name is Mike Wallace. The cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: Tonight we go after the story of a man who for fifteen years was the head of the Communist Party in the United States. You see him behind me in his hey-day; his name is Earl Browder. He comes from an old line American family. In 1945 Earl Browder was unceremoniously thrown out of the Party for preaching cooperation with capitalism.

If you are curious to know what Earl Browder thinks of the prophecy made today by Nikita Khrushchev that our grandchildren will live under socialism; if you want to know why Earl Browder asserts he has always been a good American; what he knows of communist espionage; and why he said, quote, "Getting thrown out of the Communist Party was the best thing that ever happened to me" unquote. We'll try to get these stories in just one minute.


WALLACE: And now to our story. Earl Browder was boss of American Communism when the Communist Party in the United States was at its strongest for the fifteen crucial years between 1930 and 1945. Tonight we're going to try to find out something about Earl Browder, about his beliefs, his regrets, and about communism. Mr. Browder, the head of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, told the United States via television this afternoon the following; he said, "I can prophesy that your grandchildren in America will live under socialism." Do you agree?

BROWDER: Yes and no. I do not agree with Khrushchev's idea that we will live under socialism as he knows it and understands it.

WALLACE: What is Khrushchev's brand of socialism?

BROWDER: The Soviet brand is the socialism that has grown out of a backward country and has carried over a large part of the political backwardness of the country that it inherited. America, if it and when it comes to a socialist system of society will have an entirely different kind; it will grow out of the most advanced society in the world and will reflect that in the type of socialism; it will be democratic socialism.

WALLACE: We will have the vote, we will have freedom, it will not grow out of force and violence?

BROWDER: I can't possibly foresee of any future system in America that would not be essentially Jeffersonian, which means democratic.

WALLACE: Mr. Browder, Khrushchev made a plea today for peaceful co-existence between American capitalism and Russian communism, an exchange of businessmen, easing of trade restrictions, cultural exchanges. Now tell me, sir, isn't that more or less the program that you preached as head of the Communist Party here in 1944 and did that not lead to your being thrown out of the Communist Party a year later?

BROWDER: Yes, that's true to a certain degree, although I even then, all these years ago was preaching something more than he said today. I was also preaching then that America vas a very progressive country and that this was the reason why we could expect America to do its part in such a cooperative relationship.

WALLACE: Well, Mr. Khrushchev's statement today about peaceful co-existence, did it make you feel like "I told you so" or did it make you feel rather that you'd like to get back into the Party now and go back to work?

BROWDER: It gave me not the slightest feeling of going back into the Party. That's some twelve years too late. It did give me the feeling that Mr. Khrushchev was trying to do a serious job in promoting the relaxation of tensions between the two countries and to begin to approach some important agreements with America.


BROWDER: I think they have learned that the Cold War is just as disadvantageous to them as it is to the rest of the world. I think they are suffering from it and I think that they would like to have a little relaxation, and...

WALLACE: Under those circumstances, Mr. Browder, are you suggesting that we do relax a little bit, let down our guard?

BROWDER: Well no, I do not. I think, however, we should have more confidence in ourselves. I don't think that we should be so jittery. I think that we should be rather bold in the conduct of negotiations looking towards the relaxation of tensions.

WALLACE: Well now in as much as there's such an argument going on about the President's budget right now, do you think that what Mr. Khrushchev said today should reasonably lead men in the Congress of the United States to say, "You see, there is an opportunity here for a little relaxation, we can cut our defenses just a little bit because there is an honest effort at good will on the part of the Russians." Do you believe that?

BROWDER: I believe as a practical proposition just as cold-bloodedly estimating what is likely to happen I don't think that these talks will change much about what is actually being done. Er... It's potential for the future, however, is great. The real relaxation of tensions will greatly help us in this country in the way of reducing budgets just as it will help Khrushchev. Relaxation of tensions means both countries will have more resources to turn towards peaceful purposes.

WALLACE: What's your opinion of the man Khrushchev? Do you believe him?

BROWDER: I believe that he's trying to do a job in the direction of relaxing the tensions of the world. I believe him in that sense. There's lots of things he says I don't believe. I was...

WALLACE: For instance?

BROWDER: I was in fact quite astonished at one of his remarks this afternoon. Perhaps, first of all, I should say he makes the impression upon me as one of these men... very similar to a corporation executive in the United States who has grown up from the bottom, one of these tough men, very self-confident, and to a certain extent limited in his intellectual outlook, but very able. He made me think as I looked at him of our own Charlie Wilson.

WALLACE: I'm not sure that Mr. Wilson would like to be compared...

BROWDER: I'm speaking of the general type of character.

WALLACE: Yes, of course.

BROWDER: And he also made me think of that when he gave that answer to one of the correspondents about Hungary because certainly it was a rather unfortunate thing for him to have given a variation of the answer about the Hungarian regime lasting for a thousand years, was it? No, he said for ages. But it was the same note that was struck by the spokesmen of the Third Reich.

WALLACE: You do not believe that the Kadar regime would... would remain... would have remained and would now remain without the presence of Soviet troops, Soviet tanks?

BROWDER: Well I think Mr. Khrushchev would have said the same thing about the Rakosi regime which just disappeared about eight or ten months ago. Disappeared overnight, leaving not a single person in the world willing to say a good word for it.

WALLACE: Mr. Browder now let's come to you, yourself, sir. In view of the fact that you were a communist and that you devoted at least 25 years of your life to strengthening communism in the United States what do you believe most of the people watching you tonight think of you? What kind of man do you think they believe you to be?

BROWDER: I think most people have been pretty thoroughly convinced that Earl Browder is a very dangerous man, particularly because he was leader of the Communist Party when it was strong, and they are completely unimpressed by the fact that for the past 12 years when the Communist Party has come into disrepute I had nothing whatever to do with the Communist Party.

WALLACE: Well let's try to find out why they feel the way they do about Earl Browder. We have statements from FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover that American communism, quote, "stands for the destruction of our American form of government." We have the verdict of our courts in '49 when eleven top communist leaders were convicted of secretly conspiring for the overthrow of the government by force and violence.

We have the cases of convicted atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, just to name a few events linked with the Communist Party under your leadership. Now in view of all this can you blame the American people for regarding you, sir, with something less than affection?

BROWDER: Well, first of all I would say that the things you cite are in no way connected with me. During the period in which I was the secretary of the Communist Party, the Communist Party grew in public esteem. For example, in 1945 just a few months before the communists threw me out as their enemy, the American Bar Association invited me to appear on a nationwide radio hookup under its sponsorship to debate --not to debate -- to discuss the question before the United Nations First Assembly, the question of the veto. Now certainly if the American Bar Association took it for granted that I was a natural person to be invited I was not in great disrepute;

WALLACE: Well now, Mr. Browder...

BRODWER: ...nor was my Party that I led at that time.

WALLACE: Let's be perfectly sensible...

BRODWER: This disrepute has come since.

WALLACE: Let's be perfectly sensible, sir. You were Joseph Stalin's man. I believe it was Eugene Lyons in The Red Decade who said that Earl Browder needed but one vote to be made head of the Communist Party in the United States of America and that was Stalin's vote, and certainly over a period of years you flipped and flopped with the Moscow line so many times and in so many ways that I don't believe it would serve any real purpose to recount them now.

Perhaps the most significant of the flops was doing everything that you could to urge that we do not come to the aid of, let me put it this way, that in '39, in September of '39 when the Stalin-Hitler pact was put into effect you did everything that you could to keep us from coming to the aid of our allies. In 1941 when Hitler marched on Stalin you made a complete flop. First of all it was the Yanks are not coming. Then it was the Yanks are not coming too late.

BROWDER: Yes, that's very interesting and it would be well if everyone understood that history a little better. But it's not so important that I said the Yanks are not coming in '40, because the voice that said the Yanks are not coming in 1940 that was really important was the voice of the President of the United States who solemnly pledged to the mothers of America in his Music Hall speech in Brooklyn just before election that if he was elected he would not send their sons to fight any war in Europe.

WALLACE: But I dare say that his motives, Franklin Roosevelt's motives and Earl Browder's motives were totally different.

BROWDER: I would not agree with that.

WALLACE: Well, you say, you've told me this before, -- you say that you are a good American, a loyal American and that you've done good for your country. Let's look at your personal attitude towards America. In 1917 you were sent to jail for a year for draft dodging.

BROWDER: No, no.

WALLACE: First for refusing to register for the draft and later for failure to observe the draft laws. In 1940 you were sentenced.......

BROWDER: There was no dodging there, Mr. Wallace.

WALLACE: Well, it depends upon how you look at it, sir. In 1940 you were sentenced to four years in jail for passport fraud and in addition to breaking the law you apparently have little respect for our court decisions and warnings by the FBI that we've been in danger of subversion. If you are now and always have been a loyal American as you say, and have said many times, how do you justify this contempt for American law and American authority?

BROWDER: I do not have contempt for American law and American authority. In 1917, for example, what I got into trouble about was the fact that I was trying to defend the American constitution against those who were revising it outside the due process by enacting the Draft Law. That's not an issue I want to fight over again, but I want to point out that I was one of those who probably represented a majority of America at that time who thought it was a mistake for America to get into the European War.

WALLACE: And as far as the passport was concerned, did you not use among other names the name of one of the master spies of the Soviet Union, Nicholas Dozenberg, in getting yourself over to Russia?

BROWDER: Well, I would say that that whole question is best summed up by a passage from the government's brief to the Supreme Court in my case which said that the government did not charge Browder with anything that involved moral turpitude, the injuring of any American citizen or the injuring of the American government.

WALLACE: In that particular case.

BROWDER: That it was a purely technical charge.

WALLACE: In that particular case, sir, but certainly there have been numerous government officials over the years who have charged you with much much worse than moral turpitude, if you will, and have charged you with endangering American people and the life and welfare of this country.

BROWDER: No one has ever made any official charges against me along that line, and if they had, they wouldn't be able to sustain it.

WALLACE: Mr. Browder, since the Russian display of bloodshed in suppressing the Hungarian revolt and Khrushchev's disclosure of Stalin's corruption as well, the Communist Party in the United States is according to some reports losing as many as 500 disillusioned members a month. Let's talk about the Communist Party today in the United States. How do you account for the diehards who remain in the Party?

BROWDER: I would say that most of them are people who would have gotten out of the Party long ago if it hadn't been for the pressure of the government cases against the Party and its leaders, which they considered to be persecution; and like most Americans, they don't like to be pushed around and don't like to run away under fire.

WALLACE: They don't like to be pushed around, and yet is it not their philosophy that they will push others around to achieve the ends which they have in their minds?

BROWDER: I doubt whether those whom I speak of have that in view.

WALLACE: Well, let's go to the leadership of the Party today......

BROWDER: Yes, that's a fair question.

WALLACE: I understand only last week you called on the Party's top men, William Foster, an evil man who all his life has been motivated by a mania for personal power. Does that reflect equally upon the rest of the leadership of the Party? What I am trying to find out, and if you can tell me, is: you mean to say that the entire membership or a good share of the membership of the Communist Party of the United States would get out if they were invited out under proper 'circumstances'?

BROWDER: I think that if it wasn't for the atmosphere that has been created, that they would be running away from a situation; they would have been out long ago. I think that the support that has gathered around the communists in the last years has been motivated almost entirely by the sentiment of protecting the underdog against persecution; I think it is really a situation where the government's attitude toward the Communist Party has kept it in existence.

WALLACE: Therefore, the government should do what, Mr. Browder, say, "All is forgiven, come back, oh ye prodigal sons."

BROWDER: I think the situation could be very much improved if the American government took much the same attitude toward the communists as the French Government or the Italian Government. They have never brought such cases there against them, although if there is a menace to communism, you certainly will find it there, where they have a quarter of the electorate behind them. In America the communists are so small that it is very difficult to find them at all.

WALLACE: Mr. Browder, what do you do now? How do you spend your time; how do you support yourself?

BROWDER: Well, I am retired now on an old age pension.

WALLACE: Social Security?

BROWDER: Social Security.

WALLACE: Given to you by the United States government?


WALLACE: And I believe you get additional help from your sons.

BROWDER: Yes, that's right.

WALLACE: And you spend your time, for instance, today I know that you watched Nikita Khrushchev on television.

BROWDER: Yes, I watch television quite a bit, I watch ball games and I write. I am now engaged in writing a re-examination of Marxism, which will bring me in great disrepute with the Orthodox Marxists, but I think may be valuable to the rest of the world.

WALLACE: Here is a question, sir, that I'd like you to think over for a moment before answering: You claim you were a devoted communist, dedicated to spreading communism throughout the United States. If you were so convinced of its rightness, why did you, as you say you did, shield your three sons from communist influence in practically every way that you could? We will get the answer to that question from Mr. Browder in less than 30 seconds.


WALLACE: And now, sir, for that question I asked just a moment ago. If you were so proud of your communism, head of the Party for 15 years, in it for 10 more, why did you shield your 3 sons from its influence?

BROWDER: On this question, I followed the advice of my wife who had very pronounced views against the political indoctrination of youngsters.

WALLACE: She had.


WALLACE: She was a communist herself.

BROWDER: No, no, she was non-political.

WALLACE: We have documentary proof, and I am sure that you know the proof that I'm talking about, that your wife, Mrs. Browder, worked on the 9th floor here along with you; had an office; had a desk; she is pictured in communist meetings with her hand raised, alongside you; she worked in a tribunal in Moscow where you met her. How can you say the lady was non-political? But, aside from that, sir, you say you took your wife's -- you, a devoted communist --


WALLACE: ...took your wife's word and kept your three sons from it?

BROWDER: Yes, it was her initiative, I agreed with her, she was the one who had the strongest convictions on this question.

WALLACE: Evidently there is at least some hypocrisy for a dedicated communist to say that. Let me quote to you from your own report to the Central Committee to the 8th convention of the Communist Party, 1934. You said, "Every Party unit and every Party committee must take as a part of its daily concrete tasks the work among the youth, the establishment of their organizations, the solution of youths political problems and the material help to their movement," and yet you did not take your own advice. You would give this advice to communists here, and didn't take it yourself.

BROWDER: Well, as a matter of fact, at the same time I was saying that, we were dissolving the organization that was called The Pioneers; that is of the youngsters below highschool age, and we were limiting the work among the youth only to those of highschool age. By the time my boys came of highschool age, I was out of the Communist Party. I might have attempted to direct them toward the Communist Party if I would still be a convinced and active communist leader at that time. But luckily they were never connected with it, so that they escaped that.

WALLACE: Escaped that?

BROWDER: Yes, as I, by good fortune, escaped from that environment by being kicked out of it, and as you quoted me in the beginning of this interview --

WALLACE: "Getting thrown out of the Communist Party was the best thing that ever happened to me." What did you mean by that, sir?

BROWDER: That's right. I meant that the Communist Party and the whole communist movement was changing its character, and in 1945, when I was kicked out, the parting of the ways had come, and if I hadn't been kicked out I would have had the difficult task of disengaging myself from a movement that I could no longer agree with and no longer help.

WALLACE: Well, under the circumstances that you feel the way that you do, what is your answer to this challenge to you on January l6th last by the syndicated labor columnist, Victor Reisel. He wrote, "There is one man who can really kick the world communist parties on their way down; he is Earl Browder. Browder can rip wide open the dangerous illusions some still have that the Communist Party is a Party and not a plot." What about it, sir; why don't you tell what you know?

BROWDER: I've been attempting to tell what I know for the last 10 years, and received very little encouragement. I received a great deal of encouragement to tell what other people think they know; but I am not in the world to tell other people's stories for them. I have been given offers of considerable sums if I would sponsor with my name articles which were actually written by other people. I am not in that kind of business. That's what most people want of me. They don't want what I really have to say, they want me to say what they would like to spread.

WALLACE: And you, sir, say that you were in the Communist Party for 25 years, you worked very closely with Stalin, the leadership of the Party, and you know nothing of value that would help to rip the mask from the Communist Party here and through the world.

BROWDER: Not in the sense that Mr. Reisel says, the sense of the uncovering of conspirators, because I was involved in no conspiracies.

WALLACE: May we have a one line or one word answer to this next question, and our last one. Were we to go to war with the Soviet Union, where would your sympathies lie, here or there?


WALLACE: Thank you very much, Earl Browder. Incidentally, the views of Mr. Browder are his own, not necessarily those of the sponsor, the network or myself. History will judge the mark that Earl Browder made on communism, but only he can judge what mark communism has made on him; and it is, perhaps, ironic, that his soul-searching, going on now, is financed by his monthly Social Security check from the United States government and by funds sent him by this three college teaching, non-communist sons. We'll have a run down on next week's interview in just a few seconds.


WALLACE: Next week we tackle the most crucial issue facing the world today, continued H-Bomb tests. What are the harmful effects of nuclear test blasts like the one you see pictured behind me. Today an H-Bomb exploded in Nevada. Why do scientists, faced with the same set of facts, disagree as to whether the United States should ban further H-Bomb tests. We will go after these stories from an atomic Physicist who charges that we are already contaminated with atomic radiation that generations to come will suffer from its effects.

Our guest will be Dr. Ralph Lapp, formerly of the Manhattan Project, who will testify this week at the government hearing on nuclear tests in Washington. Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace. Goodnight.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace Interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality House.