Red Chicago 1928-35
By Ron Grossman –Tribune Reporter
If Chicago wins the 2016 Olympics, it wont be the first time Chicago has hosted athletes joined
together under the banner of world peace – although an earlier game was sanctioned not by the
International Olympic Committee, but by the Third Communist International.
That’s just one of the many tidbits of Chicago’s history rescued from obscurity by Randi Storch,
author of “Red Chicago: American Communism and its Grassroots 1928-1935.” Her book very
engagingly recounts the sunset years of Chicago’s reign as the radical capital of America. From
1887, when the Chicago workers held the parade that would become the model for May Day
Celebrations, to the 1932 International Workers’ Athletic Meet, the city was the lodestone for those
who felt the nation’s economic ills required drastic political surgery.
While this May Day Heritage is still honored all over the world, how many present day Chicagoans
would guess that May Day, the international workers’ holiday, was first celebrated here? Even the
most dedicated devotees of sports trivia would probably scratch their heads at the news that in
1932, American leftists staged at Staff Field on the University of Chicago’s Campus a counter
event to the official Olympics held in Los Angeles, USA.
It’s not just the passage of time that erased this historical event from the people in Chicago or the
USA itself. The McCarthyite Witch Hunts of the 1950’s quickened this process. Communism
became identified and vilified with the Soviet Union and Stalin, and even leftists got taken in by
the provocative Rosenberg spy trials. But Professor Storch of the State University of New York at
Cortland, argued and argues that the false evidence presented by the powers of the USA only
support a very simplistic view of the early years in Chicago. She studied official records in
Moscow and concluded:
“Chicago’s records do not reveal any espionage activities or orders from Moscow – they record
the struggles by the Communists in day to day struggles, facing police repressions, the mobilizing
of mass organizations, and raising the political understanding of the workers.”
Many Black Americans were in the progressive movements. In the 1920-30s liberals no less than
other white Americans had virtually a physical aversion to Black Americans. But the Communist
Party declared war on Jim Crow as well as against capitalism.
For many Black Chicagoans the party and the communist sponsored organizations offered their
first chance to associate with the whites. During the terrible Depression Years, Chicago
Communists organized eviction-rent strikes and moved may Black evicted families back into their
apartments almost as quickly as the Sheriff’s deputies had their belongings on the street.
These experiences stayed with most Black Americans of that period. Many Blacks believed at that
time that any white person that talked to a Black person was a Communist.”
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