Cover for PEDERSEN: The Communist Party in Maryland, 1919-57. Click for larger image

The Communist Party in Maryland, 1919-57

Bolsheviks in Baltimore shows that contrary to the beliefs of many historians--radical and otherwise--the American Communist Party did often march to Moscow’s tune in efforts to sway American foreign policy in ways that benefitted the Soviet Union.

This rare grass-roots account of American communism traces the rise and fall of Maryland's Communist Party from the time of the Russian Revolution to the McCarthy era. Drawing on sources including the central archives of the Communist Party of the United States of America, recovered from remote storage in Siberia in 1993, Vernon L. Pedersen presents a sharp challenge to revisionist views of American communism as a benign domestic movement detached from Soviet interests.

Bolsheviks in Baltimore charts the uneven transformation of Baltimore's fledgling Communists into underground revolutionaries in the 1920s. Pedersen documents the mercurial careers of local organizers, their devotion to the Soviet cause, and their efforts to convert the Party from a hodgepodge of ethnic groups to an effective instrument of class interests. He also tracks the public's changing perception of the Communists, from amused unconcern to alarm, and details how the Ober antisubversive law and the HUAC hearings of the 1950s dismantled the Party from without while planting seeds of paranoia that destroyed it from within.

Behind the public fear of a Communist conspiracy against the U.S. government, Pedersen finds a party fractured by conflicting agendas, ineffectual leadership, and unstable membership. However, he also uncovers new evidence that Communists in the United States, acting on Soviet orders, used their influence in unions and front groups to sway American foreign policy in ways that benefited the Soviet Union. He documents the consolidation of an espionage apparatus in Baltimore and demonstrates that while espionage activities may have involved only a few individuals, all Party members shared an attitude of willing support for the activities of the Soviet Union that made these covert practices possible.

Paying tribute to the fervor and the effort dedicated by the Maryland Communists, often at the expense of their own physical and financial well-being, to a cause that ultimately failed them, Bolsheviks in Baltimore assesses an ambiguous legacy of admirable social vision, haphazard international conspiracy, and fierce internal conflict.


"This welcome addition to the literature clearly elucidates how national ACP policy twists, turns, and crises impacted the Maryland party over 40 years and is based upon extensive research in archival sources (including recently opened ACP records deposited in the former Soviet Union), FBI reports, contemporary newspaper accounts, secondary literature, and a few interviews with former ACP members." -- Choice

"One of only three state studies of the U.S. Communist Party ever published. . . . Pedersen utilizes a remarkable array of sources, including Russian archives, FBI files, Catholic Church manuscripts, and interviews with party members. . . . Pedersen is careful throughout to embed his coverage of Maryland communism within the wider political history of the state and the nation. His wholly admirable study, therefore, is worth the attention even of nonspecialists." -- Myron I. Scholnick, Journal of Southern History

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