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August 19: The Communist Control Act

August 19, 2012

The Communist Control Act was passed by Congress on this date in 1954, to be signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower on August 24. The law outlawed the Communist Party USA (it was declared “not entitled to any of the rights, privileges, and immunities attendant upon legal bodies”) and made membership or support for the Party and its related organizations a crime. Membership in the Communist Party had peaked at nearly 100,000 during World War II, when the U.S. and USSR were allies, and some 40 percent of those members were Jews, according to several historians’ estimates. With the Communist Control Act piled upon the Smith Act, the McCarran-Walter Act, and the Internal Security Act, all passed within the decade after the war, and with McCarthyism rampant in the land, thousands of Jewish families were terrified of arrest. The bill was sponsored by Senator Hubert Humphrey, a leading liberal, and drafted by his legislative assistant, Max M. Kampelman, and was widely embraced by liberals as well as conservatives. It was not until 1973 that a federal court in Arizona declared the act unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on it; technically, the Communist Party USA is still an illegal organization.
“The Congress hereby finds and declares that the Communist Party of the United States, although purportedly a political party, is in fact an instrumentality of a conspiracy to overthrow the Government of the United States.” —Communist Control Act
Watch excerpts from some PSA’s from the 1950s on “how to spot a Communist”: