- Communist and longtime anti-war activist
Born in 1902, Vito Marcantonio was a Congressman in East Harlem, New York from 1935 to 1950, four years before his death. Widely acknowledged as the most successful radical politician of the pre-1960s era, Marcantonio was more than that. In the words of historian Harvey Klehr, no congressman “so consistently defended and articulated Communist positions. . . . The Communists had no better friend in Congress.” While Marcantonio often passionately condemned civil liberties violations in the U.S., he never protested Communist oppression anywhere in the world.
Though he always denied being a member of the Communist Party (CP), throughout his career he worked to secure a place for the CP in mainstream political debate. It was, he maintained, “an American party operating in what it considered to be the best interests of the American working class and people.” When the CP or individuals associated with it came under attack, Marcantonio was quick to jump to their defense. Marcantonio’s positions on nearly every issue were indistinguishable from those of the Communist Party. In 1940 he co-founded (with such hard-line party allies as Paul Robeson and John Abt) the misnamed American Peace Mobilization – a CP-controlled antiwar group formed after the Hitler-Stalin pact put an abrupt end to the left’s anti-fascist struggle. Once Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Marcantonio and the CP immediately switched back, becoming the most fervent supporters of the battle against Germany and demanding “victory over Fascism.”
This profile was adapted from the article, “CUNY’s Commies,” written by Eric Fettman and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on December 2, 2002.