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Wichitan helped promote communism in Kansas, America

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, at 6:41 a.m.

One of the most powerful communist leaders in America during the 20th century was Wichitan Earl Browder.

Browder twice ran for president of the United States on the Communist Party ticket. And twice he lost.

He was born in Wichita in 1891 and spent much of his boyhood working to help support his family. The Browder family lived at 628 S. Fern, and Browder worked as a messenger for Western Union, Fourth National Bank and C.E. Potts Drug Co.

At 16, he began studying the writings of Karl Marx. When he heard socialist Eugene Debs speak in the Forum, the forerunner of Century II, he was so moved he began selling "Appeal to Reason," then the largest socialist newspaper in the nation. It was published by Marcet Haldeman-Julius and her husband, Emanuel, of Girard.

It was a time when communism and socialism flourished in Kansas. The state was filled with leaders such as Kate Richards O’Hare, known as “Red Kate,” who grew up on a farm near Ada. In her early 30s, she was touring the country giving talks and gaining popularity as a socialist leader.

Browder left Wichita in 1911 and moved to Kansas City, where he became active in labor and socialist organizations. During World War I, he went to jail rather than serve in the armed forces.

When he was 26, he was convicted of conspiracy against the draft laws of World War I and sentenced to 16 months in prison. When he was released, he became editor of a socialist newspaper and supported the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

His first run for president was against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936; he drew only 80,000 votes. He ran again in 1940, while jailed on a passport violation, and received 46,000 votes.

When he was freed, Browder began announcing that capitalism and communism could peacefully coexist. Those statements led to his expulsion from the Communist Party in 1946.

He received his first teaching in socialism from his father, William Browder, who taught in a country school house south of Wichita. In the 1920s, Earl and his sister, Marguerite, traveled to Russia for two years to study communism, according to The Wichita Eagle on June 30, 1936.

“This Browder is an interesting person,” the Topeka Capital wrote in September 1936, the first time Browder ran for president. “He has a keen sense of social injustice, tho probably he would claim it is a sense of social justice. In school at Wichita he was always insisting upon the rights of students who were discriminated against by their teachers. He led fights for students rights expression. He was the vocal friend of all underdogs in school – and is such now in a much larger field. So far as this election goes, Browder talks more like a New Deal orator, than a dyed in the wool Communist – if dyed in the wool is the proper adjective.”

From 1926 to 1929 Browder served as director of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat in Shanghai, helping to organize the communist drive in China. He was a member of the executive committee of the Communist International Movement from 1935 to 1940.

Browder died June 27, 1973, in Princeton, N.J. He was 82.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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