The Far Left and
the Philadelphia City Charter

In 1951, my friend Joe got the invitation. He was asked to join the Communist Party. Wisely he declined. In looking back through five decades, he recalls the "utter sweetness" of the Communists he knew and their devotion to making a better world.

The early 1950's were the twilight of the far left in Philadelphia. As McCarthyism was descending on public life, Communists and the left-wing Progressive Party showed courage in testifying before the Philadelphia Charter Commission. While researching the history of the Philadelphia City Charter, I found the notes of testimony of the City Charter Commission hearings at the Jenkins Law Library. To my amazement, at the height of the Cold War, the far left testified openly of their ideas for municipal reform Their testimony was received politely and ignored.

Their testimony is a snap shot of the state of the far left in Philadelphia. In 1948, former State Department official Alger Hiss was accused of being a Soviet spy. In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. On Februrary 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy made his speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, alledging Communist infiltration of the State Department. In June 1950, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg was accused of stealing the atomic bomb for the Soviet Union. On June 25, 1950, the Korean conflict broke out. The purge of leftists from academia, public schools, the entertainment industry, unions and professions was underway. In 1953, nine leaders of the Communist Party in Philadelphia were indicted for violating the Smith Act.

The public hearings of the Philadelphia Charter Commission gave the far left a chance to explain its policies. The Communist Party testified on January 30, 1950. The Progressive Party testified on January 27, 1950 and October 31, 1950..

To learn the mood of Philadelphia during the Cold War, I suggest two books:

Philadelphia Jewish Life 1940-1985, edited by Murray Friedman, Seth Press, Ardmore, PA. 1986. The book contains an article by Paul Lyons, "Philadelphia Jews and Radicalism, The American Jewish Congress Cleans House," setting forth the split between liberals and progressives in the height of the Cold War.


Being Red in Philadelphia, by Sherman Labovitz, Camino Press, Philadelphia, 1998. In 1953, Labovitz was one of nine Philadelphia Communist leaders prosecuted under the Smith Act. His memoir sets forth the heroic efforts of the Philadelphia Bar to provide competent counsel, when most attorneys would not touch the case.