When Minnesota was a red state

Growing up in Minnesota I learned a healthy respect for the role that Hubert Humphrey had played, assisted by precocious supporters such as Don Fraser, Arthur Naftalin and Orville Freeman, in throwing the Communists out of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. It is a story in which Jeane Kirkpatrick’s late husband, Evron Kirkpatrick, played a key role as Humphrey’s mentor.

For his efforts, Humphrey earned the “Bushitler” kind of opprobrium that remains the stock in trade of the leftover left. In 1946, Communist/Popular Front supporters controlled the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party executive committee as well as the party organization in both Hennepin County (Minneapolis) and Ramsey County (St. Paul). Overcoming his conciliatory instincts, in 1946 Humphrey chose to fight back against Communist control of the party.

In a meeting with Henry Wallace during Wallace’s October 1946 visit to Minneapolis, Humphrey complained about the Popular Front’s role in DFL politics. As John Haynes writes in Dubious Alliance: The Making of Minnesota’s DFL Party:

Wallace told Humphrey that he knew only one Communist Party member, Lee Pressman of the national CIO. Humphrey was taken aback at this statement, because Wallace had ridden from the airport with several open party members. Wallace then suggested that Humphrey solve his problems by contacting Communist leaders in Moscow, explain the political situation in Minnesota, and ask the Russians to order Minnesota’s Communists to behave. Shocked by Wallace’s acceptance of Russian involvement in domestic American politics, Humphrey severed his ties to the man he once wanted to be President of the United States.

At a crucial moment in 1947, as Humphrey and friends began to take the party back from Popular Front apparatchiks, a Minnesota Popular Front leader condemned Humphrey as “a man of Hitlerian psychology…surrounded by similar characters, more notably Freeman and Naftalin.”

It’s an interesting story that John Haynes recovered for history in Dubious Alliance. Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten tells the story of Haynes himself in her Star Tribune column today: “Historian of Communism began with DFL.”


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