How The NRA Resembles The CPUSA

by Richard Kostelanetz (February 2014)

Let me suggest unfamiliarly that in crucial respects the current National Rifle Association resembles the Communist Party USA of decades ago. Both were essentially puny organizations barely earning support from those they purportedly represented. Scarcely a few percent of the 100 million American gun owners belong to the NRA, which routinely tries to scare up new members. At the apex of its membership during WWII, the CPUSA collected dues from less than ninety thousand of the available American citizens of voting age. Of course, both the NRA and CPUSA benefitted from innumerable sympathizers who for various reasons declined from paying dues.

What makes them essentially similar is that each depended upon demonization by its antagonists to keep themselves in the news and possibly attract new money. Antagonists inflated the size and thus the possible threat for the CPUSA before and the NRA now. About both organizations vehement opponents were predisposd to concocting spectacular, almost paranoid fantasies. Thus is the NRA “lobby” routinely credited with influencing votes against strict gun control, even though it should be obvious that certain legislators, especially from rural areas, are more beholden to the interests of their constituents. In its heyday the CPUSA was credited with all kinds of insidious influences, including the mischief of Soviet spies, who were obviously more effective if they avoided any contact with American Communists. Both the NRA and CPUSA depended upon large sections of the communications media to go along with the inflated demonizing.

The principal institutional beneficiary of demonizing the CPUSA was, of course, our Federal Bureau of Investigation, which exploited the myth of its threat not only to get more federal money but also to infiltrate it with so many informers that one story common in the 1970s held that a large portion of the membership was taking money from the FBI. The second beneficiary of the demonizing was the CPUSA itself, whose principal business was milking money from Moscow on the premise it was more threatening in America than it really was. Just before the fall of the Soviet Union, the ACP reportedly was receiving three million dollars a year. If it had in the 1980s some 10,000 members, say, that’s 300 bucks per man, certainly more than the dues they were paying, not counting the 1500 or so who were probably taking money directly from the FBI. Oh, yes, don’t forget that certain newspapers believed their audiences enjoyed reading about rabid anti-Communists. Consider that were not these various entities so successful at inflating the CPUSA, it might have disintegrated earlier than it did.

Considering this analysis, guess who the principal beneficiaries of the current NRA inflation might be? They are not its true constituencies of Americans who would like to own personal weapons or Americans who are more vulnerable for lacking them. Nope.



Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art,,, and, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.


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