On March 18, 1945, 200 delegates from 66 organizations meet at the Eagle's Aerie Room in Seattle and dissolve the left-wing Washington Commonwealth Federation. The organization is deemed to have "fulfilled its historical anti-fascist role as an independent organization ..." The WCF was organized in 1935 by jobless groups in Seattle, advocates of Technocracy, members of the Democratic Party, and organized labor to work through the Democratic Party for political and economic reform.
Serving Uncle Sam or Uncle Joe?
The peak of WCF success was in 1936 when it dominated the Democratic Party and Democrats won most state and federal offices in Washington. The WCF's singular issue, Initiative 119, production-for-use, was overwhelmingly rejected by voters, however. Because Communists were active in the WCF and because the WCF supported liberal ideas and pro-Soviet foreign policy positions, it was often accused of being a Communist Front. The WCF was also a political party for the city of Seattle and it was the left wing of the Democratic Party.
The WCF excelled at organizing rallies, conventions, and conferences and served as an umbrella for its member organizations. It consisted of only a few dozen individuals active at speech making and organizing.
The WCF supported American intervention in Europe until the signing of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939. The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 shifted the WCF's view of World War II from being an imperialist conflict to a noble war against fascism, but active membership dwindled thanks to such ideological gyrations and the exigencies of the war effort itself.
Although WCF members and candidates scored impressive results in the fall elections of 1944, including WCF president Hugh DeLacy, who went to Congress representing Seattle's 1st District as a Democrat, some felt the group had "degenerated into a whispy 'paper' organization" as early as 1942 (Berner, Vol. 3, p. 112). The dissolution of the WCF coincided with a brief post-World War II detente between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which Joseph Stalin deactivated the Communist Party U.S.A. and its numerous "popular fronts."
Gone But Not Forgotten
WCF Executive Secretary Tom Rabbit called the Ninth Annual Convention that voted for dissolution. Some of the WCF leadership moved on to focus on the Washington Pension Union, led by Communist Party member and State Rep. William Pennock.
Many of the fledgling politicians who had initially courted the WCF achieved high office, including U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson and Governor Albert Rosellini (1910-2011). They ducked or renounced their affiliations as the WCF became a target of the Canwell Commission and other investigations of "un-American activities."
Longtime WCF leader Howard Costigan recanted his association with the Communist Party and became a star witness for McCarthyist probes. William Pennock was driven to suicide in 1953 by relentless accusations and his rejection by former comrades.
Other WCF members such as the Rev. Fred Shorter, pastor of the Church of the People, survived such scrutiny but saw their influence evaporate. Several WCF activists helped to found Group Health Cooperative in late 1945 (Group Health denied membership to William Pennock because of his political convictions in 1950). Others continued to play leadership roles in labor, government, and social and political causes for many decades.