When radical leftists seized the DFL in the 1940s, the great Minnesota liberal, Hubert Humphrey, chased them out

For the Winter 2020 edition of our magazine, Thinking Minnesota, I wrote an article about the great Minnesota liberal, Hubert Humphrey. He, by joining the Democratic and Farmer-Labor Party together, created the modern DFL in 1944.

Owing to space, some of it ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’, so to speak. That included the section below, which relates the story of how Humphrey took on the radical left wing extremists in the DFL and drove them out of the party.

…The Farmer-Labor Party carried more than a tinge of communism, an ideology which repelled Humphrey. This presented few problems during wartime when the U.S. was allied with the Soviet Union, but when the war ended and the Cold War began the communists threw their weight behind Moscow.

Despite the Midwest’s long tradition of non-interventionism, Humphrey believed that the failure to confront Hitler earlier had encouraged eventual war and he was deeply committed to an anti-communist foreign policy, which the communist elements of the DFL opposed. “We’re not going to let the political philosophy of the DFL be dictated from the Kremlin”, Humphrey said, “You can be a liberal without being a Communist, and you can be a progressive without being a communist sympathizer, and we’re a liberal progressive party out here. We’re not going to let this left-wing Communist ideology be the prevailing force because the people of this state won’t accept it, and what’s more, it’s wrong”.

In 1946, the communists seized control of the DFL, largely by the tactic of staying at meetings until after everyone else had gone home and then electing themselves officers. At the state convention in St. Paul, Humphrey was jeered and spat upon by the communists, and his wife, Muriel, was refused entry until his police driver muscled her in. As Humphrey rose to speak, there were cries of “fascist” and “warmonger” and a sergeant at arms told him “Sit down, you son of a bitch, or I’ll knock you down”. Humphrey was unable to finish his speech. Ultimately Humphrey and his liberals were successful in wresting control of the DFL from the communists, mostly by using the old tactic of packing meetings themselves. But he would not forget his fight with Minnesota’s communists.

Such behavior from extreme leftists is with us again today, as the disgraceful scenes in Hugo on Saturday showed. Who, in today’s DFL, will follow in Humphrey’s footsteps and restore decency to the party?

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.