The first scholarly/academic treatment of American communism belongs to Gordon S. Watkins of the University of Illinois for his essay, “Revolutionary Communism in the United States”. Watkins presented a narrative of the split of the “Left Wing” from the Socialist Party in 1918-19 and the founding of the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party in 1919 as the Left Wing itself split into competing factions. It was a thorough survey based on a close reading of the radical press as well as the leaflets, statements, and proclamations put out by the various groups and individuals involved (the Socialist and Communist press and statements released by leading figures of the movement and various conventions, caucuses, and committees.). Given that the events covered had occurred only one or two years earlier, the article appropriately appeared in the American Political Science Review rather than a history journal.
Watkins distinguished between what he called revolutionary communism and reformist socialism with the former “demolishing the capitalist state versus accepting bourgeois influence in the states as an evolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism.” He concludes his piece with an equally typical for the time warning of communism’s spread by stating, “American communism is gaining a large following among the industrial workers and promises to become an independent influence in our political and economic life.”