On January 25, 1926 a major strike burst out in the city of Passaic, the national center of women’s woolen and worsted cloth manufacture. From 2,000 workers, the strike soon systematically spread to embrace close to 16,000 and was threatening to extend through northern New Jersey and develop into a general strike in the affected region. The effectiveness and dynamism of the strike came as a complete surprise to the community, to the trade unions, and to the Communist Party.
The strike was led by a hitherto unknown person, Albert Weisbord, who had started organization work in Passaic only two months previously, totally without funds, and representing a paper organization called the United Front Committee of Textile Workers. Behind that paper organization was an infantile, faction-ridden Russian-dominated Workers (Communist) Party, completely untested in workers’ organization and struggle. One would think that under such circumstances the strike would be a flash in the pan and dissolve under the blows of very powerful opponents. Instead, it turned out to be a most bitter struggle of almost a year in duration and marked a milestone in U.S. labor history. Weisbord became very well-known.
Some people have said that my leadership was an accident or that I was a mere tool in the hands of the Communist Party run by the Russian Bolsheviks who really gave the orders. This was far from true. I was, in fact, well-prepared for the coming struggle, infinitely better than the leaders of the Communist Party, which party I dragged by the hair into the fight, against the snarling will of its leaders who finally succeeded in treacherously stabbing it to death. The leaders of the Communist Party never forgave me for interfering with their factional sabotage and making them look utterly ridiculous in Moscow, the source of much of their money and power.
I turn to myself, first, as a factor in the strike. I was born in New York City, December 9, 1900, of poor Russian-Jewish parents. My birth record gives my name as Albert, although I am sure it should have been Abraham, since I was called, “Abele,” little Abe, during my infancy. I was the youngest of four children then alive, the oldest son being twelve years my senior, the oldest daughter ten years—both born in Russia. The youngest daughter, three years older than I, was born in this country.
At the same time of my birth, my parents were running a newsstand. The family soon moved to Brooklyn, to a slum neighborhood at Flushing Avenue and Meserole Street, near where my father, who had teamed up with his older brother to operate a coal distributing business, had his coal yard and horses. They gave up the business when the horses were poisoned by competitors. My father later had the opportunity of opening up a small plant in the garment trade, making shoulder pads and canvas fronts. During my elementary school years, I was able to get a newsboy’s license and sold papers on the streets of downtown Brooklyn. In school I skipped a year and won the school’s medal for spelling.
During my Boys’ High School days, 1914-1917, I gradually became exposed to the views of the Socialist Party through the friends of my older sister, who included such mild but well-known socialists as William Morris Feigenbaum and David P. Berenberg. I did not, however, become much involved. I did well in Boys’ High School, being made a member of the honorary Arista Society. By this time the family had improved its economic position and had moved to the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.
Later, after I had entered the College of the City of New York in 1917 (graduating Phi Beta Kappa, February, 1921 and captain of the chess team), I joined the Brooklyn Socialist Party Branch, of which the labor historian James O’Neal was a member and with whom I had long discussions.
By 1920 I had become an active organizer, attending street corner rallies, distributing literature, participating in campaigns, especially the New York City mayoralty campaign. I also volunteered to be an investigator for the New York City Housing Committee headed by former Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morganthau, and under its authority visited many of the slum homes in the lower East Side, especially those on Cherry Street under the Brooklyn Bridge. That was an eye-opener for me.
My father was able to open up his small factory because his brother’s daughter, having married into the well-known firm of Louis and Charles D. Jaffee, could arrange this sort of reverse nepotism. One time I got a job there helping my uncle in the receiving office. The workers were organized in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, but not those in my father’s shop. I decided that, as a socialist, I had the duty to do something about it. During the times I was working packing shoulder pads for delivery, I would make some effort to urge the workers to organize and to improve their poor conditions. When word of this reached my father, he grew very angry, accusing me of being ungrateful and disloyal, especially when he had just given me his own handsome gold watch. But I told him it was a matter of principle with me. The family was not at all sympathetic to my tendencies. I soon left home, not to see the family again for twelve years! Later, when I came to see my aged parents, my father, bowed with age, then said to me: “Your truth is stronger than mine.”
It was a characteristic result of my personal environment that the United States had entered the war, the Russia Revolution had occurred, a peace treaty had been signed, and active U.S. intervention had taken place in the Soviet Union, but I can remember no developed views on these subjects since all this time I was immersed in studies as a liberal Socialist and was busy in my spare time working as a clerk in drug and candy store fountains.
At this time I was asked to give a class at the Rand School of Social Science in sociology, particularly dealing with Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and so became acquainted with Algernon Lee, the director of the School. The Rand School was then under attack by the Lusk Committee of the New york State Assembly at Albany. I was commissioned to write a paper on the role of the unofficial education institution in the development of social progress. After considerable research I completed the paper in the fall of 1921, turning it over to Lee who later refused to allow me to retain a copy.
In my last year in college I took a course with the Reserve Officers Training Corps and, in order to get a taste of military discipline and rifle instruction, volunteered for summer training at Camp Devens, Massachusetts. This proved to be a valuable experience. I won a medal a the second best rifle shot in the camp and was sent to the international rifle match held at Caldwell, New Jersey.
Upon my graduation from C.C.N.Y. in February, 1921, I decided to apply for the Harvard Law School, not so much to study law, but to examine at close hand how law was the resultant of the action of social forces. My three years a Harvard brought me into contact with such eminent men as Roscoe Pound, Zacharia Chaffee, Manley Opmer Hudson, later Justice of the World Court, Lemuel Beal, Felix Frankfurther, later justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and others, and I felt gratified when several of them came to me at graduation to thank me personally for having taken their courses. many of my fellow students were sons of old American families, such as the Thayers, Prescots, Marburys, Marcys, Tafts, some of whom later played a prominent political role, such as Senator Claude Pepper of Florida. Thus, I got to know a bit about the upper crust of English derivation who really are the “top bananas” in the United States.
As a teacher at the Rand School, I had been brought into close touch with a considerable number of socialist youth, such as Morris Novik, later head of a radio station, and Herbert Zemluth (Zam), later a leader of the young Communist League. Only a short time previously the Communists had taken over the Young People’s Socialist League, making of it the Young People’s Socialist League, making of it the Young Communist League. Now the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party asked me whether I would undertake to rebuild that organization again. I agreed, and in the summer of 1921 made a national tour to that end, going mainly by interurban street cars from Boston to Chicago, from New York to St. Louis, and from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. As a result of my work, a national convention of the revived Young People’s Socialist League could be held in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I was unanimously elected national secretary, wrote its first constitution, set up a national executive committee, and maintained a headquarters in Boston.
Each summer while at Harvard, I would go on open-air speaking tours, selling literature, meeting people all over New England, the Middle Atlantic States and the Midwest. At the time of the great railroad and miners’ strikers in 1921-1922, I spoke at big strike meetings, always with favorable results and with compliments on my forcefulness, logic, and sincerity. Now I really got to know the plain ordinary people of this great United States of America.
As head of the Young People’s Socialist League, I was made a member of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party. Here I was to meet such leaders as Morris Hillquit, James P. Maurer, Adolph Germer, George E. Reower, Jr., August Claessens, and, when he came out of jail, Eugene Victor Debs, as well as a host of functionaries and spokesmen.
The year 1924 saw the convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Action held in Cleveland, Ohio that nominated La Follette for President of the United States on the Progressive Party ticket. I was a delegate together with the other members of the National Executive Committee of he Socialist Party. Many national and international unions were represented, but kept out were the few relatively unimportant local bodies that the Workers Party tried to organize in a dual convention. The hopes of those in the Socialist Party who, like myself, thought that there would finally emerge a Labor Party that would function as a bridge for the American working class to move over to socialism, as in the case of England, and to which the Socialist Party could be affiliated, proved, however, to be in vain.
What I saw was disappointing in the extreme. The Socialist Party gave way to La Follette liberalism. No serious attempt was made to form a Labor Party. The Conference for Progressive Political Action was simply a show to boost a new politician with the Socialist Party functioning as a collie to that end. In the election campaign that followed, I saw clearly that the Socialist Party really did not represent the working man, but principally the small bourgeoisie. This realization struck me most forcefully during the election campaign. The speeches of mine along this line were criticized as being too militant, too radical.
Despite my views, I was made the Acting District Organizer of the Socialist Party in New England, substituting for Alfred Baker Lewis who had had the post. Now I challenged the Communist Party to a debate on the subject of the Labor Party before the Boston Cap makers Union. My opponent was John J. Ballam, district organizer for the Workers (Communist) Party, who took the position, as he was ordered to do, against the Labor Party. I took great satisfaction in obviously winning the support of this union in the debate, but apparently I had made no friend of Ballam. Ballam was supposedly an “old Bolshevik,” a true member of the “underground.” He would never forgive me.
During my time as Acting District Organizer, I made every effort to fill the Socialist Party with workers. I intensified the work in Lawrence, Massachusetts among the textile workers. Our contact there was an optometrist, Dr. Nicholson, and through him I met Fred Beal, who talked about the One Big Union movement that had recently had a textile strike. Beal had been long dissociated from any actual mill work. His ideas were limited to radical unionism. His main work was talking, loafing, and scrounging for meals which Nicholson and I had to supply.
He was to join the Socialist Party while I was there and to leave it to join the Workers (Communist) Party after me. Though slobby and indolent, he was a good contact man to talk to workers.
At this time Eugene Victor Debs, several times candidate for President on the Socialist Party ticket, was released from prison. I took a leading part in the big rally we held for him in Boston, just as I was later to participate in the rally in Providence, Rhode Island under C.P. auspices when Joseph Caldwell also was released.
It was time for me to get a good look at myself, my orientation and direction. I had now graduated and had quickly passed the bar, but I was not going to practice law. I was Acting District Organizer but very discontented with the Socialist Party which had no intentions or capability of organizing workers into militant unions. Its membership was basically middle class. All during my last year I had read eagerly the works of Lenin: State and Revolution, Kautsky the Renegade, Infantile Sickness of Leftism, the official Theses of the Communist International of the first four congresses, with special attention to the theories of democratic centralism and the proper organization and work of a party.
I had become convinced that my place was with the actual working class, not with the S.P. I sent in my resignation to the Socialist Party. I gave up my post as member of the National Executive Committee, as National Secretary of the Y.P.S.L. and as District Organizer of the N.E. District. I gave up my old associates and joined the Workers (Communist) Party in Boston.
As I look back at this moment, I blush at my utter naivete and the complete absence of any careful circumspection on my part. I am afraid I behaved as a petty bourgeois idealist. Mind you, no one had ever approached me to join the Workers (Communist) Party. I joined without the slightest knowledge of the enormous difference between the party I had left and the party I was joining, and without the slightest effort to know the history of that party and the record of its so-called leaders. I just applied as a rank-and-file member of that party and was accepted.
It is true that a short notice in the Socialist press stated my resignation, as did a squib in the Daily Worker, organ of the Workers Party. It is true that there was some talk about by going to Chicago to meet with the heads of the Workers Party and see where I could be best fitted in. But Ballam must have reported adversely, for the leaders of the Workers Party were so tied up with their own ingrown toenail affairs that they paid little attention to me. They never even asked me whether I could bring any of the 5,000 Y.P.S.L members I had organized over to them, whether I could use my influence with any Socialist Party members to bring them over. Dead silence.
As for me, I had decided at the first rumor that I would accept no place in the “center.” I was concerned with testing myself whether I had really broken from my petty-bourgeois past and was fit to call myself a communist. The only way I could test myself was to immerse myself in the working class. To get a job in a factory. Here I would find myself. The biggest industry in New England was the textile industry. There I would get a job. But the industry was centered not in the big city but in the smaller towns: Manchester, New Hampshire; Lawrence, Massachusetts; Providence-Pawtucket-Central Falls, Rhode Island complex; Paterson and Passaic, New Jersey; Philadelphia-Allentown, Pennsylvania; Mohawk Valley, New York; and certain centers in the South. I would have to leave Boston and get a job in one of these centers.
Being without much money, I had to get something to tide me over. There was a job open as a director in a Jewish Orphan Asylum in Dorchester, part of Boston. The super-intendant was skeptical in hiring me, considering me entirely over-qualified, but then I told him I really needed the money, he took me on. The job lasted through the fall. After which I was to get married!
Here again was an illustration of Don Quixotic chivalry and naivete on my part. Walking through the Boston Common in the winter of 1924, I noticed a woman crying on a bench and recognized her as a comrade in the Boston branch of the Workers Party. Astonished, I asked her the trouble. She said she was pregnant again and had no money for an abortion. Mary had been married in Lawrence to an Italian, Lauratani, who had died recently of gas asphyxiation, leaving her alone with a small baby. She was working now in Boston as a waitress. And now she was pregnant again. It never occurred to me to ask who the new father was, whether I knew him or could be of any help in getting him to be responsible. No, I had to say that I had only $100, but I would give it to her for her operation. Her answer was that no doctor would perform the operation unless she had a marriage certificate. Easy, I responded. Marriage certificates were only paper to me. I would marry her and she would have the certificate! And so it was.
After our unconsumated marriage and her operation, I took her to my room to recuperate. She had left her baby at her parents’ home near Taunton, and she went back to care for it. Later, she decided to stay with me in Central Falls where I had got a job and got her one in the same mill. She worked days and I nights. After a short time, she found the going too rough and left. Later, in Passaic, one of the New York Times reporters who discovered my brief marriage told me he had known Mary Ahlquist when she was a model. I never bothered to ask him what “known” meant. In 1928 I was to learn that somehow the law firm of Roewer & Bearak had obtained a divorce for her without even my knowledge.
My year’s stay in the C.P. of Boston showed amply what an ingrown sectarian party it was. The chief tasks of the Party were holding Lenin memorial meetings, Russian Revolution commemoration meetings, breaking up Socialist Party meetings called to hear the Socialist Abramovich tell of this experiences with the Bolsheviks, meetings to commemorate Polish martyrs, internal factional meetings, etc.
At that time the Sacco and Vanzetti case was coming to a head. In Boston the Anarchists had formed a committee for their defense, working with civil liberties bodies. The Socialists had sent a delegate, Mary Donovan, whose brother was the head of he Springfield Central Labor Union. It was decided, at long last, that the C.P. should also join, and I was selected to be the Party delegate. My efforts to enlarge the work of the committee in order to further big mass protest meetings for Sacco and Vanzetti so enraged the Anarchist “friends,” on the ground that this method would seal the doom of the victims, that one of them invited me “outside.” Fortunately, Mary Donovan rushed outside to persuade the Anarchist not to use the weapon he was carrying. I believe it was at the invitation of Mary Donovan that I first heard that sterling Irish rebel, Jim Larkin, speak.
I now decided to try a new method of getting a job. There was a party comrade in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, a French Canadian, who had a franchise to sell Watson’s Coconut Oil and other products. I went to live with him. I would take his products to sell in the mill villages of the Blackstone Valley, running from Woonsocket to Ceneral Falls, and then see how I could get work in the mills. Luck was with me. I sold some stuff to the wife of a mill superintendent and told her I’d like to work in the mill. Her husband offered me a job in the filthy carding room, but I persuaded him to let me try as a learner-weaver. After ten days, in which I learned how to weave plain cotton cloth on an automatic Draper Loom, the plant closed down for lack of orders.
Undaunted, I set out to get a job in one of the silk mills in Central Falls. I told the employer I was a cotton weaver unused to silk, but if he would give me a trainer I would learn quick enough. He gave me a job at a loom working from 6pm to 6am the following morning. And so I learned the hard way. When I came home to our furnished room one day and found Mary had left with all her possessions and her baby, I decided my single fight was more than I need take. In Paterson, New Jersey, there were Jewish communist workers who were weavers. They could get me work and help me learn to weave so I could make a more normal living. This meant going back to New York.
In New York I contacted Bert Miller, a teacher made suddenly “industrial” organizer of the Party, who, as a newcomer in the office, tried to live up to a job he knew very little about. I felt sick at the filth and disorderliness of the New York headquarters on 14th Street but knew it was necessary to report. Miller was astonished at my desire to plant myself in the “sticks” and said he would help me in what way he could. He gave me the addresses of some Jewish weavers in Paterson. I got a room with an old textile worker, a Mr. Jacobs, and soon got into a small mill, making taffeta and crepe de chine cloth. The Jewish comrades helped me to solve the difficulties that arose. After some months I actually became a weaver on the Knowlton looms and could actually earn $25 a week, normal pay.
What existed in Paterson was no real Communist Party branch, but only a Jewish Federation group. The comrades all read the Freiheit, and with these Jewish Freiheit readers I had little in common. I immediately joined the Associated Silk Workers Union in Paterson and became an active observer, but I could never find any of the Jewish comrades there to work with. They were mainly interested in the Russian Revolution and in factional fighting.
Living alone in Paterson, I had plenty of time to think about my new life. The Socialist Party was engaged principally in parliamentary activity at election time. You came and went as you pleased. There was no international centralized control; no foreign party that was your leader. The Communist Party was supposed to be entirely different. It was a vanguard organization supposedly leading the way in all workers’ actions; it was a central control station with tentacles spread to all sections of the population and social institutions: workers, farmers, housewives, soldiers, children, youth, foreign born, schools, factories, unions, cooperatives, etc.; it was the theoretical center for ideas for workers to guide them in their struggles. It was a party of action functioning under the principles of “democratic capitalism.”
Up to now the organization of workers into militant unions had never been attempted by a political party. Workers would organized a union because of bad conditions, but they generally had no central organization to get them support form all sections of the operation. They were not prepared to meet the many varied forms of assault that they would suffer from employers, police, politicians, churchmen, storekeepers, schoolteachers, reporters, photographers, consumers, etc. But a well-versed professional leadership with the support of such a party could anticipate and counter all such attacks.
But what about the working class in the mills; was it organizable? The main body of workers in New Jersey was foreign-born. They could not understand English too well, and one nationality often could not understand the other. They were systematically, divided from each other by employers, politicians, and others. But now, in the third decade of the 20th century, the children of these workers were also working in the mills. They would be the living cement that would bind all together. Here the very weakness of the Communist Party could be turned into a great strength, since the C.P. did have tens of thousands of foreign-born workers around it. They were grouped in so-called foreign federations, organized in social groups, many of them with their own halls and their own printing press. These foreign federations could render invaluable aid in this kind of fight. So, where the I.W.W. and syndicalists had failed, we could succeed.
Stirred by the need of waking up the Party, I wrote a central piece published in the Daily worker, entitled “Face to the Industrial Village,” pointing out the need for orientation to the smaller industrial centers where functioned the principal plants of the large modern corporation and where the need for the organization of industrial workers was greatest. No one paid much heed to the article, and there was no comment. In passing, I may say that at this time I also wrote two short divertisement pieces entitled, “Can a Communist Afford to Have Friends?” and “Is the International a Revolutionary Song?” which were printed by the Communist Jewish daily, the Freiheit, and which brought the Paterson Jewish comrades on my neck.
To find out what was going on, I had to go regularly to New York. I had told Jiller how we had formed a propaganda group called the United Front Committee of Textile Workers in New England and how I wished to do organizing work in his district. Miller then gave me a clipping, late fall 1925, reporting a strike of silk mill workers in West New York, New Jersey, and permitted me to go out there to see what I could do.
I soon found the approximately 400 strikers in meeting in a small hall near the mill. There was no picket line, no organized leadership. I had been a purely spontaneous affair. I addressed the group, telling them I was a silk worker like themselves and represented an independent organization, the United Front Committee of Textile Workers. I was there to help them in their strike and to build up a permanent independent organization. They themselves would decide their own affairs, determine their dues, elect their leaders democratically. I won their confidence, and they all agreed to let me help them, since my suggestions all seemed practical and reasonable. We built up a picket line, drew up our demands and created a semblance of organization. They no longer felt lost or abandoned. Some wanted to know more about the United Front Committee. They wanted to see membership applications and membership dues books. But these I did not have.
Back in New York I reported all this to Miller. This innocent agreed that I should get application and membership cards printed. He was not aware that on this matter he would be bitterly assailed by the Foster-Cannon leadership for dual unionism and would open up a major struggle with the Party. In the mean time, before the Hillcrest Company West New York strike could be settled, news of he Passaic wage cuts came, and I immediately went back to Passaic, leaving the strike committee to settle with the company, which they soon did.
It is now appropriate to analyze the second factor that entered the Passaic Strike, namely, the Communist Party. The Communist Party of the United States was dominated by the Communist Party of he Soviet Union which, in turn, existed, not to extend internationally the workers’ revolution, but really to further the interests of the Russian State now run by Stalin. Thus, strange as it may appear, in order to understand Passaic we must try to understand the needs of the Russians, and thus understand their orders given to the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States. The Passaic strike was to catch them all by surprise and lead to important results not only locally, but nationally and internationally.
Since the opening up of the Russian Revolution, the Soviet Union had passed through three distinction periods:
In the first period, 1917-1918, World War I was still being fought. The Russians were knocked out of the war and signed a drastic peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk. Lenin’s policy was to gain time to stabilize the new regime he controlled. This strategy was effective. Both Germans and the Entente had to give full attention to the war against each other with no real way to get at the Bolsheviks who were isolated.
With the final defeat of Germany and its allies, the second period, 1919-1921, saw the capitalist armies free to attack Russia from every side and to launch desperate interventionary armies through northern Russia, Siberia, Armenia, Central Europe, and elsewhere. The victorious states also sponsored large-scale counter-revolutionary assaults throughout Russia, especially in the Ukraine and the Black Sea area, as well as to the East of Moscow. But Europe was exhausted. The masses of Europe could not be whipped to further war, and the United States by itself could not hope to do the job. Thus the second period ended in a stalemate.
During this second period the Bolsheviks’ international riposte was to form the Third International. At the first conference in 1919, it is reported only two non-Russians appeared, but this did not deter Lenin, who formed the international sharply to dissociate his international from the Socialist or Second International. Strongly trumpeted was the call for an international proletarian revolution throughout the world. But in truth, the realist Russians must have known that the proletarian revolution would not engulf the capitalist western nationals simply at Russia’s beck and call. The call was issued really to stimulate outbreaks in the capitalist countries that would slow down their counter-revolutionary attacks and would give Russia a respite. It was Lenin’s way of saying that the principal goal was to defend the Soviet Union and any thing you could do along that line was proper. the Bolsheviks were at heart nationalists, not internationalists. From their point of view, it did not really matter that the revolutions which broke out in Bavaria, in Germany, in Hungary, in Finland and elsewhere failed, just so long as these movements resulted in such great weaknesses and threats to the capitalist world as to cause the ferocious interventionary struggles in Russia to end. Russian nationalism was the real foundation of its supposed internationalism. Under the guidance and control of Moscow, Communist parties were formed throughout the world, international conventions being held yearly in Moscow under direct Russian control. Russian secret police and Bolshevik agents were everywhere.
By this time all capitalist states had become acutely aware of the new situation. It was one thing to deal with parliamentary Socialist parties who prated about democracy but knew nothing of the problems of actual seizure of power; it was quite another thing to deal with hardened Bolsheviks who had seized a territory over one-seventh of the entire globe and had vast numbers of devotees and large resources at their command. The capitalist governments, at their peril, had to give main priority to the tasks of penetrating, neutralizing, and destroying these new Communist parties, the Fifth Columns of their enemies.
In every country the alarm was given. Massive arrests took place; parties were driven underground, their convinced leaders disposed of; talented spies and counter-agents were sent in to infiltrate the ranks of the party and to sabotage its work. The military war might be over, but not the secret war which was only begun. As we shall see, the government brilliantly won this secret war in the United States.
In the United States, during this period, the Communist Party was organized under the driving forces of Russian Federation, which early broke from the Socialist Party and, with the help of the Bolsheviks, took with them a number of other national federations, especially those of peoples subject to Russia, such as the Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Esthonian, Finnish, Slovak, Slovene, Croation, Bulgarian, Armenian, Jewish federations, etc. These federations were often filled with mine, mill, factory, and other workers and could have been most valuable in organizing the unorganized in militant economic and political struggles. But to the Bolsheviks, adopting the white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant theories of the upper echelons of U.S. society, their workers were foreign-born, second-class Americans whose principles priority should be to rush back to Russia to defend the Soviet Union. Of the 55,000 or so members of the Communist Party, only about 1,500 were English -speaking, and these were mainly Jews.
As the ethnic Russians could not take open leadership in the United States, they looked for some “American” front, some Harvard graduate like John Reed, some Texan reporter and cartoonist like Robert Monor. They also cold use such “college boys” as Lovestone, Weinstone, Amter, Wold, and some teachers such as Juliet Stuart Poyntz. Useful also were some militant German and Scandinavian rebels who had left the Socialist Party, such men as Wagenknecht, Katterfeld, Bentall, Engdahl, Edacht, and others. Such opportunists as Foster, Johnstone, Cannon, William F. Dunne, and such had not yet appeared, as they were either working in the American Federation of Labor, or the funds available were not yet sufficient to attract them.
The Communists in the United States in this period, split as they were into two or more factions at the very start, had to go underground. This itself entailed endless visits to Moscow, endless efforts for “unity,” endless factionalism, endless expenditure of money. Openly, all they did was to denounce the Socialist betrayers and to call for immediate revolution in the U.S. Was there a car strike in New York City? Then would be issued the call: “Workers Revolt! Overthrow the Capitalists! Form Soviets!” Needless to say, these efforts were pitifully infantile and futile. Big strikes did occur in the United States at this time but, to be sure, no Communist Party played any active role in these.
Just how many of these communist leaders were planted by the U.S. Government is hard to say, but we do know that Lovestone (Liebstein) testified for the government against his comrade Winitsky and later left the movement to become a government agent placed in charge of the international labor office of the A.F. of L. We do know that without any scholarly prerequisite such a man as Wolf could become a professor in a Western university. We do know that Gitlow and Zack (Kornfeder) and others testified for the government so that certain workers could be deported as communist aliens. Of course, all leaders willingly reported to the Russian Secret Police.
The third period of Russian policy could be said to start with Lenin’s New Economic Policy, 1922, inviting capitalists of the world to invest in Russia and build factories there, the profits to be fully protected and the export of their capital fully guaranteed. This was really a signal to the capitalist world that there could be mutual economic dealings and recognition of Russia without any fear of revolutionary action on Russia’s part. The Soviet would no longer sponsor revolution abroad and would reciprocate if the capitalist world would help it recuperate from the awful effects of the civil wars and speed its industrialization.
For the United States this meant no more underground parties, no more Ballam’s “United Toilers” conspiracies, no more secret underground branches. All these were to be ruthlessly liquidated. A new open party was to be created with a mild program, the Workers Party, and with open work for simple immediate demands as called for by the workers’ movement. But for this the Russians needed a new type of leadership, “authentic” Americans. At once such “authentic” Americans as the second generation Irishmen William Z. Foster, James P. Cannon and William F. Dunne and their henchmen, such as Jack Johnstone, Krumbein, and some lesser lights hastened to apply. Without revolutionary practice, these peerless leaders would be very glad to take over. So they were brought over to Moscow, bribed with sums of money and given positions of influence. Foster, with his new funds, opened up his Trade Union Educational League where he ensconced his henchmen; Cannon had the International Workers Relief, and so forth. Each set up a little kingdom and opened up a new factional fight for power. That’s how the “authentic” Americans prepared to make the Party safe for American capitalists, to gain U.S. recognition and better relations for Russia.
Both older and newer leaders were given orders to form a reformist Labor Party, but their efforts were such a flop, their influence in comparison with the Conference for Progressive Political action so petty that soon a new factional fight tore the Workers Party to pieces over the question of a Labor Party.
By this time the two sets of secret government agents controlling the Communist Party had come to a working agreement. The U.S. Department of Justice agents could infiltrate the Party at will, providing that the party would be allowed obediently to follow the Russians formally. The Russians would drop revolution if the U.S. would drop prosecution. The Party could declare its adherence to the decisions of the Communist International, but the U.S. agents could see to it that these decisions were systematically sabotaged and thwarted, in fact. Words don’t count. This understanding became fully enforced by Stalin after Lenin’s incapacitation in 1923 and his death in 1924.
Who were these new agents? Foster? We know Foster was never tried on the federal indictments brought against him. He could always plead “heart trouble,” and the considerate prosecuting attorney would postpone the case once more. William F. Dunne? His drunken reckless actions certainly led one to believe he was protected by some powerful force. Earl Browder? We know the role Carl Browder played as agent for Moscow in China in 1926-1927 and as contact agent for the Russians with President Roosevelt during World War II to suspect him as a double agent.
I was just now, in 1924, that ignorant, unsuspicious me had to enter into that nest of intrigue, without the lightest inkling of the kind of leadership under which I was enlisting. Having just been in the fight for a Labor Party, I naturally joined that faction led by Rutherneberg, Gitlow, Lovestone, Ballam, Wolf, et al., and just as naturally I met the dislike of Foster, Cannon, Dunne, et al. Yet as soon as I could get oriented I saw thæt both sides were utterly worthless so far as the organization of the unorganized was concern©d. Ballam didn’t know the merest beginning of the job. His permission to form the United Front Committee was a conception of a mere propaganda organization with no direction or perspective.
The Foster group that had been given leadership of the C.P. by Moscow so as to help form a Labor Party had turned away from the Labor Party and was soon defeated by the Ruthenberg group. But Foster was still in complete control of the Trade Union Educational League where all he did was propagandize for the amalgamation of the existing unions into industrial unions. His jealous opponent in the trade union work was Benjamin Gitlow who had spent some time in prison in New York and was out on appeal.
The worthlessness of the C.P. leaders did not in the least make me undervalue the great worth of the tens of thousands of devoted foreign-born workers and militant American-born youth who were the members and followers of that party. They were the ones that had brought me into that party. Even this poor party could become a tremendous force one these members could be involved in specific struggles.
At the moment for me the important link in the chain was the innocent Bert Miller, acting on this own while the “bigs” were tied up with other matters, especially the N.Y. District Organizer Weinstone who was very busy intriguing with Cannon on how to form a new faction to end factions! Weinstone’s sloth and Miller’s ignorance were to help me much.
The first thing was to get some contacts and learn the true situation first hand. The Party did have a Hungarian Workers Club in Passaic, part of the Hungarian Federation. Here I met Gus Deak who, as a young mill worker, represented exactly the kind I wanted to take leadership. The Hungarian workers readily agreed to arrange a mass meeting for me and help distribute flyers. Gus saw that I met some other young men who were decisive at the start and whom I shall always remember: Chester Grabinski, of Polish extraction, and Mike Elasik, of Yugoslav. They were able to get Neibauer’s Hall for a meeting which I addressed. Hundreds came to sign up for the union.
Now I went back to New York to get a prominent speaker for the big mass meeting to follow. We agreed on Benjamin Gitlow, a good plain speaker who had just come out of Dannemora State Prison on appeal and who was available.
Gitlow had last worked as a retail clerk in a clothing store, helping Sidney Hillman organize a retail clerks union affiliated with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. At this time Hillman, like Armand Hammer, posed as a great friend of the Soviet Union, forming the Russian-American Trading Corporation along the lines envisioned by Lenin’s New economic Policy. Gitlow, though a clerk, tried to make it appear he was a clothing worker and the natural leader of the communists in that union, a pretension which did not sit too well with the real militants in the union who were forming the C.P. fraction there. Still, he was by far the best we could get.
The mass meeting in Passaic was a rousing success, but it was about the last time we were to see Gitlow in Passaic. Nor did we ever see Foster, or Cannon, or Lovestone, or any of the “bigs” in Passaic. Some of them were in Moscow, others wanted to “wait and see” before participating. Miller, however, did furnish the money for the membership cards and for opening up a headquarters on Main Street, and did recruit Leona Smith (Vera Buch), who volunteered to help me out in the very early days of the campaign. But outside of that I was left entirely alone, not only during the two months’ preliminary work but during the first three weeks of the actual strike. That is why the Passaic workers only knew Weisbord and no one else.
It was only when the strike became a tremendous success and when thousands of workers were firmly involved, after the Ackermanners were firmly involved, after the Ackermann Avenue Bridge clubbings and the immense publicity that followed in the metropolitan and national press, that the Executive Committee of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League allowed volunteers to help. As we badly needed financial aid for relief and other purposes, Alfred Wagenkneck was sent out representing the International Workers Relief to help our Strike Relief Committee.
Alfred Wagenkneckt was a disciplined and determined Communist who tended to business and followed closely the instructions of the Party. Ostensibly, he was under the authority of the Strike Committee, but he was left alone. He never reported in full and specifically how much money he collected, neither to me nor to the Strike Committee. I am convinced that over a million dollars must have been collected by him, and over half of this was siphoned off for Party use. So long as these funds were used, if only in part, to pay all the union’s bills, I really had no objection that the Party was the major beneficiary, since it and it alone could have mounted the campaign, could have provided a national network to promote the cause of the strike and the personnel to solicit and collect funds, and it was the only organization that could use the money for the organization of the unorganized in other places. But of course this was not the intention of the Party leadership at all. What they found was a bonanza for them that could help them mightily in their factional struggles.
Let me make this clear: While I became the principal and, as it turned out, the indispensable leader of the strike, I could not have reached first base without the aid of the Party members. Through the Party I got the aid of the Hungarians and Gus Deak and his friends at the start, the halls I needed, the money for union headquarters and the paraphernalia, the devoted and talented people who came from New York and all over the country to organize the relief, the defense, the housewives, the children, the youth, the publicity, the research, etc., etc. It was through the foreign federation press that full publicity was given in Hungarian, Polish, Croation, Italian, German, and Hebrew to answer the lies of opponents and to bolster the morale and understanding of the strikers. During the strike hundreds of meetings were held in foreign languages. To conclude: all my theories about the extraordinary instrument the Party could make in organizing workers for immediate needs and into unions, far superior to syndicalist or A.F. of L. methods, were amply verified. While the party could not do without me in Passaic, as it was to find out, I could not do without the Party, as I knew from the beginning.
My relationship to the Party leadership was something else again. The Ruthenberg-Lovestone group which now controlled the Party, and which considered me an adherent on the Labor Party question and was struggling to maintain itself against the new Foster attack, took a non-committal position: If Weisbord made a success they would agree that organizing the unorganized was not dual unionism; when it turned out that the strike was a howling success without their slightest effort, they claimed it for their own. They knew nothing about strike strategy and, sitting in weekly committee meetings in New York, listened to reports from me and approved them. I was a phenomenon that had come from nowhere and had surprised them. They really did not know what to do, or what to make of me. They may have made some original decisions in Chicago, the national center, but I don’t remember them; they were not reported as such or were discarded, except in the few cases I shall mention. At any rate, at this time I would have ignored decisions inimical to the striker’ interests if they had been passed against my will. What could they have done, assassinated me?
The Foster group was furious that an independent union had been formed outside of his controlled Trade Union Educational League and his knowledge. This is what he must have had in mind when he said the Passaic union was a “dual” union, not that the union was dual to the American Federation of Labor, but that it was dual to the Trade Union Educational League. At no time did Foster allow great publicity to the strike but sabotaged it in every possible way.
Here is an example:
During the very peak of the strike, Foster, through William F. Dunne, brought in the following motion: Since the Passaic Strike was lost, we should take all the strikers by boat and march them through Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the other mill towns in New England, to try to extend the strike and get support. Could anything have been a more vicious strike-breaking decision than that? I hooted derisively, and it was never enforced. Gitlow, in his lying books, however, who claims to have been the “real” leader of the strike operating from the national center, never reported this unspeakable strike-breaking decision.
At the same time Cannon brought forth his own “theory,” namely no strike could ever be won with a communist as its head since the employers would make victory impossible. What did this mean in the light of the Passaic situation? It meant that Weisbord should be removed and a communist never again attempt the organization of he unorganized! This was the type of unbelievably vile leaders in control of the C.P.U.S.A. I could see that they were already planning to stab the Passaic Strike to keep their won sterile positions in the Party. But what about Russia; would the Russian Party allow the U.S. leaders to accomplish their despicable plans? At any rate, in this first attempt the enemies of the Passaic union failed. The strike was still strong, they were still milking the relief funds, and the ground had not been properly prepared. They were to try again, later, and succeed.
What troubled these misleaders most was that they could see that every bit of aid they gave to Russia strengthened the mass base of a new coming leadership typified by Weisbord. The Party members actually engaged in the strike were enthusiastic fervent supporters. They had become the heroes of those they had left behind in New York and elsewhere. The needle trades workers were ardently in support and were developing a militant leadership of their own which already was defiant of the Gitlows and fosters. Ben Gold had been the leader for the Furriers Union and took them out in a militant strike. A big left wing developed in three of the key locals of the international ladies Garment Workers Union under a previous unknown group of leaders: Zimmerman, Nelson, Mortis, Boruchowitz, that the top leaders found difficult to control. The old fakers were being exposed and had their hands full. But in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Communist faction of which Ben Gitlow was in charge, Sidney Hillman was still uncontested.
Should this process launched in Passaic continue, the old C.P. hierarchy would be completely discredited and a different type of Party would be formed. The old leaders had no doubt about me. My contempt for them was obvious. From their point of view, I had to be removed from the base and position I had established.
Thus I had two fronts to fight simultaneously, the first against the employers to win the struggle, the other against the opportunist Party leadership to win the Party. This last struggle was to last several years longer, until 1929, when I was forced to resign by action of Moscow, which, by its repeated betrayals, destroyed the C.P. as a revolutionary force in order later to win official recognition by the Roosevelt Administration, with Sidney Hillman and C.P. leaders Browder playing leading roles.
But now I must return to the important problems of strike preparation, tactics and strategy that beset us in Passaic and which I had to resolve with no help from the C.P. leaders. These questions had bothered me all during the organizational period from the time of our first mass meeting when I realized the strike was inevitable to the time when the strike was actually called.
Strike preparations included the following:
1. The consolidation of a strong central union leadership what would learn all the problems as they came along and would democratically solve them after full reports from me;
2. The formation of an adequate set of demands to be presented to the mill owners;
3. The determination of the priority in which the mills were to be struck and the establishment of open full relations between the workers of one mill to the other to check their full support and enthusiasm. The first mill would be the Botany, for a number of reasons, that were as much strategic as tactical. First of all, the Botany was one of the very biggest mills. It had vigorously pushed forward the wage cut. We had most of our first members from that mill. It had no company union as did Forstmann-Huffmann. Its owners were enemy aliens whose property had been seized by the United States Government during the war. If we could do a job there, we could move on to the chief fortress, the Forstmann-Huffman Company.
4. The preparations included the careful detailed elaboration of the actions of the Botany Strike Committee from the time their demands were presented to the actual signal for all to strike. It was anticipated that the time to strike was when some union leaders would be fired and that a large number of police would be there when the committee would present its demands and be shown the door.
I do not wish here to go into the details of the strike. They have been given in my pamphlet, “Passaic,” written in 1926, a reprint of which I understand is now being undertaken. Now my partner and wife, Vera Buch, has written a full account in a new manuscript entitled, “A Radical Life.”
The tactical questions I would meet were many; all had to be properly solved:
1. Security and Agents Provocateurs. I thought the Hungarian group had historically and actually a good military record for dutiful and loyal performance. I left the security problem in the hands of the Hungarian comrades and will never forget the loyal performance of such as Mat Haydu who protected my person and the office. The matter of agents provocateurs was also solved by open discussion, careful checking by the workers on the strike committee and picket lines. Constant discipline was maintained; no violent actions allowed. The only agent-provocateur found in our ranks was one Jack O’Brien, a hanger-on in the New York District sent out to us as a driver. He was able to do little harm before his exposure.
2. Mass Picketing. This was considered the only method for strikers locked out of huge mills by the thousands. the maintenance of these mass picket lines involved the life and death of the strike. Here the Slavic workers, especially, proved to be indomitable and withstood the most vicious police punishment day after day. Only after the peak period of the strike was passed, with martial law declared, were the mass picket lines finally broken; but this was soon met by the strategy of “broken field formation,” where for many blocks strikers formed small groups at every corner and centers of the block to make it impossible for local scabs to enter the mills.
3. In regard to the mass arrests we anticipated and experienced, we decided no fines would be paid or bail ordinarily offered. Mass arrests by their very size would make the permanent detention of those arrested impossible, unless the whole area was to be transformed into a huge concentration camp.
4. In order to prevent murderous brutality as far as possible, we felt that we should give publicity to all picket line formations. The metropolitan press was fully notified, and they had all cameras on the scene to show the unmitigated violence of the police and the pacifistic discipline of the strikers. Bus companies in New York advertised: “See the daily clubbings in Passaic, $1.00 round trip.” Our tactic was eminently successful, especially when we had invited all liberal-minded citizens to join us in defending our civil liberties and many outsiders found themselves also clubbed and arrested.
The full and open publicity and the invitation to all decent persons to join our ranks meant also that we would develop as broad a united front as possible. Liberals, socialists, anarchists, simple trade unionists, all were welcome to speak at our open meetings, provided that they stuck to the issues of the strike and supported the union. Thus we could get such people as Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union, Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party, Elizabeth Gurly Flynn and Carlo Tresca, anarchists, as well as members of the foreign federations of the Communist Party to speak.
The meetings became an extraordinary source of social and political enlightenment for all the workers who, for the first time, were hearing people speak who were leaders in their fields. They all were in agreement to avoid internecine bickering and sectarian feuding.
During the preparatory period, we had also evaluated the fact that Passaic was really part of metropolitan New York, the great liberal and labor center in the country. Here we could arrange to get the talent we needed and bring them over to the scene of battle. The mills had been built precisely because they were so near to the great New York City. Now the mill owners would feel the full force of being next to this huge mass of talented neighbors. Their vicious practices, their local-yokel politicians and parochial ideas, would soon be exposed. They would not be able to hire “outsider” New York agitators very effectively when their whole economic existence was based on nearness to New York.
They could, of course, raise the Jewish question, since I was of Jewish extraction and practically no workers in the mill were Jewish. How could this campaign be met? First of all, by plain, open, honest dealings with the strikers, showing them devotion and loyalty, grit and intelligence. Then by openly matching myself with Abe Preskel, Jewish Commissioner of Public Safety in charge of the police, actually headed by the German Chief Zober. I openly called Preskel to task for violating the Jewish tradition of not being part of a police military force and of never behaving against the interests of the people in the country where Jews immigrated. Not Preskel, but I, was the best example of the Jew in his relation to the general population. The strikers met my attack on the Jew Preskel with whoops of joy an merriment. The “Jewish” issue was settled. No one talked of “the protocols of Zion.” The Catholic churches became friendly; the Jewish middle class in Passaic came to support the strike; the religious issue no longer could be brought up.
Similarly, the opponent forces would raise the Russian Red question. Moscow had taken over the beautiful city of Passaic with its foreign agents. I decided to counter this with the German question. The mill owners were not Americans but Germans, some of them enemy aliens whose property had been sequestered by the U.S. Government and was in the custody of Col. Johnson. I decided to ignore the Colonel and to attack the real owners. We had recently finished a terrific world war against the German Kaiser for the miserable conditions in Passaic. Not Russian Communism, but German Kaiserism, was the evil to fight. Kaiserism was to be defeated in Passaic and had to be taught the meaning of democracy, political or economic, the American way.
This attack on the German mill owners had a most important effect on the workers who, though mainly Slav, Hungarian, and Italian, and German foremen and executives who had the best positions in the mill and looked down on the other with contempt. These Germans would be the force to train scabs when the mills tried to open up. Here was a new tactical approach to use the “national” question on behalf of all the workers.
As part of their campaign of vilification, the mill owners engaged a spy agency to sponsor a spurious sex scandal. I was charged with having made false promises of marriage to a certain woman (entirely unknown to me), and I was brought to court by her on a suit of breach of promise. The New York World, however, soon exposed this plot; the woman never appeared, and the plot went down the drain in gales of laughter.
Tactics one could meet as moving events dictated, but the strategy had to be planned in advance. The mills were not to be called out all together but one by one, publicly announced. This would give the strike committee time to organize its forces. It would deliberately challenge the mill owners next in line to a test of strength against the collective will of its thousands of workers. Each new walk-out then would be a new victory eagerly awaited by the strikers who before the event would be working feverishly to convince their relatives and neighbors working in the mills to be struck. No one would think of returning to work while the strike was constantly increasing its momentum, and thus for at least four to six weeks we would be on the upswing.
But when the textile mills of Passaic were all shut, what then? There was the sister city of Peterson. I was a silk weaver from Paterson. I was a member of the Associated Silk Workers Union there. We had a considerable number of Jewish comrades working in the silk mills of Paterson. Should not these comrades be mobilized to try to get me to speak before that union? Should not the Party immediately mobilize all its forces in Paterson to prepare to join the Passaic workers by spreading the strike to Paterson? Half-way to Paterson was the great United Piece Dye Works of Lodi and even larger National Dye Works of Hawthorn. With these plants out, Paterson should also come along.
But here I had to depend on the New York District Party officials, especially on Weinstone, who did not move a finger in that direction even after our spread of the strike to Lodi and to Hawthorn at the proper time. No national official of the Party, such as Gitlow or Foster, wanted to help. Nor did I reckon on the resistance of the such “left” people as A.J. Muste and Louis Budenz who, with their “Fellowship of Reconciliation” and their Brookwood Labor College,” exerted an influence there. At any rate, when I did visit the Associated Silk Workers Union, I got only a cool reception and felt my plans would not reach that far.
If the strike could not be extended to Paterson, could it be strengthened by action of the New York Clothing Workers, especially of the furriers and the members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union? Botany and other mills were getting rid of their inventories by shipping goods to the New York market, and these goods were being worked on by the very militant union workers under a C.P. leadership. But the Fosters and Gitlows made no effort to form a joint textile-clothing workers committee, did not stop the scabbing, did not have any clothing workers speak in Passaic, never invited me to speak at the New York meetings—in short, did absolutely nothing to bring the two striking and militant sections of the clothing workers together.
We turn again to Passaic. This city was not only a center for textiles. There were large rubber and appliance plants whose workers were of the same stock and circumstances. If they were called out at the critical moment when the strike had reached its high plateau, this would result in a general strike in Passaic that would enormously increase the power of the strikers. I actually had 10,000 leaflets printed appealing to the unorganized rubber workers to join us and form their own union. But this move was counted by a raid on our headquarters and the arrest of all the leaders of the union, including myself. The leaflets were confiscated. Thus the momentum of our strike was broken, giving the opportunity to the Gitlows and Fosters and other leaders of the Party a good chance to break the strike, of which they were by now sick and tired. But how could this be done?
The many usual ways to break the strike had been successfully resisted, such as: breaking up of picket lines, arrests of strikers, general harassment and terror, false statements by New Jersey senators, false propaganda from the so-called “Citizens Committee,” entrance of the governor, editorials by the Passaic Herald, predictions of gloom and doom from the leaders of the A.F. of L., etc. Every one of these worthies declared that the strike could be effectively settled if only Weisbord were out of the picture. This was the line played by the C.P. leader, and in this they agreed with all the other strike-breakers. Every child knew that the elimination of the leadership would behead the strike.
The time to dump the strike came nearer after the strike had passed its peak—when it had been made certain that Paterson would not respond and that New York would not form a united effort with Passaic, when the police had confiscated the rubber strike leaflets, when the headquarters were raided, the picket lines broken up, the leaders arrested, martial law declared, a reign of terror instituted, and I put out of the way by detention in the Paterson jail under false charges that included incitement to riot, sedition, carrying a concealed weapon, etc., which could conceivably lead to ever 60 years in jail. I was put under heavy bail. But I was able to get prominent support. U.S. Senator Borah spoke out plainly in Washington, and Bainbridge Colby, former Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, volunteered to be my attorney. The case was ultimately nolle prossed.
Out of jail, I was informed by the leading Party comrades that there was a fair chance the strike could be settled if we entered the American Federation of Labor. An appointment was made for me to see Sidney Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union of America, who, with the interested concern of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, might serve as an intermediary. At our meeting held in his office, Hillman asked how I felt on joining the A.F. of L., and the indispensability of my leadership. I answered warily that the United Front Committee had come to Passaic not as a dual union because there had been no other union in the field to be dual to, and not as an inflexible opponent of the A.F. of L. If our joining the A.F. of L. would settle the strike in a favorable manner and permit the functioning of a strong democratic union, I was all for our joining. As for me, my decision coincided with the needs of the workers, and I would not stand in the way of a favorable settlement.
At the C.P. committee meeting, it was stated to me in definite terms that the A.F. of L. was willing to take in the union and then the mill owners would recognize that union and settle the strike, if I was removed as leader. A strikers’ delegation should be sent to the A.F. of L. Convention to plead for support, and a statement should be issued to that effect. But no corresponding statement was to be demanded from the A.f. of L. that they would take the workers in, and no statement from the mill owners that they would settle with the A.F. of L. on terms that would allow a democratic union to exist. All the top leaders of the C.P. hailed this solution as a great victory for the workers, for the unions and for the Party. There was no dissent from anyone except one vote on the New York Committee, Zack, opposed this, and myself; I declared that this was not at all a victory but a retreat. However, it did not necessarily mean a defeat since I understood my elimination was only a temporary affair, and I would be able to come back in the near future and to be elected head of the union once again.
I did not know, and the strikers did not know, that I was to be removed permanently and not allowed to come back. It was also made sure that when I did come back there was nothing to come back to. At a big union rally I bade my departure, but the strikers waited for weeks before the A.F. of L. United Textile Workers came into the picture. I was sent away on a several months’ national speaking tour. Soon the strike had fizzled out to a mere caricature of what if was. The U.T.W. officials all met secretly with the mill owners. No workers had anything to say about the so-called negotiations which dragged on interminably. There was no recognition of the union. Those returning were discriminated against and refused employment. In one year’s time this splendid body of strikers was reduced to a mere carcass. This was the “victory” that the C.P. leaders had foreseen and hailed.
I voted against the motion declaring this a victory, but could I have defied the Party at this late date of the strike? I would have been denounced as a careerist and expelled by the Party. The Party forces would have been withdrawn. The greatest terror would have been launched with the full support of the C.P. leaders. I was not prepared for that alternative. I yielded to fight another day. I had not heard from Russia. I knew that Russia had denounced the leadership of the party for failing to play any role whatsoever in this great strike. They wanted to see me in Russia, to examine this person who could surprise them all. I was not to be harmed but was to go first on a national tour, then as a delegate to the new Mexican Confederation of Labor, and then as a delegate to the Red International of Trade Unions, etc. I decided to bide my time to see whether with the help of Russia I could not be influential in changing the Party.
After my national tour where many thousands of my pamphlet, “Passaic,” were sold, I was allowed to come back to Passaic for a moment to run for mayor in the November elections. Of course I was defeated, but under the circumstances made a very good showing, since the workers who were eligible to vote voted for me in considerable numbers.
At the end of the year there was not even a union to come back to. All was dead in textile unionism in Passaic.
The Passaic strike came as a surprise to communist and other economists such as were extolling how solid and stable was the American economy in the 1920’s under Calvin Coolidge. Precisely in this very period, a bitter, long-drawn labor struggle had developed that showed how, in an ordinary industrial city, the workers class in the U.S.A. could really fight under a so-called communist leadership. But to the Russians, and to the Europeans as well, the American Party had to appear as a joke with its Lovestone theories of exceptional development. Never was a party leadership of a big country more humiliated than were the factions heading the C.P.U.S.A.
It was seen that the unprincipled factionalism in the U.S.C.P had covered great political sores. Lovestone, Gitlow, Wolf and a host of others were to be summarily expelled, as well as such political intriguants as Cannon and his few followers now posing as “Trotskyists.” Soon enough those expelled as “Lovestoneites” showed themselves openly for the U.S. Government. Others rapidly deserted Lovestone to remain for a while in the C.P as leaders without any real influence (Amter, Minor, Ballam, Weinstone, Stachel). Foster himself was to be bypassed and Earl Browder, made the head of the Party, was now urged mildly to build dual unions everywhere in a so-called “third period” frenzy.
The old party foreign federationism was also smashed and an attempt made to reorganize the party on a shop nuclei basis. Mechanically inaugurated, this maneuver, too, proved a flop. But all this chaos was good for the Russians. They proved a thousand times over that the American Party posed no threat to the U.S. Government, and after a few more failures, as in Gastonia, the Roosevelt Administration was ready to recognize them. Thus, 1) the Communist Party was shattered, but 2) Russia was recognized.
That the ordinary worker in large factories was now organizable and ready to fight was shown during the 30’s when the Congress of Industrial Organizations was formed (the C.I.O.). Now Sidney Hillman could bring in the C.P. youth to organize the unorganized cheaply, the workers being organized under his control and not under that of the communists. Communist party activists were made to act as coolies for the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class. This was not Passaic, but the betrayal of Passaic on a vast national scale. After World War II, the Communist Party would collapse into sectarian fragments.