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Sam Adams


Return of a Scoundrel

(December 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 11, December 1942, pp. 345–346.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan.

The degeneration of the Communist Party is not a new phenomenon and reports of its varied conduct are often passed by without comment because it is no longer strange or evidence of a tendency. For the counterrevolutionary degeneration of the American Stalinist party is complete. In its transformation it has merely followed the pattern laid down by its tutor, the Russian Stalinist party. Yet from time to time something happens which does not escape the eye, but is cause for comment.

In scanning the columns of the Daily Worker of November 29, we ran across an interview between Seymour Stedman and a Stalinist hack writer, one Milton Howard. The report stated that Seymour Stedman, “running mate of Debs,” joined the Communist Party of America. Howard proceeds to write a running account of his interview with Stedman, which reads like a tabloid society reporter spreading his good fortune upon meeting some nonentity from the social register in the lavatory of a Fifty-second Street night club.

For the uninitiate, the story may or may not have significance, for Seymour Stedman has practically disappeared from the labor movement. He has been in retirement for a number of years and a whole new generation of revolutionary socialists and militant trade unionists have never even heard of his name. But Seymour Stedman is well known to the older generation of revolutionary socialists, the early communists, the reformist socialists, the right wing trade unionists, and a host of others, not the least being the state’s attorney’s offices in Chicago and Detroit and the old officials of the Department of Justice.

The New Stedman

Howard’s interview refers to Stedman as Debs’ co-worker, a founder of the Socialist Party and vice-presidential candidate on the Debs ticket in 1920. The opening paragraphs of Howard’s sophomoric panegyric read as follows:

A small, thinnish man, vigorously wielding an ever-present cigar (!), whose very much alive light-blue eyes make it hard for you to realize that he is almost seventy-five years old –

Whose talk is nimble, alert and filled with irrepressible ardor for human liberty.

Howard quotes this man who was “vigorously wielding an ever-present cigar”:

Tell them that I am a Communist Party member today. Tell them that this gives me joy, and the only regret I have, the thing that really hurts, is that I cannot actually get into the fight. (Emphasis in original – S.A.)

The rest of the story is a report of Stedman’s great admiration for the “keen reasoner,” Earl Browder, his love of the Communist Party, how he was converted, and his record in the old Socialist Party in Chicago. But this is only part of the story. We propose to tell the rest of it, and it is the story of a reactionary social reformist whose chief enemy was and is the revolutionary party and the struggle for socialism. It is the story of a man who was a social patriot all his life, an enemy of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet state of Lenin and Trotsky, a court prosecutor of the left wing during the Palmer raids and finally an official of a small neighborhood bank in Chicago, where he was indicted on a charge of malpractice.

... And the Old

The writer very well remembers the years 1917–20 even though he was only a young lad then. Brought up in a socialist home, resident in the famous socialist 15th Ward on Chicago’s Northwest Side, we remember attendance at many election campaigns and celebration meetings of the Socialist Party, held in the Old Style Inn and Wicker Park Hall. The name of Seymour Stedman was then the most popular of all the socialist leaders in Chicago and he was the party’s outstanding spokesman. But the writer remembers too that when the split with the left wing came, Stedman was absent from the left wing meetings and celebrations of the Russian Revolution. He also recalls, though he did not understand it then, the debate between Stedman, speaking for the right wing, and Dennis Batt, representing the Michigan left wing. The strongest memory of that meeting, gained from a seat on the stairs of the podium, is Stedman’s anger throughout the discussion, and the laughs of the audience at his discomfort from the debate. For Stedman was violently against the Russian Revolution and the proletarian state.

At the time of the left wing split in the post-war period, he was its most vicious opponent, never missing the opportunity to call upon the aid of the police in those political struggles, or going to the bourgeois courts for legal redress against the “communists.” There are two famous events in the struggle between the right and left wing and in both of these Stedman played a leading, though ignominious rôle.

On the morning of August 30, 1919, the Socialist Party emergency convention was scheduled to meet. There the issue between the revolutionaries and the right-wing leadership was to be resolved. It was apparent even before the convention that the left wing would have a majority and so the right wing, under the leadership of Adolph Germer, Julius Gerber and Seymour Stedman, called upon the police to insure their control of the party. The scene on the morning of the convention opening is vividly described by William Brass Lloyd in his Convention Impressions, published in The Class Struggle of November 1919:

... As I came into the building where the Socialist Party emergency convention was to be held, I met a crowd of delegates coming down from the convention hall. They were the left wing delegates thrown out of the hall by the police acting under order of Adolph Germer and Gerber ... No delegate could get into the convention hall on credentials signed by his state officials. A special card of admission had to be procured from Germer’s minions in the national office. The card was white, historically symbolic of the work of Finland’s White Guard, and her bloody field and streets, of Berlin’s streets red with workers’ blood spilled by our “comrades,” Scheidemann, Ebert and Noske; symbolically prophetic of the part for which the Socialist Party of America has cast itself. Later in the convention in response to a question I could not hear, the chairman, “Comrade” Seymour Stedman Noske, raised his impassioned voice above the tumult: “Chief of Police Garrity has his orders and when the time comes, he will obey them.” One cannot help wondering whether the police who shortly before beat up the striking IWW restaurant workers were also following Comrade “Noske’s” orders. Truly, when the police cooperate with our “comrades” and take their orders, the revolution must have come to pass. (Emphasis mine – S.A.)

The House of the Masses Case

Robert Minor, leading Stalinist potentate, should well remember Stedman. He once wrote a scathing indictment of the gentleman in a pamphlet called Stedman’s Red Raid, which dealt with the latter cooperation in the campaign of Palmer’s raiders and the Michigan state authorities in their efforts to wipe out the left wing in that state during the year 1920.

We have reference to the case of the “House of the Masses.” The story is a simple one. The proletarian Socialist Party of Michigan, overwhelmingly left wing, established a large headquarters which it used for meetings and for the formation of one of the finest Marxist schools in the history of the American revolutionary movement. Upon its expulsion by the right wing the Michigan organization took the name “Communist.” This left wing, in the early days at least, made enormous political and organizational progress. It received great impetus from the Russian Revolution and the growth of its party during those days led to its purchase of the “House of the Masses.” The money was obtained from its members and sympathizers and was established on a cooperative basis. Since under the Michigan laws a political party could not own property, they formed the “Workers’ Educational Society” but declared that only members of the Socialist Party for three years preceding could be members of the association.

Under the influence of the Russian Revolution, the “House of the Masses” became a discussion center of all the revolutionary problems of the workers’ movement, the proletarian seizure of power, the character of the state, the building of a new international, general tactics and strategy of the proletarian party. Because of its mounting revolutionary influence, the Department of Justice, under Palmer, and the Michigan state authorities engineered their reign of terror. Left wing leaders were arrested by the score and imprisoned without trial. Scores of members were likewise arrested in the dead of night and held for deportation. The aim of the authorities was to wipe out the movement in Michigan and especially in Detroit. This is where Stedman and the right wing leadership of the Socialist Party came in.

The state criminal syndicalist law had charged the left wingers with violation of the law, “advocates of the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States or all forms of law; aliens who disbelieve in or are opposed to all organized government; aliens who advocate or teach the assassination of public officials ...” and so on, repeating the usual content of criminal syndicalist laws.

Seizing the opportunity occasioned by the state prosecution of the Michigan socialists, Stedman entered his own bill of complaint in the name of three right wing members of the

Workers’ Educational Association, thereby hoping to seize the property from the WEA. Stedman’s bill of complaint repeated all the charges of the authorities. It stated, among other things, that the left wing socialists:

... Are known and style themselves as “Communists” and “members of the Communist Party.” That the Communist Party has committed itself to the program as set forth in its manifesto and program on page 8, in the following language:

“Communism does not propose to ‘capture’ the bourgeois parliamentary state, but to conquer and destroy it. As long as the bourgeois state prevails, the capitalist class can baffle the will of the proletariat.”

The complaint went on to state that the defendants were “expelled from the Socialist Party of the United States because, among other things, they advocated the use of direct or mass action as the primary and principal means of securing a change or destroying the ‘capitalist system’ and the present form of government of the United States; that the said defendants and their associates and agents still advocate the use of said direct or mass action ... that the use sf the hall (House of the Masses) on the premises of the said plaintiff (the right wing socialists in whose name he filed the suit) for advocating direct or mass action for overthrowing the present form of government constitutes a continuous nuisance and irreparable injury to the plaintiff herein.” (Emphasis mine – S.A.)

There was a nation-wide revulsion in the labor movement over Stedman’s strike-breaking conduct. He sought to excuse himself on the ground that this was the only way in which he could get the property for the almost non-existent right wing in Detroit. But this did not stop him from following the line of his bill of complaint during the examination of the witnesses.

It is true that in all these affairs Stedman acted in the name of the right wing leadership of the Socialist Party, but it took a certain type of personality, a man devoid of principle and basically reactionary to carry out such a decision of the Socialist Party National Committee. Seymour Stedman was perfectly suited to the rôle and he carried out his miserable task with the considerable legal skill for which he was noted.

Stedman went into an eclipse following his “police” activity. He was heard from years later as vice-president of a bank on Chicago’s Northwest Side. The bank failed and Stedman was among those indicted for mismanagement. The writer lost track of that trial and heard no more of Seymour Stedman until the Daily Worker saw fit to do itself proud with a scoundrel.

Rereading the bill of complaint which Stedman filed against the Michigan “communists” we can understand why he waited until 1942 to join the Stalinist Party. It has long long since ceased to be a revolutionary party; it cannot be charged with the “crimes” of the old left wing. A counter-revolutionary party, it has plenty of room for the Seymour Stedmans. The war brought him out into the open and to find his way home. And it is entirely fitting that such a party should welcome him to membership. Only age would keep him from repeating the years 1917–20.

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