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Julius Falk

Origins of Communism in U.S. – II

Further Aspects of Formation of Communist Party

(Winter 1955–56)

From The New International, Vol. XXI No. 4, Winter 1955–56, pp. 239–268. [A]
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

IN OUR LAST ISSUE, WE indicated how differences on the war question provided the initial charge which overcame the inertia of militants remaining in the Socialist Party after the departure – forced and voluntary – of the syndicalist left following the party’s 1912 convention. However, differences on the war alone could not have generated the powerful left wing which developed in the Socialist Party between the time of America’s entry into the war and the fall of 1919. Of even greater significance were the Russian revolutions of March and November, the revolution which swept over all Europe from 1918–1920, and the great class struggles at home immediately after the war.

The enthusiasm created among American socialists by the Russian and European revolutions had a less fortunate concomitant in accentuating romantic and ultra-revolutionary theories and activities which had always characterized the left wing in the United States; above all, views were encouraged which greatly obscured the strength and relationships of political and economic forces in the United States. This was due, in part, to the changing national composition of the Socialist Party, which change, in turn, is also to be largely accounted for by the European revolution. The wave of revolution had swelled in the old world, promising to inundate all Europe. In the backwash of this flood, in the United States, thousands of immigrant workers, primarily from Southern and Eastern Europe, imbued with an understandable feeling of pride, self-confidence, militancy and aggressiveness, poured into the Socialist Party. By the end of 1919, of the 108,000 SP members, 57,000 (53 per cent) belonged to the foreign language federations. The number of foreign-born in the party must have been even higher than this, as many non-native socialists belonged to regular English-speaking branches of the organization.

The strength of the federations had more than doubled in the war years, with the greatest increases recorded by the Russian Federation. When first admitted to the party in 1915, this Federation had little more than the 500 minimum number required of a foreign-language group for party affiliation. It grew geometrically from 2,300 members at the end of 1918, to 7,800 four months later and in another four months there were additional thousands in the Federation.

These foreign federations became the backbone of the left wing. And the Russian Federation with its enormous membership, taking full advantage of its ability to appear as the true representative of the Bolsheviks – an appearance born more of language than politics – was the dominant force in the left wing.

Was the Left Wing a “Foreign” Movement?

THE INFLUX OF FOREIGN-BORN into the party from 1918–1919 was one of the reasons why the left wing tended to substitute conditions in Europe, at the time, for a balanced and realistic appraisal of class relations here. It is also but one of the reasons, and a minor one, why the socialist movement in this country has not maintained itself as a significant, organized force in American political life. Nevertheless, it is a factor which most historians writing on American socialism dwell upon with relish. To them, it is convincing evidence that revolutionary ideology is a foreign importation, alien to American life and doomed to disaster. It is true, that the revolutionary enthusiasm in the Socialist Party during this particular period was due, in part, to foreign developments. But revolutionary thought and action in the American labor movement are not restricted to the allegedly foreign-inspired ultra-revolutionary views of the pre-Communist left in the SP. The objectives and activities of entire sections of the labor movement from the 1880s up to and contemporaneous with the period under discussion, is a history of bitter class conflict, often carried on by class conscious (not merely job conscious) workers who were not always alienated or repelled by revolutionary ideology. When the American Railway Union was crushed by the power of government in the 1894 Pullman strike its leaders turned toward socialist politics not because they were dazzled by a foreign ideology, but due to a hatred born of bitter experiences for a social system and a government which had crushed their union. In 1901, the Western Federation of Miners adopted socialism into its program. This was not a response to a European stimulus, but the aftermath of years of struggle in which miners were forced to defend their lives and their union with rifles and dynamite from the attacks of scab and militia. And in a dozen other major chapters in the history of American labor, when workers accepted the leadership and opinions of socially conscious radical leaders, it was not because they were immigrants feeding on events in their native land, for whatever views they might have had in the old country, their opposition to capitalism was initiated or confirmed by experiences here. The early struggles of the American working class carried on with fighting ardor were the product of purely American conditions – the class struggle – involving mainly English-speaking immigrants, assimilated foreign-born from Northern Europe and led by such men as Debs and Haywood who were as American as flapjacks and maple syrup.

When it suited their needs, American workers have erected barricades, organized their para-military defense corps and learned to tolerate, even accept, revolutionary social concepts as a result of their experiences. If American workers today seldom show a comparable mood, it cannot be ascribed to any inherent or permanent prejudice which distinguishes them from European workers. If the left wing of the Socialist Party failed – and it obviously did – it was not because it was revolutionary, foreign or foreign-inspired, but primarily because of external factors beyond its control in the United States and Europe which led to its isolation and degeneration.

THE CAUSE OF AMERICAN SOCIALISM was, nevertheless, handicapped by a disproportionate number of unassimilated foreign-born in the pre-communist left. As the driving force in an American left wing, but often drinking at the fount of the European revolution, it served to inflict on the left wing a political program and an atmosphere more fitting for a European than an American party. But, even here, we must be cautious in assessing o the responsibility and sins of “foreignism” in the left wing. It was not only because so many of its supporters were aliens that the left wing adopted a host of ultra-revolutionary views. It was also operating in the tradition of old-fashioned American radicalism, in which revolutionary romanticism ran a steady utopian course. For example, the left wing of the SP was dedicated to the principles of revolutionary industrial unionism, opposed fighting for reforms, sneered at parliamentary activity and was later moved to a publicly proclaimed advocacy of violence as the only means of achieving a workers’ republic. These views did not flow out of the ethnic composition of the left wing or the European revolution. Syndicalism and anti-reform were earmarks of the extreme left wing of the American labor movement for decades past. In the left wing of 1919 these views were reinforced, not sponsored, by the “non-American” elements.

The foreign-born who joined the Socialist Party during the war were, in their vast majority, proletarians. This marked a complete change in the social character of the party. In 1910, 71 per cent of the Socialist Party was native born. Less than a decade later, the party with two and a half times the membership had a majority of foreign born. The earlier figure is evidence of the non-proletarian composition of the party, which at the time had only 20 per cent who were unskilled workers, and an almost equal percentage of farmers. It was in the nature of things that any party which aimed to be the party of the most oppressed sections of the proletariat would have a large foreign-born membership, since the industrial working class had been recruited from recent waves of immigrants. This produced the following paradox: the 1919 Socialist Party with its large foreign born membership was closer to an American party of the proletariat than the 1910 organization with its preponderantly native-born adherents.

Undoubtedly, the revolutions in Russia, Hungary, Germany, etc., instilled in many an immigrant not only a profound pride but a sense of belonging to history, even though in a strange country. Emotional attachments to the land of one’s birth are not easily broken and foreign-born here shared in the joy and heartbreaks of the European working class which was to overthrow all the powerful monarchies of Europe and in many lands were embattled in the struggle for socialist emancipation. Many immigrant workers here, though, more than sympathized with the European working class. There was also a longing to return to the old country, derived partially of enthusiasm for the turn of events in Europe, but no less born of disgust with their lot in this country. America’s declaration of war was followed by a wave of chauvinism from which foreign-born could not escape victimization. The bourgeoisie and its government, its propaganda, wealth and patriotic societies and hypocrisies, struck out at ‘‘foreign agitators” and non-conformists, real and imagined, with unprecedented ruthlessness. When the war ended, the reaction, instead of ebbing, was intensified. Foreign workers who might have seen an opportunity before the war to raise their status by conforming were more than ever alienated from society. That many of them would become receptive to militant socialist propaganda was only a normal consequence of conditions in America and further guaranteed given the rising tide of revolution in Europe. Here, too, then, we must reject the mean implications of those who insinuate or openly indict socialism as an alien movement, either before, during or after the period under discussion. Immigrants have always played an important part in American life. How could it be otherwise in this “melting pot”? In the labor movement, they have played different and conflicting roles, sometimes serving as a conservatizing force, at other times as a radicalizing agency, but at all times reacting in a manner revealing and indicative of American life.

IF THE LEFT WING WAS A FOREIGN movement because it viewed the United States through European glasses, what can one say for the rest of society? For it was not only the radical wing of the American working class which was profoundly affected by the European revolution. All movements and all classes were moved to extremes of political passion as the spectre of revolution grew from a spook to full bodied and tangible proportions. It was a horrible vision to some, glorious to others and caused no small degree of anguish to the many who were maddeningly confused by the revolution’s complexity and demands of allegiance. Above all, the American bourgeoisie suffered acute panic in the face of European revolution. Its delusions of the internal menace of bolshevism was as Russian-inspired as the grand images of the coming American revolution seen by the left wing. If this shows that the left wing was living in Europe, it no less proves that the bourgeoisie had psychologically set up camp there – along with everyone else: liberals, the official labor movement, patriotic societies, the press, radical unions, etc.

Above all, the American businessman and the press responded to events in Russia with an attentiveness that rivaled that of the radicals. When news of the February revolution reached the United States, businessmen did not panic. Their fears that the new liberal Russian regime might conclude a separate peace with Germany on whom we were about to declare war were considerably allayed by persistent reports that the new regime was not going to renege on any of its obligations to its allies – a commitment whose sincerity was soon to be proved by the Russian dead piled high in a futile offensive. Their fears were most assuaged, however, when they took a long hard economic stare at the new regime which truly stirred the liberal imagination of more than one Yankee businessman. Before the war it was France which had heavily invested capital in autocratic Russia. But France could only come out of the war crippled, with nothing further to invest, and without a friendly Russian court to protect its interests. The prospects for American capital investment seemed bright and businessmen were not dismayed to hear the Russian Ambassador, Bakhmatieff, inform them that Russia looked forward to American investment. And their indignation over the indignities imposed on the Russian people by the czar must have grown to holy proportions when Miliukoff announced that nothing now stood in the way of a “new commercial treaty between Russia and the United States.”

The possibilities in Russia for American capital had already been noted by Samuel McRoberts, executive manager of the National City Bank and a “prominent expert” on Russia:

Within the borders of Russia are found all the natural resources that are essential to modern civilization. It has very large known deposits of iron, coal, oil, copper and precious metals ... To gain a full conception of the opportunities afforded for American capital in Russia it is necessary to compare Russia, not with the United States, at this time, but with the United States at the close of the Civil War.

As the revolution developed in Russia, and from Russia to Germany, Hungary, Finland, Italy, etc., the dollar sign which had beguiled the businessman when the moderates were in power in Russia, was now replaced by the hammer and sickle. Not only were possibilities for unlimited investment in Russia foiled, but capitalism itself was under siege in all Europe. Moved by a fear of the revolution in Europe, seeing its portent even in the United States, the American businessman through his patriotic societies – the National Security League, the American Defense Society, the Navy League – financed an enormous Hate Russia campaign.

It was in the bilious prose of the press that the businessman’s anti-socialist hysteria found its most lurid echo. According to the Washington Post, the Bolsheviks were “assassins and madmen ... human scum.” The New York Tribune denounced Lenin as a “new Czar” who “spent German money to induce Russia to betray loyal allies and to scuttle from the defense of civilization.” The New York Sun cast its light beam as follows: “The noose yearns for the crime mad leaders of Red Bolshevism for more reasons than one.” One orgiastic minded fellow writing an editorial in the New York Herald raved:

“Bolshevism, drunk from its saturnalia of crime in Russia, has staggered into America to loose its base passions upon a progressive civilization and destroy it. The beast has entered the gate ...”

Thus, bourgeois fears and socialist hopes were both nourished by revolution in Europe. The logical extension of the premises on which the left wing has so commonly been adjudged a foreign movement could only lead to the conclusion that in 1919 a real American, along with the buffalo, belonged to an extinct species.

The Effect of the Russian Revolution on the SP

THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION NATURALLY found its most fervent support in the Socialist Party. But the popular socialist press did not always provide accurate information, and its analysis often varied from the uninspired to the incorrect. In May, 1917, the Call referred to Lenin as “the fanatic (but not German paid) advocate of immediate separate peace.” Another editorial from the same socialist publication offered this mish-mash:

The Social-Democracy, however, is divided into the Mensheviki and the Bolsheviki, or Minority and Majority faction, which factions differed upon the question of participation in Duma elections. The Mensheviki, or Lenine faction, did not unite with the rest of the Socialists in this election; but it is becoming more and more apparent that they are nothing but a factious group of dissenters, with strong anarchist, anti-political tendencies.

Matters were admittedly impossibly confusing to the Call editorialist at the time of the Bolshevik-led revolution:

The spectacle that Russia presents now, from a sociological standpoint, is difficult, though understandable. From the standpoint of pacifism, however, it is utterly incomprehensible.

Although the Bolshevik revolution was “incomprehensible” to many SPers at the time, and Lenin was described as a Menshevik leader with anarchist tendencies, the Socialist Party as a whole was swept along by the second stage of the Russian revolution. The party leadership’s misgivings over Lenin and his “factious group of dissenters” had been concocted of plain ignorance and, despite the St. Louis Resolution, an inbred conservatism. The leadership equivocated, but support of the Bolsheviks – in Russia – was not withheld for long. At any rate the ranks of the party were far ahead of the leadership in their support of the Bolshevik revolution and would not have tolerated any excessive criticism, not to speak of denunciation. It would be unfair, however, to attribute purely opportunistic motives to the leadership; the imagination of the party bureaucracy had also been stirred by the revolution though more slowly, just as it had been moved out of its conservative orbit by the rampage of militarism and chauvinism. The support to the Bolsheviks given by a wide section of the party’s moderate leadership was to persist for years. Two years after the party split of 1919, Hillquit wrote in his From Marx to Lenin:

The Russian revolution has taken possession of the government in the name of the workers. It has effectively expropriated the private capitalist owners and has nationalized the greater part of the industries. It has also written into its program the socialization of the land. Measured by all practical tests, it is therefore a Socialist revolution in character as well as intent.

While the Russian revolution helped revive the flagging spirits of the Socialist Party, it was also used by many as the basis for compromising its opposition to the war as stated in the St. Louis Resolution. In the previous issue of the NI we explained why the moderate party leadership could support this militant anti-war resolution, although never completely happy with it. But support of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia prompted a substantial section of party leaders to support the war. To defend the Russian working class it was necessary to defeat Germany! And to defeat Germany, it was necessary to tender assistance to the United States. This argument became particularly common in the party after Russia’s forced submission to German imperialism. At Brest-Litovsk, Germany had robbed socialist Russia of vast stretches of territory. Even this did not satisfy the German General Staff who, in violation of the treaty, continued its physical assaults on recognized Russian territory. Under these new conditions, Algernon Lee, one of those who drew up the St. Louis Resolution, felt no compunction about heading the vote of New York socialists on the Board of Aldermen. for Liberty Bonds. At the state convention of Illinois socialists held in May 1918 a move to support the war in order to defeat Germany, defend Russia and advance Wilson’s peace program, was narrowly defeated 31–27. A month later, a similar motion was passed by a convention of Massachusetts socialists, 72–46. By the spring of 1918, perhaps one half of the party’s national leadership had, to one degree or another, placed themselves in the Allied war camp.

The situation in the party had become hopelessly confusing. While most of the moderates, with the rationalization of defending Russia, moved closer to the war camp, it was not true of all party conservatives. The most extreme right wing leader in the party, and next to Hillquit and Debs, the most influential party personality. was Victor Berger. Berger, who prior to American intervention advocated a military draft and heaped abuse on those who upheld the view that the working class had no fatherland, ran for re-election to Congress on a program calling for the withdrawal of American troops from France at the same time that New York socialists supported the third Liberty Loan. His support of the Russian revolution was tepid at most while his criticisms of the Bolsheviks were frequent. Thus, his politically conservative and cautious “endorsement” of the revolution could not inspire a retreat from an anti-war position, however superficial and opportunistic, unlike his more radical colleagues. To add to the political chaos in the party, Louis Boudin, who was still on the editorial board of the major left-wing publication, The Class Struggle, introduced a resolution at an important New York party conference in the spring of 1918, specifically designed to repudiate Berger’s anti-war stand. The resolution stated that:

“In view of the present international situation, we deem all demands for a withdrawal by the United States of its armed forces from Europe at the present time as not in consonance with the principles of international socialism ...”

The resolution was voted down.

The Effect of Wilson on Left and Right

IT WAS NOT ONLY THE PARTY MODERATES who shifted from an anti-war position. There were men more closely identified with the left wing who also abandoned a principled opposition to imperialist war. Max Eastman and Floyd Dell, for example, while on trial for the anti-war stand of their suppressed Masses changed their views in the middle of the trial, not out of cowardice, but because of their desire to defend Russia. It was not the Russian revolution alone which inspired or provided a rationalization for this retreat, but the revolution combined with the Wilson peace program, one that was unique among all the avowed political objectives of Allied statesmen. Eastman, in particular, had become a Wilsonian Bolshevik. In the first issue of the Liberator which he edited, he accomplished the acrobatic feat of praising the Bolsheviks for dissolving the Constituent Assembly in one editorial while in another article, he purred contentedly over the idealistic mouthings of Woodrow Wilson [1] – the president whose administration at the time was embarking on an all-out campaign to crush the socialist movement in the United States.

To defend the Bolsheviks, the vanguard of proletarian revolution, and to be bemused by Wilson, the archenemy of socialism, is ridiculous perhaps only in retrospect. Hindsight gives rise to an all too easy wisdom which can obscure the complexities of the past. For a revolutionary socialist to have supported Wilson during the war was wrong, and most left wingers did not fall victim to his sanctimonious blandishments. However, not all the socialists, left wingers included, and thousands of unaffiliated radicals disoriented by Wilson’s platitudes, were charlatans or scoundrels.

The fact is that the Wilson administration’s attitude toward the Russian revolution was unique among that of all the allied powers. Barely a month after the czar was overthrown, Congress acceded to Wilson’s appeal for a declaration of war against Germany. The Russian revolution was, no doubt, a factor in Wilson’s calculations. Under the czar, the Russian army had suffered one disastrous defeat after another. Rumor was rife of Russian court intrigues aiming at a separate peace with Germany. With the czar deposed and the emergence of what appeared to be a liberal and popular regime, Wilson saw the possibility of a more effective military ally. And, at home, the collapse of Russian autocracy greatly enhanced the political preparations for war. Before March, plans for a holy crusade against Kaiserism were propagandistically weakened by an implied alliance with Europe’s greatest despotism – czarism. The revolution resolved this dilemma. Wilson could now add to his crusade a defense of Russia’s newfound freedom, which cleared the way for support of his war program among Jewish elements and among radicals and liberals who could not see their way clear to endorsing an alliance with the pogromist czar, certainly not with an easy conscience. In his speech to Congress on April 2, asking for a declaration of war, Wilson took full political advantage of the March revolution:

Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia ... it [the Russian autocracy] has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice, and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a League of Honor.

The attitude of Wilson toward the Russian revolution even as it developed immediately after November, was singular as compared to that of Allied leaders in Europe or bourgeois propaganda here. Clemenceau, for example, favored armed intervention against the Bolsheviks immediately after the November revolution. Wilson, however, maintained a position toward the Russians that was somewhere between neutrality and outwardly restrained friendliness. Wilson’s peace program, his famous Fourteen Points, formulated after the Bolsheviks came to power, declared against foreign interference in Russia’s internal affairs, for a withdrawal of all foreign troops there, and a promise to respect her national sovereignty. In the early months of 1918, when the interventionist mood among allied powers already reached uncontrollable proportions, Wilson continued in his opposition to armed intervention. France and England had urged him to endorse a projected landing, eventually executed, of Japanese troops in Siberia. Wilson wavered but his State Department finally sent a note of protest over the plan to the Japanese and Allied governments which observed

... that the whole action might play into the hands of the enemies of Russia, particularly of the Russian revolution, for which the government of the United States has the greatest sympathy, in spite of all the unhappiness and misfortunes which for the time being spring out of it.

As it turned out, Wilson had feared Japan’s imperial ambitions in Russia more than he feared the holding power of the Bolsheviks. He also hoped to reach a working arrangement with the Soviet government which would permit the reconstituting of an Eastern front against Germany in a manner acceptable to allied imperialism. In any case, Wilson could afford a softer policy against the Bolsheviks than his European allies. The appeal to and reliance of the Bolsheviks for support on the world working class carried with it a far greater threat to the European ruling class than to American capitalism.

Wilson’s professed considerations for the Russian people were to be proved as fickle as his allegiance to the Fourteen Points. Three months after the above quoted State Department protest, the president approved the landing of 4,000 American troops in Archangel. The Soviet government had made it clear that it would not be a military pawn of Allied imperialism, the Bolsheviks had been in power for nearly a year, and the American press spearheaded an anti-red campaign of hysterical proportions which Wilson had no reason to resist.

Whatever deceit there was in Wilson’s initial tolerance of the Soviet government, his liberal attitude appeared to be the voice of reason itself to thousands who could not be unimpressed by the contrast of Wilson’s approach with that of European diplomats and American hate-mongers.

Wilsonianism as a divisive force in the socialist movement, however, was dissipated by America’s eventual intervention in Russia; and following the president’s performance at Versailles in 1919, his stock fell to a new low not only among socialists, but in the liberal world as well.

WITH THE CONCLUSION OF EUROPEAN hostilities, differences in the party engendered by it were not decelerated. The record of the party on the war was no less serious a contentious matter. More important, however, in 1919 as a divisive force between right and left was the attitude toward the Bolsheviks, the European revolution and the Third International. It was not only what the right wing said or did which aroused the leftists; it was what they did not do. That the differences were not always apparent and could give an impression of hair splitting was recognized by the left wing leader, Ludwig Lore, when he wrote just one month before the split in the party:

The political sins of the American “Right Wing” have been sins of omission rather than of commission. Its great fault lay in its failure to act at a time when action meant life and growth in the party, in failing to crystallize the tremendous anti-war sentiment that existed in the country at the time of our entrance in the European war into a great mass movement for political and economic liberation. It adopted a radical platform at the St. Louis convention, and failed, miserably, to live up to its tenets.

The “sins” of omission the left wingers had in mind were more than the party record on the war. We made the point that all wings of the party declared their allegiance to the Soviet government. But there were different degrees of enthusiasm, which differences grew in importance as the revolution spread in Europe and civil war continued in Russia. When the Bolsheviks assumed power the left wing elements immediately hailed it while in the right wing press there was a significant time lapse during which it was less committal. It was not until rank and file sentiment was demonstrably clear that the party leadership continued in its support to the Russian revolution. When the Soviet government dissolved the superfluous Constituent Assembly, the left wingers defended its action while the right wing was obviously embarrassed. When the Allied governments made clear their plans to intervene in Russia, the left wing and the party membership as a whole raised their voices in a furious protest while the party leadership was noticeably more reserved at first in its statesmanlike criticisms.

In another period different degrees of enthusiasm over events in Europe could hardly cause an unbridgeable gulf in a socialist party in the U.S. But this was 1919, the year of great hope for the world working class, and divisions within the Socialist Party of America can only be understood in the light of cleavages in the world socialist movement at a time when differences in “tactics” or “dogma” could and did mean the difference between victory and defeat for world socialism.

Though the left wing exaggerated the conservatism of the right it is no less true that one could get a false picture of the Socialist Party leadership if it were judged solely by its propaganda. Many of the articles and statements in the official party press at times seem to have come right out of Class Struggle or Revolutionary Age. Early in 1919, for example, Morris Hillquit wrote:

In countries like Germany, in which the struggle for mastery lies between two divisions of the socialist movement, one class-conscious and the other opportunist, one radical and the other temporizing, the support of the Socialist International must ... go to the former.

In an obvious reference to the European social-democrats’ dogmatic criticism of the Bolsheviks for attempting to organize a socialist revolution in a backward country, not economically prepared for it, Hillquit had the following to say:

Shall the socialization of industries and national life be attempted by one master stroke, or shall it be carried out gradually and slowly? Shall the working-class immediately assume the sole direction of the government as a working-class government, or shall it share government power and responsibilities with the capitalist class at least “during the period of transition”?

While the question involved is one primarily of power, to be determined in each country according to the conditions existing at the critical moment, there can be no doubt about the stand which the Socialist International must take on it.

In all cases in which the proletariat of a country in revolution has assumed the reins of government as a pure working-class government, determined upon the immediate socialization of the country, true Socialists of all countries will support it. Whether we approve or disapprove of all the methods by which such proletarian government has gained or is exercising its power, is beside the question. Each revolution develops its own methods, fashioning them from the elements of the inexorable necessities of the case.

One would imagine from these statements by the party’s leading political spokesman that the party would declare its fidelity to the Third International. In fact, though, two months before these remarks, the SP had handpicked three representatives to attend the Berne Conference which was to reconstitute the Second International! And while the Berne Conference was in Hillquit’s opinion proven “hopelessly backward and totally sterile,” it still did not move him to endorse the Third International. This was typical of the gap between the radical word (not always so radical) and the more conservative deed of the party. During the war it was the St. Louis Resolution and party leaders voting for Liberty Loans; later it was defend the proletarian governments from the attacks of the social democrats but send representatives to the Berne Conference; now it was criticize the Berne Conference but no unambiguous support to the Third International. And while Hillquit was energetically defending the “radicals” against the “temporizers” in Europe, his National Executive Committee colleague and fellow lawyer, Seymour Stedman, was attacking the left wing “radicals” in a bourgeois court in the United States. In an effort to persuade the Appeals Court that five leading Chicago socialists, Berger, Kruse, Engdahl, Tucker and Germer, indicted for violation of the Espionage Law were respectable citizens, Stedman’s brief argued:

We are witnessing in this country a violent break along that line of cleavage, along what is known as the left wing and the other members of the Socialist Party. Mr. Berger and his associates are seeking to preserve the integrity of the Socialist Party – are trying to defend it against that branch of the Socialist Party called the left wing, whose policies are committed to extreme action, and who are trying to transform the sane and scientific Socialist Party into a violent communistic organization.

Hillquit defends Bolshevism in Russia. Stedman attacks its most committed supporters here in a U.S. court!

The article by Hillquit, passages of which we quoted, is itself a perfect example of the inconsistencies in the ideas and actions of the party. The radical thoughts in the beginning of the article, were a prelude to the conclusion that life with the left wing was impossible, that the left wing is a “purely emotional reflex of the situation in Russia,” and the best thing for socialism was for the comrades on both sides to “separate, honestly, freely, and without rancor.” Hillquit felt more at home with a party including Berger [2], Stedman and Lee and other “temporizers” than with the radicals. And how Hillquit and his friends went about implementing this appeal for a cold split will reveal how incapable they were of fulfilling this disingenuous sounding call for a parting of the ways “honestly” and “without rancor.”

Another source of party friction was the strong undercurrent of national prejudice. The Socialist Party had prided itself on being an American movement in composition, outlook and psychology. This was true of the native-born leaders of the party and was no less the case with foreign- born leaders who felt themselves to be assimilated Americans. And it is true, no doubt, that the majority of foreign-born in the party before the development of the new left wing, mainly Finns, British, Germans and Scandinavians, were more attuned to the American scene than the immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe who joined the opposition. They were also as a rule more educated, more cultured and more accepted. This friction between American and foreigner in the party could be seen only in undertones during the early months of the 1919 faction fight, but it was real and more frankly revealed toward the end of the year. At the September 1919 convention of the Socialist Party a constitutional amendment was adopted and submitted to a membership referendum providing that all new members who are not citizens must apply for citizenship wherever possible within three months of admission.

The Growth of the Left Wing

IN THE LAST ISSUE, WE noted that the organized beginnings of the new left wing were to be found in the formation of the Socialist Propaganda League centered in Boston. Although the left wing continued to grow it was not until late in 1918 that other significant left wing organizations developed and not until the early months of 1919 did the left wing take on a national organizational character, with a distinctive program and affiliated groups.

On November 7, 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, the Communist Propaganda League of Chicago was organized. Just six months later at the Cook County convention, representing over 6,500 members, this left wing made a clean sweep. Of the 650 delegates, 400 voted with the left. The foreign language Federations which played an important role in this convention, charged the right wingers with making bigoted insinuations about the “alien” character of the Chicago left. Seymour Stedman, along with about ten per cent of the delegates bolted the convention.

Shortly after the formation of the Chicago Propaganda League, the left wing Boston local began publication of its own newspaper, the Revolutionary Age, which was to become the national spokesman of the left wing movement.

In New York, which was to be the opposition’s national center, a local left wing was formally organized on February 15, 1919, by a group of delegates who bolted a New York party conference. A number of left wing delegates at the conference were anxious to pillory Algernon Lee who had recently added to his pro-war record on the Board of Aiderman his support of an $80,000 appropriation for a “Victory Arch.” Lee had admitted that it was a mistake because it meant “squandering so much of the people’s money” but denied there was anything wrong with it as a matter of “socialist principles.” The chairman would not recognize a number of the left wingers who wanted to question the socialist alderman. Thereupon, nearly half the delegates left the conference, reconvened at the Rand School where they formally declared themselves the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party of Greater New York. They proceeded to elect a committee of fourteen to draw up resolutions and manifestos. A local left wing convention was held shortly thereafter, resolutions voted on, a fifteen-man executive committee chosen, including John Reed, Jay Lovestone, Benjamin Gitlow and Bertram Wolfe, and a nine-man committee selected to investigate broadening the New York left wing to a national movement. In addition to manifesto and program the convention authorized issuance of factional membership cards and its own publication. In April 1919 the first number of The New York Communist appeared, edited by John Reed. This left wing was not, of course, inspired by opposition to Lee. It was the cumulative effect of growing differences in the party, nationally, for several years.

The conservative leadership of the New York City and State organization met this challenge with a suspension of all locals adhering to the declarations of the New York left wing. The New York left charged that as a result of disciplinary action it was deprived of 2,000 votes in electing delegates to the Socialist Party convention scheduled for the end of August 1919.

The New York left wing manifesto was nationally circulated and endorsed by some of the party’s most powerful language federations, and city and state committees including Seattle, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Michigan, Minnesota and Massachusetts. By the middle of 1919 there could be no doubt that the left wing had the support of the party majority. One contest which revealed its strength was a national referendum on affiliation to the Third International.

Late in January, the Russian Communist Party issued a call to a Moscow conference to be held early in March for forming a Third International. The call was reprinted in the Revolutionary Age and the Boston local of the party moved for a referendum on affiliating to the Third International. The party leadership shelved the Boston motion on a technicality but at the behest of another local authorized the referendum. The results, not published for several months, showed a preponderant vote for immediate affiliation to the Third International.

A second and even more decisive show of left-wing strength were the elections for a new national committee, also to be determined in a referendum vote – the SP’s traditional method of electing national committees. Although the referendum was held in April 1919, before the formal organization of a national left wing, it was clear where the various candidates stood. The left wingers were those who had identified themselves with the manifesto of the New York left wing or were members of the organized left in Chicago. New York or Boston. When the votes were in and tallied by the right wing, it was truly alarmed. The left had decisively won. The right wing attempted to suppress the count and when that was not possible it refused to recognize the results, maintaining that they were the product of fraud. The charge was preposterous. Evidence of fraud in a hotly contested referendum could possibly be proven by both sides but the one-sidedness of the referendum was so great that there could be no question that the mandate of the membership was for a new left wing national committee. The left wing had won twelve out of fifteen positions; for the post of International Secretary, left-winger Kate Richards O’Hare received 13,262 votes to Morris Hillquit’s 4,775; for International Representative John Reed polled 17,235 votes to Berger’s 4,871.

The right wing, refusing to recognize the elections, decided to leave the question of a new National Committee to a future convention. But to insure itself against being deposed there the old right wing national committee, actually an illegal party body, began a series of wholesale expulsions and suspensions from the party. The Hillquit type socialist proved himself an admirable exponent of political democracy, except when democracy meant a change in party leadership and program. Then it was time to forget about democratic niceties and get down to the business of guaranteeing right wing minority control of the party even if it meant tearing the organization apart in the most callous and bureaucratic manner. Which is what the illegal national committee proceeded to do.

Meeting in the first week of May 1919, the SP’s right wing National Executive Committee, not only declined to announce publicly the results of the national party elections but performed some major surgery. It lopped off the entire Michigan Socialist Party which had been in the forefront of the left-wing movement. The expulsion was explained on constitutional grounds. The Michigan SP was a peculiar tendency in the party. It repudiated immediate demands and ran candidates on a “One Plank” program – the Abolition of Capitalism. This, the SP right wing maintained was in violation of the party constitution which binds all groups “to be guided by the constitution and platform” of the party. Expulsion on this ground was obviously a hoax, as the Michigan SP had held its abbreviated campaign platform for several years with no punitive measures taken by the party leadership. In addition to expelling the Michigan socialists, the right wing NEC at the same meeting suspended the Russian, South Slav, Polish, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Lettish language federations. In another month, the same body expelled, in addition, the Ohio and Massachusetts organizations. A total of nearly 45,000 had been tossed out or suspended. Aside from the charge against the Michigan SP, the disciplined sections were accused of breaking party discipline, organizing a party within a party, adhering to the Manifesto of the New York left wing and fraud. The right wing champions of democracy provided no trials for the disciplined sections. Local Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) initiated a call for a referendum to rescind the suspensions and expulsions. The party's national secretary, Adolph Germer, waited for 10,000 party members (3 times the number needed) to second the motion before informing the Cleveland socialists that the motion was unconstitutional because it contained comment.

FROM JUNE 21–25, A CONFERENCE of left-wing organizations was held in New York City which was of historic moment in the annals of the American Communist movement. The conference call had been sent out by the New York left wing, also signed by Fraina for the Boston SP,and Charles Ruthenberg for the left-wing dominated Cleveland organization. The political basis of the conference was the manifesto and program which had been adopted by the New York left and the conference agenda had four broad points: the crisis in the party; “affiliation with the Bolshevik Spartacist International”; prepare a declaration of principles of a national left wing: consideration of other means for furthering the cause of revolutionary socialism. There was to be one delegate for 500 members and no more than four delegates from any one group (thereby limiting the representation of the left-wing language federations). More than ninety delegates were seated.

At this conference a National Council of nine was elected which approved a new manifesto shortly after the conference adjourned in the name of the now nationally organized left wing. Before continuing with the details of the conference, its disunity and the subsequent organizational disorientation of the left wing we must pause long enough to examine the manifestos of the left wing. In the political analysis made by the left wing and in its style, particularly those sections dealing with American problems, we can get both the ideology and flavor of the only numerically significant revolutionary Marxist movement in this country, past or present.

Mass Action

THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS OF THE CENTURY in the United States were witness to an extreme economic polarization. The relative numerical strength of the farm population and its political importance had declined considerably, while American industry had grown gigantically and presented a text book case of the power and evils inherent in monopoly capitalism. With the growth of mass industries there was a parallel growth of an industrial proletariat. While the craftsman had his skill, which he regarded as a form of property to be coveted with all the zealousness of a small shopkeeper guarding his wares, this new industrial proletariat had nothing – neither property nor skills. In the view of the left wing, this ever-widening gulf between worker and capitalist would, by itself, arouse the unorganized working class to a pitch of militancy and organization that would sweep everything before it. It would instinctively develop the tactics of mass action – strikes and other economic demonstrations of class struggle which could not be contained within the limits of economic activity but would, inevitably and on its own steam, assume a revolutionary character. This political mass action would find its organizational form and driving force in revolutionary industrial unions. Given a collapse of American capitalism, which was soon forthcoming in the view of most left wingers, these industrial unions taking the lead in a revolutionary struggle against capitalism would overthrow it, and reconstitute society under the control of organized producers.

Neither the phrase, mass action, nor its general meaning, were introduced by the left wing. At the turn of the century, Rosa Luxemburg had referred to mass action as the elemental, instinctive and spontaneous revolt of the proletariat against bourgeois conditions of economic and political life with the role of social democracy necessary for giving it political drive and direction.

In this country the first we have heard of the phrase was in a passing manner in a report by C. Karklin, secretary of the Lettish Federation to the 1912 convention of the SP. But it was not until after the war that the term became common parlance in the socialist movement. Its most consistent advocate was Louis Fraina – a point not always to his credit – who did more than his share to reduce a semi-syndicalist conception to the level of a physical reflex, where through constant and indiscriminate use, mass actions were seen everywhere and anywhere until the conception became a ritualistic, revolutionary fire dance. A picket line, an anti-war demonstration, a move to organize the unorganized all became signs of an imminent mass revolutionary upsurge.

The theory of mass action as promulgated in the left wing manifesto was wrong to begin with, as an abstract theory with its overdrawn emphasis on “instinct,” the “inevitability” of revolutionary industrial unions springing directly out of the “spontaneous revolt” of the unorganized proletariat. “Mass action starts as the spontaneous activity of unorganized workers massed in the basic industries; its initial form is the mass strike of the unorganized proletariat.” Mass action had become a theory and a dogma in the American left wing which felt that the Russian revolution was initiated by a spontaneous mass upheaval and therefore decided that this was the total blueprint of revolution for all times and all places.

While the left wing as a whole was perfectly delighted with the theory of mass action, it was not universally accepted there. One of the more interesting phenomena in the left wing was the Michigan Socialist Party, an important element in the left and opponent of the theory of mass action. It is unfortunate that the Michigan Socialist Party has been either largely ignored by historians of socialism, or shunted aside in reminiscences of ex-Communists familiar with the Michigan SP as a bunch of “wiseacres.” This state organization had 5,500 members at the time it was expelled by the right wing with the bulk of its strength in Detroit where it played an important role in the local Federation of Labor. The Michiganers – who ran for public office on the one-plank program: the overthrow of capitalism – had a fierce suspicion bordering on hatred for intellectuals. Nevertheless, they insisted, the socialist movement had to have a highly educated membership. Imperative then was an intensive educational campaign among the working-class members of the party. The worker was to be intellectualized, trained in all basic and subtle Marxist ideas. This was necessary for socialist action and to keep the movement out of the control of middle-class theorists. Education became a fetish in the Michigan party, and its Proletarian University of America became a local Detroit institution, with annexes in a number of other cities. The emphasis on educating the worker brought the Michigan party into ideological conflict with the left wing’s emphasis of mass action; intelligence versus instinct. An attack on Fraina, Rutgers and the theory of mass action appearing in the Michigan publication, The Proletarian, observed that

“Masses acting instinctively, however, are a poor reed to lean upon ... What we are suffering from is the instinctive actions of the masses right down the history of the working class. Only when they are educated in Socialism and cease to act as instinctively as mules will the workers be ripe and ready for emancipation.”

Where the majority of the left wing exaggerated the extent to which the strike wave of 1919 was symptomatic of the increased political maturity of the working class and thought of the United States as entering a pre-revolutionary stage, Dennis Batt, one of the Michigan party’s leading spokesmen wisely cautioned:

“We are quite ready to acknowledge that general unrest and strikes are grist for the mill of the revolutionary movement; but it is our task to organize this unrest and give it intelligence.”

But while the Michigan organization made cogent criticisms of the national left wing, its own intelligence was not extended to recognizing the merit of struggling for reforms, and in their rejection of immediate demands, they found a common sectarian meeting ground with the majority of the left wing.

The theory of mass action is of interest today, not only because it is a part of American radical history, but as evidence of the contradiction in values between Stalinism and the early communist tendencies. In its organizational structure, actions, politics, tactics, philosophy, Stalinism is a complete negation of the democratic values of the early communists. No matter how much one might take to task the theory of mass action as expounded by the forerunners of the American communist movement, it must be recognized as a view democratic in the extreme. It placed its faith in the self-reliance and democratic potential of the broad mass of workers. The struggle for socialism was to be conducted from below and the leadership of revolutionary, mass political strikes were to come out of the ranks. “Mass action can dispense with leaders and continue its activity of itself, spontaneously and successfully,” Fraina wrote in November, 1917. The Left Wing Manifesto declared that “The final objective of mass action” was the “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” But the dictatorship was to undertake measures including: “Workers’ control of industry, to be exercised by the industrial organizations of the workers, operating by means of the industrial vote.” The left wing, the antithesis of its Stalinist degeneration, believed that “Not the state, not politicians and bureaucrats, but the workers themselves shall manage industry for the workers – for peace and liberty and happiness.”

The fallibility of “mass action” as a left-wing theory was not its greatest sin. Mass action became an all-pervading philosophy which served to disorient the early communist movement on all practical, domestic political problems. Current political struggles were magnified out of proportion to fit the revolutionary optimism of mass action in the United States.

The Left Wing and the Union Movement

THE MODERN UNION MOVEMENT HAD its beginnings in 1881 with the loose association of 50,000 craft unionists in what was to be called the American Federation of Labor five years later. A full decade passed before its original membership rose another 100,000. By 1912, the total number of American unionists was somewhat more than 2 million. By the time of the 1920 convention of the AFL, its membership claim rose to 4 million. This figure, however, by itself, gives an inflated picture of the strength of American unionism at the time. Government and even corporation resistance to unionization had eased up considerably during the war period. Gompersism performed valuable war-time political services for the bourgeoisie and it was rewarded by an unsigned contract with the government whereby it was permitted to draw additional numerical strength and revenue from war-inflated industries. By the end of 1920, the union movement was already being thinned out. The government had no need of its services, a depression had set in and the corporations embarked on an anti-union campaign which came perilously close to destroying the union movement. But even the 4 million figure plus the million in independent unions were not staggeringly high figures when compared to the population of 105 million or to the union movement in highly industrialized European countries. The British unions totaled more than six million in a population less than half of the United States, had organized the decisive sectors of the economy with a probable majority of the nation’s industrial workers in its ranks. Here, after the 1929 crash, the AFL membership had declined close to the vanishing point. It only claimed about 2½ million members and even that was an artificially manufactured figure. It was not until the late 1930s that the American union movement began to come into its own with a phenomenal rise in union membership, union consciousness and making an irresistible assault on the nation’s hitherto impregnable mass manufacturing industries.

Before the turn of the century, trade unionism was an established institution in England. The bourgeoisie there resisted the demands of the union movement, but it had no hope of crushing the organized working class as such. In the United States, for reasons which we summarized in our first article, trade unionism was not resisted on the bargaining level; its very existence was challenged as an irreverent encroachment on the sacred rights of private property which had to be exorcised. Through violence and through government intervention, the unions were under the constant threat of total collapse. And more than one labor organization had been utterly destroyed before labor was able to maintain itself as an independent class force.

Before the formation of the AFL, the most powerful labor organization was the Knights of Labor. One of P.W. Brissenden’s sources gives the Knights a membership of 1,200,000 in 1888, nineteen years after its formation, but this figure is probably about 25 per cent too high. Although a radical movement, the Knights was not a class organization. Membership was open to anyone except lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, gamblers and liquor dealers. Its emphasis was, however, on improving the lot of the laboring man. In its local assemblies, trade unionists played a prominent role and craft distinctions were specifically abjured. Nor was there any discrimination as to sex and race. The Knights, however, could not withstand its own weaknesses. It was a highly politicalized body which became a common battleground for every radical tendency in the country: the SLP, anarchists, syndicalists, single taxers, populists. The presence of so many political tendencies was a disruptive agent and the very existence of politics in the Knights alienated many unionists who preferred to see the organization devoted to fighting the economic battles of the working class. Unions in the Knights did conduct strikes, but the official policy of the organization strongly opposed such activity, preferring to concentrate on politics and organizing cooperatives – which failed – as a means of fighting the monopolists. Many of the important strikes led by unions affiliated with the Knights were lost and workers who joined thinking that they could improve their lot here and now, were sorely disappointed. The Knights was not a party, though absorbed with politics; it was not a union though it attracted hundreds of thousands of unskilled and skilled workers; it was not a cooperative movement though it organized cooperatives. Given its nebulous character, it could not sustain its membership swollen out of proportion to its staying power.

The American Federation of Labor was formed as a militant class organization of the working class by unionists, including Knights, who keenly felt all the shortcomings of the older organization. It was not organized, at first, as a competitive body to the Knights, though inevitably it became that.

Samuel Gompers, who moulded the thinking of the AFL, didn’t believe in the panaceas offered by the Knights. He did not believe that cooperatives or cheap money were going to solve the problems of the working class. He believed in resisting the monopolists but he did not hold to any utopian schemes for smashing the trusts. The concentration of industry was, so far as he was concerned, an inevitable economic tendency. The early Federation acknowledged the class struggle and at its first convention its principles recognized “a struggle between capital and labor” that would crush the “toiling millions’’ if they did not organize resistance. This organized resistance would be most effectively offered by an economic combination of workers against the economic combinations of capital, and its most effective weapon was not a lobby, or even its own party, but the strike. The militancy of the early Federation, its class approach, its understanding of industrial development, won the warm praise of the prominent Marxist thinker, F.A. Sorge.

But the American Federation of Labor in a few decades grew from a militant class-struggle organization into one of the most conservative labor bodies in the world. The pure-and-simple trade unionism of the AFL, its underlying philosophy, had become unattractively adorned with a hidebound social conservatism and class collaborationism. One reason was the terrible struggle which raged in the Federation between the pure-and-simple unionists and the Socialist Labor Party which attempted to impose its ideology on the organization. These conflicts served to quicken the conservatizing of the AFL, but it could not have been responsible for it. We suggest rather, that the power of the corporation and its alliance with government and court was so powerful in the 1890’s and the early part of the century, that the American Federation of Labor sought safety behind its anti-socialism and its narrow organizational conceptions, offering its support to capitalist politicians whom it thought to reward for some favor or other and from whom it hoped to receive some paternal benefactions. In the AFL there was at all times a predominance of skilled workers organized along craft lines, who naturally tended toward conservatism. Unlike the unskilled worker in the growing mass industries, the craft worker had his skill which gave him a greater bargaining power to begin with than the unskilled workers who could be so easily replaced from among the unemployed or the next wave of immigrants. In addition, many of the craft workers in the AFL were from competitive industries where the threat of strike carried with it the threat of bankruptcy for the employer; it was no simple matter to find scabs with a craft skill. The mass of replaceable unskilled workers, on the other hand, had to contend with large, powerful corporations.

Given these conditions and the history of labor struggles in the last two decades of the 19th century, it is easy to understand why most craft workers who left the Knights to organize the AFL developed a conservative outlook. The workers in the crafts wanted an organization which would defend their interests, protect their skills. They felt no idealistic urge and saw no immediate economic need to organize the unskilled in mass industries, for that, to them, was courting disaster. The strikes in the mass industries, and those led by independent industrial unions had been many, violent and most often, unsuccessful, in the 1880s and 1890s. In railroad, an industrial union of 150,000 had been crushed; and, in the basic steel industry, the once powerful craft union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers was crippled in the Homestead strike of 1892, defeated again in 1901 and completely wiped out by the power of the corporation in 1909.

In the main, the AFL was a loose federation of conservative craft unions, but in many important sections it had industrial unions. One of its most important unions was the industry-wide organized Brewery Workers which had left the Knights for the AFL. And if the brewers were hardly in a basic industry, there was the United Mine Workers organized in 1890, also an industrial union, which became by far the largest union in the AFL. Friction did occur between the industrial unions in the AFL and the Federation’s craft-minded leadership, but these industrial unions survived the conservative leadership. In fact, with one exception, there were no important industrial unions outside the AFL by 1900. Those that did exist were tiny and the one important exception was the Western Federation of Miners. Organized in 1893, these western miners joined the AFL, struck out on their own fours years later, became a driving force in the organization of the IWW in 1905, from which it withdrew two years later, grew politically conservative and returned to the AFL in 1911, retaining its industrial form and renamed the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. It is important to bear this in mind in assessing the attitude of the pre-communist left wing from whose denunciations of the AFL one could hardly realize that at no time was less than 25 per cent of the AFL organized in industrial unions and a greater percentage in basic industries, organized on craft and industrial lines.

If the objective situation in the United States militated against the AFL developing a militant class-conscious leadership, it was also responsible for a brand of syndicalism in the labor movement which burned its way into the thinking of the 1919 left wing in the SP, thereby weakening the early communist movement and setting back the labor movement as a whole.

The organized expression of American syndicalism was the Industrial Workers of the World. It was inspired by the Western Federation of Miners, the SLP-controlled Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, the United Metal Workers which withdrew from the AFL in 1904, locals from the AFL miner’s union and a number of prominent socialists. The IWW and the AFL drew conclusions from class struggle experiences which were similar in that both, after some hesitation, rejected political action. But the AFL withdrew from political action in order to acquiesce to capitalism, while the IWW repudiated politics to overthrow it. The IWW viewed the failures of the politicalized Knights of Labor and the myriad labor parties which flared and fluttered in the preceding period and concluded that capitalism cannot be meaningfully opposed in the political arena but has to be fought and uprooted via the economic power of the revolutionary industrial union. The reliance on the industrial union was raised to a syndicalist philosophy. If the defeat of the workers was due to private capitalists and the government operating in concert, then after capitalism was overthrown the basic economic and administration unit in a workers’ republic would be the revolutionary industrial union, thus guaranteeing the working class against possible incursions by the political institutions of a state.

Syndicalism in the United States was a numerically negligible factor before the first war. In the course of its growing anti-politicalism and the increasing conservatism of the Western Federation of Miners, the IWW underwent a number of splits. Its first – and last – president led a faction out after the first year, the Western Federation of Miners left after the second, and a DeLeonist wing separated in 1909. By 1912, the IWW was reduced to less than 15,000 members [3] and it was not until the Lawrence textile strike of that year that it achieved a national reputation.

While IWW activity did not have a wide effect on the unorganized and unskilled before the war, its activity and ideas furthered the disunity in the socialist movement from its inception in 1905 through 1919. At the end of 1912, the SP had a membership more numerous than all the membership cards the IWW had issued (even with its large turnover) since its birth; and it received a vote that was about sixty times the IWW membership. But the existence of the syndicalists brought to the fore the question of the relation of the socialists to the unorganized and unskilled and to the AFL with its several million members. Unfortunately, the socialist movement divided into two theoretically extreme positions; those who sided with the IWW and regarded the AFL as a prime obstacle to the organization of the working class and those who took the attitude that the Socialist Party was the political party of the working class which should not interfere with the economic organization of the workers. There were groups and individuals in and out of the Socialist Party who advocated what was, in this writer’s opinion, the correct view: for all militants and socialists to join in the AFL, recognizing it as the largest and most stable economic organization of the working class, to function within that organization with the aim of winning sympathy and support for organizing the unskilled on an industry-wide basis. This was the theoretical view of William Z. Foster’s Syndicalist League of North America, and of some Marxists inside the Socialist Party. That this view did not gain wide currency among the militants in the Socialist Party either before or after the first war was only to be expected: the left-wing workers in the party included many who were themselves victimized by the AFL’s narrowness, the state of the class struggle encouraged politically-conscious socialist workers to turn a friendly ear to class-conscious syndicalists, and the professed neutrality of the Socialist Party leadership toward the economic policies of the AFL could only incite the militants in their denunciation of the “reactionary” AFL.

The left wing of 1919 showed a hostility toward the AFL that was even greater than that of the 1912–1913 syndicalist left wing. And it was no less denunciatory of the trade-union politics of the party moderates than the Haywood faction was, although the party leadership had moved considerably to the left on all questions. While the party attitude toward the AFL was certainly open to criticism from a Marxist point of view, much that has been ascribed to it was unjust. The formal position of the SP toward the AFL was given by Morris Hillquit in testimony before the Commission on Industrial Relations in 1914:

... We don’t engage in the economic struggles of the workers, except where such struggles assume a political and general aspect. We do not consider it part of our mission, function, or power to interfere with any detail of economic or organized labor in the shop or in the unions. We would consider that meddling.

Before the same Commission, in response to questions put by Sam Gompers – Hillquit and Gompers cross-examined one another – the socialist leader disowned the earlier views of Debs that the working man should “sever his relations with the American Federation” and join with the IWW. Hillquit, speaking for himself and the SP, repudiated the position of Debs, remarking that “the Socialist Party at no time had any substantial criticism of the American Federation of Labor.” But Hillquit, always a careful lawyer, was quick to add: “the majority of its [SP] members do believe that the present leadership of the American Federation of Labor is somewhat archaic, somewhat antiquated, too conservative, and not efficient enough for the object and purposes of the American Federation of Labor.”

Although the Socialist Party emphasized the division of labor between the Socialist Party and the trade unions, it would be false to conclude that the party actually never did “meddle” with the internal affairs of the AFL. In the 1912 convention resolution of the party, partially as a compromise with the syndicalists, the AFL was implicitly assailed for failing to pay sufficient attention to the organization of unskilled and immigrant workers and the party offered to “cooperate with the labor unions in the tasks of organizing the unorganized workers ...”

The ferocity of the attacks by syndicalists and the 1919 left wing on the trade-union policy of the Socialist Party served, to the present day, to exaggerate, if not falsify, the conservatism of the SP leadership’s trade-union position. In the bit we have quoted above, it can be seen that at least formally the Socialist Party leadership was not indifferent to the fate of the unskilled and the failure of the AFL to engage in major campaigns to organize the mass industries along industrial lines – the only way they could be effectively organized. But even more revealing than the formal position of the party was the activity of prominent socialists inside the AFL who did challenge the Gompers leadership at times and offered an alternate policy of industrial unionism. Just one year before Hillquit’s testimony, a powerful combination of socialist and progressive labor delegates to the 1912 convention of the AFL put up its own candidate for president, Max Hayes, a prominent socialist, who received one-third of the votes. A resolution favoring industrial unionism was also introduced which received the same support. It is ridiculous to believe that these were the activities of socialists who operated purely as individuals. The role of the SP in the organization and activities of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the industrial unions in the AFL, is a well known example of how the SP, in fact, did participate in the internal union movement. And in a host of other unions, craft and industrial, members of the Socialist Party carried on oppositional activity and for limited periods assumed the leadership of some of the more important unions. At the 1908 convention of the United Mine Workers, of the more than 1,000 delegates, 400 were members of the Socialist Party led by Duncan MacDonald and Adolph Germer. The socialists had taken over the leadership at this Indianapolis convention of the largest union in the United States. A few years later, a member of the Socialist Party was elected president of the International Association of Machinists. In the highly skilled Tailor’s Union, socialist-led progressives took the leadership of the union away from the conservatives.

This opposition to craft unionism and Gompers from within the AFL could not have been possible if the party, in reality, as well as in form, rejected party interference in the unions as “meddling.”

We do not wish to give the impression that the right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party in the first twenty years of its existence fought inside the unions and in the party propaganda organ consistently and uniformly, or on the basis of a centrally-directed policy, for a change in the structure of the AFL. The party as a whole in its resolutions failed to make its weight felt as a force for industrial organization. Many party members were functionaries inside the AFL who, affected by the conservatism of the Federation soft pedalled criticism of craft unionism and of Gompers. Nevertheless, the extreme attacks of the syndicalists and the 1919 left wing on the party were unwarranted, reflecting a fundamentally reactionary ambition to destroy the American Federation of Labor. There was certainly not enough in the history of the Socialist Party to excuse the following unqualified condemnation from the June 1919 Manifesto adopted by the National Left Wing Council: “This party [the SP] moreover, developed into an expression of the unions of the aristocracy of labor – the A.F. of L. The party refused to engage in the struggle against the reactionary unions, to organize a new labor movement of the militant proletariat.”


Our task is to encourage the militant mass movements in the AFL to split the old unions, to break the power of unions which are corrupted by imperialism and betray the militant proletariat.

It further denied that the craft unions were “actual class organizations.” The Manifesto not only assigned revolutionary socialists the responsibility of smashing the AFL and organizing industrial unions but declared that these industrial unions were to be revolutionary. This was not an ultimate objective, but something within reach and to be fought for at the time.

Our task, moreover, is to articulate and organize the mass of the unorganized industrial proletariat, which constitutes the basis for a militant socialism. The struggle for the revolutionary industrial unionism of the proletariat becomes an indispensable phase of revolutionary socialism, on the basis of which to broaden and deepen the action of the militant proletariat developing reserves for the ultimate conquest of power.

These thunderous proclamations of the inevitable course of history substituted for a balanced and realistic appraisal of the class struggle in the United States. By dreaming up an American proletariat soon to organize its forces in revolutionary unions in preparation for mounting the barricades, by denying that craft unions were even working-class bodies, and renouncing the major existing organization of the working class, the left wing, actually abandoned a growing progressive sentiment in the AFL in 1918–1919 to the wrath and trickery of Gompers and impelled its own isolation from the union movement.

THE LEFT WING DID NOT HAVE a pure syndicalist position. Where the Wobblies, after the split with the De Leonists, denied categorically the need for politics and had anarchist conceptions of a workers’ republic, the left wing recognized the need for a political party and a workers’ state. But it was semi-syndicalist in that its theories of mass action and the timing and role given to projected revolutionary unions would have made, in effect, a communist party the subordinate, advisory adjunct of the economic organizations of the working class.

In a sense, the views of the left wing on the trade unions seemed more justifiable than those of the syndicalist opposition of 1912–1913. The year 1919 was in all ways radically different from the period immediately before the war. Aside from the intensity of politics, internationally and in the United States, there were three main elements new to the American class struggle which gave the mistaken view of the left wing some relation to reality:

  1. the role of the conservative union bureaucracy in the war and its response to the Russian Revolution;
  2. recent success of the IWW and,
  3. the fierceness of the class struggle, all provided the left wing with a rationale for its revolutionary optimism.

1. Politics of the AFL. During the war, the AFL formed a servile political alliance with imperialism and after the war, reached its political depths by doing whatever little it could to impede the growth of world socialism, which, in 1919, appeared to be the wave of the future. As the AFL continued in its political devolution, the firmer and more extreme was the left wing’s repudiation of it as anything more than a cancerous growth in the working class. Gompers had developed an almost pathological hatred of socialists by April 1917. He had learned to worship at the shrine of capitalism and the image of world socialism held the same terror for him as for his capitalist allies in the National Civic Federation. Long before the Bolshevik revolution, international socialism was, in Gompers’ view, little more than the aftermath of a Prussian conspiracy to subvert her enemies. When the March revolution occurred in Russia, Gompers welcomed it, as did most everyone else, but a little more tepidly, perhaps. Early in the history of the Miliukov government, Gompers cabled an appeal for moderation to the Petrograd Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. When Elihu Root was appointed head of an American mission to Russia, it was Gompers who tried to placate Russian socialists who could not see how a reactionary businessman could sympathetically review the Russian revolution. The Bolshevik revolution itself found in Gompers one of its most rabid, intolerant opponents.

Gompers and the AFL were so embittered by the rising tide of European socialism after the war that they could not even see their way clear to affiliating to the conservative but “socialist”-led International Confederation of Trade Unions (Amsterdam International) reconstituted at the end of the war. Gompers preferred to confine his international connections to his role as a labor attaché of Wilson during the peace negotiations which reduced Germany to semi-servitude; his contribution was to assist in the formulation of some insipid labor provision of the Versailles Treaty.

The Gompersites objected in general to the pro-socialism of the Amsterdam trade unionists, but they were particularly incensed when that organization, despite its vigorous antiBolshevism, opposed the inhuman Allied blockade against famine-ridden Russia designed to starve communism out of power. It was Gompers’ considered opinion of Bolshevism that “No more monstrous or degrading movement was ever set up anywhere in the world” and it was the position of the AFL that no effort should be made by it to lift the blockade as that “could be construed as an assistance to, or approval of, the Soviet government.” There was some opposition in the AFL to the anti-sovietism of the bureaucracy but it was never a major threat to the powers that be, and was overwhelmingly crushed at Federation conventions.

2. The IWW. The progress made by the IWW from 1916 until 1918 was another reason for the semi-syndicalism of the left wing. Where the IWW was a floundering organization at the time of the split in 1912–1913, it had grown considerably immediately before and after America’s entry into the war. In its earlier period, the IWW organized workers on the fringe of society. Migratory workers had become the mass base of the syndicalist union and their nomadic existence accented the IWW’s fluidity. In 1914, fully one half of the membership was unemployed. Were it not for the war- born economic revival in 1915–1916, the depression that set in during the winter of 1913–1914 might have continued, and completely wiped out the IWW, leaving nothing more than an idea. Concentrating as it did on the jobless and migratory workers, it was not really an “industrial” union, and it was a dual union to the AFL mainly in concept; in only rare and local cases did it threaten AFL unions. Much of that was changed by full wartime production. Members of the IWW had become stabilized workers and the organization grew more business-like and efficient. It was able to break through public prejudice and company and government terror. It now gained the sympathy and support of thousands of more permanently employed farm hands, lumber workers, miners, textile and maritime workers. In 1914, Vincent St. John could only claim 14,000 members. Now the IWW boasted of 120,000 members. Even if its claim were exaggerated, it had become a formidable organization and a live threat to the power of craft unionism. Toward the end of 1918, the membership began to fall off sharply and by 1919, the IWW only reported 65,000 members, little more than half of its peak 18 months earlier. The primary reason for the decline was the war and post-war reign of tenor against the IWW. The organization was physically and brutally broken by beatings, lynchings, mass arrests and convictions.

Although in decline in 1919, the recent successes of the IWW appeared to offer some empirical justification for the left wing view that the evolution of the economy created a discontented proletariat which would instinctively mobilize itself via revolutionary industrial unions.

3. The Class Struggle. With the exception of the formative years of the CIO, the year 1919 stands out as the most heroic period in the history of the union movement. Long before 1919, the American union-conscious worker had made his mark as a tough and resilient fighter. But in its militancy and magnitude, the struggle of the American working class for recognition and advancement in 1919, had never been matched.

In Seattle, a general strike was prepared and led by the AFL craft unions from February 6–11, called in support of the demands of shipyard workers for higher wages. Although the leading unions were craft unions, there was a strong radical and socialist force in the local labor movement which was a factor in the strike.

In August 1918 a National Committee for Organizing Iron and Steel Workers had been formed. A tremendous push was planned to break the power of the steel corporations. By the middle of 1919, hundreds of thousands of steel workers, skilled and unskilled, had flocked into the union and a strike was long in evidence before the strike call went out in September 1919, which was answered by 365,000 workers.

In May 1919 the independent Amalgamated Clothing Workers won a four-month strike of 60,000 workers in New York, gaining the 44-hour week.

Lawrence textile workers struck on February 3, 1919, under the slogan “48–54” – reduction in hours from 54 to 48 a week without loss in pay. The strike was won 15 weeks later. Out of this struggle, there emerged the Amalgamated Textile Workers, a radical, industrial union which rose to a membership of 50,000. Its general secretary was A.J. Muste.

In 1919, the United Mine Workers had reached a membership of well over 400,000, and by the middle of the year were preparing to strike for their demands, including a 60 per cent wage increase.

These were among the most dramatic struggles of 1919, but far from the total. Four million workers struck in 1919, and another million went out in unauthorized strikes. Not only the extent of the strike struggle, but the forms which it took worked to instill in the left wing oracles an unwavering conviction that the working class was moving in a revolutionary direction, for craft unionism and labor conservatism were now clearly on the defensive. When the massive struggles exploded in 1919, they were, sometimes by implication, at other times consciously, an attempt to break out of the limitations of Gompersism. The pure-and-simple union philosophy of the AFL had outlived whatever usefulness it had in its formative period and its continued domination by the craft unions and adherence to these obsolescent forms of organization could not meet the needs of a working class which was now in its majority employed in highly concentrated mass industries which were dependent on a large force of semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.

But if Gompersism was to be destroyed it had to be done from within the established union movement. It certainly could not be done by left-wing manifestos calling for the destruction of the AFL, and for revolutionary dual unions. The failure of left wingers and other radicals to conduct the fight for industrial unionism in a sane and responsible manner inside the AFL led to the following criticism of them by William Z. Foster in 1920, when reviewing the defeat of the steel workers he led:

... their time and energies have been worse than wasted in trying to build up organizations such as the I.W.W. When one considers that the life of nearly every labor union depends upon the activities of a very small fraction of its membership, it is clear that this constant draining upon its best blood must have seriously hindered the advance of the trade-union movement.

The Left Wing and the Labor Party

FOR OR AGAINST THE LABOR PARTY? Until recent times that problem was nearly constant in the socialist movement around which debates raged and groups were suspended, expelled or split.

To one degree or another the Socialist Party had expressed its opposition to a labor party from the year of its formation until 1921. The policy of the organization had been firmly established in 1903 when its national committee adopted the view that a labor party could only be a rival organization which had in the past “proven disastrous to the ultimate end of the labor movement ...” whereas “the history of the labor movement of the world has conclusively demonstrated that a Socialist Party is the only political organization able to adequately and consistently conduct the political struggles or the working class ...” This was a firm party policy but far from widely accepted at all times. The resolution just quoted from was, itself, a repudiation of California socialists who supported a local labor party, and a rebuke to a sub committee of the National Committee which endorsed the Californian’s attitude. Until 1910 there was considerable disagreement in the party, mainly between trade unionists who favored a union-based labor party and the SP leadership. In 1908 Debs’ vote was only slightly greater than it was in his previous presidential campaign which was evidence to pro-labor-party socialists that the SP was too far off from becoming the party of the working class to forego pressing the unions to organize their own political party. With the election successes of 1910 and 1912 talk within the SP of a labor party was reduced to a whisper. The party had more than doubled its national vote in 1912 and the prospect of the SP becoming the political party of the working class had a realistic basis.

There is no point in this article in a detailed discussion of the labor party question before 1918. We will only permit ourselves this observation: the answer to “For or against the labor party?” depends on the condition of the labor movement and its prospects at the time the question is posed. There was no stricture which said that the Socialist Party could not also be the mass labor party as was the case in Germany. In 1912 it appeared that the party here, differently from the Germans, might develop into a truly mass movement. Today, when the unions embrace 16 million workers and the organized socialists so few, it is obvious that a labor party experience is vital for the working class to defend itself politically and should be endorsed by socialists as a necessary stage in raising the political and class consciousness of the workers. In 1912, however, the relationship of forces was quite different. The unions were weak, making but slow progress while Socialist influence was growing inside the union movement and in the nation as a whole. Why then should the SP have urged the formation of a labor party? A national labor party in 1912 would have handicapped the SP as an independent, electoral organization at a time when it was most successful. Had there been in 1912 a mass sentiment or an irrepressible urge among progressive leaders in the union movement to organize a national labor party that would bypass the SP, the opposition to a labor party might have been unjustified. But such was not the case and the real problem was whether or not socialists should take the initiative in urging the union movement to organize its own political arm.

While one might debate the merits of the SP attitude toward a national labor party in 1912 when none was really in sight, the position of the entire socialist movement, left and right, after the war was detrimental to the entire labor movement. Toward the end of 1918 a labor party movement was initiated on a local level, quickly growing to national proportions. Its first sign was a local organization sponsored by Bridgeport machinists arising out of a local strike situation. But the major drive for a labor party had its source in the Chicago Federation of Labor, led by its president, John Fitzpatrick, and its secretary, Edward Nockels. Neither of these men was a socialist. They were, along with many others, militant progressive unionists disillusioned by the course of the war and at loggerheads with the Gompersites. They developed a movement and program which were not “revolutionary,” but far to the left of anything the old “progressives” had offered. Most important, though, it was to be the platform of an independent political party of the workers. This program known as Labor’s 14 Points included demands for collective bargaining, democratic control of industry, labor representation in all government departments and commissions, an appeal to supplement the League of Nations with an international league of workers to help bring about universal disarmament and “to the end that there shall be no more kings and no more wars.”

In January 1919, 125 Chicago locals endorsed the proposal for a labor party, and met in convention a few months later. John Fitzpatrick was chosen to run in the April mayoralty elections as the labor party’s candidate, receiving 56,000 votes. The Chicago move spread nationally. The Illinois State Federation of Labor organized a Labor Party early in 1919 and won a number of offices in the state-wide municipal elections. At the same time a significant labor party was organized by New York unionists – the American Labor Party. Its founding convention was attended by close to 900 trade union delegates. A state-wide labor party was formed by Wisconsin unionists. Cleveland unionists organized a local party. In May 1919 the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor decided on a labor party course. In Pittsburgh, Iowa, North Dakota and many other areas the labor party movement was gaining ground.

From November 22–25, 1919, a national labor party was organized in Chicago, with 1,000 delegates from local labor parties and unions from 37 states and the District of Columbia. The party’s name was the American Labor Party.

What was the attitude of socialists to this political demonstration which paralleled the great strike wave of 1919? The right-wing leadership of the party failed to reverse its position of 1903, although the labor movement was completely different, and the party itself was being torn asunder and losing steadily at the polls and in the union movement since 1912. Nevertheless, it continued to look askance on all other political parties. At its January, 1919 meeting the National Executive Committee adopted as its only concession to labor party sentiment already in evidence a policy of “watchful waiting” and opposed “destructive criticism.” But it warned that the party constitution “forbid members from joining any other political organization” and declared that no support could be given to the new movement until it could be “judged by their deeds rather than their promises.”

What of the left wing? By the time the labor party movement was picking up speed in the spring of 1919, the left wing was already rolling along with its throttles wide open disregarding all blocks and warning signals and driving straight toward the American revolution – in preambles, resolutions, manifestos and conferences. The Left Wing Manifesto of July disposed of the labor party with the following flourish of its super revolutionary quill:

A minor phase of the awakening of labor is the trades unions organizing a Labor Party, in an effort to conserve what they have secured as a privileged caste. A Labor Party is not the instrument for the emancipation of the working class; its policy would in general be what is now the official policy of the Socialist Party – reforming capitalism on the basis of the bourgeois parliamentary state. Laborism is as much a danger to the revolutionary proletariat as moderate petty-bourgeois socialism, the two being expressions of an identical tendency and policy. There can be no compromise either with Laborism or the dominant moderate socialism.

Both the style and content reveal the flights of revolutionary fancy which typified the left wing’s analysis of American political problems. The labor party was symptomatic of the “awakening of labor” yet in the same sentence it was no more than an effort of union bureaucrats to “conserve” what they “secured as a privileged caste.” Also, this phase of the “awakening of labor” was a threat, not to the bourgeoisie or Gompersism, but to – “the revolutionary proletariat.” Which might be the case where we had a revolutionary proletariat – in Russia, Germany, Hungary – but not in a land where the proletariat was just going through an “awakening” period. Had the left wing been as awake to the character and level of struggle of American labor as the non-socialist leaders of the Chicago Federation of Labor, it would have been a better movement for it.

Several months before the left wing June conference, Fraina wrote that “An American Labor Party would be an expression of the A.F. of L. The policy of the A.F. of L. is clearly reactionary.” The conclusion of this syllogism is as clear as the premise was wrong. The labor party movement was not the expression of the AFL and if it had been it would not have been of the AFL as it existed in the United States in 1919. The truth is that Gompers and the bulk of the conservative AFL leadership, angered by the activities of the progressive trade unionists, tried their best to squash labor party activity. Gompers went so far as to call a special meeting of his Executive Council to which the progressive unionists were invited to dissuade them from their course and to remind them that according to the AFL constitution party politics of any sort “shall have no place in the conventions of the American Federation of Labor.”

There was a surface similarity between the views of SP right and left on the labor party question. The former warned against it and advocated a policy of “watchful waiting” while the left lost little time in condemning it for non-revolutionary impurities. Actually the differences were even deeper. A large number of leading unionists who played an important role in the labor party movement such as Max Hayes and Duncan McDonald had been prominent figures until recently in the SP. Max Hayes, who ran against Gompers in the 1912 AFL convention, quit the Socialist Party when the Ruthenberg forces captured his Cleveland local. But he left behind him many moderate SPers who actually eyed the labor party movement with more favor than the official party stand indicated.

Parliamentary Action and Immediate Demands

IN A JULY 19 ISSUE OF the Revolutionary Age I.E. Ferguson, secretary of the National Council of the Left Wing wrote:

The labor revolt rapidly acquires consciousness of the desperate nature of the combat, and of the futility of all processes except its own mass defiance.

One of the “processes” the left wing regarded as “futile” – or nearly so – was parliamentary activity and reform demands. Why fight for reforms for the working class when the “labor revolt” would “rapidly” acquire a political “consciousness” bringing it into direct and fundamental conflict with capitalism? Why urge the American workers to struggle for a few pettifogging demands when, as Ferguson wrote, in the same article: “... the conditions for the social revolution are here”: the growth of centralized industry and the machine process, the violations of parliamentary democracy by the all powerful financiers and on the other hand an industrial laboring class created which would shortly accept only the process of its own mass defiance?

The extent of the left wing’s sectarianism was made most painfully clear in the Manifesto of the New York left:

We may soon expect the master class in true Bismarckian fashion to grant all sorts of social reforms (old age pensions, medical laws, unemployment insurance, factory laws, etc.).

By agitating for these reforms, therefore, the Socialist Party would be playing into the hands of our American imperialists.

And in its program:

1. We stand for a uniform declaration of principles in all party platforms both local and national and the abolition of all social reform planks now contained in them.

2. The party must teach, propagate and agitate exclusively for the overthrow of Capitalism, and the establishment of Socialism through a Proletarian Dictatorship.

3. The Socialist candidates elected to office shall adhere strictly to the above provisions.

These were not temporary aberrations of the pre-Communist left wing. It was carried into the thinking of the two Communist parties organized in September. In the first Manifesto of the Communist Party, for example, we learn that “parliamentary representatives shall not introduce or support reform measures.” And in the first program of the Communist Labor Party we find that:

“Communist platforms being based on the class struggle and recognizing that this is the historical period of the Social Revolution, can contain only one demand: The establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

Most unfortunate about these proclamations was their execution in much of the day-to-day political activities and propaganda of the early communists ranging from calls to boycott the elections to leaflets to strikers urging them to fight for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. When one bears in mind that we are not discussing a tiny sect but a movement which had thousands of followers, it is clear that the political primitiveness of the early left wing and, later, the Communists, not only did harm to organized socialism but served to disorient the labor movement as a whole.

In the next issue: Organization of 2 communist parties and causes for their decline.

* * *


A. Typographical error in the first install of this series (Fall 1955, p. 152): Mencken referred to Theodore Roosevelt as a “glorified bouncer,” not “glorious banner.”

* * *

1. Example of Eastman’s pro-Bolshevism:

And on this day. January 20, the Marxian premier, Lenine. has suspended and dismissed the democratic parliament as a “relic of Bourgeois society,” and declared Russia to be a Socialist republic in which the Congress of delegates from Worker’s, Soldier’s and Peasant’s Unions is the sovereign power. Thus comes into actual existence that “industrial parliament” – the crowning and extreme hope of the Socialist dream-theory.

Example of Eastman’s pro-Wilson position:

As an international socialist I welcomed President Wilson’s Program of the World’s Peace in his message to Congress of January 8 (1918). It seemed an earnest approach to a basis upon which peace negotiations could be demanded by the peoples not of the allied countries only, but of Germany and Austria, too.

2. Hillquit couldn’t tolerate the emotionalism of the left wing but we have not seen any repudiation by him of the unemotional language of Berger’s testimony in his trial. A portion of Berger’s testimony reported in the Ohio Socialist included the following:

“I believe in absolute obedience to the law, whether it is good or bad ...

“I knew Mr. Burleson very well. We sat in the House of Representatives together, and Mr. Burleson and I were the antidotes of Haywoodism.”

This “Mr. Burleson” was not an SP member. He was the Postmaster General in Wilson’s administration, a scoundrel who thrived on depriving radical publications of their mailing rights.

3. Testifying before the Commission on Industrial Relations, Vincent St. John gave the IWW 1914 membership figure as 14,310 with 236 locals.

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