The Friends of Soviet Russia (FSR) was formally established on Aug. 9, 1921 as an offshoot of the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations with Soviet Russia (ALA). It was launched as a "mass organization" dedicated to raising funds for the relief of the extreme famine that swept Soviet Russia in 1921, both in terms of food and clothing for immediate amelioration of the crisis and agricultural tools and equipment for the reconstruction of Soviet agriculture. Membership in the FSR was open without regard to an individual's politics, but the organizational apparatus was tightly controlled by dedicated adherents of the Communist movement. In the documents of the underground Communist Party of the day, the ALA was referred to as "the A" and the FSR (or "Fessar") as "the B.”
The Friends of Soviet Russia proved successful in raising funds for Russian relief, generating about $250,000 for famine relief in its first 2 months of existence and another $500,000 and clothing worth an additional $300,000 over the course of the next year. The funds were raised transparently, with the name of each donor and the amount given published in each issue of Soviet Russia; detailed lists of expenditures, regularly audited, were also published. In round numbers, about 25% of the group's income went to administration and the costs of fundraising with the balance to relief. The FSR was the American division of International Workers Aid, an international organization headed by the German Communist Willy Münzenberg.
The FSR published a program in December of 1922 which listed the group's aims: (1) to advocate the extension of credits to and recognition of the Soviet government; (2) to raise and distribute funds for clothing and food for the needy of Soviet Russia, to be distributed via the Soviet government "regardless of their political opinions"; (3) to agitate and demonstrate for non-intervention in the affairs of the Russian people in determining their form of government; (4) to raise funds for tools for the reconstruction of Soviet industry; and (5) to disseminate "truthful news" about Soviet Russia and build sympathetic sentiment.
The FSR was structured around over 200 organized branches around the country, which raised funds to support the relief effort and the organization directing it. It maintained an office in New York and a paid staff of about 40 "organizers," members of the Workers Party of America (WPA), some of whom were engaged to travel the country speaking on behalf of the organization and engaging in politics "in their free time." In this sense, the FSR subsidized WPA activity by providing paid employment for some of its leading cadres.
This structure drew the ire of the opponents of the WPA, particularly Abraham Cahan, editor of the Socialist Party-affiliated Yiddish dailly The Jewish Daily Forward, which began making charges of irregularity and extravagance in the handling of funds on the part of FSR in editorials and news stories in the summer of 1922. In response to these charges, the FSR appointed an "Investigating Committee of Five," including Roger N. Baldwin of the ACLU, Norman Thomas of the League for Industrial Democracy, Robert Morss Lovett of the liberal magazine The New Republic, Timothy Healy of the Stationary Fireman's Union, and attorney Walter Nelles. While the last-mention later recused himself to avoid possible charges of conflict of interest, the other four members of the committee issued a report at the end of October 1922 essentially clearing the FSR of wrongdoing and attributing the charges against the group to "factional interests.”
Near the end of 1924 the magazine was merged with the CP's arts-and-theory magazine, The Liberator, and the Trade Union Educational League's monthly organ, The Labor Herald, to form The Workers Monthly in a 3-for-1 combination. This merger was probably driven by the financial concerns of the WPA and clearly underlines the connection of the FSR to the organized American Communist movement.
In late 1923 and 1924, in response to the economic chaos in Germany, in particular among the German working class following the failure of the October 1923 revolution, the FSR changed its name (briefly) to "the Friends of Soviet Russia and Workers' Germany" in an effort to increase its fundrasing appeal. This interlude proved brief, and the group was not long in reverting back to its original name.
In later years, the FSR carried on under the name Friends of the Soviet Union (FSU), publishers of the pictorial monthly magazine Soviet Russia Today.
-- Tim Davenport
"A Summary of Its Work by the Friends of Soviet Russia." [Dec. 1921] A very early public summary of its operations by the FSR, published without authorship signature in the Jan. 1922 issue of Soviet Russia. This short news release details the raising of $250,000 for Russian famine relief, forthcoming pamphlets on the famine by the organization, plans for stereopticon and motion picture events to raise awareness and funds for famine relief, and details the work of William Z. Foster touring on behalf of the organization and raising money through sales of his book, The Russian Revolution.
"An Appeal for Russian Famine Relief," by Eugene V. Debs. [April 1, 1922] America's most widely known socialist appeals for financial help to alleviate the famine menacing the "embattled Russian revolutionists" who have faced "the combined powers of the world's despotism and reaction in the war of the workers for liberation." Debs calls for every member of the American working class and everyone with sympathy and a conscience "to give and give at once and give freely and to the last dollar and the last penny that may be spared to the Friends of Soviet Russia.”
"Report of the Investigative Committee of Five to the Friends of Soviet Russia," by Roger N. Baldwin (Chairman) et al. [Nov. 1922] Starting late in July of 1922, Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, began agitating against the Friends of Soviet Russia in the pages of his publication, charging the organization with various improprieties -- charges that were repeated in the pages of The New York Call. In an effort to answer this attack, the FSR appointed a committee of 5 non-members of the Workers Party of America headed by Roger N. Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union, and including Norman Thomas of the League for Industrial Democracy. The group analysed each of Cahan's specific charges, finding most to be factionally-driven and without merit, but concuring that many of the 41 paid organizers of the FSR also engaged in political activities on behalf of the Workers Party during their spare time. The Investigation Committee recommended that the group's employees be prohibited from such political activity in the future. Editor Cahan renewed his attack following the publication of this lengthy report.
"A Program of Reconstruction," by A.A. Heller [November 1, 1922] This article by the American representative of Soviet Russia's Supreme Council of National Economy (Vesenkha) in the organ of the Friends of Soviet Russia indicates that while Soviet industrial reconstruction will have to be achieved largely via Russia's own volition and internal financing, there are ways in which interested individuals can aid the process from abroad. Heller specifically mentions the work of the Society for Technical Aid to Soviet Russia (TA), an organization dedicated to equipping small parties wishing to go to Soviet Russia to establish agricultural communes or industrial cooperatives with tools, machinery, and provisions, as well as the Russian-American Industrial Corporation (RAIC), then in the process of being organized by Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. In addition, Heller cites the need for direct capital investment via a Russian-American investment bank, detailing several specific cases in which comparatively small capital investment can be employed to profitably revitalize industry -- either in the form of a private concession or as a "mixed" government-private enterprise.
"A Splendid Opportunity," by Robert Minor [December 1922] Leading member of the Workers Party of America Robert Minor introduces the readers of the Friends of Soviet Russia's official organ to the new Russian-American Industrial Corporation (RAIC), established by Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. Minor takes special care to diffuse the criticism leveled against the new corporation in the pages of the New York Tribune by former financial advisor William O. Thompson, who was sharply critical of Hillman for failing to engage in the lucrative export trade but instead concentrating on the more difficult and less profitable establishment of clothing manufacturing capacity in conjunction with various Soviet clothing trusts. Minor notes that Hillman had negotiated a state guarantee of both the principal invested by the RAIC as well as a guaranteed 8 percent return on that money. Thompson's failure to get behind this splendid opportunity meant little more than he had "lost his nerve" and "fallen for the old emigré's theory" that Soviet Russia would collapse imminently and thus was incapable of guaranteeing an investment or the return on that investment. Minor states that "the one remaining obstacle to its existence is the boycott of capitalists who will not supply it with industrial machinery. The Soviet Government appeals over the heads of the capitalists, asking the workers of the world to break the boycott by supplying industrial machinery as friend to friend in partnership.”
"Program of the Friends of Soviet Russia." [December 1922] Although the FSR was established in August of 1921, it seems that there was no formal program issued until the end of 1922. This document, published in Soviet Russia, the official organ of the FSR, briefly outlines the group's purpose: to provide relief to the needy in Soviet Russia via the Soviet government ("regardless of their political opinions"), to advocate for recognition of the Soviet government and the extension of trade credits, to "agitate and demonstrate" for an end to foreign interference in the form of government chosen by the Russian people, to rais funds for food, clothing, and tools for the reconstruction of the Soviet economy; and to "disseminate truthful news about Soviet Russia and its great struggle by means of the platform, the press, and the film screen." "Workers, farmers, and other sympathizers" were called upon to support the organization ("an organization of American workers without distinction as to political affiliation") morally and financially.
"Letter from C.E. Ruthenberg in New York to Vasil Kolarov in Moscow, Feb. 17, 1923." The early Communist International is frequently misrepresented in the literature as a paramilitary command-and-control system, issuing binding orders arbitrarily deduced in Moscow to blindly obedient Communist Parties around the world. In reality, there was a give-and-take, with information flowing from the periphery to Moscow, which was often called upon to provide tactical advice, to mediate disputes, and to rectify factional schisms. This letter from Workers Party of America Executive Secretary C.E. Ruthenberg to General Secretary of the ECCI Vasil Kolarov is an example in which the Comintern was used by national parties as a mediator. Ruthenberg protests the establishment of a new Soviet relief organization, the Volunteer Fleet, noting three relief organizations are already in existence: the Friends of Soviet Russia, Technical Aid, and the Yidgescom. The Workers Party was attempting to centralize these relief efforts in the hands of the FSR, a task which Ruthenberg argued was being needlessly complicated by the ill-considered establishment of the Volunteer Fleet fundraising apparatus. Concrete suggestions are made to make use of the ECCI's Ausland Committee to transmit information on future relief campaigns to the Friends of Soviet Russia, which was to coordinate such drives.
"Fill the Bowl -- 20 Million German Workers Are Starving!" [Advertisement published Feb. 1924] After the failure of the Octobe 1923 German uprising, the Friends of Soviet Russia briefly changed its name to the "Friends of Soviet Russia and Workers' Germany" in an effort to raise funds for German relief. This is an advertisement soliciting donations on behalf of Germany run in The Liberator, a Workers Party owned artistic and theoretical magazine. ***LARGE FILE: 944 K., FAST INTERNET RECOMMENDED.***