The Proletarian Party emerged from the Socialist Party of Michigan, particularly from the Detroit party organization. During the 5 years preceding American entry into the European War, the state secretaries of the Socialist Party of Michigan were, in succession, cigarmaker Ben blumberg of Grand Rapids, shoe merchant Joseph Warnock of Harbor Springs, and shoemaker John Keracher of Detroit. The latter, together with Al Renner, a clerk and accountant, held lectures and clases in Detroit on Marxist theory, including not only economics but the negative ideological influence of such institutions as the press and the church. Similar Marxist study groups and lectures were sponsored by SP locals throughout the state of Michigan.
By 1918 a conscious Marxist faction had emerged and gained control of Local Wayne County [Detroit] and the state party. In May of that same year, a monthly publication called The Proletarian was launched, with a notice on its masthead that it had "the endorsement of Local Wayne County [Detroit] and the Socialist Party of Michigan." Prominent in its pages was material produced by a machinist and trade union activist named Dennis E. Batt, a man who would go on to become a leading member of the National Left Wing Council and editor of that group's Chicago newspaper, The Communist.
Following the September 1918 state convention of the Socialist Party of Michigan, a number of delegates, including Keracher and Batt, met at the editorial office of The Proletarian to discuss combining and unifying the various Marxist study groups, including those in other states. This discussion resulted in the formation of a formal organization. Thereafter, the masthead of The Proletarian proclaimed that it was issued as "The Official Organ of the Proletarian University of America.”
The Proletarian University united and formed study circles in a number of towns around Michigan and in other cities throughout the country, including Buffalo, Rochester, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Eight months after the formation of the Proletarian University of America, on May 24, 1919, the outgoing National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America expelled the militantly Marxist Socialist Party of Michigan with its approximately 6.000 members, ostensibly for the state party organization's attacks on religion and repudiation of "immediate demands." Michigan Socialist Oakley C. Johnson was incensed, charging in the pages of The Proletarian that the NEC had "expelled the only red state in the national organizaton" -- but the expulsion stood.
An Emergency Meeting of the Socialist Pary of Michigan was held in June, at which a resolution was passed calling for the establishment of a new Communist Party on September 1, 1919. This call placed the Michigan group into alliance with the five suspended Language Federations of the Socialist Party in organizing a Communist Party of America, as opposed to those who pressed the strategy of fighting for control of the 1919 Emergency Convention of the SPA.
Early in 1920 the Central Executive Committee of the CPA ordered that the Proletarian University be made a party institution under its supervision and control. The Michigan group refused to accept this decision and a split ensued.
On June 27, 1920, the Proletarian University group formally organized itself as the Proletarian Party at a convention held in Detroit. The organization initially maintained branches in Detroit, Rochester, NY, and Buffalo, NY.
The Proletarian Party did not go "underground" during the period of repression that swept the country in the early 1920s.
A representative of the Proletarian Party was not seated by the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921.
The Second Convention received reports from Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Rochester. The party was organized into English-speaking locals, with no Foreign Language Federations, although it did count a sizeable number of foreign-born among its membership.
The Proletarian Party was not amenable to the formation of a legal Workers Party of America (WPA) by the Communist Party in late 1921. It declined to participate in the new organization.
On March 29, 1923, the Executive Committee of the Communist International requested that the PPA liquidate itself and that its members join the WPA. The Proletarian Party answered aggressively in the negative, declaring that it could see no reason for renouncing "sound, constructive, and honorable revolutionary action" in order to be absorbed into the "fetid swamp of sentimentalism" known as the Workers Party. The group similarly declined to participate in the Trade Union Educational League, due to dissatisfaction with the tactics of TUEL among left-wing union activists -- a dissatisfaction which "makes cooperation practically impossible.”
Although the Proletarian Party had its roots in Detroit, the headquarters of the party and its publication was located in Chicago.
In 1926, the pages of The Proletarian noted activity in party branches located in Akron, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Rochester, and San Francisco.