Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1899

Early American Marxism

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“A Short History of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen,” by F.P. Sargent [1889] Brief history of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen by the head of the organization, F.P. Sargent. The BLF is best remembered as the organization for which Eugene V. Debs edited the monthly journal, the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, from 1878 to 1894, when he left to form an industrial union, the American Railway Union. Sargent notes that the BLF was established in 1873 as a fraternal benevolent association, supplying low-cost life insurance to its members. Over time, benefits increased and coverage for occupational disabilities was added, as the size of the organization and its available funds grew. Historians should note that the BLF was a fraternal benefit society, not a labor union. “The relationship existing between the companies and members of our order is wholly harmonious,”Sargent notes.



“The Situation in New York City.” First published May 1,1899, this is the first statement of the Socialist Labor Party’s National Executive Committee to the membership of the SLP on the factional fight brewing in New York between party regulars surrounding the English weekly The People and German weekly Vorwaerts (on the one hand) and an insurgent SLP Right connected with the New Yorker Volkszeitung and its publisher, the Socialistic Cooperative Publishing Association (on the other). This conflict had its root in the SLP’s turn to dual unionism in 1896—with related themes of party discipline and centralized control of the party press. This fight would rage throughout 1899, ending in a permanent split of the SLP. (The SLP Right would later become one of the main components of a faction of the Social Democratic Party in 1900 and subsequently of the new Socialist Party of America in 1901).


“Correspondence Between the SLP and SCPA, May 1899.” These three letters exchanged between ths National Executive Committee of the Socialist Labor Party and the Board of Directors of the Socialistic Cooperative Publishing Association detail the issues of press centralization and party discipline that were part and parcel of the 1899 SLP split. This exchange outlines the situation from the perspective of the SCPA, who answers specific complaints of the National Executive Committee with a historical overview of the relationship between the Association and its publicatons with the party.


“ Proceedings of the General Committee of Section New York of the Socialist Labor Party of America, May 27, 1899.” Rather terse account of the governing body of the Socialist Labor Party in New York City, which met May 27, 1899 and voted after long and heated debate 47-20 to accept a report of the NEC of the SLP harshly critical of New Yorker Volkszeitung Editor-in-Chief Schlueter for failing to lend sufficient support in the pages of that paper for the Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance and its strike actions in Allegheny, PA and New Bedford, MA. Schlueter is also criticized for failing to condemn the new phenomenon of “Haverhillism”—the recent victory of the rival Social Democratic Party of America in Haverhill, MA, including the election of a mayor of that town. The main content of this document is the full text of the report of the NEC—said to have been “suppressed” from the pages of the Volkszeitung. The perspective of 6 witnesses is expounded in some detail, including the lead speaker for the anti-Schlueter forces, Daniel DeLeon. The document hints that the primary issue for the SLP dissidents was the freedom to distance themselves from the unpopular “dual union,” the ST&LA; for the SLP Regulars, the main issue being the ability of the party to control the content of its ostensible German-language official organ. “The press is the most important agency of the Party and the party must control its press or the press will control the Party. An association that has control of the Party press thereby has control of the Party itself, unless the association recognizes itself as subject to the control of the Party,” the NEC report to the New York General Committee states.


“Ruskin Colony’s Collapse: The Rise and Downfall of the Latest Utopian Scheme: Colonists Appealing for Fifteen Thousand Dollars,” by Julian Pierce [May 28, 1899] Antipathy between the Socialist Party and the Socialist Labor Party had deep roots. This is a SLP perspective of the spectacular collapse of the Ruskin Cooperative Association, the utopian socialist publishing venture started in rural Tennessee by The Coming Nation publisher J.A. Wayland. Pierce outlines the development of the concept of “utopia” in the creative imagination of Thomas More in the 16th Century and notes that “the colony scheme, in its various forms, has been the heaven of the utopian.” Pierce accuses Wayland of having acted in bad faith by promising to turn over his printing plant to the colony but ultimately only selling it to the group when he himself departed. The colonists published a series of false financial statements, Pierce indicates, failing to declare outstanding mortgage debts as liabilities. A number of colonists—including editor of The Social Democrat A.S. Edwards—are upbraided for hypocrisy by declaring the colony’s finances sound in the pages of The Coming Nation while simultaneously swearing in court that the project was insolvent. “The People averred that the colony had not been started to make any experiments in Socialism, but rather that it had been started, and was being run, by a lot of clever rascals whose only object was to prey on the unwary and rope in the credulous,” Pierce claims. The project was never socialist, he asserts, as the colonists were forced by outside economic circumstances to buy cheaply and sell dear like ever other profit-making concern. “Socialism is broader than a colony. It is broader than a municipality. It is broader than a state. The nation itself is the smallest unit for the proper development of the Cooperative Commonwealth; for the nation is supreme,” Pierce declares.


“The Party Press,” by A.M. Simons [June 17, 1899] Editor of the Chicago Socialist Labor Party weekly The Workers’ Call Algie Simons announces the controversy which was sweeping the SLP over control of the party’s official organs, The People and Vorwaerts. The apparent seizure of control by the Socialist Cooperative Publishing Society announced in the pages of The People “practically amounts to defying the party in its control of its most vital organ—the party press,” Simons states. The NEC had put forward a referendum on the matter, and all sections of the SLP were instructed to vote on the matter and pass along the result of the vote to the National Secretary by Aug. 1, 1899. Simons comes out strongly against the Insurgent Right, arguing that “Under these conditions there is but one thing to do. It is not a question of taxation or of trades unionism, but simply one of shall the party control its press or shall the national organs be at the disposal of some irresponsible and perhaps directly hostile body of persons. If the mailing lists of the party press are to be used to disseminate the opinions of individuals, then it is time they were taken from the individuals’ control. This is the point under discussion and all other questions that may have previously arises are now beside the point.”


“The Party Crisis: Resolution of Section Chicago Relative to the Present Party Situation—July 18, 1899.” “So far as the party organization is concerned a state of anarchy is practically in existence,” declared Section Chicago SLP. Rather than make a choice between the Insurgent Right faction of the SLP which had seized the two central organs of the party press or the New York-based NEC headed by Executive Secretary Henry Kuhn, which fought the takeover tooth and nail, Section Chicago threw a pipe wrench into the faction fight by refusing to vote on the resolution of the NEC. Instead, it demanded that both factions immediately communicate to the membership three new referenda for membership vote: (1) removing the NEC from New York City; (2) selecting a new location for the NEC of the party; and (3) calling an emergency convention of the party, to be held not later than March 15, 1900. Voting was to be completed by Sept. 1, 1899, and the result transmitted to both parties in New York, the SLP Board of Appeals in Cleveland, and to The Workers’ Call for publication. This action of Section Chicago ultimately did nothing to clarify the waters or to peacefully resolve the split between the Insurgent Right and the NYC Regular factions of the SLP.



“To the Membership of the SLP from its NEC,” June 6, 1899. This is the Natonal Executive Committee’s reply to the late May letter of the Socialistic Cooperative Publishing Association. The NEC argued that the SCPA was misrepresenting its true relationship to the party in its assertion of ownership and control over the content of The People and Vorwaerts. The May 1899 Correspondence between the SLP and the SCPA (document above) and this reply were sent to the sections and members of the party as background information along with a call for the membership to decide the issue with a vote.



“Chronological Recapitulation of the Volkszeitung Conflict.” First published August 20, 1899 in the SLP official organ, The People, this is a highly tendentious blow-by-blow account of the battle between the SLP regulars loyal to Daniel DeLeon (including Henry Kuhn and Lucien Sanial, among others) and the SLP Right faction around the New Yorker Volkszeitung and its publisher, the Socialistic Cooperative Publishing Association. Interesting for its tone and useful for its provision of the critical dates in the conflict.



“Daniel DeLeon and the 1899 Split of the SLP,” by Morris Hillquit. This is a section from Morris Hillquit’s 1934 memoir, Loose Leaves from a Busy Life. Hillquit, a member of the SLP from 1888, was a leader of the so-called “Kangaroos” associated with the New Yorker Volkszeitung, a group which broke with the SLP over the issues of dual unionism and the perception of a dictatorial internal regime within the SLP. This insurgent SLP Right fought a pitched battle for the name and property of the party before losing in court to party regulars loyal to Daniel DeLeon.