Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1900

Early American Marxism

Document Download Page for the Year




“A Trip to Girard,.” by “Wayfarer” [Jan. 1900] Brief first hand account of a trip by a pseudonymous Midwestern member of the Social Democratic Party to the “modern Mecca of Socialism,” Girard, Kansas to visit the editor of the seminal socialist weekly newspaper, The Appeal to Reason, J.A. Wayland. “Wayfarer” manages to become closely acquainted with Wayland, and remarks on Wayland’ s dedication to the ideas of John Ruskin. He quotes Wayland as saying that “The Appeal editorials are simply Ruskin turned into the language of the common people.” Wayland relates the story of how he became involved in the socialist movement to “Wayfarer,” giving credit to a Pueblo, Colorado shoe store proprietor named “Bredfield” who plied him with conversation and radical literature—in the first place Gronlund’ s The Cooperative Commonwealth. The story of Wayland’ s unsuccessful Ruskin colony is related, featuring a scam in which purported colonists were misrepresenting the situation in the colony and using funds earmarked for the Tennessee group’ s development were instead misdirected to quarter the colonists at a hotel at Tennessee City, at which they were “living in luxury on the money [Wayland] had forwarded.” Wayland is proclaimed to be “decidedly my kind of good fellow” by the author of the piece.



“A Brief History of Socialism in America.” [Published January 1900] Morris Hillquit’s 1903 History of Socialism in the United States has been long regarded as the first comprehensive history of the American Socialist movement in the English language written by a participant. In actuality, Hillquit’s book was the second; this history of the American Socialist movement by an unnamed founding member of the Social Democratic Party of America predated Hillquit’s work by over 3 1/2 years! First put into print in January 1900 by the fledgling publishing house of Eugene V. Debs as a primary part of The Social Democracy Red Book, the section reproduced here picks up the story with the coming of Marxian socialism to America in the 1850s—a lengthy discussion of the various permutations of communal socialism in the 19th Century having been omitted. Detail is strong for the history of the Socialist Labor Party of the late 1880s. The work is especially valuable for its account the formation of the Social Democracy of America and the Social Democratic Party of America which emerged from it. The fine detail relating to the split at the 1898 convention indicates this unsigned work was clearly the product of a participant—although equally clearly not that of Gene Debs himself. One passage of particular interest demonstrates the deep fissure in the American Socialist movement between Social Democratic and proto-Communist wings even as early as 1900: “Social Democracy is but another term for democratic Socialism. In this sketch of the development of the Socialist movement in America, we have seen...in the Socialist Labor Party, a kind of Socialism, or rather of Socialistic propaganda, in which a hierarchy ruled, and which, besides heresy-hunting among its own members, instinctively stood for a Socialist state in which the administration of affairs would, to say the least, be bureaucratic. Such an administration would be quite apt to develop into a despotism. Presented in such a spirit, Socialism had little attraction for the Yankee lover of freedom, and so it had to make way historically for a truly democratic type—for a party standing for social democracy.” Historians interested in the origins of the Socialist Party of America will want to print out and preserve this 18 page document, which includes illustrations of four early SDP activists: successful Massachusetts politician James F. Carey, editor of the official organ A.S. Edwards, pioneer Texas Socialist W.E. Farmer, and little-known SDP founding member Margaret Haile. (Rather large file, 425 k.)



“Report of the National Executive Committee to the 10th (Regular) Convention of the SLP” by Henry Kuhn. [June 1900] The full text (37 pages, 292 k.) of the report of SLP National Secretary Henry Kuhn to the (regular) 10th Convention of the Socialist Labor Party, held in New York from June 2 to 8, 1900. Kuhn recounts the 1899 split with the SLP Right in exhaustive detail, including a state-by-state rundown of the party situation. The definitive account of the 1899 SLP split from the point of view of the SLP “regular” faction associated with the New York City NEC and the English language party organ, The People, edited by Daniel DeLeon.

1896 and 1900 Constitutions of the Socialist Labor Party.” Parallel texts of the 1896 and 1900 national constitutions of the SLP, illustrating organizational structure before and after the 1899 split of the SLP Right (the so-called “Kangaroos”). Useful for assessing the legality (or lack thereof) of various tactics employed by the New York-based “regular” NEC in the bitter 1899 factional struggle and the structural changes which it deemed necessary in the aftermath.



“Why I Am a Socialist,” by George Herron. [Sept. 1900] A speech by Professor George D. Herron to a campaign meeting of the Social Democratic Party held at Central Music Hall in Chicago on September 29, 1900. Herron argues that three main historical lines were coming together in the struggle for socialism in America: the “dogmatic” European Marxist trend exemplified by the Socialist Labor Party; the historic trend seeking individual liberty in the tradition of Rousseau, Jefferson, and the French Revolution; and a new religious sensibility seeking spiritual freedom through common economic liberation. Herron states that neither existing party was conscious of the reconstructive task facing society but rather sought to prop up the brute lawlessness of capitalism. Only common ownership of the resources and productive tools needed jointly by all would allow for the “full liberty of the human soul,” Herron stated, and only the action of the working class itself could win this liberty.



“A Plea for Unity of American Socialists,” by George Herron. [Nov. 1900] The stenographic report of a speech delivered by Christian Socialist stalwart George Herron to a mass meeting of Chicago Socialists on Nov. 18, 1900. Herron states that only disunity and factional strife could derail the socialist movement from ultimate victory (“for a generation or a century”) and arguing that a united movement could make use of the quasi-religious sensibilities of the educated segment of society in a mass movement for human liberation. An excellent exposition of SPA ideology from the university professor who co-founded the Rand School of Social Science.