Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year
Early American Marxism
Document Download Page for the Year1901
“Territorial Expansion,” by Lucien Sanial . Full text of a pamphlet published in 1901 by the New York Labor News Co.. This is an early Marxist analysis of the phenomenon of imperialism written by one of the leading figures in the Socialist Labor Party of America. Sanial states that “the time comes when the capitalists of such a country as the United States, where this capitalistic phenomenon of a rapidly growing difference between Product and Wages is most accentuated, are confronted on all sides by an accumulation of commodities, which, ever so small as compared with the stupendous but unused forces of production at their command, challenges their power of exchange or waste.They are actually, then, ‘smothering in their own grease.’” In response, Sanial notes, “they must expand abroad or burst.” At first the capitalists seek only commercial expansion, Sanial states, but at a certain point “other means” are inevitably devised “to enlarge the foreign outlet”—territorial expansion. In the United States, the growth of surplus value production had grown by an incredible rate through the implementation of new labor-saving production technology and “American capitalism has reached that point of ‘suffocation by wealth,’” Sanial states.
“Socialists Who Would Emasculate Socialism,” by Eugene V. Debs [April 20, 1901] In this column from the official organ of the Social Democratic Party of America, Eugene Debs takes aim at middle class reformers who deny the reality of the class struggle and thus “betray their trusting victims to the class that robs them without pity and riots in the proceeds without shame.” Debs asserts that “We count every one against us who is not with us and opposed to the capitalist class, especially those ‘reformers’ of chicken hearts who are for everybody, especially themselves, and against nobody.” While he acknowledges that while most such reformers are “honest and well-meaning, I know that some of them, by no means inconspicuous, are charlatans and frauds. They are the representatives of middle class interests, and the shrewd old politicians of the capitalist parties are not slow to perceive and take advantage of their influence. They are ‘Socialists’ for no other purpose than to emasculate Socialism. Beaten in the capitalist game by better shufflers, dealers, and players, they have turned ‘reformers’ and are playing that for what there is in it. They were failures as preaches and lawyers and politicians and capitalists. In their new role as “reformers” they dare not offend the capitalist exploiters, for their revenue depends upon their treason to the exploited slaves over whom they mourn dolefully and shed crocodile tears.” In an unrelated tidbit, Debs provides bulletin board material for Left Wing professors everywhere: “Free speech is not tolerated in the Stanford University, nor in any other university, and whatever may be the boast of the educators in such institutions, the fact remains that they are as certainly the wage-slaves of capitalism as are the coal diggers in the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania.”
“The July Convention,” by Eugene V. Debs [June 15, 1901] With the July 1901 Socialist Unity Conference approaching, Social Democratic Party leader Eugene Debs shared the following thoughts with the party faithful in the organization’s official organ, the Social Democratic Herald. All parties except for the (Regular) SLP had accepted the invitation to the Indianapolis convention, Debs said. While regrettable in one sense, at the same time Debs thought that this might be for the best, since “it must be admitted that more or less danger attends the converging of factions which have long been divided and are still (being human) influenced by their prejudices and their antipathies.” Debs expressed his belief that a united party was “inevitable” and expressed the view that a primary necessity for the new organization would be “a platform that will bear the test of critical analysis. By this I do not mean that we shall quibble and split hairs, but that so far as the fundamental principles of Socialism are concerned, they shall be stated with such clearness as to silence all reasonable question as to our party being free from the taint of compromise and in harmonious alliance with the Socialist movement of the world.” He expressed a strong preference for a decentralized organization, one in which “every state absolutely control its own affairs, thus leaving little for the national party to do except in years of Presidential campaigns. In this particular we can safely follow the methods of the old parties, whose leaders are adepts at organization.” Interestingly, Debs foresees a problem in rapid organizational growth, calling it “a danger which will threaten the Socialist movement more and more as it advances to political prominence.”
“Some of the Theories of Party Organization: Before the Form of an Instrument is Decided There Must be a Clear Conception of the Use to be Made of It,” by Margaret Haile [June 22, 1901] Social Democratic Party National Executive Board member Margaret Haile published this rather lengthy article in the official organ of the party in an attempt to advance discussion in the ranks of the SDP as to what form of organization it desired in the forthcoming Socialist Party. Haile advocated a modified form of current party structure, noting “At the present juncture we are in danger of tinkering too much with the form of organization, without reference to the work that has to be done.... We are not striving after an association which shall exemplify the principles of pure democracy, as the primary object of its existence; nor yet a political party whose first object shall be to boost men with political hankerings into their desired haven.” Instead, she saw the party’s task as primarily educational, that of converting a “majority of the people” to the cause of socialism. “The election of a socialist to office here and there is not so important as new recruits in our ranks are apt to imagine, except for its educational effect. What kind of a benefit has socialism received from having a socialist may here and there or a socialist representative or two in the state house? Principally the advertising it gives the movement and the strength and courage imparted to us by success,” she states. Rather, the most pressing need she saw was for a careful analysis of the labor situation in America, followed by the creation and propagation of a specialized literature, targeted to specific groups and written in a comprehensible language. Early SDP political successes had both advantages and disadvantages, in Haile’s view: “They have infected many of us with the political fever, to the detriment of the great work of national education. It is possible for a new party to carry too much political sail for the depth of its educational keel and the weight of its numerical ballast. Socialism must not be cramped into ward politics any more than into colonies.” Structurally, Haile favors an idea which had gained currency in the party—a “National Committee” composed of a representative of each state in the new organization—but seeks retention of centralized national organization, of which state and local units were to be an intrinsic part, and continuation of membership dues rather than a new form of voluntary financing. She asks for further comments on her ideas or alternative proposals.
“’The Mission of Socialism is Wide as the World’: Speech at Chicago, Illinois,” by Eugene V. Debs [July 4, 1901] Lengthy Independence Day speech by Eugene Debs, never republished since its original appearance in the pages of the Social Democratic Herald. Debs takes a rather more radical position on the American flag than he would a decade hence, declaring “I am not of those who worship the flag. I have no respect for the stars and stripes, or for any other flag that symbolizes slavery. It does not matter to me what others may think, say, or do.... Not very long ago the President of the country [William McKinley], in the attitude of mock heroics, asked who would haul down the flag. I will tell him. Triumphant Socialism will haul down that flag and every other that symbolizes capitalist class rule and wage slavery.” Debs adds that “I am a patriot, but in the sense that I love all countries,” giving the highest praise for an aphorism of Thomas Paine: “Where liberty is honored, that is my country.” Debs explains the rise and fall of chattel slavery and its replacement by wage slavery as a by-product of the development of industrial technology. He calls upon the working class to organize itself and to assert its class interests as vigorously as the capitalist class advances theirs. He tells his audience “It will not do for you to go to the polls and vote for some good men on some of the tickets and expect relief in that way. What can a good man do if he should happen to get to Congress? What could he do? Why, he simply would be polluted or helpless, or both. What we want is not to reform the capitalist system. We want to get rid of it.” Debs states that “The revolution is under way, but, like all revolutions, it is totally blind. It is in the nature of great social forces that they sometimes sweep humanity down. Let us work so that this revolution may come in peace. Socialists are organized to pave the way for its peaceful culmination.” He adds that whether socialism comes “next year or next century, or in a thousand centuries” is of no particular concern to him, that if but a single Socialist should survive “I would be that one against the world”—and he advises his listeners to think likewise.
“The Task of the Convention: An Unparalleled Opportunity to Organize the Socialist Forces for Future Progress,” by Morris Hillquit [July 28, 1901] Leader of the Springfield SDP (former SLP Right) Morris Hillquit offers his perspective on the forthcoming founding convention of the Socialist Party of America, to be held in Indianapolis in a matter of days. Thousands of American workers were “ripe for Socialism,” Hillquit states, lacking only a political organization “to shape those popular currents and to organize these elements in a well directed battle against the forces of capital.” Hillquit states that the forthcoming convention “will either create such a party, and thus become one of the greatest landmarks in the history of our movement, or it will miss the splendid opportunity and thus become a lamentable failure. Whether it will do the one or the other the future will show.” Hillquit states that the ideal Socialist party is one which has two things: (1) a clear and definite understanding of scientific Socialism as applied to the social conditions of the country in which it is organized (a good platform); and (2) an intelligent, active, and enthusiastic membership working in unison for the propaganda of Socialism on a well planned system of division of labor and in complete harmony with each other (an efficient form of organization). Hillquit offers a rather muted critique of Victor Berger’s conception of state autonomy; such a model might work suitably for a fully developed organization, in Hillquit’s opinion, but excessive state autonomy would retard the growth and success of a fledgling organization. “While the party is weak and scattered in small organizations all over the country, a central administrative body with large powers is the only thing that will united these scattered bodies into one compact party, and extend and strengthen the organization,” Hillquit states. As the organization develops, the need for such a strong central authority will diminish, in his view.
“The Socialist Party: Indianapolis Convention Effects Union of All Parties Represented in Response to Call of the Social Democratic Party: State Autonomy Guaranteed: Immediate Demands Adopted After Prolonged Debate—Headquarters Located in St. Louis - The New Constitution.” [events of July 29-Aug. 1, 1901] This is an extremely important document, the definitive newspaper account of the Joint Unity Convention which established the Socialist Party of America. Amalgamating were two main groups—the “Chicago” Social Democratic Party of Victor Berger, the Debs Bros., Margaret Haile, and youngsters John Work and James Oneal; and the “Springfield (MA)” Social Democratic Party of Morris Hillquit, Henry Slobodin, James Carey, Max Hayes, William Mailly, and Job Harriman. Also joining the unification party were independent state socialist parties from Texas, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kentucky. Chairman of the convention by acclamation was Christian Socialist George Herron—a pro-unity independent figure married to neither post-SLP Kautskyianism or post-Populist Bernsteinism. This lengthy document (9 pages) includes a sketch of daily happenings, committee assingments, text of various resolutions, the full text of the SPA’s platform and constitution, and a complete list of delegates. Published in the (now Milwaukee) Social Democratic Herald and thus indicative of the Berger SDP’s perspective, rather than that of the Hillquit group. Includes copious footnotes. An indispensable resource for those interested in the history of 20th Century American Socialism—print and save.
“Minority Report of the Platform Committee Made to the Socialist Unity Convention, Indianapolis, IN—August 1, 1901,” by A.M. Simons Chicago journalist Algie Simons represented the Left Wing at the founding convention of the Socialist Party of America, reporting out of the Platform Committee as a committee of 1 and addressing the convention with his proposal to eliminate all planks calling for ameliorative reform from the platform of the new party. Simons argues that “economic development demands that we should stand clear-cut and square on the fact that between us and capitalism there is no common ground; that between us there is naught but an abyss into which he who seeks to bridge it will only fall into absolute oblivion. “ This was not to be confused with an absolute rejection of all ameliorative reform, he notes, but rather the set of proposals advocated in the Socialist platform. He challenges his opponents that “It devolves upon you to demonstrate that these measures are ameliorative to the working class of America. You will have made a strong point if you can demonstrate that these immediate demands are something of which the benefit to the laborers will be commensurate with the sidetracking of the Socialist movement, with the turning aside of the forces of revolution, and with the energy that must be exerted in order to push them forward.” Simons implores, “Let us stand as the representatives of the clearest-cut opposition to capitalism the world has ever seen; let us stand in the forefront of the revolutionary movement of the world; let us send out from here a platform that will represent revolutionary socialism...”
“In Defense of ‘Immediate Demands’: A Reply to A.M. Simons at the Socialist Unity Convention, Indianapolis, IN—August 1, 1901,” by Gustav A. “Gus” Hoehn Veteran St. Louis Socialist Gus Hoehn takes on Algie Simons for proposing the deletion of all “immediate demands” from the platform of the new Socialist Party of America. Hoehn contends that far from being a clear-cut expression of revolutionary Socialism, Simons’ position is “the most ridiculous and most reactionary position that was ever taken by any labor representative in the Socialist movement.” Hoehn warns that “if a platform of this kind should be adopted by the Social Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party would be a thing of the past. Because you cannot feed the people on wind, and all that your so-called revolutionary position amounts to is to go out to the people of the country, to the wage working class, and preach revolutionary wind. “ Hoehn cites the example of the 1880s social revolutionist trend in the SLP, which interrupted the progress of a socialist party that had elected officials to city and state offices by adopting a platform which went to “the extreme of adopting the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels; and to show that they were the revolutionary party, that they were the true Socialist Party, they cut out of the Communist Manifesto the immediate demands.” For the Socialist Party to do the same thing “would lead us right back into the old anarchist movement, and in less than 5 years, instead of having a Socialist movement, you would have another anarchist movement,” Hoehn warns, adding that such a state of events is exactly what the capitalist politicians of America desired.
“A Veteran’s Appeal for Unity: Address to the Founding Convention of the Socialist Party of America, Indianapolis, IN—August 1, 1901,”; by Julius Valteich ** REPOST: CORRECTS DATE OF SPEECH, SPELLING OF SURNAME, ONE FOOTNOTE.** Valteich, a 61 year old German-American with 44 years’ participation in the Socialist movement in Germany and America, delivered the first English-language speech in his life to the Socialist Unity Convention that established the Socialist Party of America. Regarding the possible failure to achieve unity by the convention as a potential disaster, Valteich states that he considers it his duty to “at least attempt to bring to bear my influence on the hot-headed in our camp, inasmuch that they learn to know and appreciate the first duty of every soldier of the Revolution—the subordination of personal interests, personal feelings and thoughts to the common interest of all.” Valteich acknowledges that throughout the history of modern socialism “there are two principal views which struggle with each other.” On the one hand are those who “proclaim themselves as loudly as possible to be revolutionists.” This tendency “speak warmly against compromise, and would like to see the socialist army corps guarded against every touch of the non-socialists. They have a keen scent for traitors in their own ranks, mistrust all who are not toilers, and are impatient to deliver the last deciding stroke for the foundation of socialist society.” On the other hand are those who “do not believe in the theory of a catastrophe, but rather in the organic growth of the old society into the new one.” This group “do not fear compromises or temporary companionship with non-socialistic parties. They do not want to restrict their activity to participation in elections, but also seek to influence the people in an educational way, especially by furthering the cooperative work.” Valteich notes that programs change over time and cites the example of the unification of the German movement at Gotha in 1875 as a model for the American socialist movement to emulate. Though Marx is called right in his criticism of specifics of the program, the German movement was still more right to unite on the basis of that program—”never since 1875 have the German socialists given to the world the disgraceful spectacle of political disruption in the fight against the common foe,” Valteich notes.
“Convention at Indianapolis: Delegates Execute the Mandate of the Rank and File and Secure a United Socialist Party—Synopsis of the Proceedings—Selection of Committees—“Immediate Demands”—Platform, Constitution, and Resolutions—Name “Socialist Party” Adopted - St. Louis Selected as Seat of National Committee with Greenbaum as National Secretary—Harmony Marks the Entire Proceedings...” by A.M. Simons [events of July 29-Aug. 1, 1901] Algie Simons, former member of the SLP, editor of the Chicago Workers’ Call and International Socialist Review, was one of the leading figures of the Left Wing at the founding convention of the Socialist Party of America in 1901—an advocate of the abolition of all “Immediate Demands” from the party platform. This is his account of the convention, which he characterized as enormously successful and the turning point from which “a new era had arisen in the history of socialism.” Simons provides a day-by-day account of events and lists the two biggest topics of debate as the question of “Immediate Demands” (the inclusion of which was decided by a vote of 5,358 to 1,325 proxies) and the matter of “State Autonomy” (as opposed to a centralized party) decided in favor of autonomous state organizations and a weak national office, though Simons provides no detail on this debate. A resonant quotation appears in Simons’ concluding remarks, when he says: “the spirit of stupid intolerance has been largely eradicated, while not an atom of the revolutionary position has been abandoned. Disruption, based upon personalities and misunderstandings which accumulate in intensity as opponents obstinately resolve not to understand or make reasonable allowances for each other’s position, differences on minor details of tactics, we may assert with tolerable assurance, will never again be permitted to occur.... Disruption can only come in the future when fundamental principles are threatened. In such cases it seems unavoidable, and on the whole perhaps it is best that this should be so. If there is any tendency in the future which will bring fundamental differences of principle into the Socialist ranks...then internal struggles will break forth anew despite our efforts; but if not, it devolves upon us entirely to see that minor questions and disputes and misunderstandings are not permitted to produce an effect that can only be reasonably caused by divergence on essential principles.”
“Constitution of the Socialist Party of America: Adopted by the Socialist Unity Convention, Indianapolis, IN—July 29 to Aug. 1, 1901.” Basic document of party law of the newly established Socialist Party of America. The initial SPA Constitution provided for “state autonomy”—an extremely weak central organization, funded by 5 cent contributions per member per month by the various state organizations. It was the state organizations which were to retain “sole jurisdiction of the members residing within their respective territories, and the sole control of all matters pertaining to the propaganda, organization, and financial affairs within such state or territory, and the National Executive Committee and sub-committees or officers thereof shall have no right to interfere in such matters without the consent of the respective state or territorial organizations.” Authority between conventions was vested in a governing National Committee of the party, consisting of one elected Committeeman from each state, plus five additional members from the headquarters city named as a “Local Quorum” to act in an executive capacity. The National Committee was to meet regularly no more than once each year. It was given the power to select the National Secretary and the Local Quorum, but the constitution expressly stated that it “shall neither publish nor designate any official organ.” The result was a federation of largely autonomous state organizations, each of which “may organize in such way or manner, and under such rules and regulations, as it may determine, but not in conflict with the provisions of this constitution.”
“Letter to State, Territorial, and Local Organizations of the Socialist Party of America, August 10, 1901,” by Leon Greenbaum Initial communication to the members of the newly established Socialist Party from first Executive Secretary of the organization, Leon Greenbaum. Greenbaum announces that he and the provisional St. Louis Local Quorum are officially ready for action, with the first task at hand designing new charters for Locals of the organization, to be obtained through exchange for the charters in hand of the old constituent parties of the organization. The National Committee is to be funded by a 5 cent per member per month assessment, to be paid by state organizations and the locals themselves in unorganized states and territories. “The amount and character of the work performed by your National Committee depends in a great measure on the promptness with which said committee is supplied with funds,” he reminds the party members.