Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1902

Early American Marxism

Document Download Page for the Year


Undetermined Month

“Socialism and the Negro Problem,” by Charles H. Vail [1902]. Full text of a pamphlet by Rev. Charles H. Vail, National Organizer for the Socialist Party of America. Vail states that it was the unprofitableness of the chattel slavery system that led to its abandonment in the northern states, replaced by the even more onerous system of wage slavery, in which workers were placed in the unenviable position of competing against one another to sell their labor-power on the market. According to Vail, “The chattel method was fully as desirable for the slave, for the owner, having a stake in the life and health of his slave, desired to keep him in good condition. The wage slave-owner however, does not particularly care whether his wage slave lives or dies, for he has no money invested in him, and there are thousands of others to take his place.” The race question was largely an element of the main question: capitalist exploitation of all labor. In Vail’s view the solution of this lay in “the abolition of wage slavery and the emancipation of both black and white from the servitude to capitalist masters.” Under socialism, educational opportunities for workers of all races would be developed and racial bigotry would be gradually eliminated since “race prejudice cannot exist with true enlightenment.” Vail declares that “Socialism recognizes no class nor race distinction. It draws no line of exclusion. Under Socialism the negro will enjoy, equally with the whites, the advantages and opportunities for culture and refinement. In this higher education we may be sure race prejudices will be obliterated.” 


“Secretary’s Full Report: Doings of the National Organization Since Unity Convention Set Forth: Numerous Issues Have Been Raised,” by Leon Greenbaum [Jan. 24, 1902] This is a seminal document, the extremely lengthy status report of Executive Secretary Leon Greenbaum about the status and affairs of the Socialist Party during its first 5 months of operation (Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, 1901). A few observations: (1) It is evident from this report that, contrary to previous belief, the first Executive Secretary of the SPA was quite competent from an administrative standpoint, and precise records were maintained. In fact, based on this detailed report an exact 1901 monthly average of “Dues Actually Paid” for the SPA can be calculated for the first time—3,971. (Bear in mind not all states were paying dues regularly and reliably and the number of individuals identifying themselves with the organization may well have been approximately double this figure.) (2) Greenbaum and the St. Louis Quorum obviously placed primacy on the task of forging ties between the Socialist Party and the mainstream of the American labor movement embodied in the American Federation of Labor; more trade unionist than political actionist; (3) The early SPA was impoverished and on the brink of insolvency; despite this and the fact that the party did not produce an official organ, the paid staff of the National Office swelled to 4; (4) Many organizations, including the powerful Social Democratic Party of Wisconsin, did not pay ONE SINGLE MONTHLY DUES NICKEL to the National Office of the Socialist Party in 1901; despite this, they remained affiliated with the organization and represented on its National Council; (5) As with the Socialist Labor Party before it and the Communist movement after it, the Socialist Party of America experienced ongoing factional warfare from its birth to the present day, exemplified in this report by summaries of the situation in Kansas and New Hampshire. Intra-party factionalism seems to be the norm among political organizations in general and radical political organizations in particular. Includes photos of Leon Greenbaum, Charles H. Vail, and John C. Chase.


“Good Work Well Done: National Committee Holds 3 Days’ Session and Accomplishes Much Work: Minutes of Meeting Show What Was Done.” [Jan. 24-26, 1902] Despite the self-congratulatory headline in St. Louis Labor, the first annual gathering of the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America much hot air and little sweat was generated by the meeting. Regardless of the NC’s ponderous pace, there were fundamental decisions taken which shaped the form of the organization for years to come: (1) The extensive report of National Secretary Leon Greenbaum was received and acted upon; (2) A list of approved party speakers was to be established and made available to the various state organizations, with arrangements to be made by the national office directly with locals if necessary (a softening of the “state autonomy” concept); (3) Decision was made to establish a uniform system of national dues stamps and cards since during the last 5 months of 1901 several states apparently made use of their own stamps for dues collections or used no stamps at all; (4) NC member George Boomer was dispatched by the National Committee as a plenipotentiary to Utah in order to resolve the faction fight gripping that state. (This marked an extension of the power of the center over the semi-autonomous state party organizations); (5) A referendum was initiated establishing a logo for the party, pitting clasped hands superimposed over a globe against a red flag design. (The clasped hands logo eventually won in the ensuing 1902 referendum.)



“Immediate Demands” by Seymour Steadman. [July 1902] The case for support of a “minimum program” for the Socialist Party of America is made here by Seymour Steadman, a Chicago lawyer who remained an important member of the Socialist Party for the rest of his life. Incremental improvement of the life of the workers weakened the grip of the capitalist class, Steadman argued, while failure to support a program of social reform would “leave no program for a possible elected candidate, and the conceit of it will breed sterility, and make DeLeon the true Messiah.” A document making clear the ideological division of the SPA between reformist and revolutionary trends, dating back to the initial days of the party.



“Lines of Division in American Socialism,” by A.M. Simons [Aug. 1902] Editorial from the pages of the International Socialist Review by Editor Algie Simons. Simons notes the division of the American socialist movement between a Western-based, rural, agrarian element, largely native-born, which came to socialism through daily struggles and an Eastern-based, urban, trade union element, largely immigrant in ethnic origin, which came to socialism “quite largely through direct ideological propaganda.” The process of amalgamation of these two sometimes contradictory tendencies was imcomplete and the potential for a split was great due to a lack of mutual understanding and an ill-conceived insistence of the Eastern group to dictate to the indigenous radicals from the frontier. “The older Socialist of the cities lays great stress on certain phrases and forms of organization and manners of transacting business, and he uses the knowledge of these phrases and compliance with these forms and mannerisms as tests of the orthodoxy of his Western comrade of the prairies,” Simons says. The Western farmers, on the other hand, are “in revolt against capitalism” and when they are “met with a catechism especially prepared for the factory wage-worker” and put forward by those who are many times “most ridiculously ignorant of the economic conditions surrounding” these farmers, a sharply negative reaction results. Just as urban socialists would receive poorly a propagandist who was a farmer with no conception of the workings to the factory or the place of the unions, neither should urban Eastern socialists presume to lecture to the agrarian radicals of the West, Simons states. The farmers, possessors of greater individual initiative than the industrial wage-workers of the East, “are going to revolt politically whether the Socialists have the sagacity to work with them or not,” he states. Both the Eastern trade unionists and the Western radicalized agrarians provide promising fields for the Socialist Party’s work — the latter being “equally rich, if not richer” than the former, according to Simons.



“Socialist Agitation Among Farmers in America,” by Karl Kautsky (translated by Ernest Untermann) [Sept. 1902] The dean of European Marxism weighs in on American capitalism in the pages of Die Neue Zeit. Kautsky indicates that the torch has been passed in the capitalist world, that “while in the middle of the last [19th] century it was necessary to study England in order to understand the tendencies of modern capitalism, our knowledge on this subject today must be derived from America.” Further, more information was available about the “last phase” of capitalism through the study of Germany than England. As for America, “Nowhere are all the means of political power so shamelessly purchasable as in America: administration, popular representation, courts, police and press; nowhere are they so directly dependent on the great capitalists.” Kautsky sees America as dominated by an Anglo-Saxon national character: “The Anglo-Saxon is of an eminently practical nature. He prefers inductive reasoning in science to the deductive method, and keeps as much as possible out of the way of generalizing statements. In politics he only approaches problems that promise immediate success, and he prefers to overcome arising difficulties as he meets them instead of penetrating to the bottom of them.” In politics the Anglo-American workers consequently pursued a “shortsighted policy which should take heed only of the moment and regard it more practical to run after a bourgeois swindler who promises real successes for tomorrow, instead of standing by a party of their own class which is honest enough to confess that it has nothing but struggles and sacrifices in store for the next future, and which declares it to be foolish to expect to reap immediately after sowing.” Kautsky then delves at length into the new book by International Socialist Review editor Algie Simons, The American Farmer, which he touts as a “welcome beginning” of a “new scientific literature for the American socialist movement. While acknowledging Simons’ statistic that farmers make up 40% of American voters compared to the mere 25% represented by industrial workers, Kautsky remains clear to whom the Socialist Party should make its appeal: “At present it is not a question of winning the political power, but taking root in the popular mind. For this purpose the industrial proletariat is certainly better fitted than the farming population. To agitate among farmers when the mass of the city workers are still strangers to Socialism is equivalent to bringing rocky soil under cultivation at great expense and leaving fertile soil untouched from lack of labor power.” Kautsky declares that “It is the class struggle of the present which forms parties and keeps them together. But in this struggle the farmers have different interests than the industrial laborers”; therefore it would be a mistake to make a concentrated appeal to them. “A new attempt to unite large farmers and proletarians in the same party would end the same way as the Greenback and the Populist movement, or, what is more likely, will fail in the outset,” Kautsky emphatically states.


“Semi-Annual Report of the National Committee of the Socialist Party, Sept. 12, 1902.” This 2nd constitutionally-required report of the Socialist Party’s governing National Committee, prepared by the St. Louis Local Quorum, is sharply critical of structural defects which revealed themselves in the first year of the organization’s operations. “we are fast becoming a mere ’federation of Socialist Parties,’ each of these parties having its territorial limits and jealously guarding against any encroachment upon its domain,” the NC Report charges. The national organization was entirely at the mercy of the various State Committees, which turned in their per capita assessments late and without adequate documentation. Seven state organizations (including the major SPA states of Illinois, New York, and Wisconsin) were in arrears for various lengths of time, the report noted, adding that “the national constitution makes it mandatory upon State Committees to pay national dues monthly, but the National Committee has no power to enforce this provision, which the State Committees for the most part have not lived up to.” State Committees failed to make their required semi-annual reports to the National Committee including their locals and membership counts. “As a consequence, the National Secretary [Leon Greenbaum] is unable to determine whether the states are forwarding their full quota of national dues,” the NC Report states, adding that as a result “It has been impossible since the Unity Convention [July-Aug. 1901] to determine the number of locals and membership of the party in the United States.” The federative structure of the party and lack of state compliance with the constitution had left the national organization underfunded and unable to finance necessary national propaganda or even to pay off the party’s creditors, the NC Report charges, resulting in costly and spasmodic state and local efforts on a piecemeal basis and “embarrassment” on the part of the Local Quorum. Further, extreme state autonomy had also been a boon to disruptive factionalism, with faction fights taking place in 5 state organizations during the SPA’s first 18 months. The Local Quorum consequently recommends the convocation of a special national convention to address these defects.



“The Western Labor Movement”, by Eugene V. Debs [Nov. 1902] Socialist leader Gene Debs takes strong exception to the “uncalled for, unwise, and wholly unaccountable official pronunciamento of the St. Louis ’Quorum,’ purporting to speak for the National Committee” which asserted that “While the Socialist Party in national convention has solemnly pledged itself to the unification of the trade unions, yet a contrary policy has been set up in the West by comrades acting in a dual capacity as organizers of the American Labor Union and the Socialist Party, thus misrepresenting the attitude of our party and compromising it in their attempts to build up a rival organization to the American Federation of Labor.” Debs charges that “Stripped of unnecessary verbiage and free from subterfuge, the Socialist Party has been placed in the attitude of turning its back upon the young, virile, class-conscious union movement of the West, and fawning at the feet of the ’pure and simple’ movement of the East.” He expounds the history of the American Labor Union from its origins in the Western Federation of Miners, which felt itself abandoned in the midst of a bitter strike by the other member unions of the American Federation of Labor (to which the UFM also affiliated). In response, the Western Federation of Miners left the AF of L to help for the Western Labor Union -- an organization which later styled itself anew as the American Labor Union, a Socialist labor federation on a national scale. Debs asserts it was not the ALU which was the cause of dualism and factional struggle in the labor movement, but rather the crushing policies of the AF of L, which threatened destruction of the ALU and its affiliates if it did not return to the AF of L umbrella. Debs reveals himself supportive of radical dualism in the labor movement when he declares: “There is one way and one only to unite the American trade union movement. The American Federation of Labor must go forward to the American Labor Union; the American Labor Union will never go back to the American Federation of Labor. Numbers count for nothing; principle and progress for everything.”



“The American Labor Movement: A reply to Eugene Debs”, by G.A. Hoehn [Dec. 1902] Editor of St. Louis Labor, Socialist Party Local Quorum member, and partisan of the American Federation of Labor Gustav “Gus” Hoehn responds to Gene Debs’ Nov. 1902 International Socialist Review article, “The Western Labor Movement” with an ISR piece of his own. Hoehn declares that “the relationship between trade unionism and Socialism, i.e., the attitude of the politically organized Socialists toward the Trade Union and general labor movement, is the most vital question in the American Socialist movement.” He sees in the fledgling American Labor Union a repetition of the grave error of Daniel DeLeon and his associates in establishing a dual federation, the Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance, in opposition to the American Federation of Labor in 1896. The ST&LA conducted a “warfare of revenge and destruction on the economic field,” Hoehn states, leading to “the demoralization and the suicidal work of the Socialist Labor Party itself” when the party was inexorably drawn into factional turmoil within the various national unions themselves. The forerunner of the Socialist Party of America broke with the SLP’s trade union policy and based itself on a separation of the economic (trade union) and political (party) wings of the labor movement. While “every Socialist applauded” the Western Labor Union’s decision to endorse Socialism at its 1902 convention, Hoehn notes that “the Western Labor Union changed its name into American Labor Union and decided to extend its field of operation to the Eastern states” -- thus unleashing disruptional factional war in the union movement. “Our Socialist Party movement cannot afford, has no right, to be dragged into a fight between two national Federations of Trade Unions,” Hoehn declares, adding “The St. Louis “Quorum” took action on the ALU matter after it was called upon to issue an organizer’s commission of the Socialist Party to a general officer and organizer of the American Labor Union, and after considerable confusion had been created amongst our comrades in various parts of the country, which goes to show that an attempt was made to drag the Socialist Party right into this trade union controversy and rivalry.”