Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1903

Early American Marxism

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“Auguries for the New Year: E.V. Debs Writes of His Late Tour,” by Eugene V. Debs [Jan. 3, 1903] Report from the road by Socialist leader Gene Debs. Debs notes that he had visited 10 states during his most recent trip and everywhere lectured before enthusiastic crowds filling the house. Whereas a few years hence he would have been met with derision, in this latest outing he had been welcomed by city fathers and important dignitaries in many of the communities he visited, marking an advance in the status of the socialist movement. Debs spoke in schools, colleges, churches, and in local opera houses under a wide variety of auspices—only twice at meetings sponsored by Socialist locals themselves. Debs declares that “the people everywhere are not only ready for the gospel of Socialism, but receive it with every mark of enthusiasm, and the telling points in a speaker’s argument are applauded just as heartily in a church or school room as they are in a Socialist propaganda meeting.”


“Two Resolutions of Local St. Louis, Socialist Party, January 4, 1903.” The early Socialist Party was structured as a federation of semi-autonomous state organizations, governed by a strong “National Committee” of state representatives, with operations coordinated by a weak National Office. Day to day affairs of the National Office were to be governed by a paid National Executive Secretary and 5 members of the local of the city in which the National Office was located, called the “Local Quorum.” St. Louis was established as the first location of the National Office by the founding convention of the SPA in the summer of 1901. The 5 member Local Quorum from St. Louis, including Executive Secretary Greenbaum, sought to assert themselves in favor of the experiment in political alliance being conducted with some success in San Francisco—an action condemned as anathema to the principles of the Socialist Party by many party members. These two resolutions, adopted at the January 1903 General Meeting of Local St. Louis, formally condemn the San Francisco “fusion” experiment, and call upon Executive Secretary Greenbaum and 3 members of the Local Quorum to resign, for having written and spoken in favor of the San Francisco model. One resolution cites the Socialist Party platform, which states: “The Democratic, Republican, the bourgeois public ownership parties, and all other parties which do not stand for a complete overthrow of the capitalist system of production, are alike political representatives of the capitalist class” as justification for this action. If Greenbaum and his associates refuse to submit their resignations, the second resolution calls for the National Committee to remove them. At the end of Jan. 1903, the annual meeting of the National Committee voted to move the National Office to Omaha, Nebraska, thus ending the St. Louis fusion controversy.



“Cooperation in Publishing Socialist Literature,” by Charles H. Kerr [Feb. 1903] The man behind America's leading Marxist publishing house of the first two decades of the 20th Century explains his operation to prospective financial supporters in this essay, published as a pamphlet in 1903. Kerr notes the origins of Charles H. Kerr & Co. as a publisher of Unitarian literature in 1886; his turn to populism in 1893, which severed him from his Unitarian base of support; his launching in 1897 of the magazine The New Time, with former editor of The Arena B.O. Flower of Boston at the editorial helm; and his move to "International Socialism" in 1899 and hiring of A.M. Simons, former editor of The Chicago Socialist, in 1900. Kerr explains the economics of book publishing in some detail, as well as his plan of selling $10 shares of stock in the company, which entitled the shareholder to purchase socialist publications at cost. Kerr also makes a pitch for donations and loans (interest free or 5%) to fund an advertising campaign to spread the message of scientific socialism through ads in the socialist and capitalist press.


“Proceedings of the National Committee, SPA: St. Louis—Jan. 29-31, 1903,” by George E. Boomer Washington state’s National Committeeman George Boomer provides this account of the annual meeting of the SPA’s governing National Committee (approximating a Central Committee in function), which voted to move party headquarters from St. Louis to Omaha, effective immediately, and replaced Executive Secretary Leon Greenbaum of St. Louis with William Mailly of Massachusetts, and elected a new 5 member National Quorum (approximating the SPA’s later National Executive Committee in form and function). In addition, Boomer notes the passage of a strong anti-Labor Party resolution, reading: “That no state or local organization or member of the party shall under any circumstances fuse, combine, or compromise with any political party or organization, or refrain from making nominations in order to further the interests of candidates of such parties or organizations.” Boomer tersely concludes with a note that a “Line is being drawn between Agrarians and Proletarians” within the SPA.


“National Committee: The Policy of the Socialist Movement Outlined for Another Year: An Enthusiastic Gathering: St. Louis, Missouri” Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 1903,” by Allan W. Ricker Leading Appeal to Reason journalist Allan Ricker leaves this account of the seminal 1903 annual gathering of the National Committee of the Socialist Party—a conclave similar in form and content (if not size) to a national convention. Ricker approvingly notes the disavowal of the St. Louis Quorum’s policy of fusionism with the emerging Union Labor Party movement, including the text of the resolution on the matter which concluded, “in no uncertain tones” that “no state or local organization, or member of the party shall under any circumstances, fuse, combine, or compromise with any political party or organization, or refrain from making nominations in order to further the interests of candidates of such parties or organizations.” Ricker also notes the choice of William Mailly of Massachusetts over W.G. Critchlow of Ohio as the new National Secretary of the SPA. Ricker hints at the division of the 22 delegates into two camps: the post-Populist “West” and the international Socialist “East.” With regards to the National Secretary, he states: “The West...wished to be generous with the East, and while considerable distrust of Western Socialists was manifested on the part of Comrades Carey, of Massachusetts, and Hillquit, of New York, and while the West by uniting could have selected both the Secretary and the headquarters, yet they manifested no purpose to exert their power, and on the final vote, Berlyn, of Illinois, and Christensen, of Omaha, voted for Mailly, thus electing him.” The Western Socialists did win the day on the question of location of headquarters however, with Omaha chosen. “Omaha is the center of the revolutionary section of the United States. No argument need be adduced to prove this to a Western man,” Ricker declares. Ricker includes very brief character sketches of a few of the National Committee members as well as the text of the Resolution on Trade Unions, which reaffirmed the line of the 1901 Unity Convention delineating between the Socialist Party and the union movement as the distinct and specific political and economic arms of the labor movement. Ricker summarizes the policy: “The Socialist Party will assist and support every union in its economic conflicts with capitalism, whether that union has endorsed Socialism or not, because its true mission is to fight the political battles of the working class. It will not enter any internal conflicts between labor organizations [i.e. the AFL vs. the ALU]... The Socialist Party will adopt the honorable course of confining its efforts to converting individuals to the philosophy of Socialism, and will content itself with the knowledge that in due time all union men will become Socialists.”


Review of National Committee Meeting: St. Louis - Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 1903,” by Victor L. Berger Wisconsin National Committee member Victor Berger presents his contrarian account of the seminal 1903 National Committee meeting, which renounced the tactics of the St. Louis Quorum, elected a new National Secretary, moved party headquarters from St. Louis to Omaha, and reaffirmed the party’s anti-interventionist trade union policy. Berger indicates that a “really remarkable change” had taken place over the course of the past year among the members of the NC on the question nearest and dearest to his heart, that of “state autonomy” within the SPA. “Thanks to the conduct of the St. Louis Quorum, the sentiment of almost all the committeemen was outspoken in favor of state autonomy. Every member felt that the success of the party last year was due in no small degree to the many organizations of the many states and to the consequent multiplied intensity of energy. Indeed our party would have been lost if in last fall’s elections it had been even left to the initiative of the Local Quorum in St. Louis,” Berger declares. Berger emphasizes that the majority of NC members in 1903 had been relative newcomers to Socialism, former “middle of the roader” Populists for whom “fusionism” was as a curse word. Berger is critical of the majority’s lynch mob attitude toward the St. Louis Quorum and National Secretary Leon Greenbaum and for their “rather high-handed” interpretation of the party constitution in moving headquarters without resort to party referendum and for completely restructuring the governing Local Quorum without resort to constitutional amendment. Berger believes the newly selected Local Quorum shows a “strong agrarian coloring” which “would be absolutely out of touch with the proletarian masses of the country which the Socialist Party must win before all things if it wants to have success.” Referenda to overturn both of these erroneous decisions were forthcoming, Berger indicates.



“How I Became a Socialist” by Federic F. Heath. [April 1903] Autobiographical account of the intellectual journey of Milwaukee Socialist Frederic Heath from liberal Republican to Bellamy Nationalist to founding member of the Social Democracy in America. While acknowledging the role played by Socialist Labor Party literature in formation of his personal philosophy, Heath draws a sharp line between his own views, which he believes steeped in “democracy,” and those of the SLP. A “Cooperative Commonwesath secured through cataclysm” is called a “wild dream,” utopian and contrary to the teaching of history. Further evidence of the long-running division of the American movement between the proto-Bolshevik SLP and the dominant social democratic trend in the Socialist Party of America.



“In Dixie: Things Seen from a Car Window—New Machinery for Cotton Production—The Negro and Politics”, by Allan W. Ricker [May 9, 1903] The Debsian Socialist Party has been charged—with some justification—with having turned a blind eye to the question of racism and the struggle for emancipation by American blacks, rather piously reducing the great question of systemic racism to a minor footnote of the colorblind class struggle. But facts show that the Socialist Party was not entirely silent on the matter. This article by leading Appeal to Reason columnist A.W. Ricker deals at some length with the so-called “Negro problem.” Ricker describes his conversation with a group of Southerners in a rail car en route to Birmingham, using the quoted remarks of a Mississippi county clerk to expose racist thinking and the anti-democratic nature of one party Yellow Dog Democratic rule in the South: “In the land of democracy, there is no democracy, for whenever this Democratic machine is threatened, it will attempt to count out the white working class of the South, along with the colored. I imagine that if I were Mr. Bryan I would feel awfully proud of having been the representative of a political party that its national platform mourns over a few million barbarians who have come under the rule of American capitalism, while my chief political support came from a region that has denied self-government not only to 5 or 10 millions of penurious negroes, but about one-fourth of that many whites,” Ricker declares. Against this reactionary Southern Democratic machine are allayed two progressive forces, “the Republican Party, representing the capitalist class,” and “the Socialist Party, representing the working class.” Citing the proletarian nature of the region, Ricker makes note of the little-known base of support for the Populist Party—and by extension, Socialism—in the deep South. He notes: “The People’s Party carried both Georgia and Alabama, but were counted out by the Democratic machine. In Alabama the Populists carried by big majorities 30 counties, tied the Democrats in 30 more, and then the Democratic machine returned enough majority in the 6 black counties to overcome all of the foregoing. The democracy counted all the negroes for the Democratic ticket. Now the Democratic politicians, thinking all opposition destroyed, has disfranchised the negro vote, and by so doing have severed their own jugulars.” Prospects for Socialist organization in the region are thus positive, he believes.



“On the Color Question”, by Eugene V. Debs [June 20, 1903] Extended excerpt of an article written by Socialist Party publicist Gene Debs at the invitation of the editor for the Indianapolis World—a “Negro” newspaper. Debs sees an economic basis for the racism of those unions denying black workers the right of membership: “There was a time when organized labor in the main was hostile to the Negro, and it must be admitted in all candor that certain unions, such as the railroad brotherhoods, still ignorantly guard the trades they represent, as well as their unions, against invasion by the colored man, and in this they have always had the active support of the corporation in whose interest it is to have workingmen at each others’ throats, that they may keep them all, black and white, in subjection.” Debs asserts that by way of contrast “the Socialist Party, the political wing of the labor movement, is absolutely free from color prejudice.” He optimistically indicates his belief that the labor union, the economic wing of the labor movement is rapidly becoming free of racist prejudice, and that “in the next few years not a trace of it will remain even in the so-called black belt of Southern States.” Racism is nothing more than an aspect of the class struggle, in Debs’ view: “There is no ’Negro problem,’ apart from the general labor problem. The Negro is no one whit worse off than thousands of white slaves who throng the same labor market to sell their labor-power to the same industrial masters. The workers, white and black, want land and mines and factories and machinery, and they are organizing to put themselves in possession of these means of production and then they will be their own employers, they will get all they produce and the problem will be solved.”



“State Secretary Reports.” [July 1903] In July of 1903, the weekly Appeal to Reason published a special issue which included individual reports by 23 of the State Secretaries of the Socialist Party of America. Many of these recounted the history of the socialist movement in their state up to that juncture, details difficult to uncover from any other source. The result is an extremely important primary source document, an excellent starting place for in depth research of specific state histories. State Secretaries reporting here included those from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.



“Italian Socialist Convention: West Hoboken, NJ -- Sept. 6-7, 1903” by Silvio Origo In September of 1903 the Federazione Socialista Italiana held its first convention in West Hoboken, NJ—a conclave attended by 33 delegates from 8 states. The gathering marked the start of a turn of the Italian-American radical movement, built around the daily newspaper Il Proletario, away from the Socialist Labor Party and to the upstart Socialist Party of America. A resolution indicating that the Italian Federation was “on general principles with the SLP” but which made it “optional for comrades in places where there was no SLP to vote for the uncompromising candidates of the other Socialist Party” was rejected by the official delegate of the SLP as an unacceptable half-measure. In response, a new resolution was put forward, causing the Italian Federation “sever all connections and alliances with the SLP, and constitute themselves into an independent organization.” This resolution was passed by a vote of 19 to 15, and disaffiliation was thus accomplished. The gathering also discussed the federation’s position towards the trade unions and the cooperative movement and took steps to establish an “Immigration Bureau” designed to keep the “poor and simple Italian” new arrival to America from the clutches of “the padrone, the banker, and many other colonial sharks.”




“The Disintegration of the SLP and the Establishment of the Socialist Party of America,” by Morris Hillquit [Oct. 1903] Section from Hillquit’s History of Socialism in the United States (1903) in which he relates the story of the 1899 split in the Socialist Labor Party and the subsequent negotiations of the SLP’s “Rochester faction” (so-called “Kangaroos”) for unity with the Social Democratic Party of America — two events in which Hillquit was himself a primary participant. Hillquit lists two primary factors behind the split of the SLP: the Socialist Trade and Labor Association, the umbrella association of dual unions “sprung as a surprise on the convention of 1896,” which was billed as being a tool for “organization of the unorganized” but which instead “within a few years succeeded in placing the party in a position of antagonism to organized labor, as well as to all socialistic and semi-socialistic elements outside of the party organization;” secondly, an intolerant internal party regime in which the “strict disciplinarians” developed into “intolerant fanatics.” “ Every criticism of their policy was resented by them as an act of treachery, every dissension from their views was decried as an act of heresy, and the offenders were dealt with unmercifully. Insubordinate members were expelled by scores, and recalcitrant ’sections’ were suspended with little ceremony,” according to Hillquit. Hillquit also provides the best extant memoir of the negotiations between the insurgent SLP Right with which he was associated and the Social Democratic Party — a process which resulted in a split of the SDP before eventual reunification at the founding convention of the Socialist Party of America in 1901.


“What Revolutionary Socialism Means,” by Carl D. Thompson [Oct. 1903] Very explicit exposition of the term “Revolutionary Socialism” by a leading figure in Victor D. Berger’s Social Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Rev. Thompson quotes Karl Kautsky at length to “settle” his assertion that “revolutionary Socialism” has no connection to violent overthrow of the state, but is rather a synonym for “scientific Socialism”—meaning one who believes in the use of “the independent political party to capture the powers of government by a hitherto oppressed class as a means of securing Socialism.” While the term “revolutionary Socialism” is misunderstood by an “ordinary audience,” it remains a phrase necessary to “distinguish us as Socialists from those who merely wish to patch up the present system and keep it,” according to Thompson. “It is to make the point of difference clear and to distinguish sharply between [reform] programs and Socialism that the Socialists use the term ‘revolutionary.’ We are not ‘reformers’—we are ‘revolutionists.’” Thompson continues by stating, “It is safe to say that every scientific Socialist in the world would regard it a calamity to the cause, as well as to humanity, to have a violent upheaval in society.... Socialism offers a possible, a peaceful solution.” 


“The Negro and the Class Struggle,” by Eugene V. Debs [Nov. 1903] A fearless and principled defense of black Americans delivered by the past and future candidate of the Socialist Party of America. While acknowledging that “malign spirit of race hatred” was so pervasive in the south that even some socialists had succumbed to the reactionary ideology, Debs unflinchingly stated that “The whole world is under obligation to the negro, and that the white heel is still upon the black neck is simply proof that the world is not yet civilized.The history of the negro in the United States is a history of crime without a parallel.” Debs argued that the whole question of “social equality” was inseparably linked to the struggle for economic freedom, for socialism— “there never was any social inferiority that was not the shrivelled fruit of economic inequality,” he says. The prescription was clear to Debs: “Our position as socialists and as a party is perfectly plain. We have simply to say: ‘The class struggle is colorless.’ The capitalists, white, black, and all other colors, on the other side.”