Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1907

Early American Marxism

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“Plans and Resolutions Adopted at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowship, Chicago, Ill.—June 1-4, 1907.” The Right Wing of the Socialist Party of America were a group of individuals clustered around a non-party propaganda organization called the Christian Socialist Fellowship (CSF). The CSF was established in June of 1906 by the editor of The Christian Socialist, Rev. Edward Ellis Carr, and this semi-monthly publication served as the official organ of the faction, which explicitly sought the amelioration of the class struggle through policies of enlightened and humane reform. This document collects the various “plans and resolutions” adopted at the 2nd Conference of the CSF—actions which expanded the group’s structure to include “District Secretaries” who were to maintain district offices funded by a portion of the dues they collected and subscriptions they sold. The 2nd Conference also defined the relationship of the CSF to the Socialist Party: stating that while the CSF thoroughly accepted “the economic interpretation of social and political causes, and have no desire to qualify it by any revisionist demand,” it also asserted that “the party ought strictly to avoid every form of religious and anti-religious theory or dogma on the lecture platform and in the party publications; and that such opinion should be regarded as a private matter, everyone having the fullest liberty of belief and expression as an individual.” The CSF also declared it to be a group capable of helping “to make the professed followers of Jesus the propagandists of Socialism that they should be” and it offered its services to the party “in presenting the Socialist economic doctrine in any church, in the YMCA, or in any other organization which is closed to a Socialist propaganda that does not come under the name ‘Christian.’”


“The Christian Socialist Fellowship: A Brief Account of its Origin and Progress,” by E.E. Carr [Aug. 15, 1907] This thumbnail history of the Christian Socialist movement in America by founding spirit of the Christian Socialist Fellowship Edward Ellis Carr provides a set of names and details for further exploration by any scholar seeking to do original work in this relatively unplowed field of American radical history. Carr states that the first Christian Socialist publication in America (outside of the publications of the various communal sects) was The Dawn, published in Boston from the 1880s by Rev. W.D.P. Bliss with the aid of Rufus W. Weeks. The second main center of the Christian Socialist movement emerged in the 1890s around the publication The Social Crusader, including George Herron, J. Stitt Wilson, and others. The Collectivist Society of Rufus Weeks also merits mention, as does, of course, Carr’s own Christian Socialist Fellowship, which included prominently such Socialist luminaries as the young Assistant Editor of The Christian Socialist, Rev. Jacob O. Bentall (later active in the Communist Labor Party and Lovestone organization) and Harvey P. Moyer. Other names dropped as participants or supporters of the Christian Socialist movement read like a veritable who’s who of the early SP Right, including Walter Mills, Charles Vail, John Spargo, and Carl Thompson.


“The Fellowship and the Parties,” by E.E. Carr [Sept. 1, 1907] This reply by Christian Socialist Editor Edward Ellis Carr to an unspecified article asserts positively that there was complete unanimity at the founding conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowship with regards to its endorsement of the Socialist Party. “so far as I know, every member of the Fellowship who enjoys the ballot votes the Socialist Party ticket, though this is not a test of membership in the Fellowship,” Carr emphasizes. Carr declares the nature of the Christian Socialist Fellowship thusly: “The Fellowship is a propaganda society, not a political party. The place to join the Socialist Party is at the ‘branch,’ or, if the party means those who merely vote the ticket, at the election booth. A propaganda society, like the ‘Collectivist Society’ and the ‘Commonwealth Club,’ does not usually require party membership for admission.” (It might parenthetically be noted that support of a similarly structured propaganda society collecting membership dues called the “Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party” was suddenly deemed to be an expellable offense after the result of the 1919 party election became known to the outgoing 1918-19 NEC. The fact that the Left Wing Section collected dues and admitted non-members of the SP to its councils were disingenuously held up as the primary reasons that the group being declared anathema.) Carr declares that while the CSF seeks the establishment of Socialism and “recognizes” the class struggle, “it was not deemed wise for the Fellowship to commit itself constitutionally to any particular party because there are two Socialist parties in the United States and two in Canada, all within our direct field of propaganda, and we wished to leave the Fellowship door open to every Socialist who believes in our objects as expressed in the Constitution.” Carr concludes that the CSF is “rooting deep and growing fast and bids fair to help largely in arousing the people for the glorious revolution which shall realize the highest dreams of saints and sages for humanity, that shall bring real liberty and peace, real prosperity and Christianity to all men.”



The Parlor Socialists, by Ellis O. Jones [Oct. 1907] This is one of the most thoughtful and well-crafted essays of the Debsian period of the Socialist Party of America—a defense of the so-called “parlor socialists,” published in the pages of the International Socialist Review. Jones, a rank-and-file socialist from Columbus, Ohio, states that up until as few as 5 years previously socialism had received scant attention in America, dismissed as an idiosyncratic preoccupation of peculiar European immigrants. The Socialist Party, founded in 1901, had at last struck root in the ranks of the native American population, Jones indicates. “...The phenomenon which the paragrapher lightly dubs Parlor Socialism is nothing more or less than an unmistakable sign of the Americanization of Socialism, leading the paragrapher gently but powerfully and relentlessly past the point where he can define Socialism as the unintelligible ravings of a handful of unnatural and unnaturalized bomb-throwing aliens plotting against duly constituted authority,” Jones declares. Unable to label and dismiss these eminently reasonable American socialists to the hackneyed stereotypes of the past, a new epithet was invented on the fly—“parlor socialists.” Jones sees a dichotomy among American socialists between the largely uneducated individuals of proletarian origin and vocation, and the new group of “intellectual” adherents to the socialist cause, young and often college educated individuals who (unlike most of their peers) takes time to “examine the general manner of money—making and weigh it in ethical scales, asking the question as to why he, young and inexperienced, should possess so much without effort while thousands whom he sees about him possess but little or nothing with the maximum of effort. He is led into investigating the sources of wealth and soon comes to the obvious conclusion that wealth is produced by labor and that therefore he is living on the labor of others.” Ultimately, the so-called “parlor socialists” arrive at “the conclusion that true luxury is impossible so long as a large majority of his fellow beings live in squalor and destitution.” Jones concludes that “Parlor Socialism as a characterization is ephemeral. It will disappear when the Socialist movement is thoroughly Americanized, that is, when the Parlor Socialists are sufficiently numerous to cease to invite individual comment and when, through the lapse of time, they have given unmistakable evidence that they are not merely victims of a passing fad or fancy.”



Socialist Unity in the United States, by Charles H. Kerr [Dec. 1907] Eminent Socialist publisher Charles H. Kerr presents the recent referendum put forward by Local Redlands, California calling for the amalgamation of the Socialist Party of America with the Socialist Labor Party on the basis of industrial unionism and a party-owned press. Kerr—himself a Marxist and a partisan of industrial unionism—argues assertively against both of these preconditions for merger. With regards to industrial unionism, Kerr states that while California Socialists may consider it a facile matter, on the actual battlefront in the industrial east, things were not so simple. Most Socialists in industrial Chicago were members of the unions of their craft, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, Kerr states. These individuals “joined these trade unions long ago, and for the very good and very prosaic reason that they wanted better wages and depended on the unions to help get them, or perhaps found that they could not get jobs without carrying union cards. They remain inside these unions today for the most part because there are no industrial unions here in the trades in which they work. If they were to withdraw from the existing unions to join the budding organization of the Industrial Workers of the World, they would stand a very good chance of losing their jobs” and additionally be treated by their shopmates as scabs. It would be best not to mix the political and industrial questions, Kerr opines, instead putting forward the industrial union model as the only one suitable for meeting trustified industry across the bargaining table at anything approaching unity. With regard to party ownership of the press, Kerr is more negative still, noting that such a structure was traditional within the SLP and had led to a practical result which placed “the editor of The People [Daniel DeLeon], wielding the power of the National Executive Committee, in full control of the sources of information of the party membership, so that he has dominated and still dominates the opinions of the rank and file... I am decidedly opposed to a system placing such absolute power in the hands of any one man or small group of men.” While unification of the American socialist movement would be a positive thing, in Kerr’s view, the position of Local Redlands would have it “that the larger party should discard its successful methods and adopt the disastrous methods of the smaller party. I am for consolidation, but not on these terms.”