Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1908

Early American Marxism

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Shall the Two Parties Unite? by Carl D. Thompson [Feb. 15, 1908] The years 1907 and 1908 saw an effort by the Left Wing of the Socialist Party to bring about unity between that organization and the Socialist Labor Party. This concentrated effort of course drew a response from those opposing the revolutionary Socialist agenda. One prominent Socialist who was particularly outspoken in his opposition to the proposal was Wisconsin state organizer Carl D. Thompson, who contributed this two-part article to the constructive Socialist organ The Christian Socialist. Thompson outlines the turbulent history of the Socialist Labor Party and its various “unity” efforts of the past—with the anarchist movement, with the Greenback Labor movement, with the Henry George campaign. These efforts at a unity of weakness are contrasted with the early history of the Socialist Party, which built its organizational size and strength through an essential and timely split with the utopian communalists who had won the day at the convention of 1898. Thompson declares that the SLP had been responsible for disruption with the labor movement with its dualist Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance and support of the Industrial Workers of the World; that it held a sectarian position on the agrarian question, which had served as inspiration for a long-running melee in the Socialist Party of Nebraska; and undermined party democracy, State Autonomy, and freedom of the press through its dogmatic belief in party ownership of the press and strict party centralization. The addition of the SLP en masse to the ranks of the Socialist Party would additionally bolster the “Impossibilist” wing of the party, in Thompson’s view, thus setting back the work of years to lessen the influence of this wing in the party’s councils. “Therefore if these people wish to join the Socialist Party the door is open to them as individuals, the same as to all others. By accepting our platform, our program, constitution, and tactics, they may come in. And upon no other ground. For them to propose any other bears upon its face a sinister suggestion. Let them apply as others do to the individual branches. And let the branches be the judge of their individual fitness and right as in the case with all others,” Thompson concludes.



“Buck Niggers and Politics,” by Seth McCallen ["Col. Dick Maple"] [May 1908] This article was one of the most vile manifestations of white supremacy in the Socialist Party of America. “Col. Dick Maple” (Seth McCallen) was the co-founder and editor of The National Rip-Saw, a Socialist monthly published in St. Louis. The editorial here is a full-out Ku Kluxer racist rant—a piece that makes Kate O’Hare’s unprincipled and pandering 1912 Rip-Saw pamphlet, “’Nigger’ Equality,” sound positively erudite. McCallen rails against “buck niggers” installed into positions of power and remuneration by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt in a brazen effort to win black voters to the Republican ticket. McCallen shrieks that “the political axe in the hands of ‘Teddy’ will be wielded with considerable vim from now on until the election, and many a white-skinned clerk will be decapitated to make room for foul-smelling ‘bucks’ with ebony hides, as you know the ‘coon’s’ vote is a very valuable asset to the Republican Party.” Etc. etc. An illustration of from whence The National Rip-Saw came and documentation of the existence of a virulent racist wing in the early Socialist Party of America—to which organization this privately-held publication claimed allegiance.


Report of the Finnish Translator to the Convention of the Socialist Party of America, May 10, 1908, by Victor Watia Extensive report of the Translator of the Organization of Finnish Socialists (Finnish Federation) to the 1908 Chicago convention of the SPA. Watia provides a number of interesting details about the oriigin of the Finnish movement inside the SPA, noting the pivotal decisions of the Federation’s 1906 convention which set the table for closer participation of the organization with the party. Watia reveals that the concept of a &#&8220;Translator” emerged spontaneously in several states of the upper midwest, in which Finnish socialists found themselves in need of assistance converting documents between Finnish and English and employed their own translators. The Finnish organization determined to establish the post of National Translator and made every effort to have this individual located inside SPA headquarters for convenience. This office soon came to serve as the central office of the Finnish organization itself. Watia notes the mutually beneficial nature of this post and advocates the placing of skilled SPA organizers in the field among the various language groups and committing itself to develop Translators for other language groups desiring them. Also includes the budget of the Finnish federation for first 16 months of its affiliation with the SPA (which began Jan. 1, 1907). Watia’s report includes a lengthy prohibition resolution of the Finnish Federation which caused Victor Berger to get grumpy.


Report of Committee on Foreign Speaking Organizations to the National Convention of the Socialist Party, May 17, 1908. Committee report to the 1908 SPA Convention in Chicago, delivered by S.A. Knopfnagel. The Committee advocated the acceptance of all foreign language organizations seeking affiliation with the Socialist Party, subject to 5 conditions: “ (1) They are composed of Socialist Party members only. (2) Any foreign speaking organization having a national form of organization of its own be recognized only if all the branches composing this organization having been chartered by the national, state, or local Socialist Party organizations, and pay their dues to the respective Socialist Party organizations. (3) No foreign speaking organization asking the Socialist Party for recognition shall issue their own particular national, state, or local charters. Same to be issued only by the respective organizations of the Socialist Party, as the case may require. (4) All foreign speaking organizations affiliated with the Socialist Party must and shall conform in every respect with the Socialist Party national, state, and local constitutions, platforms, and resolutions. (5) They should function only as agitation, education, and organization bureaus of the Socialist Party.” Includes an amendment made from the floor but not published in the SP’s Official Bulletin (probably due to incompetence rather than malice) prohibiting the refusal of admission to the SPA on account of race or language.


A Short Speech Amongst Friends: Girard, Kansas—May 21, 1908, by Eugene V. Debs After the conclusion of the 1908 Socialist Party convention in Chicago, a number of prominent Socialists made their way to southeastern Kansas to tour the new facilities of The Appeal to Reason. A cake and ice cream banquet was arranged bringing together leading Girard Socialists with their out of town guests, including the party’s recently renominated Presidential standard bearer, Gene Debs. An Appeal to Reason stenographer was present to record the evening for posterity, the proceedings published as a small circulation souvenir pamphlet. This is the full transcript of Debs’ remarks to the gathering. Debs likens the former hostility and later acceptance of anti-slavery forces among the people of Kansas to the current warming of popular temperament towards Socialism and Socialists. He also likens the fellowship of assembled Socialists to the human relations that will be evident in the Socialist society of the future: “We may not live to see the full fruition of our work, nor does it matter; so insidiously can a man feel Socialism, so completely consecrated can he be to the Cause of Socialism that he lives within the realization of it, even now.” As is often the case with Debs, quasi-religious sentiment abounds: “Looking into your faces and catching your spirit I feel myself rising to exaltation. Socialism to us is something more than a mere conviction. It courses in our veins; it throbs in our hearts; it fires and sanctifies our souls; and it consecrates us to the service of humanity.”



The Failure to Attain Socialist Unity, by Frank Bohn [June 1908] This article by former SLP member and current IWW activist Frank Bohn states that “unity of the Socialist movement should undoubtedly have been attained in 1901. Failure to secure the desired end by all of the then existing factions was due to a wrong position taken by some comrades, who will now pretty generally admit their error.” Despite its “correct” tactical position since the convention of 1900, the Socialist Labor Party had failed to grow organizationally due to the attempt to separate its veteran revolutionary socialist membership from the rest of the movement, which was evolving towards its orientation, as well as an attempt to “draw about itself the veil of absolute sanctity,” Bohn states, adding “The scientific truths at the bottom of the revolutionary upsweep were made over into the mumbled litany of a sectarian clique.” Bohn states that in addition, the SLP used “wrong methods” of propaganda and organization: “Men and women who will develop into revolutionists worthwhile to the movement are sure to demand respect and decent treatment from their teachers while they are learning. This consideration the honest utopians and reformers in the movement (and all of us were such) have never received from The People, by which the work of the SLP is ever judged.” In a second section of the article, Bohn relates the parable of the field, in which a “quack doctor” [DeLeon] and his servants, together with a number of energetic young men, fence themselves off from the rest of the community and stunt their own crops in the process—the useful members of the community ultimately leaving through a hole in the fence to join the others while the “quack doctor” hides himself away in a patch of poison ivy with his retainers. “In the IWW we who uphold political action find no difficulty in working with those who do not. On the political field we industrialists can surely labor with equal success beside those who do not realize the efficiency and the ultimate revolutionary purpose of industrial unionism. For these reasons members of the IWW who favor political action should support the Socialist Party,” Bohn concludes.




The Tour of the Red Special, by Charles Lapworth [Dec. 1908] This is a valuable primary source document, a participant’s account of the famed Socialist Party Presidential “Red Special” of 1908. This lengthy memoir from the pages of The International Socialist Review is in addition rather fun to read—its colloquial tone and sometimes snide commentary not entirely dissimilar in form from a punk rock tour diary from a 1990s fanzine. The Red Special, a chartered train which crisscrossed the country in the late summer and early fall of 1908, was met everywhere by large and enthusiastic crowds, many of whom paid admissions to hear silver-tonged Presidential candidate Gene Debs and other Socialist luminaries expound upon the party program. Speeches from the train at depots across the nation were additionally coordinated with successful evening meetings, Lapworth makes clear. The result was an explosion of excitement and energy around the Socialist Party campaign (albeit not reflected in the disappointing 1908 Socialist Presdidential vote count). The Red Special’s very real media success has been emulated over the years by “whistle stop” tours of the candidates of the two major parties and additionally finds its echo each campaign season as primary candidates charter busses and planes and crisscross the nation attempting to generate media attention with their sundry road extravaganzas.