Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1909

Early American Marxism

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The Party Referendum by E.E. Carr [Jan. 1, 1909] This article by Rev. E.E. Carr, editor of The Christian Socialist, demonstrates that there was a tradition of inner-party factional campaigning within the Socialist Party years before the abrogated National Executive Committee election of 1919—which was set aside by the outgoing NEC on the various pretexts of factional membership organization within the party, existence of slates and bloc voting, and purported election fraud. Carr endorses the re-election of Victor Berger, Carl Thompson, Graham Phelps-Stokes, and John Work—considering the re-election of Morris Hillquit, Algie Simons, and A.H. Floaten assured. Carr also lends his support to the re-election campaign of J. Mahlon Barnes as Executive Secretary of the party, noting that “he has been faithful, fair, and efficient in that office...” Seemingly without noting the contradiction of his own factional organization in order to defeat factional organization, Carr notes that “a freer and more general comment in all our papers concerning the fitness of candidates would be decidedly helpful to the party, and it is the only way to prevent dangerous cliques. Some who oppose an open discussion of these matters are the very ones who are most incessant at star-chamber scheming—and open discussions are likely to upset their secret plans!”



Socialist Party Membership Data: A survey circulated in 1908. Compiled by Emma Pischel. In December 1907, the NEC of the Socialist Party determined to survey the entire party membership in attempt to better understand the social composition and demographic makeup of the organization. While certain state organizations in the industrial Northeast (MA, NJ, CT) and the Socialist strongholds of Wisconsin and Oklahoma and the big Western state of California did not respond, an excellent sample of over 15% of party members did. This document quantifies the 6,310 survey replies and provides an unparalleled quantitative snapshot of the Debsian Socialist Party. The first myth smashed by the 1908 membership survey is the tendentious assertion that the Socialist Party was little more than a conglomeration of shopkeepers and professionals. Nearly 2/3 of survey respondents were of the proletariat—with “craftsmen” outnumbering “laborers” by a margin of 2-1, both of these groups dwarfing the number of transportation workers. Another 17% of respondents were farmers—a percentage probably slightly inflated by the lack of participation in the survey by the various industrial centers. Less than 10% of the party was involved in commerce and less than 5% in professional occupations, according to the survey. The second myth shattered by the 1908 survey was the depiction of the Debsian SPA as comprised of innumerable youthful idealists and few greyheads. An astounding 70% of survey respondents were over the age of 30, with over 30% of the party over the age of 45. The survey also shows that over 3/4 of survey respondents were of American birth and that the most widely subscribed Socialist publication—by a wide margin—was The Appeal to Reason, with nearly 2/3 of respondents receiving that publication each week. Also interesting (given the Socialist movement’s obsession with the medium) is the very low efficacy of leaflets in the swaying of political views, with less than 5% listing this as their own factor of primary importance.



Constitution of the Christian Socialist Fellowship: Adopted at the 4th General Conference, Toledo, OH—May 29, 1909, The controversial 4th General Conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowship attempted to ameliorate a growing factional controversy between its feuding New York and Chicago affiliates. It also enacted this new constitution for the organization, which at this time had approximately 525 members. The new constitution once again depicted the class struggle as a problem to be rectified rather than an immutable part of capitalism, expressing the object of the CSF as follows: "To proclaim Socialism to churches and other religious organizations; to show the necessity of Socialism to the complete triumph of Christianity; to end the class struggle by establishing industrial and political democracy; and to hasten the reign of justice and brotherhood—the Kingdom of God on earth." Under the new constitution, dues were raised and made payable monthly and the structure and role of local, district, and state organizations were defined for the first time. The size of the governing General Executive Committee was additionally cut in half, from 50 to 25 members.



“What is the Matter with the Socialist Party?”; by Charles H. Kerr [Nov. 1909] The Communist movement did not magically materialize from thin air in 1919; it had deep roots in American radicalism older than the Socialist Party of America from whence it emerged. One might reasonably argue that the historic trend which lead to the 1919 split began with the disappointing performance of the SPA in the 1908 electoral campaign. This editorial by Charles H. Kerr in The International Socialist Review gives voice to the proto-communist revolutionary socialist wing inside the Socialist Party: “Long enough we have cringed before the aristocracy of labor begging for votes that we did not get. Long enough we have experimented with ‘immediate demands’ that might swell our apparent strength by winning the votes of people opposed to revolution. The time has come for the proletarians of the party and those who believe the party should be proletarian in its tactics to bring about a revolution in the party. Let us not withdraw...but take possession. Let us put wage-workers on the National Executive Committee. Let us cut the “immediate demands” out of our platform and leave reformers to wrangle over reforms. Let us make our chief task to spread the propaganda of revolution and of the new industrial unionism, and when we elect members of our own class to office, let us instruct them that their most important work is to hamper the ruling class in the war it will be waging on the revolutionary unions.”