Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1913

Early American Marxism

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“Direct Action and Sabotage,” by Moses Oppenheimer. [Jan. 25, 1913] There has been a tendency in the literature to dismiss the Socialist Party’s “Anti-Sabotage” faction fight of 1912-13 as a historical event having little relationship to the Communist/Socialist split of 1919. In reality, both of these episodes were chapters in the same long-running saga, heated political events linked to an ideological division within the SPA dating back to the 1901 establishment of the party and before. This January 1913 discussion of the newly-installed “Anti-Sabotage” section of the SPA constitution by New York activist Moses Oppenheimer helps to demonstrate this connection. Oppenheimer—a major figure in the Left Wing Section, Socialist Party six years hence —is sharply critical of the new “Anti-Sabotage” section, arguing that the two ideological concepts anathematized by the May 1912 Convention were either untested as to efficacy (in the case of Direct Action and the General Strike) or were merely a new name for a long-established defensive tactic of the labor movement (in the case of Sabotage). Oppenheimer considers the decision to rely on the political groundrules established by the reactionary and biased capitalist courts to be ridiculous. He further notes that the majority of the party had not spoken out on the matter, with only 20% voting on the referenda in question and both the contradictory majority and minority reports being approved by majorities of those voting. Oppenheimer sees Direct Action and Sabotage as being distinct from Anarchism due to their coordinated, mass nature, in contradistinction to Anarchist philosophy and practice.


“Debs on Syndicalism: A Letter to H.M. Hyndman in London from Eugene V. Debs in Terre Haute, Indiana, January 30, 1913.” This letter to British Socialist H.M. Hyndman was widely published in the American Socialist press as a means of propagating Debs’ views on the bitter conflict over “syndicalism” which divided the Socialist Party. Debs wrote: “Syndicalism has swooped down upon us, and the capitalist papers and magazines are giving it unlimited space, but the Socialist Party is in no danger on account of it. Just at present there are some sharp divisions and some bitter controversies on account of it, but the Socialist Party will emerge all the stronger after syndicalism has had its fling. The Anarchists are all jubilant over the prospect that syndicalism may disrupt the Socialist Party, but they will again be disappointed. There are many of our Socialists who favor syndicalism and sabotage, or think they do, but the party is overwhelmingly opposed to both, and will stick to the main track to the end.”.



“Debs on IWW: A Letter to William English Walling from Eugene V. Debs in Terre Haute, Indiana, March 5, 1913.” This letter to William English Walling was widely reprinted in the Socialist Party press as a means of making known SPA leader Eugene V. Debs’ view of the party’s “Anit-Sabotage” provision and the recent recall of Bill Haywood from the SPA’s National Executive Committee. “I regret to see Haywood’s recall, but it was inevitable. He brought it on himself. I should not have put Section 6 in the constitution, but it is there, and put there by the party, and Haywood deliberately violated it. Is not this a fact?” Debs declared. He added that “The IWW for which Haywood stands and speaks is an anarchist organization in all except in name, and this is the cause of all the trouble. Anarchism and Socialism have never mixed and never will. The IWW has treated the Socialist Party most indecently, to put it very mildly. When it gets into trouble it frantically appeals to the Socialist Party for aid, which has always been freely rendered, and after it’s all over, the IWW kicks the Socialist Party in the face. That is the case put in plain words, and the Socialist Party has had enough of that sort of business, and I don’t blame them a bit.”.


“The Psychology of Syndicalism (An Editorial),” by Gaylord Wilshire. [March 1913] During the first years of the 1910s, a new radicalism blossomed both inside and outside the ranks of the Socialist Party of America. This left wing moment, centered its orientation around building revolutionary industrial trade unions and winning power through use of the tactic of the general strike. This movement, while in some sense a mere continuation of the dichotomy between “Lassallean-political action” and “Marxian-trade unionism” that had divided the modern radical movement for its entire history, nevertheless gained momentum on an international basis and self-consciousness as something entirely new—“Syndicalism.” The “new” radical industrial unionist movement gained important adherents in the American Socialist movement—the monthly magazine of the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. The International Socialist Review; the upstart New York theoretical journal The New Review; and, as this editorial demonstrates, the well-established (albeit ethically sketchy) Wilshire’s Magazine. This editorial by Gaylord Wilshire notes that “the revolutionary union is the product of the automatic machine and the trustification of capital. It is the only form of organization which can meet the present juncture, for the knell of craft unions was rung by the automatism of the machine.” Socialism, or “Revolution by voting,” is an anachronistic and futile enterprise, Wilshire indicates, colorfully stating that “voting is merely praying in a ballot box.”.



“A National Organization is On Its Way!” by J. Louis Engdahl [April 1913] Powered by the success of the Los Angeles Young People’s Socialist League, with 1200 members, and the support of State Secretary of the Socialist Party of California T.W. Williams, the establishment of the national YPSL organization was finally about to happen, according to this report by Chicago Socialist Louis Engdahl. An estimated 200 autonomous and “practically independent” Socialist youth organizations had sprung up in American, needing “only a centralized movement to put them in active operation,” Engdahl indicated. In accordance with this objective, information was being gathered about the strength and resources of each for presentation to the forthcoming annual meeting of the Party’s National Committee (essentially a convention with representatives present from each state organization). A debate was underway over the structure of such an organization, with some favoring a sovereign but associated organization electing its own National Secretary and 3 of 5 of the member s of its National Committee, while others favored creation of a subordinate youth department of the Socialist Party, akin to the structure already extant for women.



“The Finnish Young Socialists of the United States” by J. Louis Engdahl [May 1913] With a decision by the Socialist Party’s National Committee on the organization of a national young people’s section looming, Louis Engdahl analyzes the division of the youth sections on language lines, the most important section of which was the Finnish Gymnastic Societies organized by the various Socialist Party branches. There were some 53 of these societies at the end of 1911, Engdahl states: 22 in the Finnish Federation’s Eastern District, 17 in the Middle District, and 14 in the Western District. A total of 1,156 young men and women were affiliated with these societies, which paid no dues to the Socialist Party but were funded by Party branches. In addition to these gymnastic societies, the Finns had choral societies, dramatic societies, dancing clubs, and other organized group activities—projects that were advanced by the fact that many Finnish branches possessed their own halls. Engdahl notes that the Finnish and English language Socialist organizations had long remained segregated and that the task of integrating these sections of the party to work on matters of common concern remained largely unresolved.


“Report of the Finnish Federation to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, May 1913,” by J.W. Sarlund. Report by the Translator-Secretary of the Finnish Socialist Organization in the United States to the 1913 plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Party. The Finnish Federation was at this time the Socialist Party’s largest (roughly 10% of the entire party), and Sarlund details the Finnish Federations finances and activities for the year 1912 and the first quarter of 1913. Sarlund remarks that the Finnish Federation’s three-pronged regional daily press “is and has been the secret of our success.”.


“Report of the German Language Federation to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, May 1913,” by A. Dreifuss. The German Federation of the Socialist Party was organized late in December of 1912. This was the first report of Translator-Secretary Adolph Dreifuss to the 1913 plenum of the SPA’s governing National Committee. Details of the first National Convention and the size and structure of the federation are provided here. Difficulty with Local San Francisco over the new federation structure in the party is noted, with loss of dues revenue under the new system identified as probable cause for the difficulty.


“Report of the Hungarian Socialist Federation to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, May 1913,” by Armin Loewy. The Hungarian Socialist Federation was formed when the United Hungarian Federation voted to affiliate with the SPA in 1912. This first report of the Translator-Secretary of the Hungarian Federation to the 1913 plenum of the SPA’s National Committee details the organization’s activities in the first 8 months of affiliation. Included is an interesting table detailing size, number of iniitiations, number of meetings held, and amounts spent on dues stamps, the Hungarian socialist press, and literature by each of the component branches of the Hungarian Federation.


“Report of the Jewish Translator-Secretary to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, May 1913,” by J.B. Salutsky. The Jewish Federation of the Socialist Party established itself in the summer of 1912 and had sent its Secretary, Jacob Salutsky, to serve as Translator-Secretary in the SPA’s National Office on December 20. Over the next nine months the group nearly tripled in size, to a paid membership of nearly 2,000 in 68 branches. This is Salutsky’s report to the 1913 plenum of the SPA National Committee, detailing the history and growth of the Jewish Federation.


“Report of the South Slavic Socialist Federation to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America, May 1913,” by Alex Susnar. The South Slavic Socialist Federation affiliated with the Socialist Party of America in January of 1911. This is the report of the new Translator-Secretary of the Yugoslav Federation to the 1913 plenum of the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America. Some details about organizational size over time are provided.



“To Work with Young People,” by James M. Reilly [June 1913] Short article in The Young Socialists' Magazine by a Socialist Party National Committee member from New Jersey announcing the May 1913 decision of the NC to establish a Youth Department attached to the National Office, effective October 1, 1913. Reilly states that “It is not the intention of the Party to interfere with any of the young people's Socialist organizations now in existence. The aim is rather to lend assistance and cooperation.....The department will also be a sort of clearing house for Socialist literature especially suitable for the young.” He notes that “We Socialists do not believe in forcing our faith—so to speak—on anyone. We do not wish our children to be Socialists because we are. The true Socialist wants his children to do their own thinking, and of course form their own conclusions.” However, the SPA had been negligent in providing even rudimentary information about itself to young people in any systematic way. Through this new department it was hoped that first steps would soon be taken in this regard.



“Socialism and the Municipalities,” by Henry L. Slobodin. [Oct. 1913] A short defense of the strategy of Socialist engagement in civic electoral politics en route to the social revolution. Not only would an educated, well-housed, and well-fed working class do more to advance the Socialist cause than an ignorant and impoverished working class, Slobodin argues, social revolutions historically always had been urban events. In such a scenario, victory would belong to those who controlled the city governments—with the number of Socialist politicians sitting in Congress a comparatively unimportant detail. Slobodin was the Executive Secretary of the SLP Right (the so-called “Kangaroos”) during the 1899 party split before moving into the Socialist Party. First published in The New Review, October 1913.


“Lobbying and Class Rule” by Louis C. Fraina. [Oct. 1913] The relationship between financial power, corruption, and state control is explored in this article published in The New Review in October 1913. Fraina argues that lobbying and financial intervention in the political process are not class measures but rather “clique measures in the interest of one capitalist clique against another clique,” specifically the needs of the plutocracy against the interests of petty capitalism. The legislative and judicial branches of government inevitably represented the most powerful capitalist interests, Fraina argues. Retrospectively interesting is the observation that corruption “is no more a necessary condition of class rule than violence is a necessary condition of proletarian struggle. Both, in a measure, may be unavoidable, but they are not inherently necessary.”.