Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1915

Early American Marxism

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“An Appeal to the Investigating Committee of the NEC.” [Jan. 13, 1915] A very rare document, published as part of a special English language edition by the Duluth Finnish-language newspaper Sosialisti. This extremely lengthy article details the faction fight which raged in the Socialist Party’s Finnish Language Federation from 1912-15, in which the constructive socialist Eastern District and those around its organ Raivaaja captured effective control of Executive Committee of the Federation the leftist organ of the Middle District, Työmies. In response, a new left wing daily newspaper was established in the Middle District, Sosialisti. Punative expulsions of individuals and locals supporting the new periodical were begun by the Finnish Federation, which drew an appeal from the left wing to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America, since under the party constitution only the state organizations were granted the right of suspension and expulsion. The NEC of the SPA instructed the right wing majority group to reinstate the expelled left wingers and to settle the issue at a special convention of the Federation; this instruction was ignored by the Finnish Federation however, in an attempt to stack the forthcoming election of convention delegates. As a result, the left wing boycotted the election and renewed their appeal to the NEC. “The disruption within the Finnish Federation is very clearly and positively a result of a very fierce opposition in the main, of the officers in the organization against any criticism of their erroneous ideas, errors, or plain miscarriages in the offices,” this appeal document argues.



“The Socialist Party in Oklahoma,” by J.O. Welday [Feb. 1915] This brief general introduction to the Socialist Party of Oklahoma was written for a general, politically-oriented readership. “The Socialist Party did not create class lines or class distinctions in this new commonwealth. The fact that 180,000 mortgaged and tenant farmers are producing wealth, the bulk of which is finally gotten hold of by a small group of non-producers, cannot be charged to socialist activity,” Welday declares. The old parties had both delivered policy in defense of the interests of this small exploiting elite, in Welday’s view. “The exploiting group has paid the bills of these parties and has in the main molded and directed their policies. Legislation has been both consciously and unconsciously shaped to the end that these propertied interests might be protected and secured.” In opposition to both of the old parties, “the Socialist Party, with its clear cut and understandable discussion of the class struggle and its application of the same to conditions in Oklahoma, is rapidly becoming the political expression of the dispossessed class,” Welday declares. Those who view the Socialist Party of Oklahoma as a milquetoast of agrarian ameliorative reform will be interested to note Welday’s insistence that “no Bismarckian policy of partial restitution will satisfy those who have done and are now doing the hard and necessary work of the state,” that things like “workmen’s compensation acts, minimum wage laws, stringent usury statutes, actually enforced, loaning of state money for long periods at low rates of interest, statutes regulating the construction of dwellings on rented farms, state or county gins and elevators...will merely postpone the final result.” This ideological perspective was reflective of the SP’s Center or Left current rather than the Right Wing orientation stereotypically associated with the Oklahoma party.


“Executive Committee Rule,” by T.E. Latimer. In 1913-14 a serious factional struggle erupted in the Finnish Federation of the Socialist Party of America between a Right faction based in the Eastern US and a Left faction based in the Midwest. Accusing its opponents of favoring sabotage, in contradiction to the SPA Constitution, the Right faction attempted to seize the daily newspaper and assets of the Left faction and engaged in a series of expulsions as part of this process, which centered on Local Negaunee, Michigan. The SPA’s National Executive Committee was drawn into the controversy. This contemporary article reviews the issues behind the fight from a perspective sympathetic to the Finnish Left faction and hostile to the SPA NEC. Originally published in the Feb. 1915 issue of The International Socialist Review.



Assessment of the 1915 National Committee Meeting by Ludwig Katterfeld and James P. Reid. Katterfeld and Reid, two members of the Left Wing of the SPA, were participants at this session. This meeting, held in Chicago in June of 1915, was regarded by both as a seminal session—a change of direction from the course set at the 1912 National Convention. Direct election of party officials was returned to the membership (to be exercised via the referendum) and “party treason” statutes were reinforced. Both Katterfeld and Reid went on to become active members in the Communist Labor Party of America.



“Constitution of the Lithuanian Workers Literature Society, (Organized Sept. 20, 1915).” [Published in 1919]. A rare document seized and saved for posterity by the Lusk Committee. The Lithuanian Workers Literature Society was a membership-based adjunct of the Lithuanian Socialist Federation of America dedicated to “the publishing of such writings which would raise throughout the masses of workers class consciousness, socialistic intellect, and solidarity, and otherwise broaden the boundaries of their knowledge.” Annual dues of $1 funded the society, which published its works through the Brooklyn, NY “Laisves” publishing house, and entitled members to purchase the publications of the LWLS at half price. Meetings were held monthly, conventions were held in conjunction with the conventions of the LSFA, and the society maintained a “Scholar’s Fund” to finance additional work in the Lithuanian language. This is the basic document of organizational law for the LSFA, originallly published as a pamphlet in 1919 in both Lithuanian and English.



“The Red Trade Union International: The First World Congress of Revolutionary Unions,” by Earl R. Browder [events of July 3-??, 1921] Pioneer American Communist Earl R. Browder, a delegate to the 1st World Congress of the Profintern held in Moscow in the summer of 1921, provides an account of the gathering for the members of the Workers Party of America. Browder characterizes the gathering as the “culmination of a long historical development in the principles and tactics of the international labor movement” in which the wartime use of European trade unions as recruiting grounds for the army and post-war period of the trade unions being instruments of the immediate political situation, in which the bureaucratic leadership of the unions had blocked the revolutionary impulses of the rank and file, had given way to a new phase. “By the spring of 1920 a great movement of revolt against the reactionary control of the trade unions by the international organization at Amsterdam was in full swing throughout Europe,” Browder asserts, adding that “this revolt was spontaneous, chaotic and unorganized, and without center or directing head. “The first steps taken to unite all these forces into one disciplined body were taken in Moscow in July 1920, when the leaders of the Russian trade unions took advantage of the presence of many union representatives from England, Italy, France, and other countries, some of whom were attending the Congress of the Communist International, and invited them to confer,” Browder states. Anti-political revolutionary syndicalists chose to participate in the 1st World Congress of the Profintern in an attempt to capture it, but this tendency was decidedly in the minority, Browder notes. Browder promises further commentary on the specific issues of division in a future article, which does not appear to have made print in the pages of The Worker.




“Letter to C.W. Fitzgerald in Beverly, Massachusetts from N. Lenin [V.I. Ul’ianov] in Berne, Switzerland. [Written between Nov. 13 and Nov. 22, 1915.] Text of a letter from Lenin to the head of the fledgling “Socialist Propaganda League” approving of a recent letter which had been sent and outlining the position faced by the revolutionary socialist movement in the current international political environment. “We say and we prove that all bourgeois parties, all parties except the working-class revolutionary Party, are liars and hypocrites when they speak about reforms. We try to help the working class to get the smallest possible but real improvement (economic and political) in their situation and we add always that no reform can be durable, sincere, serious if not seconded by revolutionary methods of struggle of the masses,” Lenin states, adding “We do not preach unity in the present (prevailing in the Second International) socialist parties. On the contrary we preach secession with the opportunists. The war is the best object-lesson. In all countries the opportunists, their leaders, their most influential dailies and reviews are for the war, in other words, they have in reality united with “their” national bourgeoisie (middle class, capitalists) against the proletarian masses.... And we are for secession with nationalistic opportunists and unity with international revolutionary Marxists and working-class parties.” Lenin sends his best wishes for the success of the new organization.



The Socialist Movement: Brief Outline of its Development and Differences in This Country. Text of a 1915 three cent pamphlet published by the Socialist Labor Party detailing that organization’s differences with the Socialist Party of America. Five specific areas of difference are identified: Trade Union policy, Party Press Ownership, State Party Autonomy from the Center, Taxation Policy, and Immigration Policy. The SLP’s vision of “industrial government” is outlined and contrasted to the program of the SPA, which is characterized as “anti-Socialist and bourgeois.”.