Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1928

Early American Marxism

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“Ruthenberg as Fighter and Leader,” by Jay Lovestone. This hagiographic biography of the deceased Executive Secretary of the Workers (Communist) Party of America was originally written by his successor to introduce a collection of speeches published by International Publishers. Although thoroughly uncritical, this article nevertheless provides a useful summary of the political career of Ruthenberg, including an impressive list of political offices for which he was a candidate during the period 1910 to 1919 (Mayor, State Treasurer, Congressman, US Senator). Nary a word is mentioned about Ruthenberg’s social origins, education, factional orientations over time, nor any hint given of any tactical difficulties faced or political errors made by Ruthenberg over the course of his political career. Instead, Ruthenberg, rendered a faultless icon, is depicted as “The Founder of the Communist Party” and lauded for “Leninist faith in the masses” dating back to 1911.



“William D. Haywood—Soldier to the Last,” by James P. Cannon [May 22, 1928] A lengthy and heartfelt obituary of the IWW leader William “Big Bill” Haywood” by a friend and comrade, James P. Cannon, a Communist Party leader who was also a former member of the IWW. Haywood, who died May 18, 1928, in Moscow from a stroke, is remembered as a compelling speaker “recognized far and wide as the authentic voice of the proletarian militants of America,” and a man of great personal courage, and leader of the Left Wing in the Socialist Party in the years before the World War. Haywood’s unseemly breaking of faith and discipline with his organization and his fellow political prisoners when he jumped bail in 1919 is brushed aside. Cannon rather writes that Haywood “emerged from Leavenworth Penitentiary in 1919 in a receptive and studious mood. He was already 50 years old but he conquered the mental rigidity which afflicts so many at that age. He began, slowly and painfully, to assimilate the new and universal lessons of the war and the Russian Revolution. First taking his stand with that group in the IWW which favored adherence to the Red International of Labor Unions, he gradually developed his thought further and finally came to the point where he proclaimed himself a Communist and a disciple of Lenin. He became a member of the Communist Party of America before his departure for Russia.” Cannon also states that Haywood was a man who possessed “warmth of personality that drew men to him like a bonfire on a winter’s day. His considerateness and indulgence toward his friends and his generous impulsiveness in human relations were just as much a part of Bill Haywood as his iron will and intransigence in battle. ‘Bill’s Room’ in the Lux Hotel at Moscow was always the central gathering place for the English speaking delegates. Bill was ‘good company’ in the best sense of that old-fashioned term. He liked to have people around him and visitors came to his room in a steady stream; many went to pour out their troubles, certain of a sympathetic hearing and a word of wise advice.” “His life was a credit and an honor to our class and to our movement,” Cannon maintains.



“Speech to the Third Congress of the Labor and Socialist International, Aug. 6, 1928,” by Morris Hillquit. Text of an address by the Chairman of the Socialist Party of the United States to the International Socialist Congress held in Brussels from Aug. 5 to 11, 1928. Hillquit identifies three trends in the development of the world economy in the post-World War world: centralization, internationalization, and Americanization. He cautions about the negative effects of industrial rationalization and the trend towards American financial hegemony, warns of a trend towards exploitation of cheap “Asiatic labor and labor in backward countries,” and calls for international efforts to develop a labor movement “as powerful and more powerful than modern capitalism.”.



“Report of William H. Henry, National Secretary, to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party, Nov. 24, 1928.”; This document covering the first 10 months of operations by the SPA in 1928 in comparison to the same period one year previous provides scholars with a first hard set of membership numbers for the organization for those two years. Includes a state-by-state membership count for 1927 and 1928, memberships for the five federations of the SPA, a brief discussion of organizational prospects in the various states, and financial details of the organization. Rather esoteric fare, perhaps, but a very important primary source document for specialists in the history of American radicalism in the 1920s.



“Our Appeal Against Expulsion from the Communist Party,” by James P. Cannon. [Dec. 17, 1928] Text of a speech delivered Dec. 17, 1928 at a plenum of the Central Executive Committee of the Workers (Communist) Party. James Cannon, Max Shachtman, and Martin Abern were expelled from the party on Oct. 25, 1928 for “Trotskyism,” but chose to avail themselves of their right of appeal to the next meeting of the CEC. The nearly 200 in attendance heard a three hour presentation of the case against Cannon, Shachtman, and Abern, before Cannon was given the floor to present this hour-long defense. Cannon admitted the trio’s adherence to the “views of the Russian Opposition” but promised “to discontinue all extraordinary methods the moment our party rights are restored and we are permitted to defend our views in the party press and at party meetings.” Cannon charged that “the Pepper-Lovestone leadership” were embarked “on the course of bureaucratic disruption.” Cannon asserted a trend, particularly strong in the New York district, towards the dilution of the party with “all kinds of dubious, petty-bourgeois careerists and half-baked intellectual elements”—a trend directly related to the “wholesale expulsion of proletarian fighters,”.


“Underground and Above: A Memoir of American Communism in the 1920s,” by Max Bedacht. A chapter from the unpublished memoir of Max Bedacht (1883-1972), completed in 1967 from the manuscript at the Tamiment Library at New York University—published here through their courtesy and with our thanks. Bedacht’s account details the factional struggle that swept the party from the unification of the UCP with the old CPA in 1921 through the expulsion of Jay Lovestone and his associates in 1929. Particularly valuable for its confirmation that the ill-fated Bridgman, Michigan convention of 1922 was held at the same exact site as the problem-free Joint Unity Convention that founded the United Communist Party in 1920—and for recollections about the factional struggle that took place at the 4th Congress of the Comintern in Nov.-Dec. 1922, in which Bedacht carried the banner of the “Liquidator” faction in opposition to the adherents of the underground party, the “Geese.” Includes copious explanatory footnotes.



“American Negro Problems,” by John Pepper. Full text of a pamphlet published by Workers Library Publishers in 1928. The Hungarian revolutionary Josef Pogany [“John Pepper’} outlines the situation facing the Communist Party with regards to black liberation: “The Communist Party cannot be a real Bolshevik Party without being also the Party of the liberation of the Negro race from all white oppression,” he notes. Pepper states that class differentiation has increased within the black population, with a black bourgeoisie emerging at the same time the situation of rural blacks was steadily worsening. The Communist Party would advance the cause of “full racial, social, and political equality for the Negro people,” dealing with the farming masses of the “Black Belt” as “the potential basis for a national liberation movement of the Negroes and as the basis for the realization of its right of self-determination of a Negro state.” Emphasis was to be placed on attracting black workers and agricultural laborers to membership in the Communist Party, says Pepper.