Martin Abern

International Labor Defense Activities

(1 January-1 July 1928)

Written: July 23, 1928
Source: James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism. Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 © Spartacist Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-9633828-1-0; Published by Spartacist Publishing Company, Box 1377 G.P.O. New York, NY 10116. Introductory material and notes by the Prometheus Research Library.
Transcription\HTML Markup: Prometheus Research Library
Copyright: Permission for on-line publication provided by Spartacist Publishing Company for use by the James P. Cannon Internet Archive in 2005.

Almost as soon as the delegation left for Moscow in early June, Lovestone’s factional lieutenants opened an attack on the ILD. At the Political Committee meeting on June 2, Benjamin Gitlow, who was acting secretary in Lovestone’s absence, noted that he had been getting a lot of “complaints” about the ILD. Gitlow demanded a report from Abern. Abern’s report, published below, was attached to the minutes of the PC meeting of July 23. Gitlow was unable to make factional hay with it: the PC adopted the report unanimously, including the previously controversial proposal for founding a Jewish section of the ILD.

Report represents period of intense and varied activities and campaigns. According to applications received by national office, 70 new branches organized since January 1st, averaging 20 members each. Hungarian and Italian sections organized and developed. Among important activities are:

A. National tour in 35 cities and nearly 50 meetings against American frame-up system by James P. Cannon, coupled with three-month subscription drive for Labor Defender. Tour also laid basis for Mooney and Billings campaign and Centralia prisoners campaign.[1] California district conference held during tour at San Francisco to lay basis for campaigns. Highly successful tour.

B. Illustrated lecture tour by Max Shachtman, editor Labor Defender, on “Revolution and Counterrevolution in China” in 28 cities. Successful tour and demonstrated value of illustrated forms of propaganda.

C. National tour against Polish fascism by David Bogen, special Hromada representative.[2] Special committee against Polish fascism with ILD as main force organized for campaign and tour. Several hundred dollars raised for Polish prisoners.

D. Special campaigns, consular protests, etc. on behalf of Bela Kun and special trains in Italy organized.[3] Still continuing.

E. Circularization in campaign to provide books for labor prisoners had special dramatic and propaganda appeal and value. Plan now adopted, by German Red Aid.

F. Amongst literature issued was:

1. Eight-page folder, Bonita, Mendola, Moleski Case, selling at one penny. 20,000 copies.[4]

2. Four-page leaflet, “What Is International Labor Defense,” 150,000 in English, 20,000 in Italian and by arrangement with Jewish section in Chicago an edition in Yiddish.

G. Bonita, Mendola, Moleski Defense. Special defense committee with ILD as main force organized. National office had representative in field almost continuously. Aided in raising funds and expended some $700 directly in the case.

H. Labor Defender. The circulation of the Labor Defender as a result of a systematic development of policy and campaign has grown phenomenally since January 1st. Briefly, the circulation has increased from 10,000 in January to 22,000 with the July issue, a special Mooney-Billings issue. The subscriptions have increased from 1,500 to 5,500. The bundle increases have been from 8,500 to 16,500. The 22,000 circulation (printing is only according to actual orders) is a circulation greater than the combined circulation of the Daily Worker, Labor Unity, and The Communist combined, which are representative organs in other important fields.

Our analysis shows that this development toward swiftly increasing circulation will continue and we have set 30,000 as our January 1, 1929 goal. For informative purposes we might state that we propose to maintain the lower 10 cent retail price of the magazine and, therefore, we must continue publication as yet at a slight loss till the magazine’s circulation grows a bit more. There is, however, a much higher cost involved in publishing a labor pictorial than other kinds of publications. The circulation which is being attained by the Labor Defender is, we suggest, also a base for and demonstration that, with a systematic organization drive and policy, the circulation of labor publications can be substantially increased. Also the party should be in a position to utilize the membership increase of ILD and the Labor Defender increase in circulation for party membership increase also.

The ILD is also conducting at the present time a number of campaigns. Among these are:

1. The Miners’ Defense campaign. The hundreds of arrests in various sections of the coal regions have confronted the ILD with special problems. In addition to the activities conducted on behalf of the Colorado Miners’ Defense and the Bonita, Mendola, Moleski defense in the Anthracite coal regions, the main miners’ defense activity exists in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Illinois. The National Office thus far has borne the major cost in financing the defense of the miners. In addition, in the Ohio and West Virginia territory a special Miners’ Defense drive with the issuance of a special Miners’ Defense stamp has been carried on through the Cleveland secretary in order to spread the raising of funds. Rather than a special National Miners’ Defense drive which might affect the relief work, the ILD entered into a special week for relief and defense of the miners, with the National Miners’ Relief Committee, for the week of July 22nd to July 29th, and which, it is expected, will thereby make it possible to cover the cost for miners’ defense cases.

2. In the New Bedford textile strike there are some 72 cases of textile workers on hand. The National Office has helped to defray costs in the textile region, but in an endeavor to meet the actual needs, a special textile defense and relief week is being conducted from July 15th to 22nd. In the New Bedford cases there have occurred errors in policy, which matters were dealt with by the party elsewhere.

The National Office has sent comrades to Pittsburgh from time to time to aid and advise in the work. The National Office had a full-time worker in Colorado also during the period of the strike. The Labor Defender has steadily dealt with the miners’ and textile strikes as the major campaigns and has called for support. The Labor Defender has been circulated widely in the mining regions and also is being conducted and extended in the textile regions. From reports coming to the National Office from various ILD locals, much money and relief in the form of clothes, etc., has gone directly to the National Miners’ Relief Committee or the Workers International Relief, and here and there the impression has prevailed that funds sent to the relief organizations also covered defense. The National Office has tried to clarify always the functions of relief and defense work.[5]

3. A major campaign which ILD hopes to develop into the largest campaign in its history is the campaign now being conducted for the release of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. This campaign is already gaining impetus swiftly. The labor press is using our material more extensively and even the capitalist press, including the New York World, the New York Telegram and the New York Graphic, mentioning only the New York papers, have used our pictures and press material, and there has been editorial comment. Criticism might be made at this point of some sections of the party press which hardly carry, if at all, the ILD press material. A program and motions on the Tom Mooney and Warren Billings campaign is herein proposed, many points of which have already been executed.

4. Another major campaign is the campaign for the release of the Centralia prisoners, for which a program and motions are also herein proposed. This campaign is well under way and the ILD has taken leadership. The prisoners themselves, their closest adviser, Elmer Smith, and one group of the IWW is working closely with us. The other section is now being compelled to recognize the ILD as the main force in the drive, although this group headed by Payne has fought the ILD steadily.[6] A special provisional committee is in existence for this campaign, developing more, to begin with, in the Northwest states. The press, generally, has been quick to pick up material on the Centralia campaign. The Labor Defender naturally is now also devoting considerable space to these above two campaigns.

Finances. Since January 1st to approximately July 1st, about $15,000 has been expended by ILD for the numerous defense cases, prisoners’ relief, bail costs, etc. Of this amount approximately $4,000 has been paid directly and the cost borne wholly by the local ILD organizations. The remaining $11,000 expenses have been paid by the National Office directly and indirectly. Of this $11,000 approximately $8,000 has been paid out in cash by the National Office and $3,000, approximately, has been borne by the National Office in the application of local accounts to the Labor Defender, etc. Our reserve fund for the various cases has now been depleted and this naturally affects our immediate situation, particularly among the miners and textile workers, but which we hope the Textile Relief and Defense Drive and the Miners’ Relief and Defense Drive will overcome.

Among the major expenditures since January 1st has been over $2,100 for the Woodlawn, Pa. steel workers’ case which involves the right of the legal existence of the Workers (Communist) Party of America in Pennsylvania. This case must now be taken to the State Supreme Court and another $1,500 must immediately be raised for the printing of the records and lawyers’ fees. The outcome of this case will almost inevitably be a defeat in the courts, but nevertheless we are thus far proposing to carry it to the United States Supreme Court. In the Cheswick, Pa. coal miners’ cases arising out of a Sacco-Vanzetti demonstration, we have expended over $600 since January 1st.[7]

Monthly prisoners’ and family relief has approximated $3,000. The Bonita case expenditures have been over $700. Bail premiums and interest thereon, etc., have been about $1,500. $210 has been sent in recent weeks for textile defense and over $500 has been expended in connection with the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia cases, and of course the remaining legal fees and expenses therewith are yet to be met.

The Minerich anti-injunction case, it is planned, will be carried to the United States Supreme Court.[8] Deportation cases, anti-imperialist and anti-militarist cases, etc., etc., make up other large costs. We have just succeeded in canceling the bonds on about 150 of the Passaic cases with the exception of Weisbord’s, and for this there must be an immediate expenditure of $725 for lawyers’ fees and costs and the payment of an additional $3,000 approximately as premiums on the bonds to the surety company.

This makes up briefly some of the activities of the ILD. In addition we are now taking steps in connection with the Michigan cases in an endeavor to bring the cases to an issue in one manner or another.

There has been no decision as yet relative to the organization of a Jewish section of the ILD upon which motions are herein proposed.

The American Civil Liberties Union has cooperated in the Woodlawn, Cheswick, and Passaic cases, but in the first two cases, there will be no further joint action, to all reports, since from the ACLU standpoint the civil liberties aspect no longer enters.

The locals throughout the country are doing excellent work in the varied defense activities, and on the whole there has been splendid cooperation between the locals and the National Office.


1. For an account of the IWW Centralia prisoners, see Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism, page 472. See ibid., glossary for Mooney and Billings.

2. Hromada was the acronym of the White Russian [Byelorussian] Workers Party, whose leaders were then on trial in Vilnius.

3. The June 1928 Labor Defender reported that Béla Kun had been arrested by the Austrian government in Vienna, and that he was being threatened with deportation to Hungary. Evidently he was soon released.

4. Sam Bonita was president of UMW Local 1703 in Pittston, in the Pennsylvania Anthracite region. He had shot and killed a local UMW district official, Frank Agaty, after Agaty attacked him in the district union office in the midst of a heated dispute about a pit closing. Bonita was charged with murder, as were fellow local members Steven Mendola and Adam Moleski, who had gone to the union offices with Bonita and participated in the argument.

5. The party’s miners relief work was organized under the auspices of the Workers International Relief, not the ILD. The WIR was an international organization with headquarters in Berlin. Founded in 1921 to organize economic aid for Soviet Russia, the WIR expanded its scope in 1923 to include organizing material aid for workers struggles the world over.

6. Elmer Smith was one of the original Centralia defendants. He later studied law and became the lawyer and spokesman for the Centralia prisoners. C.E. Payne was a vocal anti-Communist in the IWW, and he remained active in the organization into the 1950s.

7. Woodlawn, Pennsylvania was a company town, property of the James and Laughlin Steel Company. In 1926 the local police had raided the home of Tom Zima and confiscated “seditious” Workers Party literature in Croatian. Zima and three co-workers were later indicted under the state anti-sedition act. They were convicted and sentenced to five years. The conviction had just been upheld by the Superior Court in Pennsylvania.

More than 20 miners were arrested in Cheswick, Pennsylvania after the state police viciously broke up a protest meeting on the eve of the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, beating many of the participants. One of the state cossacks was shot and killed in the melee.

Calogero Greco and Donato Carillo were two anti-fascist workers accused of murdering two members of the Fascist League of North America in the Bronx on Memorial Day, 1927; they were acquitted in early 1928.

Many New York furriers and garment workers faced charges as a result of militant strikes in 1926.

8. Anthony Minerich had been convicted of violating an anti-picketing injunction in the state of Ohio during the miners strike. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail, but appealed the conviction. In December, Alfred Wagenknecht, who became secretary of the ILD after Cannon’s expulsion, recommended that the case not be appealed to the Supreme Court.