History: USA: Pubs: New International (1917 — 1918)

The New International

(1917 — 1918)

An introduction written by Tim Davenport for the Wikipedia entry on the Socialist Propaganda League of America

The New International was one of many ad-hoc journals set up in the U.S. to hail the arrival of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and organize a communist party in the country. The journal was the official organ of the Socialist Propaganda League of America (SPLA).

The SPLA was set up in the fall of 1915. C.W. Fitzgerald wrote and sent a leaflet to Vladimir Lenin of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. Lenin replied, outlining his views on the situation faced by the revolutionary socialist movement.

It was not until November 1916 that any sort of broad-based organization was established. A November 26, 1916 meeting in Boston approved a first manifesto for the organization and established an official journal, The Internationalist. The paper was launched in Boston at the start of January 1917 and continued under that name through April of that year. The initial editor of The Internationalist was John D. Williams.

According to the group’s constitutional objectives, “The SPLA declares emphatically and will work New Internationaluncompromisingly in the economic and political fields for industrial revolution to establish industrial democracy by the mass action of the working class.”

In January 1917, editor Williams traveled to New York City in order to raise money for the Socialist Propaganda League and its newly launched paper. Williams made the acquaintance of a young Italian-American radical named Louis C. Fraina, until recently a key editor at the now-defunct magazine The New Review. Williams sought an experienced editor to take over the publication and a compact was made.

Beginning with an issue dated April 21, 1917, The Internationalist was moved to New York City and published by the Socialist Propaganda League as The New International. Louis Fraina became the publication’s editor at that date. The publication was financed through donations made by Dutch engineer and left wing socialist S. J. Rutgers. Circulation was small, estimated by historian Theodore Draper at "no more than a thousand copies of each issue," which served to limit the paper’s influence. Nevertheless, Draper and other historians of the American left regard The Internationalist and its successor as the first propaganda organs of the movement which congealed as the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party in 1919 — forerunner of the American communist movement.

A total of 12 issues of The New International are known to have been produced through October 1918. The New International was directly succeeded by Revolutionary Age, also edited by Fraina, with the first issue of that paper appearing in the middle of November. “The League is still in existence, but its paper is no longer published, since Revolutionary Age expresses its policy,” Fraina noted in March 1919.

In January 1918, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik victory in Russia and the establishment of a Revolutionary Socialist regime there, the SPLA issued a second manifesto of the organization. The manifesto denounced “bourgeois democracy” as a “fraud” by means of which “Imperialism promotes the most brutal interests,” advocated for “the unity of industrial action and Socialist politics,” argued that “the revolution of the proletariat annihilates the parliamentary regime and its state” and instead establishes a new form of government based upon workers’ councils that combine legislative and executive authority. The SPLA stated in this manifesto that “the organization is formed to work in the Socialist Party as well as independently of the party” and for “the revolutionary reorganization of the American Socialist movement” both from within and without the SPA.

Invitation to join the Communist International

The Socialist Propaganda League called for a new revolutionary socialist International and was invited by name to attend the founding Congress of the Communist International in 1919. The organization, however, was unable to send a representative in time to attend the gathering.

Dissolution and legacy

Prominent members of the SPL joined the new Communist Party of America, which eventually merged with the Communist Labor Party to form first the Workers Party of America and eventually the Communist Party USA.

Comments by Marty Goodman on The Internationalist and The New International

The Internationalist was published in Boston, edited by John D. Williams. As far as we know, there was just ONE issue of it published: v1n1 Jan 06 1917, though Goldwater vaguely suggests there might be another issue or two.

On January 16, 1917 an extraordinary meeting was held in Brooklyn. Attending were Leon Trotsky (who had just arrived in NY City a day or so earlier), Bukharin, Alexandra Kollontay, V. Volodarsky, and Grigorii Isakovich Chudnovsky as representatives of the Russian revolutionary movement, and members of Socialist Propaganda League: Louis B. Boudin, Ludwig Lore, Louis Fraina, and John D Williams. The strategy and future of the left wing of the Socialist Party... the Socialist Propaganda League of America... was one of the main topics of discussion.

One of the important resolves of this meeting was that the Socialist Propaganda League of America put out a newspaper and theoretical journal. The Class Struggle effectively served as the theoretical journal of of the Socialist Propaganda League of America. Out of this meeting came the establishment of the newspaper New International, first published in April of 1917 (Vol. 1 No. 1). Twelve issues total of this paper were published in 1917 and 1918, the final one being Vol 1 n12 Sep-Oct 1918, which we have in this digital collection (Goldwater’s uncertainty regarding whether number 12 existed notwithstanding!). The paper was published in New York City, edited by Louis Fraina.

New International is in effect a continuation of The Internationalist in most respects, but its numbering restarted with v1n1 (which we could not obtain an image of), instead of continuing the numbering of The Internationalist.

Goldwater notes that in a fashion, at a stretch, one might consider Revolutionary Age of November 1918 thru August of 1919 to be a continuation of New International of 1917-1918. Both were edited by Louis Fraina. He notes that some scholars state this. Goldwater feels the two publications differed enough so that simply calling one the successor to the other is too much of an oversimplification. Certainly the Russian Revolution, and the reaction of the American left to it, made for a rather different political climate for New International vs Revolutionary Age.

Copies of these (The Internationalist and New International) extremely rare, yet very historically important periodicals are nearly entirely extinct. In one case in our search for copies to image, we a found major left research library listing a copy in its catalog, only to discover they’d lost their copy.

The copies in this digital archive were obtained as follows:

(1) The Pittsburgh State University at Kansas, Leonard H. Axe special collections library holds a bound volume that is a collection of US papers around the period The Internationalist was published. Randy Roberts, dean of library services, whet hugely out of his way arrange a photographic image of the copy of The Internationalist, part of that volume, be made for us. We are greatly in the debt of this kind and generous scholar. The image was produce using a copy stand and a relatively moderate (14 or so megapixels) resolution Nikon 35mm camera, but then digitally processed, including use of mathematical interpolation, to achieve a surprisingly (given the approach) crisp and sharp image of the paper’s pages.

(2) The digital image of New International Vol 1 No. 12 was made for us on request by the Wisconsin Historical Society, who hold a single copy of this periodical as original paper. We are extremely grateful that institution went so much out of its way to help us obtain this image.

(3) The remaining seven issues’ images were scanned by me, Marty Goodman, using a ScanPro 3000, from a microfilm record that contained them. These are numbers 2,4,5,7,8, 9 and 10. This film was printed for me from a use-positive held in the Theodore Draper papers collection by Emory University. We wish to thank those at Emory University’s "MARBL" (Manuscript and Rare Book Library") for going out of their way to help me obtain this film, which I then scanned. Unfortunately, barring access to a time machine, there is nothing they at MARBL nor I could do about the execrable quality of the images on the film, which sadly is typical of much of microfilm records in general.

4) UPDATE Oct 8, 2014 (day of a total lunar eclipse): The beautiful black and white single bit scan of v1n10 February 1918 New International was kindly and generously provided by Paul Thomas, a librarian at the Hoover Institution Library at Stanford University as a very high quality, skillfully-made 24 bit color scan using a "ScanSnap SV600" overhead book scanner, and converted to the form presented here of a single bit BW scan by me.

The sad news involving this kind and generous gift from the Hoover Institution to our New International archive is this: The Hoover Library is listed in World Cat has having holdings of New International. And Goldwater, in his listing for New International, specifically mentions the Hoover Library, and suggests it might have a then unknown to him v1n12 issue. The World Cat listing does not specify holdings, and Paul had to go to a card in a physical card catalog created in the 1940’s to see a list of the Hoover Library’s holdings of New International. The card listed six issues, including 3 that were not in our archive here. The card also noted (dated in the 1940’s) that one of those, issue 6, was later found to be missing. However, when Paul went to pull the box with Hoover’s New International holdings, he found it contained JUST TWO issues of the paper... both issues I already had scans of from microfilm. Yep. Despite the fact Hoover’s cart catalog listed holdings of issues 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, and 11 (not 12), present were only issues 3 and 10. Issue 3 was broadsheet size, and difficult for Paul to handle and scan by virtue of this, but he kindly proceeded to scan the (also fragile) issue number 10 for us, providing us with a far better quality image than we had previously off microfilm.

This is similar to the situation with Tamiment Library at NYU, which lists holdings of v1n1 of New International Jan 06, 1917, but twice over the last 2 years when I asked to see that issue I was told it was missing, and could not be found.

This is a very very rare publication, and an archive that I’ve found exceptionally difficult to assemble and complete. We still have 4 of the 12 issues ever printed of New International absent from this archive. If anyone can locate any of them, and provide us with scans of them (or let me come by and scan them), please let us know.

Martin Goodman, MD
October, 2014, Brooklyn, NY

Special note of thanks to the following individuals and institutions that made copies of The New International available and help scan and process them for this archive: Marty Goodman of the The Riazanov Project and David Walters from the Marxists Internet Archive and Holt Labor Library.

The Internationalist: [published in Boston]

Vol. 1, No. 1, January 6, 1917

The New International: [published in New York City]

Vol. 1, No. 1 [missing]

Vol. 1, No. 2, May 5, 1917

Vol. 1, No. 3 [missing]

Vol. 1, No. 4, June 2, 1917

Vol. 1, No. 5 , June 16, 1917

Vol. 1, No. 6 [missing]

Vol. 1, No. 7, July 21, 1917

Vol. 1, No. 8, October 1, 1917

Vol. 1, No. 9, November 1, 1917

Vol. 1, No. 10, February, 1918

Vol. 1, No. 11 [missing]

Vol. 1, No. 12, September, 1918