Update 12-30: July 2012 to May 2013
"Mass Action and Industrial Unionism," by Louis C. Fraina [March 1917] This excerpt from pioneer American Marxist theoretician Louis Fraina's "Current Events" column in International Socialist Review argues for a unification of the European-originated tactics of "Mass Action" with the American-originated ideas of Industrial Unionism. Isolated from Mass Action tactics, the American Industrial Unionist "may preach, but as yet it cannot always act," Fraina declares. With Mass Action tactics, revolutionists would be freed to "participate in all the struggles of the working class, organized and unorganized." Conversely, in Europe Mass Action was a tactic derived by the left to push forward the conservative officialdom of the Socialist movement and its elected representatives. Devoid of the theory of Industrial Unionism, no preparation was being made for the governance of post-capitalist society, Fraina intimates. Fraina was a veteran of Daniel DeLeon's Socialist Labor Party of America -- based upon the notion of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism. He criticizes the syndicalism of the pre-World War I period, asserting that it "contributed nothing of value that was not implicit in Industrial Union, except Sabotage" -- which Fraina contends were tactics never properly adapted to American conditions. By way of contrast, Fraina asserts the ideas of Mass Action joined with those of Industrial Unionism offered real possibilities for advancing the cause of Social Revolution.
"The Turning Point in Human History," by Morris Hillquit [Jan. 1, 1919] From his convalescence for tuberculosis at Saranac Lake, New York, Socialist Party leader Morris Hillquit greets the party upon the arrival of the new year. Hillquit declares that 1919 "will probably mark the turning point in human history," complete both with victories and conquests but also with great struggles and trials. Hillquit calls upon the rank and file to meet the coming challenges "like men" — "loyally, courageously, and unflinchingly." Hillquit greets the workers of the various nations of Europe, with place of honor given to the proletariat of Soviet Russia, for whom Hillquit wishes "unity and power, victory and peace, and deliverance from all reactionary onslaughts, domestic and foreign." The United States, on the other hand, is characterized as "the rearguard in the onward march of revolutionary international labor." For the American workers Hillquit modestly hopes the winning of "that position in the government of their country to which their numbers and economic importance entitle them."
"Russian Soviet Colonies in U.S. to Meet in N.Y.: Second Annual Convention of All-Russians to be held January 6 to 9." (NY Call) [Jan. 4, 1919] News account detailing the forthcoming 2nd All-Russian Colonial Conference in New York City. Formally conducted under the auspices of the New York Soviet of Deputies of Russian Workers, the gathering brought together members of the emigre Russian-language speaking Socialist and Anarchist movements. The article notes the existence of a weekly newspaper by the New York Soviet, with a claimed circulation of 5,000 copies, and states that more than 100 branches of the organization had been established across the United States and Canada during the previous year. Headquarters were located at 133 E 15th Street, the article indicates. Charges made by Philadelphia police attempting to connect the radical Russians there with recent bomb incidents were explicitly denied by a spokesman for the group.
"1919 Nominations for Members of New York State Committee, Socialist Party" (NY Call) [Jan. 7, 1919] With the list heavy with names of some of the top figures who would emerge as leaders of the Left Wing Section, this list of nominees for the New York State Committee from Local New York provides some circumstantial evidence that a Left Wing drive was underway for capture of the governing body of the Socialist Party of New York. Those eliminated from the ballot on the basis of the technicality that they had not been SPA members for at least two years included future CLP leaders John Reed and Gregory Weinstein, economist Scott Nearing, Irish radical Jim Larkin, journalist Louis Lochner, and black trade unionist A. Philip Randolph.
"Hermann Schlüter: The Man and His Work," by Algernon Lee [Jan. 29, 1919] Memorial essay by veteran socialist Algernon Lee on the recently deceased Hermann Schlüter (Americanized spelling: Herman Schlueter), one of the editorial chiefs of the venerable New Yorker Volkszeitung -- at the time the longest running radical daily newspaper in America. Schlüter is characterized as a hard worker who never sought the spotlight or spoke publicly in English, preferring instead to dedicate himself to the writing of an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 articles and editorials for the Volkszeitung. Five books are mentioned, two published in English and three in German, with his 1910 history of the American brewing industry and brewery workers' union touted by Lee as his best work. Lee has Schlüter emigrating to Chicago in 1872 and becoming a radical there, contradicting what seems to be a more reliable obituary earlier in the same week which indicates emigration to America in 1880 following trouble with the authorities over his political activities in Germany. Schlüter is lauded for having played an immense role in developing and leading the German-speaking section of the American Socialist movement, which had been in the 1880s through the first decade of the 1900s the leading component of the American movement.
"Party Extends Referendum Time Two Weeks: Socialist Locals Have Until Feb. 23 to Nominate Committeemen and Delegates." (NY Call) [Feb. 1, 1919] Formal announcement by the National Office of the Socialist Party of America that the time for nominations for the 15 members of the governing National Executive Committee of the organization were to be extended two weeks, from Feb. 9 to Feb. 23, 1919. This was to be the second election in which five electoral districts were used, with 3 NEC members to be elected from each -- the intent being to make it more possible for local leaders to gain election rather than limiting the opportunity a narrow circle of nationally-known publicists. States included in each district are specified and the function of the International Secretary of the party is specified.
"Socialists Make Sure Suicide is Successful," by J. Louis Engdahl [July 26, 1924] Former top Socialist Party editor turned Daily Worker chief Louis Engdahl tees off on his former comrades in this 1924 election editorial comment. Engdahl notes the NEC of the Socialist Party's first endorsement of the principle of political fusion, calling for withholding of naming a Socialist candidate "when the candidate of another party has the official endorsement and approval of the Conference for Progressive Political Action." This Engdahl likens to political suicide, forcing Socialists to endorse petty bourgeois reformers such as Fiorello LaGuardia and Robert M. LaFollette. The Socialists will be forced from the field by this tactic all across the country, Engdahl argues, reduced to "only one congressional district in the land, that now represented by Victor L. Berger in Congress" in which the Socialists might be said to possess "that ephemeral thing called 'The Chance of Election.'" "Bi-chloride of mercury or potassium cyanide are not more deadly to human life than this policy will be upon the flickering political life of what remains of the Socialist Party," Engdahl declares. Only the Communist candidates William Z. Foster and Benjamin Gitlow represent a chance of safeguarding "the class interests of the workers and farmers," Engdahl contends.
"Foster Reports Tour Thru East is Big Success: Members Enthusiastic About New Policies." (Daily Worker) [July 28, 1924] Major shifts both of the program and the organizational form of the Workers Party of America were driven by the Comintern in the summer of 1924. Attempts to establish a "class-based Farmer-Labor Party" were abandoned in favor of a Communist campaign in the Workers Party's own name, while the former geographic and language federation-based form of organization was to be largely scrapped in favor of primary party units based in individual factories. Top party leaders William Z. Foster and C.E. Ruthenberg were dispatched to party centers throughout the Northeast to explain these changes to the membership. This report in the Daily Worker quotes William Z. Foster extensively as to the results of this informational tour. Foster characterizes the rank and file membership of the WPA as strongly supportive of these changes, with great interest expressed by the large membership meetings at which he and Ruthenberg spoke. Confusion seems to have been expressed over whether the move to running its own candidates signaled an end to united front tactics as well as the meaning of the new shop-based form of party organization. Foster utters famous last words proclaiming "the complete liquidation of factionalism" in the ranks of the membership, with the unanimous policy of the Central Executive Committee accepted by all factional groups. This marked "a period of growing strength and consolidation of the Workers Party," Foster believed.
"Ruthenberg is Dead: Statement of the Political Committee of the W(C)PA." [March 3, 1927] On March 2, 1927, 44-year old General Secretary of the Workers (Communist) Party of America C.E. Ruthenberg succumbed following emergency surgery for acute appendicitis which developed into peritonitis. The sudden loss of the top party leader ushered in a battle for control of the party apparatus which was ultimately won by Jay Lovestone, a factional associate of Ruthenberg. This rather hagiographic obituary from the front page of The Daily Worker salutes the fallen leader of the party. Ruthenberg is lauded as the chief author on the Socialist Party of America's militant anti-war program adopted in 1917 and as the primary leader of the Left Wing movement which ultimately led to the splitting of the Socialist Party in 1919. A melodramatic and altogether too handy set of last words are attributed to Ruthenberg in this piece, with the Cleveland-born leader said to have declared: "TELL THE COMRADES TO CLOSE THEIR RANKS, TO BUILD THE PARTY. THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF OUR PARTY AND THE COMINTERN, WILL WIN. LET'S FIGHT ON!"
"Socialists in Washington Only Opposition: 'Progressive' and Communist Organizations Disappear in Northwestern State," by Emil Herman [March 24, 1928] Short update in the situation on the ground in Washington state by the Socialist Party's state organizer there. Herman trumpets the growing dominance of the Socialist Party with the fading of the substantial Washington Progressive Farmers and Farmer-Labor Party from the Washington scene. He also details the end of the Seattle Union Record, only labor daily newspaper west of the Mississippi River until its recent demise. Operated for seven years through the largesse of local trade unions, the paper had lost its funding and been effectively dominated by the Communist Party following its obtaining of funds from that channel. A recent effort to restore the paper to its previous political line had failed owing to the lingering odor of the "communist wreckers" who had taken over the publicaiton previously and newspaper was now in the possession of receivers, Herman notes.
"Ten Years," by C.M. O’Brien [May 1928] Ten year historical review of the Proletarian Party of America by Canadian-born activist Charlie O'Brien. Ignoring the fact that all factions of the Socialist Party supported the October Revolution, O'Brien asserts that The Proletarian was "the first paper to make its appearance within the Socialist Party, representing a group which was aiming to win the rank and file to the support of the Bolshevik Revolution." He criticizes the hastiness of Louis Fraina's Revolutionary Age and its obsession with "Mass Action" and belief in the imminence of American revolt instead of painstaking ideological preparation of the working class for revolution. The Left Wing National Conference in June 1919 is accused as having suffered from acute "infantile Leftism" and professing a "mish-mash of Anarchism, Socialism, and Syndicalism" -- an endemic "confusionism" which pushed the Michigan-based Proletarian group to establish a Communist Party of America in conjunction with Russian and other language groups which had found themselves out of the SPA. The expulsion of the Proletarian group from the CPA is said to have come two months after the party's formation, "without any warning or notice of any kind." Government suppression had followed immediately, driving the CPA underground. The above-ground Proletarian group had continued their activity, forming the Proletarian Party of America in June 1920, O'Brien notes.
"Our Party and the New Dues System," by Beatrice Suskind [Dec. 7, 1929] There has been substantial comment in the literature about the revolving door of incoming and outgoing members into the American Communist Party, a phenomenon recognized even by the contemporary participants themselves. Little has been done to actually examine the underlying sources of this membership churn, however. This Daily Worker article details the "New Dues System" implemented in the fall of 1929 by the CPUSA in an attempt to rationalize a bewildering and energy draining array of special fundraising activities which had turned party units into what Suskind calls "mechanical money raising units." Special assessments for the party press, southern organizing, auxiliary organizations, local operations, and special events ran to perhaps $2.50 per week, according to Suskind's tally. Instead, under the "New Dues System," those earning $40 per week would be responsible for dues of 75 cents per week only. (The actual rate set under the new system was 2% of weekly wages).The regularization of dues collections would alienate fewer new and "ideologically weak" members and would build stronger and more effective primary party units, Suskind argues.
"The New Dues System," by I. Amter [Jan. 10, 1930] CPUSA Central Committee member Israel Amter takes up the party's controversial new dues system in an effort to deter criticism. Amter acknowledges that the new tiered and income-based weekly dues system represented a hike for all members but emphasizes that the party as the general staff of the class struggle is entitled to total commitment of the party's members and their obligation to support the organization through increased regular dues (as opposed to being placed in the position of begging for voluntary contributions on the basis of special appeals). Amter notes that other European political parties require dues of 2% or 3% of their members income, a rate commensurate with the new dues system -- which is outlined in this piece. Amter makes an appeal for emulation of the attitude expressed by "the best of the Wobblies" towards the Industrial Workers of the World: "A Wobbly is completely devoted to the IWW; what he has belongs to the organization..." Amter maintains that newcomers to the Communist Party do not care about the dues rate, but rather about the party's program and activity, and dismisses detractors of the system as those wishing to return to the old language federation-based system of organization. He proclaims the new dues system a "revolutionary act" of the CPUSA's leadership.
"Death of Al Renner," by John Keracher [Sept. 1949] Memorial obituary of Communist Party of America founding member Albert Renner (1887-1949) by National Secretary of the Proletarian Party of America John Keracher. Keracher recalls his longtime comrade from Detroit as a committed trade union activist, including time spent as President of the Michigan Federation of Hotel, Restaurant and Bartenders Unions (AFL). A member of the Socialist Party of America from before 1910, Renner served as a delegate to the party's landmark convention in St. Louis, Missouri in the spring of 1917, at which a militant anti-war platform was approved. Keracher notes Renner's role as a principle chair of the June 1919 National Conference of the Left Wing in New York City and as the unanimously-elected chair of the founding convention of the Communist Party of America in Chicago in September 1919. Keracher notes that about one-fifth of the delegates to the CPA founding convention were in opposition to the platform (his own interpretation of the strength of his own faction). He states that the cause of the 1920 split of the CPA to establish the Proletarian Party of America related to the refusal of the Michigan-based group to go "underground" following the Palmer Raids of January 1920. Keracher notes that Renner was an expert in parliamentary procedure and a popular lecturer who visited the Soviet Union in 1935 and later spoke observationally about his visit.