Update 14-09: Sunday, March 2, 2014.
"Why Hillquit Will Not Attend Copenhagen Conference: Only Four Neutral Countries Will Attend International Gathering," by Morris Hillquit [event of Jan. 1, 1915] Two letters from International Secretary of the Socialist Party Morris Hillquit detailing his decision not to participate in the scheduled January 17, 1915 conference of the Socialist parties of neutral nations aimed at forging a common program for the end to the European general war. Although the entire idea of the conference was American in origin, a series of cancellations of key organizations, such as those of Switzerland, Spain, and Italy, had reduced what might have been a broad and influential body to a small group of three Scandinavian countries and neighboring Holland, Hillquit notes. HIllquit indicates a belief that it would be neutral America to rebuild the shattered international following the end of the war and he therefore decides against participation in what had the prospect of being a "one-sided" gathering -- which would have lessened America's standing as a disinterested broker following conclusion of the war. Hillquit promises conference organizer Theodore Stauning that the United States would participate if in the future a more universal conference were organized.
"My Ideal," by Eugene V. Debs [April 3 1915] Short piece of Socialist enthusiasm by Indiana SPA publicist Gene Debs. Not a particularly important piece on the face of it, this is most interesting for its opening line ("My ideal is a thinker in overalls.") and for a bit of unconscious reflection on the price paid in his own life for his activism. Debs writes: "Whittier, the Quaker poet, once said that any great cause is bitterly opposed in its incipient stages. This has always been an established fact. It is easy for a person to be a nobody and drift along with the flow of the tide. But it takes a bit of courage to step out and join the despised minority." Debs notes that "united force" of the working class is "absolutely essential" for its triumph, calls the wage system "the final form of servitude," and professes a belief in the imminence of the fall of "capitalism and wage slavery."
"Socialist Party National Committee Meeting: Report by Comrade W.L. Garver, National Committeeman from Missouri." [events of May 9-14, 1915] Review of the recently completed session of the Socialist Party's National Committee by Missouri delegate W.L. Garver. The National Committee was used sporadically by the early Socialist Party, meeting once a year in non-convention years to bring together representatives of every state to decide measures of national import. This review notes the setting of a date and place for a 1916 national convention -- Chicago, to open June 11, 1916. This event was ultimately canceled, largely for economic reasons, and the party's nomination of a presidential slate was made by referendum vote. Also of note is discussion of the question of the Foreign Language Federations, which were said to be growing at a rate faster than that of the English-speaking membership and to already constitute one-third of the party membership. Garver writes: "The effort to divide the movement along the lines of foreign and American was deprecated and the spirit of internationalism was largely in the majority. The prevailing thought was that if the native-born Americans feared foreign dominance the thing to do was to increase the native-born membership and get a broader vision than that which finds expression in a purely nationalistic sentiment." The idea of fraternal delegates between English and non-English branches of each local was suggested as a means of reducing "future friction."
"Open Letter on Poverty," by Eugene V. Debs [Aug. 7, 1915] The flame of moral indignation burns white and hot in the breast of Terre Haute, Indiana's most famous Socialist, four time Presidential candidate Eugene Debs, as he fumes in this letter to his local newspaper. Local ministers, it seems, had advised their parishioners against providing money or sustenance to the so-called "unworthy" poor -- a position which Debs found to be hypocritical, morally repugnant, callous, and brutal. Debs asks such "Christian gentlemen" whether "the great Teacher they profess to follow ever made any discrimination between the 'worthy' poor and the 'unworthy' poor." Rather, Debs declares, Jesus Christ sprang from the poor himself, lived his life with the poor and moreover "when he made any distinction among them it was wholly in favor of the 'unworthy' poor, by forgiving them much because they had suffered much. He did not condemn them to starvation and suicide upon the hypocritical pretext that they were 'unworthy,' but he did apply the lash of scorpions without mercy to those self-righteous and “eminently respectable” gentlemen who robbed the poor and then despised them for their poverty; who made long prayers, where they could be see of men, while they devoured widows’ houses and bound burdens upon the backs of their victims that crushed them to the earth." Debs declares that if he himself were consigned to misery as were so many "I, too, would probably get drunk as often as I had the chance." He insists that the poor should no more be blamed for their situation "than if he were the victim of cancer or epilepsy." In Debs' vision, Socialism would bring about a new democracy in which "men will be brothers, war will cease, poverty will be a hideous nightmare of the past, and the sun of a new civilization will light the world."
"War and Hell or Peace and Starvation," by Eugene V. Debs [Aug. 14, 1915] Socialist publicist Gene Debs argues that the options facing the working class under the rule of capitalism are not war and death vs. peace and prosperity -- but rather war and death vs. unemployment and starvation. He quotes an AP press report dealing with the dire situation faced by families in Southern Ohio mining country owing to the closure of the mines. Debs bitterly observes that in large measure the suffering miners have nobody but themselves to blame, as the "overwhelming majority" of them have helped perpetuate the broken economic system with their own votes -- "belong[ing] to the same capitalist party their masters do and cast[ing] their votes with scrupulous fidelity to perpetuate the boss ownership of the mine in which they work and their own exclusion and starvation at their master’s will." Debs waxes sarcastic: "Blessed be the private ownership of the mines, for without it the miners and their wives would lose their individuality, their homes would be broken up, their morality destroyed, their religion wiped out, and they would be denied forever the comfort and solace of poverty and starvation!" Workers' power is needed to change the situation, in Debs' view: "When the miners themselves control the mines, once they have learned how to control themselves, they will not lock themselves out and starve themselves and their loved ones to death.... The bosses lose their power and along with it their jobs when the workers find theirs."
"My Political Faith," by Eugene V. Debs [Aug. 28, 1915] Debs revisits and expands a piece published in 1913 called "Labor, the Life of the Race" to expound his millennial political philosophy. "The emancipation of labor is essential to the freedom of humanity," Debs declares. For centuries across many societies, those who have toiled have been exploited and abused by parasitical masters. "There can be no morals in any society based upon the exploitation and consequent misery of the class whose labor supports society," Debs pronounces, "There can be no freedom while workers are in fetters." Competition has "engendered the spirit of selfishness, jealousy, and hate," while the cooperative future will lead to the practice of "mutual kindness and mutual aid," Debs indicates -- poverty, ignorance, disease, and crime will disappear in the new society of universal prosperity. The rulers are few and the workers many, Debs observes: "When the workers realize the power that is inherent in themselves, when they cut loose from capitalist parties and build up their own, when they vote together against the capitalist instead of voting for the capitalist, there will be a change." He urges the "brawny-armed millions" of workers to "get together in the union of your class and in the party of your class for emancipation!"
"The Rand School of Social Science: 140 E 19th Street, New York: What the Rand School Is." (St. Louis Labor) [Sept. 4, 1915] Reasonably detailed short history of New York's Rand School of Social Science, written by one of the school's insiders, probably first published in the New York Call. Since its origins in 1906 about 10,000 people had participated in the Rand School's program, the writer notes, including night classes at the main campus, extension sites, and a permanent East Side satellite facility (est. 1913), as well as correspondence students since 1913. A full-time option became available in 1911, according to this history, and the first four years saw the graduation of 46 students from this 6-month program. The school had shown steady growth in participation, with some 2,000 people taking part in the institution's various activities in 1914-15. Participants were approximately evenly divided between men and women, with party membership being held by from 40 to 60% of the school's students, depending on the year. The governing body of the school was the American Socialist Society with an expanding membership of 119 Socialist Party members; this group elected a Board of Directors, who in turn chose the school's executive secretary and educational director, the story notes.
"Why Hold a National Convention?" by Otto Pauls [Sept. 4, 1915] The idea for the Socialist Party to suspend its 1916 national convention originated in the last half of 1915, with one early supporter of the idea Otto Pauls, a columnist for the influential socialist weekly St. Louis Labor. Pauls notes that the decision had already been made for the Socialist Party to nominate its 1916 Presidential slate via referendum vote. Existing programmatic documents from the 1912 campaign were sufficient, needing only slight revision, he adds. Therefore, unless the constitution was set aside, a gathering of 300 delegates at the enormous cost of $25,000 would be taking place, with little substantial to accomplish. This would drain the party's coffers and undermine any possibility of a vigorous campaign in 1916, he declares. Pauls recommends that the sitting National Executive Committee handle any platform changes necessary, with members making contributions by mail and decisions made by referendum vote, so as to save the SPA about $24,000 for the fall campaign.
"President Wilson’s Militarism Will Drive Nation to Disaster: His Program of Preparedness, If Carried Out, Would Be the Beginning of Competitive Armament Between Nations..." by G.A. Hoehn [event of Nov. 5, 1915] Beneath a banner headline in a newspaper not typically using them, St. Louis Socialist G.A. Hoehn marks Woodrow Wilson's November 5, 1915 policy speech to the exclusive Manhattan Club of New York as a major turn of America towards militarism and war. An extensive extract of Wilson's speech is presented, in which he calls for an expansion of the country's military by 400,000 "citizen soldiers" over the next three years -- extensively trained for fast mobilization but not part of the regular army. Wilson also announced a desire to bring the US Navy up to "a point of extraordinary force and efficiency as compared with the other navies of the world." Hoehn notes that similar militarization for ostensible purposes of "defense" had taken place in Russia, Germany, France, England and Austria-Hungary: "Neither the Tsar, nor the Kaiser, nor any other warlord, ever told the people that they would arm for offensive purposes but always for defense." Former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan is quoted at length in support of the perspective that rhetoric about preparation for defense was in reality preparation for war: "If there is any truth in our religion, a nation must win respect as an individual does, not by carrying arms, but by an upright, honorable course that invites confidence and insures good will. This nation has won its position in the world without resorting to the habit of toting a pistol or carrying a club. Why reverse our policy at this time?"
"Why a National Socialist Convention? An Editorial from the New Yorker Volkszeitung." [Nov. 27, 1915] Sentiment within the Socialist Party to abandon its constitutionally mandated 1916 national convention for financial reasons was not universal, as this editorial from the Socialist Party German-language daily, the New Yorker Volkszeitung indicates. Although a formal referendum motion had been launched by Local Cincinnati calling for amendment of the party constitution to make elimination of the convention possible, the Volkszeitung declared this should be defeated and the convention held on schedule: "Where the highest interests of the party are at stake, financial obstacles must be overcome.... Only a national convention composed of the best minds of our movement can determine the attitude of our Socialist Party toward the armament problem in America; only such a convention will have the required authority to unify the many prevailing opinions and to find ways and means whereby an effectual action on the part of the American working class against these efforts of militarism can be brought about." The fall 1916 campaign would revolve around the issue of "Preparedness," the Volkszeitung predicted, making an informed and unified Socialist perspective, crafted by the "duly-elected, ablest minds of the movement" essential. As a means of economizing, a reduction of the number of delegates from 300 to 200 is called for, as well as a transfer of the costs of attendance from the National Office to local organizations -- which would be able to hold local fundraising events.
"Charles Edward Russell Pleads for Preparedness: Philadelphia Audience Gasps as Leading Socialist Declares Country Must Arm For Protection Against Germany..." (Philadelphia Ledger) [event of Nov. 29, 1915] So-called social patriotism within the ranks of the Socialist Party of America did not start with American entry into the first world war, as this news article from the Philadelphia mainstream media demonstrates. In November 1915 prominent muckraking journalist-turned-Socialist Charles Edward Russell was bold enough to advocate publicly the expansion of military spending and personnel being advanced by Woodrow Wilson and other nationalist politicians and public figures under the banner of "Preparedness." Russell's first sensational public pronouncement came before an audience of 2,000 in Philadelphia. Russell advanced the specter of German invasion of the American homeland: "The day of the English empire is coming to an end. Already Germany is stretching across Europe; she will cross Asia, then strike at Canada, and the rest will be easy.... Canada is Germany’s western goal; and with that country in her possession there will be forts along the borders and armaments on the lakes. This will mean friction and inevitable war." Japan, similarly, was poised to seize American territorial possessions in the Pacific, Russell declares. According to the news account, Russell had "attacked foreign-born citizens who, as Socialists, continually were finding fault with the country. He said that only the native American could feel true patriotism and the need of preparedness." This met with a hostile response from the audience, who in question time at the end of the lecture had peppered Russell with questions indicating "his remarks were not those of a real Socialist and that he was employed by the 'Armament Trust.'" Russell's dissident position on militarism and war had effectively eliminated his chances as the Socialist Party's presidential nominee, the article indicates.
"Letter to G.A. Hoehn in St. Louis, Missouri, from Eugene V. Debs in Terre Haute, Indiana, Jan. 6, 1916." On Nov. 29, 1915 the man viewed by many as the presumptive 1916 presidential nominee of the Socialist Party, Charles Edward Russell, boldly and aggressively came out in favor of Woodrow Wilson's "Preparedness" campaign of American rearmament in a speech in Philadelphia. Wildly out of step with the SPA's rank and file sentiment and expressing an almost paranoid vision of German imperial designs on Europe, Canada, and the world, Russell effectively torpedoed any chance of nomination in a single evening. On Jan. 4, editor of St. Louis Labor G.A. Hoehn wrote to Debs, urging him to reconsider his refusal to stand as Socialist Presidential nominee for a fifth time. This short reply from Debs to Hoehn reaffirms his desire not to run for President in 1916. Debs indicates that his desire to free the Socialist Party from criticism lay behind his decision not to run. "I never did desire a nomination to office at any time, but I certainly understand that a loyal Socialist obeys the command of his party," Debs acknowledges. "I still think it better for the party to nominate some other comrade this year," he declares. (This letter not in Constantine's 3 volume collection.)
"Socialist Party Fights Unity of Action of Workers," by C.E. Ruthenberg [Sept. 15, 1926] Response by Executive Secretary of the Workers (Communist) Party C.E. Ruthenberg to a directive of the NEC of the Socialist Party to party locals advising them not to participate in united front efforts with the Communist Party. Ruthenberg indicates that this centrally-created instruction was in large measure a reaction to the "many local organizations of the Socialist Party" which "have ignored the policy of the National Executive Committee" and "joined in united front action in the interests of the workers even though those actions were initiated and led by Communists." Ruthenberg points to the formation of local units of the Council for the Protection of the Foreign-Born Workers, to joint action associated with the Passaic textile strike, to trade union work, to common work in defense of political prisoners, and to unified action against racism. "The issue before the Socialist locals is whether they will participate in such united action by the workers against their capitalist exploiters or give up the idea of the class struggle," Ruthenberg declares. He calls on the ailing National Chairman of the SPA, Eugene Debs, to make public objection to the NEC's new statement.
"YPSL Split in New York: 11 Left Wing DEC Leaders are Expelled." (Socialist Appeal) [events of Aug. 13-20, 1937] In the middle of August 1937 the Socialist Party's purge of the organized Trotskyist faction within its ranks moved to its youth auxiliary, the Young People's Socialist League. In New York state the communist left wing seems to have constituted a majority of the organization and it was only with the help of the left social democratic Clarity faction that the forced split was made possible. At a Dec. 13 meeting of the District Executive Committee, charges were preferred against 11 top youth leaders of the Trotskyist Appeal faction. Ironically, the charges fabricated to justify the expulsion were the very same that the Old Guard had used against the Militant-Thomasite alliance -- sale of a banned "factional" newspaper. The August 13 charges were followed by a YPSL DEC meeting held August 20 at which the 11 were expelled -- including 3 members of the DEC itself. This prompted the exit of the expelled members amidst charges of the illegality of the DEC's action and the establishment of a new parallel left wing District Executive Committee as the provisional authority for YPSL in New York. The move of disheartened and disgusted Clarity supporters to the Appeal faction's ranks is remarked upon.