The American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia emerged as a byproduct of the international protest movement against the blockade of Soviet Russia by the Entente powers, including the United States.
In October of 1919, a protest of Russian immigrants was held in New York City, which attempted to march down Fifth Avenue. The parade was broken up by force by the city's mounted police. A week later another parade was held at the same location, this organized by American women under the moniker "American Women's Emergency Committee." This second march against the blockade was not suppressed.
For one year this American Women's Emergency Committee conducted agitation to end the Russian blockade and conduct positive relief efforts to the Russian people. It was not until October of 1920 that an appeal was made by this organization to the city's trade union establishment to assist in this cause.
A committee including members of the Women's Emergency Committee and representatives of the Farmer-Labor Party and Socialist Party of New York was established and a temporary Executive Committee named, operating under the name Humanitarian Labor Alliance. This temporary Executive Committee called a conference to which all of New York's unions were invited to send 5 delegates each.
1. Conference of the Humanitarian Labor Alliance -- New York City -- Nov. 21, 1920
This conference of the Humanitarian Labor Alliance was attended by 512 delegates, representing over 100 local unions of the AF of L and assorted other labor organizations. The gathering passed a resolution calling for the end of the blockade against Soviet Russia, raised funds amongst the delegates, and elected a permanent Executive Committee to carry forward the work of the organization. This gathering included representatives of various political organizations, much broader than merely the Communist Party -- the conference was addressed by, among others, Socialist Party stalwart James H. Maurer of Pennsylvania and Sidney Hillman, head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
The next week, the permanent Executive Committee met and elected officers of the organization. The name of the organization was changed at this meeting to The American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia. The group also hired a full-time organizer, Duncan McDonald of Illinois. The organization began its work of publicity, sending out a stream of news releases to labor newspapers around the country through the Federated Press.
2. Founding Convention of the American Labor Alliance -- New York City -- Aug. 4 (?), 1921
The American Labor Alliance was formally launched at a Convention held in New York in Aug. 8, 1921. Twelve organizations were represented at the lauch, most or all of which had close ties to the Communist movement. A constitution was adopted, a document which stated the formal name of the organization as "The American Labor Alliance" (i.e. dropping the "for Trade Relations with Soviet Russia" suffix). The ALA was to be an alliance of affiliated organizations rather than a membership group itself; finances were to be generated by "voluntary contributions from afÞliated organizations and from sympathizers." Membership in the ALA was open to "Any organization which declares itself to be in agreement with the purpose of the ALA and which agrees to abide by its working rules," upon the majority vote of a 7 member Executive Board, which was to be elected by the convention.
Members of the Executive Board elected by the founding convention were: J.P. Cannon, Associated Tailor Clubs; William Woodworth, Marxian Educational Society; L.E. Katterfeld and Edgar Owens, National Defense Committee; Michael Dardella, Ukrainian Workers Club; Dr. Walenka, Friends of Soviet Russia; and Caleb Harrison, Industrial Socialist League. A meeting of this group held immediately after the close of the convention selected Caleb Harrison as Executive Secretary. Headquarters were established at 201 W 13th St., New York City.
This new variant of the ALA seems to have been stillborn; by September 1921 it was governed by a body not mentioned in the organization's constitution, a "Provisional Executive Committee," which determined to transform the group into a dues-paying membership organization based on local groups, en route to establishing a "revolutionary political party" of the class conscious proletariat. This organization was the Workers Party of America, the overground "Legal Political Party" of the underground Communist Party of America.
"Resolution on the Russian Blockade and Intervention." [Nov. 21, 1920] Although springing from semi-independent origins, the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia came to be one of the first mass organizations sponsored by the Communist Party of America, bringing together representatives of organized labor groups to agitate for political recognition and economic intercourse between the United States and Soviet Russia. The group held a converence in New York City on Sunday, Nov. 21, 1920, at which this resolution on the Russian Blockade was passed. The group protested against the "inhuman blockade" which the US government had given its support and demanded that further American participation in the "various plots against Soviet Russia" be terminated. The group called on the State Department to remove all obstacles with trade, to open up postage and communications with Russia, restore the right of travel, and allow authorized representatives of the Soviet Government to act in its behalf in commercial transactions.
"The Meaning of Unemployment." [circa December 1920] Full text of an unsigned 8 page pamphlet published by the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia, harshly critical of the current wage-cutting drive that was part and parcel of the deflation of 1920-21. Starvation, malnutrition, crime, prostitution, and broken homes were said to be in the offing as a result of overproduction and the inability of workers to purchase the full value of their toil. Access to foreign markets was said to be the key to the crisis, but with Europe in economic chaos only one possible open market remained -- Soviet Russia. Unfortunately, the State Department still barred trade with the Russian Republic. The pamphlet urges labor solidarity to force the American government to end the communications, travel, and trade blockade that remained in place on the "Russian Workers' Republic."
"The American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia." [January 1921]. An unsigned report (Alexander Trachtenberg a likely author) outlining the origins and activies of the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia. According to this account, the ALA had its roots in an anti-blockade organization called the American Women's Emergency Committee, which called for New York trade unions to join the anti-blockade effort in October of 1921. A conference of the "Humanitarian Labor Alliance" was subsequently held in New York City, attended by 512 labor delegates. This Nov. 21, 1920 gathering passed a resolution on the Russian Blockade (see above) and elected a permanent Executive Committee, which changed the name of the organization to the (more descriptive) American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations With Russia.
"American Radicals Unite Forces." (news article in Voice of Labor) [Aug. 4, 1921] In August 1921, the former American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations with Soviet Russia was supplanted by a new version of the organization, called simply "The American Labor Alliance." A founding convention was held in New York City, attended by a dozen groups, each of which had close ties to the Communist movement. The convention approved a simple constitution and elected a 7 member governing Executive Board (complete text and roster included in this report from the party press). Following conclusion of the meeting, Caleb Harrison was elected Secretary of the organization and headquarters established in New York. The ALA was to be an alliance of affiliated organizations rather than a membership group itself; finances were to be generated by "voluntary contributions from affiliated organizations and from sympathizers." Membership in the ALA was open to "Any organization which declares itself to be in agreement with the purpose of the ALA and which agrees to abide by its working rules," upon the majority vote of a 7 member Executive Board. Members of the Executive Board elected by the founding convention were: J.P. Cannon, Associated Tailor Clubs; William Woodworth, Marxian Educational Society; L.E. Katterfeld and Edgar Owens, National Defense Committee; Michael Dardella, Ukrainian Workers Club; Dr. Walenka, Friends of Soviet Russia; and Caleb Harrison, Industrial Socialist League.
"American Labor Alliance is Launched in New York: Independent Labor Organizations Form a United Body to Abolish Capitalism and Establish a Workers' Soviet Republic: Sentiment Against Reaction is Crystallized." [The Toiler] [Aug. 6, 1921] Announcement in The Toiler about the formation of the Communist Party's new legal mass organization, the American Labor Alliance. The convention call was issued to 15 organizations (mostly affiliates of the CP), to which the following 10 sent delegates: Friends of Soviet Russia; the Irish American Labor League; National Defense Committee; Finnish Socialist Federation; Associated Toiler Clubs; American Freedom Foundation; Ukrainian Workers Club; Industrial Socialist League; Marxian Educational Society; and the Hungarian Workers Federation. Caleb Harrison was elected National Secretary of the ALA and filling out the Executive Board were James P. Cannon, Michael Dardella, L.E. Katterfeld, Edgar Owens, Dr. Walenka, and William Woodworth. The Executive Board pledged to work in three fields of endeavor: lyceum, literature, and defense. Local branches of the ALA were slated for creation and "All true progressive organizations will be encouraged to affiliate and the entire mass of progressive and radical workers will be united to present a common front against its enemies," according to the article.
"The American Labor Alliance: An Editorial," by Otto Branstetter [Aug. 1921] The formation of the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations with Soviet Russia, an open adjunct of the United Communist Party, was the cause of great mirth for some officials of the beleaguered Socialist Party of America. This editorial in the SP's official organ declared that the formation of the ALA by the Communists constituted "an admission that their theories and their methods were wrong." Citing a number of specific instances, Branstetter chortled that the Left Wing had "arrogantly assumed to themselves all revolutionary wisdom and were the self-appointed and infallible interpreters and executors of Marx and Engels. They assumed to be Neo-Marxists, Neo-Socialists, and Neo-Revolutionists when in reality they were merely Neo-Nuts." "The Communists have utterly failed to make good in America. Their pet theories are all exploded and their plans for the immediate overthrow of the capitalist system through 'revolutionary mass action' have been abandoned," Branstetter declared, adding that the only thing the communists had done effectively was split and weaken the Socialist Party and the radical labor movement in America, generating "fundamentally reactionary" results.
"American Labor Alliance," by Jack Carney [Sept. 30, 1921] The second version of the American Labor Alliance begun in August 1921 was apparently stillborn. The shell of the ALA was restructured yet again in the two months after its formal foundation. By September 1921 the ALA was governed by an institution not mentioned in the group's constitution -- the "Provisional Executive Committee." This body at a meeting in September decided to transform the ALA into a dues-paying membership organization based around local groups, and to begin forthwith to raise a $25,000 organizational fund to sponsor a convention relaunching itself as a "revolutionary political party." The Provisional Executive Committee noted that "All working class organizations which declare themselves in sympathy with the aims and principles of the American Labor Alliance will be invited to send delegates." Ella Reeve Bloor, recently returned from Soviet Russia, was to be sent on the road on a speaking tour to help raise this organizational fund. The Communist Party's overground Chicago labor organ, Voice of Labor, opined that "The American Labor Alliance enters the political field with the largest membership and greatest number of adherents of any working class party in the country. It will not offer any false promises to the masses, neither will it attempt to raise false hopes. It will go before the masses and frankly inform them that if they require anything to be done they must do it themselves. The ALA will utilize the various political campaigns for the purpose of exposing the claims and pretensions of capitalist politicians, also for the purpose of rallying the masses together."
"Appeal of the Minority Members of the CEC of the Communist Party of America Against the Policies of the CEC on the Question of the Formation of a Legal Political Party in the United States." [Circa Nov. 15, 1921]. The formal appeal of the CEC minority (i.e. the Central Caucus faction) to the Communist International seeking a halt to the actions of the CEC majority's actions with regard to establishment of a legal political party. While stating their agreement with the notion of legal political action and their willingness to adhere to the final decision of the ECCI in the matter, this appeal outlines the case of the minority: that the CEC majority had misrepresented the position of the ECCI and Lenin himself on the Legal Political Party; that its action in forcing the entire underground party into the open legal organization would put it at grave danger of arrest and destruction; that the duplication of legal and underground personnel would inevitably result in liquidation of the underground organization; that the proposed transformation of the American Labor Alliance for Trade with Soviet Russia into a full fledged Legal Political Party was counter to the Unity Agreement joining the old CPA with the UCP in May 1921 and artificial -- as the ALA had no mass membership outside of the underground CPA; that the CEC majority had failed to call an emergency convention of the party to work out details of this drastic change of the party line, thus resulting in confusion and a lack of confidence among the rank and file in the party leadership; that major preparatory work among the working class needed to be done before any Legal Political Party could be considered. For good measure, a litany of the offenses of the CEC Majority on other matters are tagged on the end, ranging from botched opportunities for mass propaganda to apathy to engagement in a policy of factional "crushing" of the former members of the old CPA.
"Perpetuate the American Labor Alliance," by J.O. Bentall [Dec. 3, 1921]. An esoteric letter from a Duluth CPA member to the Central Executive Committee urging the retention of the American Labor Alliance [for Trade Relations with Russia] despite ongoing plans to initiate a Legal Political Party later that same month. The ALA -- one of the earliest and most important "front" groups of the early period -- was envisioned by Bentall as a sort of "Chamber of Commerce for the Workers," gaining access where a political party could not to "take hold and help" the workers en route to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Establishment of a Legal Political Party would be insufficient for the tasks faced, Bentall argued, placing his primary emphasis on the needs of the strike movement. This document is interesting also for briefly mentioning that the "Friends of Soviet Russia" [called "the B" in clandestine party documents of the era] was organized by the American Labor Alliance [similarly: "the A"] itself.