The Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee was the medical relief arm of the Communist-directed Friends of Soviet Russia organization. The group worked hand in glove with the Russian Soviet Government Bureau headed by Ludwig Martens, which served as the official purchasing agent for the fundraising organization. Undercover investigation by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation assured that authorities were well apprised of bitter criticism in the radical community of the ethics and accounting practices of Soviet Russia Medical Relief, charges levied with particular vehemence by the Anarchist-dominated Russian radical movement of the Detroit area. Federal authorites closely monitored the activities of the Russian-American radical movement through its placement of undercover agents and informers in the ranks of the various institutions and organizations. They were thus acutely aware of the allegations of financial impropriety levied against Dr. A.M. Rovin, Boris Roustam-Bek, and others of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee, with $2,000 said to have vanished without proper accounting.
In 1920 SRMRC published a 16 page pamphlet by the Soviet People's Commissar of Health, N.H. Semashko, entitled The Care of Health in Soviet Russia.
(Copy NARA M-1085, reel 926)
The Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee seems to have been oriented towards the procurement and distribution of soap to Soviet Russia, in the hope of alleviating the spread of disease. (The sole relief effort of the Socialist Party of America to Soviet Russia in 1921 was along the same lines.) It worked out of a New York headquarters and maintained a "Western Office" in Chicago. The Russian Soviet Government Bureau, headed by Ludwig Martens, was the official procurement and distribution agent for the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee. When, in the second half of December 1921 it became clear that the deportation of Ludwig Martens and the Soviet Bureau would be forthcoming, the decision was made to shut the Chicago "Western Office." On December 23, 1920, a letter was sent by Soviet Russia Medical Relief's Secretary, Joseph Michael, to the Director of the Western Office, attorney Charles L. Drake, instructing Drake to cancel further engagements and shutter the Chicago facility forthwith. Drake obtained an extension to Friday, Jan. 15, 1921, which was the final date of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee in the windy city.
Establishment of American Red Star League.
However, Charles Drake did not abandon the Chicago office, located at 59 East Van Buren St. Instead, he launched an altogether new organization to continue the work of sanitary and medical aid to Soviet Russia, the "American Red Star League," and used the former headquarters of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee as the base for the new organization. The American Red Star League seems to have launched on or about the same day that the Western Office terminated, Jan. 15, 1921. Irwin St. John Tucker was hired as organizer for the organization, and Lincoln Steffens provided service to the group as a paid lecturer.
The Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation of the American Red Star League based upon a request of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, a target of severe criticism by the league, with Hoover intimating that the group had no possible way to make good on its promises to provide material to Soviet Russia and thus was fraudulently raising funds. A report was prepared by Special Assistant to the Attorney General Warren Grimes which found otherwise, however:
"From the information at hand, I can find nothing tangible on which to base an assumption of fraud or, in fact, a violation of any law. Inevitably, of course, there will be irregularities -- there always have been in organizations of this kind. The Soviet Russia Medical Relief Society experienced them -- and this very scheme grew out of those irregularities. But the evidence shows that both organizations have at least made shipments. While the 'Declaration of Principles' and the personnel of the directorate clearly indicate the likelihood of both questionable faith and propaganda opportunities which undoubtedly will be worked to the limit; and while the activities of the organization and its officers should and will be followed closely, there appears nothing on which the Department could take extraordinary action at present."
(fn. Grimes, The American Red Star League: A Report by the Bureau of Investigation," NARA M-1085, reel 935, document 202600-934-13.)
The Communist movement was rather less sanguine about the new organization, however, with the Central Executive Committee of the United Communist Party coming out with an express condemnation of the Red Star League early in 1921. A bulletin read to the members of the UCP at their local meetings declared:
The attention of all groups is called to the reactionary character of the RED STAR LEAGUE. This league is a personal possession of Drake, a reactionary SP member, who formerly was a sub-secretary of the [Soviet Russia] Medical Relief. Groups and members should ask all workers not to support this league in any way.
(fn. UCP Bulletin No. 2 - 1921, Comintern Archive, RGASPI f. 515, op. 1, d. 43, l. 47.)
SRMRC objects to Red Star League.
The Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee continued its own existence into 1921. It shared the UCP's antipathy to the new organization. On a Jan. 27, 1921 circular letter it attacked the decision of Charles Drake to continue its office closed Jan. 16 under the new name "American Red Star League." This letter stated that any effort at "boosting" this new group "as an organization authorized or recommeded by the recently deported representative of Soviet Russia, L. Martens" was "a plain misrepresentation." Only the SRMRC, based in New York City, had any such status, according to the letter.
Chairman of the SRMRC in Jan. 1921 was Dr. M. Michailovsky. Secretary was J. Michael and Treasurer was Dr. John Gutman.
"Circular Letter on the Closing of the Chicago Office of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee from Charles L. Drake." [Jan. 15, 1921] The Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee was the medical relief arm of the Communist-directed Friends of Soviet Russia organization. The group worked hand in glove with the Russian Soviet Government Bureau headed by Ludwig Martens, which served as the official purchasing agent for the fundraising organization. Undercover investigation by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation assured that authorities were well apprised of bitter criticism in the radical community of the ethics and accounting practices of Soviet Russia Medical Relief, charges levied with particular vehemence by the Anarchist-dominated Russian radical movement of the Detroit area. While the BoI believed that the "American Red Star League" organization which emerged in early 1921 was a parallel organization initiated as in response to the improprieties of the Soviet Russian Medical Relief Committee headed by A.M. Rovin and Boris Roustam-Bek, this document reveals an altogether different origin. Rather than an insurgent parallel organization motivated by accountability and fiscal reform, the Red Star League had its roots in the sudden decision of the New York main office to terminate its Chicago, headed by attorney Charles L. Drake. With the deportation of Martens and the shuttering of the Soviet Bureau clearing in the offing, the Soviet Medical Relief organization saw itself as left with no means of transporting its sanitary and medical supplies to Soviet Russia. The determination to shutter the Western Office was abrupt -- two days before Christmas a letter was sent by Secretary Joseph Michael to Drake in Chicago (reprinted here) instructing him to immediately terminate all engagements and close the office. Drake obtained an extension of this deadline to Friday, Jan. 15, 1921, which was the final day of operation of the Western Office of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee. The American Red Star League seems to have been launched immediately thereafter, using the same physical office space being abandoned and with Drake taking on the role of Secretary and guiding figure of the new medical relief fundraising organization.
"Financial Report, Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee, Western District," by Charles L. Drake [Jan. 15, 1921] This report by Director Charles Drake closes the book on the 4-1/2 month tenure of the Chicago office of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee. The accounts presented here show the receipt of over $24,500, which was offset by about $14,000 in office, travel, salary, and other fundraising expenses. $9600 had been sent to New York to support the Society's work, while over $800 remained on account at the time of the Chicago office's Jan. 15, 1921 termination. The discontinuance of the Western Office comes at a time when the heaviest financial drain was being made for organization, and before opportunity has been given to reap the benefits that would more than justify the expenditures. Thousands and thousands of dollars would come in from the preparatory work already done were this office open to receive it. Those who know even the slightest about the collection of funds on a large scale will heartily appreciate the great financial results accomplished, especially those cognizant of the immense obstacles to be overcome. Systematized sabotage and organized antagonism maliciously opposed the work from the start -- elements that would stop at nothing to destroy the work and prevent even the slightest relief reaching the dying women and children of Soviet Russia," Drake asserts.
"Circular Letter to Supporters of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee, Jan. 27, 1921." Short direct mail letter noting the severance of the relationship between the Communist Party-backed Soviet Russian Medical Relief Committee from the former director of its Chicago office, Charles L. Drake. With the Chicago office consolidated out of existence by the New York-based SRMRC, Drake had decided to carry forward as a new Soviet relief organization called the "American Red Star League." The circular letter warns: "The name of the 'Red Star League' may mislead some of our supporters to the advantage of the League’s enterprise, which is entirely foreign to us and to the Soviet Russia Medical Relief work." The circular letter additionally cautions that the new American Red Star League had been falsely presenting itself as having been endorsed by the Ludwig Martens, official representative of the Soviet government in America. "This is a plain misrepresentation," the letter insists, adding that "Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee is the only organization which has the endorsement of the Soviet Russia official representative, Mr. L. Martens, who renewed this endorsement in the most emphatic terms on the eve of his departure from this country."
"The American Red Star League: First Aid to the Working Class." [circa Feb. 1, 1921] "The ghastly failure of the present organized relief forces to be of any real service to the working class and their official refusal in many cases to help the workers where help is most needed has made necessary the organization of a relief force that will be of, by, and for the working class, and for the working class alone," declares this leaflet of the newly-organized American Red Star League. This group is said to be "organized solely for the purpose of giving relief to members of the working class in acute need, everywhere in the world." While aid to the working class in war ravaged Europe was clearly a priority, the leaflet notes that "such need is not confined to foreign countries. The anti-labor drive which has been begun by the moneyed powers in this country, headed by the United States Steel Corporation and assisted by every Chamber of Commerce, will lead to terrible conflicts and nationwide destitution." The leaflet exhorts recipients to give financial donations to a $10 million Relief Fund: "The workers must be prepared now to aid their own distressed comrades. The want in Europe and Asia is terrible, appalling, and the official relief agencies use the contributions of Americans against the workers who are seeking to control their own governments. We must help them!"
"The American Red Star League $10,000,000 Relief Fund to Save the Women and Children of Soviet Russia: A leaflet of the American Red Star League." [leaflet, circa Feb. 1921] This leaflet by the new American Red Star League, a left wing rival medical relief organization to the American Red Cross, presents much of the case made by Irwin St. John Tucker in a longer pamphlet published by the Red Star League at about the same time. "Confronted with the terrific destitution in Europe as a result of wars and blockades, the working class of America has been asked to give generously for the relief of suffering in those countries. Millions of dollars have been raised in America for the relief of Europe. How much of this money has actually been of service to the working class? Two MILLION dollars' worth of medical supplies desperately needed in Russia were burned by the American Red Cross in the Crimea to prevent it falling into the hands of the Workers' Government. Supplies to the value of 10 MILLION dollars were allowed to rot at Archangel because the Red Cross would not permit the starving and dying Russians to use them." Capitalist machinations in Russia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, and elsewhere had given a political coloration to the Red Cross' work, while "under the leadership of Herbert Hoover a joint committee of relief organizations has been formed, which is openly using the funds collected for anti-labor propaganda," the leaflet asserts. In response to this ideological orientation of the American Red Cross, the American Red Star League had been formed. "THE AMERICAN RED STAR LEAGUE is organized as First Aid to the Working Class in every country. Our first and most pressing duty is to save the women and children of Soviet Russia!" the leaflet declares. Financial contributions to the organization for its work are solicited.
"30,000 Babies Starving!! A leaflet of the American Red Star League," by Charles L. Drake [circa Feb. 1921] This leaflet of the new American Red Star League makes use of a cable of the American Friends' Service Committee from Moscow highlighting the shortage of milk, cod liver oil, and soap in Moscow which had resulted in an infant mortality rate estimated at an astronomical 40%. "America's warehouses are full to bursting with good things. Let us send them to Russian babies! In the name of Humanity, ACT NOW!" the leaflet implores, noting that a $10 donation "will save 10 Russian babies."
"Debate on the Press and the Society for Medical Aid to Soviet Russia at the 3rd Russian All-Colonial Congress: New York City," by Bureau of Investigation Undercover Agent "P-132" [March 8, 1921] The Russian All-Colonial Congresses were ostensibly non-partisan biannual gatherings of the "Russian colony in the United States and Canada" sponsored by the anarchist Union of Russian Workers. This material is an extract from the report of the 3rd Russian All-Colonial Congress was provided by "P-132," a Russian-speaking undercover Special Agent of the Bureau of Investigation (a full BoI employee who wrote his own reports, as opposed to a paid informer who funneled information to a reporting Special Agent). Topics of debate here are the ideological line to be pursued by the new official organ of the All-Colonial and the financial controversy over the Detroit branch of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee. With regard to the press, the All-Colonial (Union of Russian Workers) had launched a paper called Amerikanskaia Izvestiia [American News] to replace the suppressed anarchist weeklies Rabochii i Krest'ianin and Khleb i Volia. Calls were made by anarchist delegates to the 3rd Congress for the publication to adopt an explicitly anarchist line. Delegate Mikhailov declares" "Comrades, you all know that we are Anarchists. Why should we cover up our beliefs and teachings by organizing schools and various educational societies? And that applies to Amerikanskaia Izvestiia. Once for all we ought to say clearly that it is an Anarchist newspaper and establish definitely its true character and purpose." This perspective is opposed by Delegate Sivko, who states: "You are an Anarchist; well, I am a Communist, and if you demand the Anarchist policy I demand the Communist, and I will never consent that Anarchist propaganda be taught through Amerikanskaia Izvestiia." Despite their control of the convention, the multi-tendency orientation of the newspaper was maintained by the final resolution of the 3rd All-Colonial Congress. That same evening a "special meeting or session" was held to deal with the alleged improprieties of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee. At this "special session," the same "Communist" delegate Sivko (probably a communist-anarchist as opposed to a CPA member) detailed the fraudulent practices which he uncovered in the Detroit organization of the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Committee. Rovin, Saks, Mendelsohn, and Roustam-Bek are accused of having pocketed organizational funds, nearly $2,000 being unaccounted for by a snap audit. A parallel (anarchist) Medical Aid to Soviet Russia organization had been launched. Adding color is the comment by "P-132" that "during [Sivko's] speech several members of the Communist Party were trying to break up the meeting, but they were beaten up by members of the Union of Russian Workers, especially by Kiselev, who threw them down the stairs."
"Letter to Attorney General of the US Harry Daugherty in Washington, DC from Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in Washington, DC." [March 16, 1921] New Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover lost little time in preferring charges against the American Red Star League, which he did with this letter to new Attorney General Harry Daugherty a short time after the installation of the new Republican administration of which he was a part. Hoover was provided with printed material of the Red Star League by the mayor of Portland, Oregon, who noted the group's charge that Hoover had aided anti-labor forces during the conduct of his activities as American food administrator in Europe. Hoover writes to Daugherty of the American Red Star League: "I am certain there is no method on earth by which these people can send either shipments or money into Russia, and aside from the bold character of its literature, my impression is that this group will stand investigation from the point of view of fraud." Such an investigation followed, resulting in a report issued by special assistant to the Attorney General Warren W. Grimes around the 1st of May 1921.
"Circular Fundraising Letter of the American Red Star League by Charles L. Drake, Secretary." [April 15, 1921] This fundraising letter from the head of the American Red Star League notes that "Conditions in the Russian Republic are far from satisfactory to those who have an interest in their fellow men. Plagues that have swept the country since the war began are still raging unchecked and taking their toll by the thousands. Women and children, because of their inherent weakness, are of course the chief sufferers. The Soviet Government is sending out a call for aid to the workers of the world. Surely you are willing to do your part to help the brave Russian people overcome the last and greatest enemy, disease? With the deadly plague of typhus under control the nation would be in fair condition to forge ahead with its constructive work and give the world an example of what a free people can accomplish unfettered by commercialism." One railroad car of soap had been shipped to Moscow in March and the shipping of 10 more cars of soap in April was projected, Drake states, the soap to be an important means of alleviating the spread of disease. "Ten dollars will sent 150 pounds of soap to the women and children. Five dollars will furnish them with 75 pounds. Will you send 150 pounds of soap to your Russian friends? If not, forward 75, 50, or 25 pounds, it will be most gratefully received."
"The American Red Star League: A Report by the Bureau of Investigation," by Warren W. Grimes [circa May 1, 1921] This is the final report of the Department of Justice on an investigation set in motion by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover on March 16, 1921. Hoover had charged that the American Red Star League was raising money under false pretenses, as he was certain "there is no method on earth by which these people can send either shipments or money into Russia." In response, the Bureau of Investigation had analyzed the claims and activities of the American Red Star League, a radical competitor to the American Red Cross to see if charges of fraud could be sustained. Grimes indicates that the American Red Star League had been "created after numerous protests by local communists against the misappropriation of funds collected by the Soviet Russia Medical Relief Society" headed by A.M. Rovin and Boris Roustam-Bek. "The affairs of that Society were turned over to a committee of the United Communist Party of Detroit and Chicago," Grimes states, with Charles L. Drake, formerly head of the Western Office of the Soviet Russian Medical Relief Society, and Mrs. Moses Stroud the most active individuals behind the new organization. Officers of the American Red Star League included Drake as Secretary, Illinois labor leader Duncan McDonald as President, Swan Johnson as Treasurer, Rev. Irwin St. John Tucker as organizer, Dr. R.B. Green as medical adviser, and Lincoln Steffens as lecturer. Grimes concludes: "From the information at hand, I can find nothing tangible on which to base an assumption of fraud or, in fact, a violation of any law. Inevitably, of course, there will be irregularities -- there always have been in organizations of this kind. The Soviet Russia Medical Relief Society experienced them -- and this very scheme grew out of those irregularities. But the evidence shows that both organizations have at least made shipments. While the 'Declaration of Principles' and the personnel of the directorate clearly indicate the likelihood of both questionable faith and propaganda opportunities which undoubtedly will be worked to the limit; and while the activities of the organization and its officers should and will be followed closely, there appears nothing on which the Department could take extraordinary action at present."