The idea of joining the "forces of every progressive, liberal, and radical organization of the workers must be mobilized to repel these assaults and to advance the industrial and political power of the working class" seems to have originated with the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party, which issued an appeal to unions and progressive political organizations for such an group in September of 1921.
The Conference for Progressive Political Action was officially established by the convention call of the 16 major railway labor unions in the United States, represented by a committee of six: William H. Johnston of the Machinists' Union, Martin F. Ryan of the Railway Carmen, Warren S. Stone of the Locomotive Engineers, E.J. Manion or the Railroad Telegraphers, Timothy Healy of the Stationary Firemen, and L.E. Sheppard of the Railway Conductors. The CPPA was originally intended to be an umbrella organizating uniting various elements of the Farmer-Labor political movement around a common program for joint independent political action. In practice, however, invitations to the group's founding conference were issued to members of a wide variety of "progressive" organizations, including those who did not seek a new political organization. As a result, the body was quite heterogeneous and unable to agreee on a program or even a declaration of principles at its initial gathering.
1. Founding Conference -- Chicago, IL -- February 20-21, 1922
The first National Conference of the CPPA was held in Chicago in February of 1922. It was attended by 124 delegates from a broad spectrum of labor, farmer, and political organizations, as well as a group of progressive individuals. The gathering passed an "Address to the American People," stating its criticism of existing conditions and formally proposing an amorphous plan of action validating the status quo ante: the labor unions on the group's Right Wing to endorse labor-friendly candidates of the Democratic Party, the Socialists and Farmer-Labor Party adherents on the group's left wing to conduct their own independent campaigns.
The Founding Conference passed a "Plan of Action" consisting of three rather amorphous resolutions that served in lieu of a more formal constitution. The resolutions called for all labor, farmer, cooperative, and progressive political forces whould unite to secure the nomination and election of members of Congress and to other state and local elective bodies. who were in agreement with the CPPA's support the interests of the producing classes. To this end, it urged the formation of joint committees within each state, congressional district, county, and municipality to decide upon the specific course of action.
A General Committee of 15 members, "as representative as possible of the various groups constituting this Conference" was elected to serve as a coordinating body for a Second Conference of th organization.
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1923-1924, pp. 147-149; Otto Branstetter, et al., "The Conference for Progressive Political Action," The Socialist World, Feb. 1922, pp. 1, 3, and documents in same issue, pp. 3-5.)
The CPPA was to be funded either via per capita contributions from member unions -- a "voluntary contribution" of at leas 1/2 cent per member per quarter -- or through individual membership. State branches of the CPPA were to buy individual membership cards for 25 cents each and to remit 25 percent of all other income to the national organization. At Conferences, national labor, farmers', and cooperative organizations were to be allowe one vote for every 10,000 members, or fraction thereof, with the voting strength of other organizations set by decision of the National Committee.
2. 2nd Conference -- Cleveland, OH -- December 11-12, 1922
The Second National Conference of the CPPA was held in Cleveland on Dec. 11-12, 1922.
Despite the mutual hostility between the Workers Party and many in the leadership of the CPPA, the Workers Party nevertheless attempted to shape the course of the proceedings through a campaign to generate telegrams supporting the immediate formation of an "independent party of labor opposing all capitalist parties."
The National Committee reported to the gathering that it had worked "in close association with the People's Legislative Service and with the weekly, Labor" over the course of the year. In 32 of the 48 states there had been state and local organizations of the CPPA formed. The legislative records of US Senators and Representatives were carefully monitored and special state editions of Labor, totaling over 1 million copies, were distributed in 8 northern and midwestern states. The National Committee declared the 1922 campaign a great success, claiming that 21 improved Senators had been elected, while 93 undesirable members of the House had been defeated with another 13 quitting their seats.
The Workers Party of America decided to send four delegates to the meeting at the Dec. 5, 1922, meeting of its governing Administrative Council. William F. Dunne, Caleb Harrison, Ludwig Lore, and C.E. Ruthenberg were elected as representatives of the party, with J. Louis Engdahl, the 5th place vote-getter, named as alternate.
[fn: Comintern Archive: f. 515, op. 1, d. 148, l. 47.]
The Credentials Committee, after protracted debate, reported that the policies of the Workers Party of America and the Young Workers League of America were not in harmony with the declarations and aims of the conference and recommended that the representatives of these organizations not be seated. Chairman William H. Johnston quickly presented the recommendation of the committee and gavelled the matter closed without objection. Robert D. Cramer of Minneapolis rose to protest the ruling of the chair, but his motion died for the lack of a second. Since the snap tactic of the chair was not appealed, the gathering is officially said to have "unanimously" refused the WPA a place -- despite the presence of WPA members with other credentials inside the body. The WPA reported their side of the events of the convention in the pages of their weekly press, including the story of how convention delegate and member of the Central Executive Committee of the WPA J.B. Salutsky refused to come to the aid of his party.
The financial statement of the CPPA in its first year showed receipts of just over $5700, ependitures of about $4850, and unpaid bills in the amount of $10,875. The major part of the unpaid bills related to the special editions of Labor, printing, and expenses of the People's Legislative Service.
The 2nd Conference of the CPPA approved a membership standard opening the organization to "bona fide labor organizations, progressive organizations of farmes, cooperative societies, liberal political parties and groups, and to other organizations and individuals who are in accord with the purposes of this Conference." A National Committee of 21 was provided for, as well as annual meetings of the organization.
The 2nd Conference split over the issue of an independent political party, with a proposal by five delegates of the Farmer-Labor Party calling for "independent political action by the agricultural and industrial workers through a party of their own" defeated by a vote of 52 to 64. A majority report against an independent political party was instead adopted. The gathering also adopted a short platform calling for public operation of the railroads, coal mines, and water power resources, direct election of the President, an end to the use of courts to declare legislation unconstitutional, enactment of a farm credit organization, increased tax rates on large incomes and inheritances, and legislation providing for minimim employment standards for women. The Conference instructed the National Committee to add additional planks relating to child labor, civil liberties, the rights of organized labor, and other matters.
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1923-1924, pg. 151. John Pepper, For a Labor Party [Second Edition], pp. 54-65.)
The defeat of the bid for an independent political party cost the CPPA one its major component organizations. At the close of the 2nd Conference, the Farmer-Labor Party delegation announced that their group would no longer affiliate with the CPPA.
[fn. James Oneal, American Communism, (NY: Rand Book Store, 1927), pg. 162.]
On the other hand, the Socialist Party at its May 1923 National Convention voted after lengthy debate to retain its affiliation with the CPPA and to work for an independent political party from within that group. The May 20 vote in favor of maintaining affiliation with the CPPA was 38-12.
[fn. Minutes of the Convention," in The Socialist World, v. 4, no. 6 (June 1923), pg. 11.]
The CPPA worked closely with the People's Legislative Service, of which CPPA National Committee member Basil M. Manly was director. On Dec. 2, 1923, the People's Legislative Service held a conference in Washington, DC, attended by about 300 people -- including progressive Senators and Representatives, who formed a permanent organization and appointed committees to work on specific questions on belhalf of a permanent "People's Bloc."
By the end of 1923, the CPPA had state organizations in about 30 states. Some of these state organizations did not retain the name "Conference for Progressive Political Action," however, as exemplified by the "Indiana Political Action League," the "Iowa Cooperative Legislative Council," the "Michigan Progressive Voters' League," and the "North Carolina Farmer-Labor Political Conference."
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1923-1924, pg. 152.) 3. 3rd Conference -- St. Louis, MO -- February 11-12, 1924
The 3rd Conference of the CPPA was held in St. Louis, MO, on Feb. 11-12, 1924. It was attended by about 120 delegates representing the state branches of the CPPA, railroad labor organizations, the Socialist Party, and scattered groups. The Conference met at an awkward time, before the nomination of national candidates and national platforms had taken place, and little was accomplished. The body did, however, instruct the National Committee to "immediately issue a call for a convention of workers, farmers, and progressives for the purpose of taking action on nomination of candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States, and on other questions that may come before the convention.
The 3rd Conference opened the door to increased participation by third parties, allowing each two delegates for each state organization -- the same as that allocated to state branches of the CPPA itself.
The St. Louis Conference also instructed the National Committee to secure the cooperation of the committee calling the St. Paul Convention of the Farmer-Labor Party for May 30, 1924.
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1925, pp. 120-121.)
The National Executive Committee of the Socialis Party met in St. Louis from Feb. 9-12, 1924, in conjunction with the Third Conference of the CPPA.
4. First Convention -- Cleveland, OH -- July 4-5, 1924
The First Convention of the CPPA was held in Cleveland at the city auditorium. Close to 600 delegates attended the proceeding representing international unions, state federations of labor, branches of cooperative societies, state branches and national officers of the Socialist, Farmer-Labor, and Progressive Parties as well as the Committee of Forty-Eight, state and national affiliates of the Women's Committee on Political Action, and sundry individuals. Very few farmers were in attendance.
The Credentials Committee reported unfavorably on the credential of William Mahoney as an individual, while not denying the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party a right to a seat, siting his acts during and after the St. Louis Conference as well as his active participation in the June 1924 St. Paul Convention of the Federated Farmer-Labor Party, a gathering perceived to have been an appendage of the Workers Party of America and previously condemned by the National Committee of the CPPA.
The National Committee had previously requested that Wisconsin Senator Robert M. LaFollette make a run for the presidency. The Cleveland Convention was addressed by the Senator's son, Robert M. LaFollette Jr., who read a message from his father accepting the call and declaring that the time had come "for a militant political movement independent of the two old party organizations." LaFollette declined to lead a third party, however, seeking to protect those progressives elected nominally as Republicans and Democrats. LaFollette declared that the primary issue of the 1924 campaign was the breaking of the "combined power of the private monopoly system over the political and economic life of the American people." After the November election a new party might well be established, LaFollette stated, around which all progressives could unite.
The National Committee was directed to issue a call for formation of a new national political party after the November election, to be held at a Special National Convention of the CPPA in January 1925.
An extensive platform of the CPPA was adopted by the 1924 Convention. The National Committee was extensively enlarged.
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1925, pp. 122-126.) 5. National Committee Meeting -- Washington, DC -- December 12, 1924
The 54 member expanded National Committee met in Washington, DC, on Dec. 12, 1924. The gathering had a mandate from the July First Convention to issue a call for a Convention to organize a new political party. The representatives of the railway unions on the National Committee, with the exception of William H. Johnston of the Machinists, were united in opposition to the gathering and they proposed a motion not to hold the 1925 organizational convention. This proposal was defeated by a vote of 30 to 13. Following their defeat on this question, the National Committee members withdrew, announcing that they would await further instructions from their respective organizations with regards to future participation.
A Founding Convention was scheduled by the National Committee for February 21-22, 1925, to be held in Chicago. Representation was to be on the same basis as that provided for in the call for the July 4, 1924, Convention.
Labor, the official organ of the railway unions, did nothing to promote this 2nd Convention of the CPPA, stating that since the executives of the various unions had taken no stance on the matter, it would be up to subordinate sections to consider sending delegates themselves.
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1925, pg. 131.) 6. Second Convention -- Chicago, IL -- February 21, 1925
The Second Convention of the CPPA was called for Feb. 21-22, 1925 to consider the formation of a permanent independent political party. The task was virtually insurmountable, however, as the heterogeneous organization had split over the fundamental question of realignment of the major parties via the primary process vs. establishment of a new competitive political body. The railway unions, whose efforts who had originally brought the CPPA into existence, were fairly solidly united against the Third Party tactic, instead favoring continuation of the CPPA as a sort of pressure group for progressive change within the structure of the Democratic and Republican Parties.
The February 1925 Convention was attended by "several hundred delegates" -- a number that will never be know precisely since the body voted for sine die adjournment before the report of the Credentials Committee was delivered.
L.E. Sheppard, President of the Order of Railway Conductors, presented a resolution calling for a continuation of the CPPA on non-partisan lines as a political pressure group. This proposal was met by an amendment by Morris Hillquit of the Socialist Party, who called the 5 million votes cast for LaFollette an ecouraging beginning and urged action for establishment of an American Labor Party on the British model -- in which constituent groups retained their organizational autonomy within the larger umbrella organization. A third proposal was made by J.A.H. Hopkins of the Committee of Forty-Eight, which called for establishment of a Progressive Party built around individual enrollments. No vote was ever taken by the convention on any of the three proposals mooted. Instead, after some debate the convention was unanimously adjourned sine die -- bringing an abrupt end to the Conference for Progressive Political Action.
Eugene V. Debs addressed a "mass meeting" including delegates of the convention in a keynote address delivered at the Lexington Hotel early in the afternoon of Feb. 21. After the Debs speech, those delegates favoring establishment of a new political party were then reconvened, with the opponents of an independent political party departing.
The reconvened Founding Convention found itself split between adherents of a non-class Progressive Party based upon individual memberships as opposed to the Socialists' conception of a class-conscious Labor Party employing "direct affiliation" of "organizations of workers and farmers and of progressive political and educational groups who fully accept its program and principles." Following extensive debate, the Socialist counter-proposal was defeated by a vote of 93 to 64.
The body voted to allow the chair to appoint an Executive Committee of 5 to coordinate with local organizations in establishing a network of state groups. These state groups were to hold State Conventions and these bodies were to elect delegates to a National Convention "to be held at such time and place as such committee shall determine." These State Conventions were to also elect delegates to a governing National Committee -- two delegates per state, one male and one female.
This "Progressive Party" survived for a short time in a limited number of states. It held no National Convention in 1925 but continued an independent existence throughout the 1920s.
(fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.) , The American Labor Year Book, 1926, pp. 230-232.)
A Call for United Action: To All Labor Unions, Farmers' Organizations, and Other Economic, Political, Cooperative, and Fraternal Organizations of the Producing Class. [Sept. 1921] The origin of the Conference for Progressive Political Action has long been attributed to a joint decision of the 16 main railway unions, which sponsored a founding conference in Chicago in February of 1922. This September 1921 appeal for just such an organization, written and transmitted to the varioius unions by the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party, lends support for the theory that this idea actually originated outside the 16 railway brotherhoods. The Socialist Party's vision was of a loose alliance which brought together various labor groups in joint political action "similar to that of the federated organizations of the British Labour Party." According to the appeal, America was embroiled in "the worst industrial depression we have ever experienced," with six million workers unemployed, armed anti-union bands given free reign under the moniker of "detective agencies," while other bands of thugs like the American Legion and the Ku Klux Klan operated outside the rule of law altogether. Employers shamelessly used the legislative and judicial arms of the state to conduct an open shop drive which threatened the very existence of the organized labor movement. In response, a "united front" joining the forces of "every progressive, liberal, and radical organization of the workers must be mobilized to repel these assaults and to advance the industrial and political power of the working class," according to the NEC's appeal.
"Working Class Political Unity," by Morris Hillquit [Sept. 7, 1921] This article in the New York Call by the Socialist Party's most respected strategist, Morris Hillquit, delves into the shift of the Socialist Party towards cooperation with progressive elements from outside the party, a marked departure from the party's historical orientation against "fusion" with external elements. Hillquit notes that the decision of the 1921 Detroit Convention to explore the field. Hillquit notes that this decision is less monumental than some believed: that the tactic would need to be reported to the next convention and approved, and ratified by the membership. Hillquit indicates his support for an electoral alliance through a British-style Labor Party, in which the constituent organizations would continue to run their own candidates for state governorships in order to retain their electoral status, but through which "candidates for other offices would be distributed among the different cooperating organizations with regard to their respective strength in different political districts." Hillquit's thinking is intensely practical: "To continue as a movement of the select few, as a small priesthood charged with the duty of keeping the sacred flame alive and protected from the profane gaze of the multitude, is not an object which in our agitated days will commend itself to the workers of this country. We must have the workers with us, if we are to succeed and we must go to them if they do not come to us."
"The Detroit Resolution," by James Oneal [Sept. 19, 1921] Socialist Party NEC member James Oneal offers his perspective on the decision of the June 1921 Detroit Convention to survey the field with a view to eventual work with other radical organizations in an umbrella organization patterned after the British Labour Party. Oneal states that the NEC had followed the instructions of the convention and dispatched a survey to likely political partners. Oneal notes that the NEC did not have authority to act upon the replies it received -- it would take approval of the next convention and ratification by referendum vote of the party to call a conference of progressive organizations to formally organize the new multi-party alliance. The model and goal advocated by Oneal is quite clear: "In England, whether the candidate is a member of the Independent Labour Party or any other Socialist organization, whether he is a member of an affiliated trade union or cooperative society, he wages the contest in the name of the Labour Party. The same procedure would be taken here." Oneal critically observes that "for a generation the Socialist movement of the United States has been cursed with theoreticians and dogmatists" and declares that "one advantage of the British form of political organization of the workers is that it throws the Socialists into intimate contact with other organizations of the working class and brings these workers into contact with us." Oneal indicates he personally sees 2 million adherents to the new umbrella organization as the essential minimum for the tactic to be pursued. He rules out alliance with the progressive capitalist "Committee of 48" but does see the Non-Partisan League as being ideologically close enough to the SP to merit interest. Oneal is critical of the "no less than a dozen Communist priesthoods " which emerged from the 1919 split of the Socialist Party and maintains little interest in alliance with those who indulge in "introspective brooding" and who "burn incense in honor of the Communist ritual."
"For a Mass Movement," by Adolph Dreifuss [Sept. 22, 1921] This article by the leader of the Socialist Party's German Federation, Adolph Dreifuss, speaks to the hot issue in party ranks -- the move towards organized cooperation with other Left Wing organizations in an American version of the British Labour Party. Dreifuss notes that this represented "a deviation from the tactics hitherto pursued by the Socialist Party" and attempts to explain that the decision to pursue the tactic was not the province of the SP Right, but rather was the considered opinion of all tendencies at the Detroit Convention, including Left Wingers Louis Engdahl and Bill Kruse. Dreifuss notes that "the object is to bring about an organization similar to that of the British Labour Party, which is composed from autonomous parties and groups, like the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation, the Fabian Society, the various labor unions, etc. Each one of these parties retains its integrity and autonomy... Each of these organizations has its own platform, based on its own principles. But the struggle of the present against their common enemy they fight together." Dreifuss notes that the United States has "no opposition that amounts to much." He declares that "none of the 'revolutionary' parties, however they may call themselves, reach the masses" and observes that the ongoing economic crisis has made the working class "servile" and "submissive." "It must be every worker's aim to get out of this slough to strengthen his class. To cooperate with others is one means to achieve liberty of movement," Dreifuss declares -- thus the move towards joint action has been supported by all tendencies in the SPA, "from Engdahl to Berger."
"Our Next Step," by Jay Lovestone. [Feb. 1922] This fascinating document was written immediately prior to the founding meeting of the Conference for Progressive Political Action by Jay Lovestone for the official organ of the new "legal political party," the Workers Party of America (Lovestone was made Executive Secretary of the underground Communist Party of America that same week). It may be regarded as an authoritative exposition of Communist thinking about the forthcoming CPPA. Lovestone argued that the Conference offered the WPA "an opportunity of joining with large sections of the workers in the immediate struggle" as part of the united front against the capitalist foe. The demand for common action was growing in the ranks of labor, Lovestone believed, and the fact that the WPA had not been invited to the conference "does not matter a straw." "We should not stand on ceremony and refuse to participate in any conference where representatives of the workers are found," Lovestone stated, arguing that if the WPA was denied from the assembly, the falsity of the CPPA's unity claim could be conclusively proven to the working class, while if they were admitted, the opportunity for airing the organization's program and advancing effective slogans would present itself. The CPPA's declared intent not to establish a Labor Party in America would give fuel to the WPA's objective of constructing " genuine Labor Party along federative lines and modelled after the British Labour Party."
"Open Letter to the Conference Called by the Authorized Committee of the 16 Standard Railroad Labor Organizations from the Central Executive Committee of the Workers Party of America." [c. Feb. 20, 1922] Published letter to the forthcoming first Conference for Progressive Political Action in Chicago, probably written by Workers Party of America Chairman James P. Cannon. The open letter formally calls for a "United Front of Labor, politically and industrially," but aggressively challenges the orientation of the forthcoming conference, declaring "Those who would form a 'front of Labor' together with sections of the privileged classes are making sure that no privileges will be abolished. Only with the toilers of the farm -- with the farm laborer and the rent-ridden, mortgage-ridden small farmer -- can the working class strike hands." The WPA open letter asserts that "We do not believe that the social or political maladjustments can be remedied by mere reforms in the manner of exploiting Labor, but only by the complete abolition of the system of Labor exploitation. We believe that this can only be done with revolutionary struggle, through the establishment of the Workers' Republic. In regard to this goal and this method, we have no compromises to offer and no illusions of any willingness of those who initiated this Conference to compromise in our direction." Chambers of Commerce, business groups, and manufacturer's associations had joined in "a veritable Ku Klux Klan of Capitalism," the open letter declares, adding "we hold that it would be nothing short of criminal betrayal of the working class to suggest that the condition can be met by any instrument less than a complete mobilization of all of Labor, industrially and politically." United action on a limited set of objectives in which constituent political organizations would retain their right to put forward their own programs and retain the right to criticize others is prescribed by the open letter.
"Address to the American People," a document adopted by the Founding Conference of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, Chicago, IL, Feb. 21-22, 1922. This declaration of purpose passed by the First Conference of the CPPA was wrapped in patriotic terms reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence. Claiming an allegiance to the sacred principles of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and that the "visible government" of the United States was superbly adapted for the advance of these objectives, the CPPA declared "the control of this visible government has been usurped by the 'invisible government' of plutocracy and privilege, and, administered in every branch by their creatures and servitors, has become destructive of those sacred rights to secure which it was established." In answer to this "usurpation" by the financial oligarchy, the CPPA declared itself for "united political action suited to the peculiar conditions and needs of each section and state; and that to this end, we do hereby pledge ourselves to organize for the coming campaign in every state and congressional district."
"Plan of Action," three resolutions adopted by the Founding Conference of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, Chicago, IL, Feb. 21-22, 1922. The Committee on Organization of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, chaired by Frederic C. Howe, drafted three resolutions on organizational goals, structure, and finance which were passed by the Chicago Conference. These resolutions served as a sort of loose provisional constitution for the group in its first year. Resolution1 recommended that "all labor, farmer, cooperative, and progressive political forces of the country, as represented in this Conference" unite to elect federal, state, and local political officials; Resolution 2 established and empowered a General Committee of 15 to guide the CPPA and organize a second conference in December 1922; and Resolution 3 called for constituent organizations to fund the budget of the General Committee and delegated specific action in the forthcoming electoral campaigns to state organizations of the CPPA.
"Conference for Progressive Political Action: A Report to the Membership of the Socialist Party," by Otto Branstetter, et al. [Feb. 1922] The 1921 Detroit Convention of the Socialist Party instructed its National Executive Committee to make a survey of other progressive organizations in the US and the prospects for joint action; using this as justification, five leading members of the SPA accepted invitations to attend the Founding Conference of the Conference for Progressive Political Action and made this report to the membership of the party via an article in the group's official organ, The Socialist World. The gathering -- held Feb. 20-21, 1922, in Chicago -- was characterized as "a disappointment, so far as immediate results are concerned," due in large measure to the heterogenous nature of the body, ranging from conservative unionists seeking to promote pro-labor candidates in the old parties to the Socialist and Farmer-Labor Parties on the left, who sought to establish an independent political organization. Despite the lack of immediate results, the fact that the gathering of such a wide range of elements was held with little acrimony was heralded as a small step forward by the Socialist atendees.
"Workers! Organize the Party of Labor! Manifesto of the Workers Party of America, Published December 9, 1922." In the aftermath of the 1922 election and prior to the first national meeting of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, the Workers Party of America attempted to exert its influence to bring about the creation of an American Labor Party on the British model. This manifesto to the American working class declares: "You can compel the Conference for Progressive Political Action to act. Hold mass meetings for the labor party. Adopt resolutions in your union. Demand the Labor Party to be organized by the labor unions and to include all the existing labor political organizations. The Workers Party has declared its readiness to become a part of the Labor Party as an autonomous body. It is ready to cooperate with the organized workers to create a mass political organization to Þght the battles of labor."
"All Eyes on Cleveland! Workers! Watch for Treason at Political Conference!" [Dec. 1922] A last minute appeal by the Workers Party of America for its members and supporters to bombard the forthcoming Second Conference of the Conference for Progressive Political Action (held Dec. 11-12, 1922) with demands for an immediate formation of an "independent party of labor opposing all capitalist parties." According to the appeal -- which was published under a banner headline on the front page of the weekly edition of The Worker -- immediate action was necessary as "all indications show that an effort at betrayal of labor's interests is afoot. An attempt will be made to deliver the Conference into the hands of Sam Gompers and his reactionary 'reward and punish' political policy."
"Proposed Statement of Principles of the Conference for Progressive Political Action." [Prepared by the Workers Party of America for the 2nd Conference, Dec. 11-12, 1922] The Workers Party of America made a concerted effort to gain admission as an affiliated political organization to the 2nd Conference for Progressive Political Action, held in Cleveland on Dec. 11-12, 1922. A four member delegation, including Bill Dunne, Caleb Harrison, Ludwig Lore, and C.E. Ruthenberg was sent to the meeting, along with Harry Gannes of the Young Workers League. The WPA and its youth section were refused participation in the conference by the Credentials Committee, however, the views of the Communist movement on revolution held as anathema to the organization. This is an indication of what the WPA sought to achieve through the CPPA -- a proposed program for the organization. The most notable difference between this program and the 1922 Congressional Election Program used earlier that fall was a call for a very extensive amount of nationalization, including "the immediate nationalization of the railroads, the coal mines, the steel mills, the oil industry, the merchant marine, and other large-scale industries in which ownership has become highly centralized." In addition, immediate nationalization was urged for "all storage, transportation, and marketing utilities and the revision of the banking laws so as to provide for the widest credit to the farmers through government loans without interest." These nationalizations were to be achieved "through application of the Plumb Plan, modified to give the organized workers in these industries a majority control of the industry and with provisions for taxation of the capitalist owners in such a degree as to quickly wipe out their title to these industries." Also of note in this document are repeated uses of the phrase "wage-workers and farmers" as the exploited group to whom appeal is made. The document has harsh words for "American Democracy,"noting the structural checks and balances of the American constitutional system and asserting "to talk of 'democracy' is to throw sand in the eyes of the workers. The much talked of 'American Democracy' is a fraud. Such formal democracy as is written into the Constitution and the laws of the country is camouflage to hide the real character of the rule of the capitalists.
"First Day's Proceedings of the Cleveland Conference of the CPPA, December 11, 1922." Unsigned journalism from the pages of The Worker recounting the activities of the first day's sessions of the 2nd gathering of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, held in Cleveland. Of major importance was the decision of the Conference to deny seats to the delegates of the Workers Party of America and the Young Workers League. The reporter notes the machinations of the credentials committee of the conference as well as the high-handed efforts by officers of the CPPA to bar the Communists from participation. Particularly stern words are reserved for the Socialists, who were believed to have established a working agreement with the right wing of the conference in opposing immediate formation of an independent Labor Party. This position is contrasted with that of the delegates Farmer-Labor Party, who indicated that they would use all of their influence to immediately bring about the formation of such a party. The poor attendance of the Social Party's Cleveland "mass meeting" held in conjunction with the conference is ridiculed as further evidence of the "discredited and decrepit" nature of the SPA.
"Salutsky -- A Communist?" by C.E. Ruthenberg [Dec. 23, 1922] The Workers Party of America actively sought to participate in the Second Conference of the CPPA, going so far as to send delegates to Cleveland. The credentials of the WPA were initially "lost" by the credentials committee, but the matter was referred back to the committee from the floor of the convention. The second time around, the credentials committee recommended that the Workers Party not be seated because "the principles of this organization are not in harmony with those of this conference." This was instantly ruled as adopted "unanimously" by the chair, a decision which was protested from the floor by delegate Robert D. Cramer of the Minneapolis Trade and Labor Assembly (not a member of the WPA). Cramer's appeal of the decision of the chair died for the lack of a second, however, despite the presence on the floor of delegate Jacob Salutsky of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the WPA. This resulted in this harsh denunciation of Salutsky for failing to come to the aid of his party by Executive Secretary C.E. Ruthenberg, an article published in the weekly English-language newspaper of the WPA.
"Labor Party Must Be Formed: Manifesto on the Cleveland Conference by the Central Executive Committee of the Workers Party." [Published Dec. 30, 1922] The failure of the Workers Party of America to have its delegates seated at the Cleveland assembly of the Conference for Progressive Political Action was a disappointment; the conference's failure to immediately move forward to the establishment of an American Labor Party on the British model was a "betrayal." This manifesto was issued by the governing CEC of the Workers Party in the aftermath of the Cleveland Conference -- and it marked a shift in WPA thinking about the CPPA. As the Farmer-Labor Party left the CPPA, so, too, did the Workers Party stop sseing that group as an organizing committee for the new political party. The CPPA was dominated by a bloc of "reactionary trade union officials aided by the Socialist Party," this manifesto charged, who had sabotaged the grassroots desire of industrial workers and farmers for independent political action in favor of the Gompersesque tactic of "rewarding friends and punishing enemies" in the Republican and Democratic parties. "The Workers Party will continue to give all its strength and militant leadership to the Þght for the labor party," the manifesto declared, calling on farmers' and workers' organizations to continue to exert pressure for the establishment of this institution.
"Thesis on the Present Situation in Relation to Our Labor Party Policy, Feb. 15, 1924," Submitted by C.E. Ruthenberg and John Pepper This thesis was prepared by Ruthenberg and Pepper for the February plenum of the Central Executive Committee, held in Chicago on Feb. 15-16, 1924. William Z. Foster prepared a similar document regarding Labor Party tactics and there was some effort made to combine the two documents in a subcommittee, which seems to have vetoed by Pepper, who did not see the documents as reconcilable. As a result, this thesis was voted down by a vote along straight factional lines, 8-5, and the Foster thesis approved by the same margin. The Pepper-Ruthenberg faction declared shortly thereafter that it would appeal this matter to Moscow and plans were set in motion which would send William Z. Foster (Majority), John Pepper (Minority), and M.J. Olgin (Anti-Third Party Group) to Moscow to plead their cases about six weeks later. This definite statement of the Minority's Labor Party thinking indicates a strong concern over the WPA losing "the influence which it has gained through its Labor Party policy during the past year." With a July 4, 1924 convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Action in the offing and the WPA certain to be locked out of the procedings by the "bitterly hostile" railroad brotherhoods sure to dominate the CPPA gathering, unless some dramatic step was taken by the WPA in the interim, the organization would be isolated from the dynamic Labor Party movement, which had been injected with new dynamism by the rise of a Labour Party government in England and the discrediting of the old parties by the eruption of the Teapot Dome oil bribery scandal. A June 30 counter-convention was called for by the Ruthenberg-Pepper thesis, to "crystallize" the elements over which the WPA had influence and give the WPA a sturdy basis for negotiation with the anticipated CPPA-based Third Party. "As the representatives of an organized group of a half-million to a million workers, our Party cannot be ignored. It will be a powerful factor which must be considered by the leaders of the Cleveland Convention," Ruthenberg and Pepper declare.
"St. Paul --- June 17th," by James P. Cannon. [May 1924] An article from the monthly magazine of the Trade Unional Educational League lauding the forthcoming June 17th Convention of the Farmer-Labor Party, scheduled for St. Paul, MN. The St. Paul gathering was held in parallel with a July 4, 1924 convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, scheduled for Cleveland, which the Socialist Party was not incidentally attempting to steer in the same direction that the Workers Party was attempting to take the FLP. Cannon's article attempts to explain this dualism. The CPPA's "'sympathy' for the idea of a labor party is a disguise to hide their actual allegiance to the capitalist parties," he states, adding that the CPPA labor leaders are unable to form a working class party "because they do not have a working class point of view. They do not live like the workers and they do not think like the workers." Only the St. Paul convention offered a forum for the participation of the militant working class rank and file, Cannon asserts.
"Open Letter to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party from the Central Executive Committee of the Workers Party of America." [May 14, 1924]. As the pivotal St. Paul Farmer-Labor Party Convention of June 17, 1924 drew near, the political rhetoric about the gathering intensified. This open letter to the governing National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party called upon that organization to "immediately sever its connection with and repudiate" the competing July 4th Convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Action. Contrary to the expressed desires of the Socialists, the CPPA would not yield an independent labor party, the open letter declared. "Even [if] the CPPA through some miracle were to enter into the political arena as a political party standing for independent political action, what kind of party would come out of the CPPA?... Its leadership belongs to the aristocracy of labor. The LaFollette group in Congress which it supports is not the representative of workers and farmers but of small business me, professional groups -- the petty bourgeoisie. Out of the CPPA there could only come a petty bourgeois Third Party, never a Farmer-Labor Party standing for the class interests of the exploited workers and farmers." The CEC of the Workers Party's open letter declared that "If the Socialist Party wishes to retain any vestige of a right to call itself a workers' political organization, it will give heed to this demand. Today it is an enemy of the movement for growing class action of farmers and workers through its support of the CPPA, which denies and opposes such class action and by its policy stands as an obstacle to the development of a great mass movement of workers and farmers..."
"The American Labor Party," by Eugene V. Debs. [Jan. 1925] A 2nd National Convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Actions (CPPA) was scheduled to closely follow the completion of the 1924 LaFollette/Wheeler Presidential campaign. Chief on the agenda for the group was the establishment of a new political party, intended to be built upon the alliances around the country developed during the course of the fall of 1924. The Socialist Party sought the formation of a British-style Labor Party, federating component organizations and envisioning itself as playing the role of the Independent Labour Party in the UK. This article by Eugene Debs in the official organ of the Socialist Party of America gives voice to this desire. Debs states that despite the "blind stupidity of the workers and the covert machinations of their enemies to thwart or misdirect them," a Labor Party was inevitable in America. The staunch backing and support of the unions was mandatory for the success of such a venture, Debs declared, stating that while the leadership of the unions remained "almost to a man opposed to a Labor Party," hope lay in the hands of the rank and file, who might successfully be aroused to the task. Debs did not think it likely that such an organization would be constructed by the forthcoming gathering of the CPPA, but he hoped for the best and professed patience and an ability to wait.
"Speech to the Conference for Progressive Political Action, Feb. 21, 1925," by Eugene V. Debs. The National Chairman of the Socialist Party of America was the featured speaker at a "mass meeting" held at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago in conjunction with the Second Convention of the CPPA. This is the full text of his speech, from the official stenographic report of the convention. Debs argues that political parties can be either capitalist or socialist, but not both, and that any attempt to merge the "irrepressible" antagonistic interests of the capitalist class and the working class in a new party will be met with failure. Political parties by definition can not be non-partisan, Debs indicates, and the term "progressive" has been so "prostituted" that even J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller might be reasonably expected to consider themselves progressives. Only a true Labor Party dealing with the fundamental issue of whether the national as a whole should own and control its own industries has any prospects for long-term success, in Debs' view.
"Statement of Party Policy by the Socialist Party in National Convention, Chicago, Illinois -- Feb. 24, 1925." The 1925 "Special Convention" of the Socialist Party was scheduled and held in Chicago immediately after the close of the 2nd Convention of the Convention for Progressive Political Action. This statement was issued by the SPA's convention to announce to the party membership that the CPPA Convention had failed to establish a Labor Party on the British model, and that with the departure of the railway unions and failure of the CPPA to establish a Labor Party, there was "no conceivable good either to the Conference or to the Socialists" for any continued affiliation. The Socialist Party consequently was severing its relations with that organization.
"The Chicago Conventions," by Bertha Hale White. [March 1925] Assessement of the Chicago conventions of the Conference for Progressive Political Action (Feb. 21-22, 1925) and the Socialist Party of America (Feb. 23-24, 1925) by the National Executive Secretary of the SPA. White provided valuable detail about the parliamentary maneuvering at the CPPA gathering -- a meeting split between the trade unionists seeking no party, socialists and radical unionists seeking a British Labor Party-style organization allowing participation by independent constituent organizations such as the Socialist Party, and liberals in favor of a Progressive Party constructed around a traditional individual memberships. White states that participants at the Socialist convention expressed "relief and satisfaction" knowing that the period of uncertainty was over effective with the unanimous decision of the SPA to withdraw from the CPPA.