Early Christian Socialist Movement in America.
The Christian Socialist movement in America emerged in the late 1880s. The first Christian Socialist publication was a paper called The Dawn, edited by Rev. W.D.P. Bliss and published in Boston. Around this publication a Chrisitan Socialist League emerged, with Rev. E.D. Wheelock the group's President and Rev. Frederick D. Strickland its Secretary.
Many prominent leaders of the early Social Democratic Party and its successor, the Socialist Party of America, were Chrisitan Socialists. Among this number were included Massachusetts legislator Frederic O. McCartney; the first National Organizer of the Socialist Party, Charles Vail; educator Walter Mills; and Wisconsin Socialist leader Carl D. Thompson.
Of particular importance to the early American Socialist Party were the "Social Crusaders," a loose grouping organized by George Herron and centered around the monthly magazine The Social Crusader.
Christian Socalist Fellowship.
The Christian Socialist Fellowship emerged as a byproduct of the growth of the weekly newspaper, The Christian Socialist, edited in Danville, Illinois by Rev. E.E. Carr from January 1904.
1. 1st Annual Conference --- Louisville, KY --- June XX-18, 1906.
The 1st Annual Conference elected Rev. Lucien V. Rule of Kentucky as General Secretary and Rev. W.A. Ward of Henderson, KY as Treasurer. The meeting was occupied with addresses, sermons, and songs and adopted a very basic constitution for the organization. According to this document, the purpose of the Christian Socialist Fellowship was "to permeate churches, denominations, and other religious institutions with the social message of Jesus; to show that Socialism is the necessary economic expression of the Christian life; to end the class struggle by establishing industrial democracy; and to hasten the reign of justice and brotherhood on the earth."
Annual dues were set as "one dollar or more." An annual conference of the organization was specified in the constitution.
In November 1906, The Christian Socialist moved to Chicago and added a talented young Swedish-born Baptist minister named Jacob O. Bentall to the editorial staff.
2. 2nd Annual Conference --- Chicago, IL --- June 1-4, 1907.
The 2nd Annual Conference elected Rev. Edward J. Ward of Rochester, NY as General Secretary and re-elected Rev. W.A. Ward of Henderson, KY as Treausrer. A group of organizational plans and resolutions were adopted by the gathering.
A proposal was made to change the constitution of the Christian Socialist Fellowship to require membership in the Socialist Party of America as a condition of membership. After debate this proposal was voted down by "an overwhelming majority" of those assembled.
The 2nd Conference established a system of "District Secretaries," who would organize in geographic areas surrounding favorable urban centers. The District Offices maintained by these local officials would be supported by 50% of the dues collected and 20% of the revenue gathered for subscriptions to The Christian Socialist -- the rest of these funds to be mailed in to the General Secretary or the office of The Christian Socialist, respectively.
(fn. "The Christian Socialist Fellowship: Constitution, Plans, Resolutions, and a Brief Account of Its Origin and Progress," Christian Socialist, Aug. 15, 1907, pp. 5-6; Carr, "The Fellowship and the Parties," Christian Socialist, Sept. 1, 1907, pg. 3.) 3. 3rd Annual Conference --- New York, NY --- May 28-31, 1908.
According to a statement by the General Secretary of the Christian Socialist Fellowship, the group had shown great growth in 1908, its total membership jumping from just 32 on Jan. 1, 1908 to about 260 at the time of the 3rd Conference.
4. 4th Annual Conference --- Toledo, OH --- May 28-30, 1909.
The 4th Annual Conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowshp was attended by 26 delegates, representing 7 states. A roll of "over 500 members" of the Christian Socialist Fellowship was reported. Socialist mayor of Toledo Brand Whitlock addressed the gathering, joined by Dr. Long and Rev. W.A. Prosser. According to a report in The Christian Socialist, "The success of the first night's program was in no small degree owing to Prof. Moyer's inspiring Songs of Socialism [socialist songbook], and to Mrs. Dr. Pyle's entrancing vocal solos.
The second day featured an addresses on "The Socialist as a Prophet," delivered by Rev. Eliiot White and "The Moral Power of the Socialist Ideal," by Rev. Paul H. Castle, while in the evening Rev. Thomas P. Byrnes addressed a public meeting on the topic "The Social, Political, and Industrial Foundations of the Kingdom of God" and Rev. E.E. Carr spoke on "The Social Message of Jesus."
Day 3 featured an address by Rev. William A. Ward on "A People Without a Country." The evening public session included Rev. Harvey Dee Brown, speaking on "Spiritual and Economic Determinism," and Rev. John D. Long on "The Economics of Jesus."
The 4th Conference adopted a new constitution for the organization which integrated proposals made by New York and Chicago organizations. The new structure reduced the size of the governing "General Executive Committee" from 50 to a less unwieldy 25 members, and switched the organization to a monthly dues system making use of 15 cent stamps, proceeds of which were to be divided between the National Office, State Office, and Local Centers (the primary party organization of the CSF). Membership in the organization was divided into two castes, the "active" members -- who declared themselves to be both Christians and Socialists, to support the object and constitution of the organization, and to pay the 15 cent monthly dues -- and "associate" members -- who made no such claims of being Christians or Socialists, but who merely supported the general aims of the organization and paid dues. Associate members were allowed voice but not vote at the annual gatherings of the organization.
Rev. Elliot White was elected General Secretary by the Conference (a man of the Chicago faction) in a head-to-head race run against sitting CSF General Secretary, Dr. John D. Long (of the New York faction). Long refused to relinquish the post or to turn over the list of members of the Fellowship, however, and a bitter factional controversy ensued. The deposed General Secretary from New York issued a "referendum" (of dubious legality since it was not based upon a petition as specified in the CSF constitution) to the membership seeking to overturn the actions of the Toledo Conference, including the election of officers and the passage of the new constitution. Over the howls of his factional opponents, Long declared the actions of the Toledo Conference reversed and himself re-elected by his own referendum -- an action which was denounced as illegal. Long claimed to have received the votes of 143 of the CSF's 523 paid members to whom ballots were sent.
[fn. "We Told You So," Christian Socialist, Aug. 1, 1909, pg. 5].
"WE ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO ABIDE BY THIS UNJUST, ILLEGAL, AND FRAUDULENT REFERENDUM," declared Editor Rev. E.E. Carr in the pages of the July 15, 1909 issue of The Christian Socialist. Carr received the support of Gene Debs in this factional scrimmish, with the widely respected Socialist orator writing on July 26, 1909 that "So far as I can see, your position is right; at least I can see nothing wrong with it. And in a letter to Dr. Long, in answer to one from him, I have taken occasoin to express myself accordingly."
[fn. "Debs Approves Our Position," Christian Socialist, Aug. 1, 1909, pg. 5].
Carr and his Chicago associates called upon the New York Center to declare its "referendum" to be null and void. As Elliott White had resigned the post of General Secretary rather than continue in the factional wrangle, the demand was issued to fulfill that vacancy in the constitutally-determined method, by majority vote of the General Executive Committee elected at the Toledo Conference.
A vote was subsequently held by the General Executive Committee, resulting in the election of Rev. William A. Ward of Henderson, Kentucky, a minister in the Church of Christ (Disciples), as Secretary, and Harvey P. Moyer of Chicago, a Congregational Church layman, as Treasurer. With The Christian Socialist firmly in the hands of the Chicago faction, Long and the New York Center were unable to gain traction and fairly rapidly vanished from the scene.
[fn. "New General Officers for the Christian Socialist Fellowship," Christian Socialist, Sept. 1, 1909, pg.1.
"Constitution of the Christian Socialist Fellowship: Adopted at the First Annual Conference, Louisville, KY -- June 18, 1906." Basic document of organizational law of the Christian Socialist Fellowship, adopted by the group's founding conference held in Louisville, Kentucky. This first constitution remained in effect without changes until the 4th Conference in May 1909. The document is short and extremely basic, calling for annual conferences of the organization, with administration handled by a Secretary, Treasurer, and a National Executive Committee of 50 -- a quorum of which is defined as being 5 plus the two executive officers. According to the constitution, the purpose of the CSF is "to permeate churches, denominations, and other religious institutions with the social message of Jesus; to show that Socialism is the necessary economic expression of the Christian life; to end the class struggle by establishing industrial democracy; and to hasten the reign of justice and brotherhood upon earth." Membership is held open to any individual (not necessarily a member of the Socialist Party) who agrees to this object and provides his name and annual dues of "at least $1" to the Secretary of the organization.
"Plans and Resolutions Adopted at the 2nd Annual Conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowship, Chicago, Ill. -- June 1-4, 1907." The Right Wing of the Socialist Party of America were a group of individuals clustered around a non-party propaganda organization called the Christian Socialist Fellowship (CSF). The CSF was established in June of 1906 by the editor of The Christian Socialist, Rev. Edward Ellis Carr, and this semi-monthly publication served as the official organ of the faction, which explicitly sought the amelioration of the class struggle through policies of enlightened and humane reform. This document collects the various "plans and resolutions" adopted at the 2nd Conference of the CSF -- actions which expanded the group's structure to include "District Secretaries" who were to maintain district offices funded by a portion of the dues they collected and subscriptions they sold. The 2nd Conference also defined the relationship of the CSF to the Socialist Party: stating that while the CSF thoroughly accepted "the economic interpretation of social and political causes, and have no desire to qualify it by any revisionist demand," it also asserted that "the party ought strictly to avoid every form of religious and anti-religious theory or dogma on the lecture platform and in the party publications; and that such opinion should be regarded as a private matter, everyone having the fullest liberty of belief and expression as an individual." The CSF also declared it to be a group capable of helping "to make the professed followers of Jesus the propagandists of Socialism that they should be" and it offered its services to the party "in presenting the Socialist economic doctrine in any church, in the YMCA, or in any other organization which is closed to a Socialist propaganda that does not come under the name 'Christian.'"
"The Christian Socialist Fellowship: A Brief Account of its Origin and Progress," by E.E. Carr [Aug. 15, 1907] This thumbnail history of the Christian Socialist movement in America by founding spirit of the Christian Socialist Fellowship Edward Ellis Carr provides a set of names and details for further exploration by any scholar seeking to do original work in this relatively unplowed field of American radical history. Carr states that the first Christian Socialist publication in America (outside of the publications of the various communal sects) was The Dawn, published in Boston from the 1880s by Rev. W.D.P. Bliss with the aid of Rufus W. Weeks. The second main center of the Christian Socialist movement emerged in the 1890s around the publication The Social Crusader, including George Herron, J. Stitt Wilson, and others. The Collectivist Society of Rufus Weeks also merits mention, as does, of course, Carr's own Christian Socialist Fellowship, which included prominently such Socialist luminaries as the young Assistant Editor of The Christian Socialist, Rev. Jacob O. Bentall (later active in the Communist Labor Party and Lovestone organization) and Harvey P. Moyer. Other names dropped as participants or supporters of the Christian Socialist movement read like a veritable who's who of the early SP Right, including Walter Mills, Charles Vail, John Spargo, and Carl Thompson.
"The Fellowship and the Parties," by E.E. Carr [Sept. 1, 1907] This reply by Christian Socialist Editor Edward Ellis Carr to an unspecified article asserts positively that there was complete unanimity at the founding conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowship with regards to its endorsement of the Socialist Party. "so far as I know, every member of the Fellowship who enjoys the ballot votes the Socialist Party ticket, though this is not a test of membership in the Fellowship," Carr emphasizes. Carr declares the nature of the Christian Socialist Fellowship thusly: "The Fellowship is a propaganda society, not a political party. The place to join the Socialist Party is at the 'branch,' or, if the party means those who merely vote the ticket, at the election booth. A propaganda society, like the 'Collectivist Society' and the 'Commonwealth Club,' does not usually require party membership for admission." (It might parenthetically be noted that support of a similarly structured propaganda society collecting membership dues called the "Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party" was suddenly deemed to be an expellable offense after the result of the 1919 party election became known to the outgoing 1918-19 NEC. The fact that the Left Wing Section collected dues and admitted non-members of the SP to its councils were disingenuously held up as the primary reasons that the group being declared anathema.) Carr declares that while the CSF seeks the establishment of Socialism and "recognizes" the class struggle, "it was not deemed wise for the Fellowship to commit itself constitutionally to any particular party because there are two Socialist parties in the United States and two in Canada, all within our direct field of propaganda, and we wished to leave the Fellowship door open to every Socialist who believes in our objects as expressed in the Constitution." Carr concludes that the CSF is "rooting deep and growing fast and bids fair to help largely in arousing the people for the glorious revolution which shall realize the highest dreams of saints and sages for humanity, that shall bring real liberty and peace, real prosperity and Christianity to all men."
"Shall the Two Parties Unite?" by Carl D. Thompson [Feb. 15, 1908] The years 1907 and 1908 saw an effort by the Left Wing of the Socialist Party to bring about unity between that organization and the Sociailst Labor Party. This concentrated effort of course drew a response from those opposing the revolutionary Socialist agenda. One prominent Socialist who was particularly outspoken in his opposition to the proposal was Wisconsin state organizer Carl D. Thompson, who contributed this two-part article to the constructive Socialist organ The Christian Socialist. Thompson outlines the turbulent history of the Socialist Labor Party and its various "unity" efforts of the past -- with the anarchist movement, with the Greenback Labor movement, with the Henry George campaign. These efforts at a unity of weakness are contrasted with the early history of the Socialist Party, which built its organizational size and strength through an essential and timely split with the utopian communalists who had won the day at the convention of 1898. Thompson declares that the SLP had been responsible for disruption with the labor movement with its dualist Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance and support of the Industrial Workers of the World; that it held a sectarian position on the agrarian question, which had served as inspiration for a long-running melee in the Socialist Party of Nebraska; and undermined party democracy, State Autonomy, and freedom of the press through its dogmatic belief in party ownership of the press and strict party centralization. The addition of the SLP en masse to the ranks of the Socialist Party would additionally bolster the "Impossibilist" wing of the party, in Thompson's view, thus setting back the work of years to lessen the influence of this wing in the party's councils. "Therefore if these people wish to join the Socialist Party the door is open to them as individuals, the same as to all others. By accepting our platform, our program, constitution, and tactics, they may come in. And upon no other ground. For them to propose any other bears upon its face a sinister suggestion. Let them apply as others do to the individual branches. And let the branches be the judge of their individual fitness and right as in the case with all others," Thompson concludes.
"The Party Referendum," by E.E. Carr [Jan. 1, 1909] This article by Rev. E.E. Carr, editor of The Christian Socialist, demonstrates that there was a tradition of inner-party factional campaigning within the Socialist Party years before the abrogated National Executive Committee election of 1919 -- which was set aside by the outgoing NEC on the various pretexts of factional membership organization within the party, existence of slates and bloc voting, and purported election fraud. Carr endorses the re-election of Victor Berger, Carl Thompson, Graham Phelps-Stokes, and John Work -- considering the re-election of Morris Hillquit, Algie Simons, and A.H. Floaten assured. Carr also lends his support to the re-election campaign of J. Mahlon Barnes as Executive Secretary of the party, noting that "he has been faithful, fair, and efficient in that office..." Seemingly without noting the contradiction of his own factional organization in order to defeat factional organization, Carr notes that "a freer and more general comment in all our papers concerning the fitness of candidates would be decidedly helpful to the party, and it is the only way to prevent dangerous cliques. Some who oppose an open discussion of these matters are the very ones who are most incessant at star-chamber scheming -- and open discussions are likely to upset their secret plans!"
"Constitution of the Christian Socialist Fellowship: Adopted at the 4th General Conference, Toledo, OH -- May 29, 1909." The controversial 4th General Conference of the Christian Socialist Fellowship attempted to ameliorate a growing factional controversy between its feuding New York and Chicago affiliates. It also enacted this new constitution for the organization, which at this time had approximately 525 members. The new constitution once again depicted the class struggle as a problem to be rectified rather than an immutable part of capitalism, expressing the object of the CSF as follows: "To proclaim Socialism to churches and other religious organizations; to show the necessity of Socialism to the complete triumph of Christianity; to end the class struggle by establishing industrial and political democracy; and to hasten the reign of justice and brotherhood -- the Kingdom of God on earth." Under the new constitution, dues were raised and made payable monthly and the structure and role of local, district, and state organizations were defined for the first time. The size of the governing General Executive Committee was additionally cut in half, from 50 to 25 members.