International Labor Defense (ILD) was the consolidated legal defense mass organization headed by the Workers Party of America from 1925. It replaced the Labor Defense Council, the WPA's previous mass organization formed for purposes of legal defense.
The ILD began with a discussion between James P. Cannon and "Big Bill" Haywood in Haywood's room in Moscow in 1925. Cannon recalls that "the old fighter, who was exiled from America with a 20-year old sentence handing over him was deeply concerned about the persecution of workers in America. He wanted to have something done for the almost forgotten men lying in jail all over the country."
[fn. James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism. (NY: Lyle Stuart, 1960), pg. 162.]
A plan was arrived at for a non-partisan body that would defend any member of the working class movement, without regard to personal political views. Any working class activist who came under the thumb of persecution by the capitalist legal system would be supported legally, morally, and financially.
After preliminary negotiations in Moscow, an agreement was reached outlining the procedure for organizing the ILD and outlining its relationship to two Comintern-related international aid organizations, International Red Aid (MOPR) and International Worlers' Relief (WIR).
1. Founding Conference --- Chicago, IL --- June 28, 1925.
The ILD was a membership organization, which included the use of its own dues cards akin to those of the Communist and Socialist Parties and the holding of regular local meetings. By the end of 1926, it claimed a membership of 20,000 individuals in 156 branches. It also claimed another 75,000 memberships through collective joining of organizations wishing to affiliate.
[fn. Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia. (NY: Viking, 1960), pp. 180-181.]
Initial headquarters of the ILD was maintained at 23 S Lincoln Street, Chicago, IL.
The effective head of the ILD until his expulsion from the party in 1928 was James P. Cannon. Years later he recalled the early ILD as a sort of singular achievement of the ultra-factionalized Workers Party of America:
"The real story of the ILD is the story of the work it did, the campaigns it organized, the scrupulous handling and public accounting of its funds, and the broad, out-going, non-partisan spirit in which all its activities were conducted. Strange as it may seem not the least reason why this was possible was that I was identified with a party faction! Our facton served the ILD as a border guard to keep factional disruption out of the ILD, or, in any case, to reduce it to a minimum. Factionalism, which was devouring the party in those years,, affected the ILD less than any other field. * * * The work of the ILD, and its general reputation, greatly benefited from the fact that I was not only a true believer in labor solidarity and financial responsibility in labor defense matters, but also a politician and a factonalist able to defend the autonomy of the ILD in these respects"
[fn. James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism. (NY: Lyle Stuart, 1960), pp. 160-161.]
Cannon notes that the first step of the ILD was to compile information about the extant cases of American "class war prisoners":
"There were [initially] 106 class war prisoners in the United States -- scores of IWW members railroaded in California, Kansas, Utah, and other states under the criminal syndicalist laws. We located a couple of obscure anarchists in prison in Rhode Island; a group of AFL coal miners in West Virginia; two labor organizers in Thomaston, Maine -- besides the more prominent and better known prisoners... They were not criminals at all, but strike leaders, organizers, agitators, dissenters -- our kind of people. Not one of these 106 prisoners was a member of the Communist Party! But the ILD defended and helped them all."
[fn. James P. Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism. (NY: Lyle Stuart, 1960), pg. 163.]
During the first half of the 1930s, dues were 20 cents per month, with periodic additional dues assessments levied for special projects.
In 1946 the ILD was merged with the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties to form the Civil Rights Congress.
The ILD published a monthly magazine in Chicago called Labor Defender. The first issue was dated January 1926 and announced an intent to build and ILD with a membership of 200,000 dues paying members. Editor of this publication was T.J. O'Flaherty and Business Manager was George Maurer.
The International Labor Defense organization, while clearly started through the volition of the Communist organization, included among its governing National Committee of 38 members a number of prominent figures from the Socialist Party, Ralph Chaplin of the IWW, and an array of non-party libertarian radicals.
According to a list published in early issues of The Labor Defender, the initial executive officers of the ILD in 1926 were:
James P. Cannon --- Executive Secretary. Andrew T. McNamara --- Chairman. Edward C. Wentworth --- Vice-Chairman.
The National Committee (38) included: Rose Baron, Max Bedacht, J.O. Bentall, F.G. Biedenkapp, Alice Stone Blackwell, William Bouck, William Montgomery Brown, James P. Cannon, Ralph Chaplin, Henry Corbishley, Eugene V. Debs, Jacob Dolla, Robert W. Dunn, William F. Dunne, John Edenstrom, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, William Z. Foster, Harrison George, Benjamin Gitlow, Ellen Hayes, Rose Karsner, Fred Mann, George Maurer, Andrew T. McNamara, E.R. Meitzen, Fred Merrick, Cora Meyers, Robert Minor, William Mollenhauer, Scott Nearing, Charles E. Ruthenberg, Mandel Shuchter, Upton Sinclair, Dan Stevens, John T. Taylor, Edward C. Wentworth, Robert Whitter, David Rhys Williams. (Those who were known members of the Workers (Communist) Party in italics).
"A Communist Trial in Pittsburgh," by A. Jakira [Feb. 1926] Eyewitness account of the trial in Pittsburgh of Edward Horacek, a draftsman and member of the Machinists Union who was arrested and tried for his activities as a member of the Workers Party of America. Horacek was taken as a part of the April 27 and 28, 1923 raids by federal agents, state policemen, and county detectives on the Pittsburgh headquarters of the Workers Party and was the first of 9 defendants to go to trial. Jakira tells the familiar tale of a zealous prosecution with its lying witnesses before a stacked jury and a biased judge. The jury convicted Horacek for having back in 1923 distributed the printed program of the WPA (a registered political party in the state of Pennsylvania) and for having been invoiced for 50 copies of The Liberator, a WPA artistic-political magazine "sold on newsstands and bookstores in practically every city of this country." No articles from The Liberator had been introduced into evidence during the trial to demonstrate that the publication was seditious, nor was any over act by Horacek alleged -- Horacek was simply found guilty of 2 of the 8 charges made against him for his membership in the WPA and for distributing its literature. The conviction meant a potential sentence of 20 years in prison, writes Jakira. Includes a pen-and-ink caricature of Henry J. Lennon, chief of the Pittsburgh anti-red unit, chief prosecution witness in the trial who was accused by Jakira of having perjured himself on the stand.
"Clique or Class? What's Happening in the ILD?" by Benjamin Gitlow [Jan. 1, 1930] This article by Ben Gitlow, a leading member of the "Communist Party-Majority Group" organization headed by Jay Lovestone, charges that a campaign was well underway in the International Labor Defense organization to change its nature from a non-partisan workers' defense organization to the partisan legal defense arm of the so-called "'loyalist' clique" -- i.e. the CPUSA. Gitlow quotes the 6th Congress of the Comintern's characterization of the ILD as "an independent organization standing outside of all parties which on the one hand defends all victims of the revolutionary struggle and on the other admits to membership without any distinctions of party." He contrasts this with the political practice employed at 1929 gatherings, in which "every trick and manipulation" was used "in order to exclude the 'renegades' from the district and national conferences." The conferences had their floors closed to speeches by "non-Party workers," Gitlow alleges, and "not a single non-Party worker" was elected to the group's 1930 national convention. Gitlow warns that this sectarianization of the ILD would soon be formalized. "At the New York conference Nessin and [Louis] Engdahl announced officially that the national convention would amend the constitution of the ILD by eliminating the declaration that the ILD is a non-partisan organization. Thus will the finishing touches be put..." he declares.