Chapter Eight: The Heyday of the Socialist Party (1905-1914)

8. The Heyday of the Socialist Party (1905-1914)

W.E.B. Du Bois began to gain prominence
in this era as a leading light of Civil Rights, opposing
the more accomodationist Booker T. Washington.
Later in life he examined socialism and joined
the Communist Party of the United States.
The decade prior to the beginning of the first World War was a time of rapid growth and trustification of American industry, and also of imperialist expansionism. In the United States, as Lenin pointed out, the period of "imperialism, in particular, the era of finance capital, the era of gigantic capitalist monopolies, the era of the transformation of simple trust-capitalism into state-trust capitalism, shows an unprecedented strengthening of the state and an unheard of development of the bureaucratic and military apparatus."1

Following up its victory in the Spanish-American War, American imperialism turned its chief attention to the conquest of Latin America, particularly the Caribbean area. American investments soared and American armed forces intervened directly in the life of many of the countries—Venezuela, Honduras, Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and others. Cuba and Puerto Rico were held in colonial bondage. American aggression was one of the major factors that caused the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. Yankee imperialism was systematically pushing the older British imperialism aside in the Caribbean. But the biggest conquest for Wall Street during the period was the seizure of Panama and the building of the Panama Canal.

The capitalists in the United States were busily grabbing the wealth of the country and its industries. In 1914, according to the report of an official government commission, "forty-four families have yearly incomes of $1,000,000 or more, and less than two million of the people . . . own so percent more of the nation's wealth than all the other 90 millions. The rich two percent own 60 percent of the wealth, the middle class 33 percent own 35 percent, and the poor 65 percent own but five percent."2 The wholesale capitalist robbery of the people was enforced through a complete control of the government and through elaborate systems of espionage and gunmen in the company towns of the basic industries.

While generally the skilled workers of these times had considerably higher wages than those prevailing in other countries, the masses of the unskilled, unorganized, foreign-born workers, who made up the great majority of the workers in nearly all the trustified industries, were forced down to a bare subsistence level. The noted report of the Commission on Industrial Relations 3 pointed out: "It is certain that at least one-third and possibly one-half of the families of wage earners employed in manufacturing and mining earn in the course of the year less than enough to support them in anything like a comfortable and decent condition" (p. 10). And, "No better proof of the miserable condition of the mass of American workers need be sought than the fact that in recent years laborers in large numbers have come to this country only from Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and the backward and impoverished nations of southern and eastern Europe" (p. 3). And, "Have the workers secured a fair share of the enormous increase in wealth which has taken place in this country, during the period, as a result largely of their labors? The answer is emphatically—No!"  (p. 8).

On the eve of World War I women worked for about 30 percent less than men, child labor was a great national evil, and the Negro toilers, barred from many industries and trade unions, were by far the worst off of all. Owing to the employers' boundless greed, the industries were also literal slaughter-houses for the workers, the Commission on Industrial Relations stating, "Approximately 35,000 persons were killed last year in American industry, and at least half of these deaths were preventable" (p. 46). The Commission suggested that the situation might be improved if the capitalists were held criminally responsible for such needless deaths. Working hours ranged up to twelve per day, seven days per week (steel, railroads, etc.), with relatively few workers having the eight-hour day (coal mining, building, printing, etc.). In many localities, the immigrant workers' "homes" were mere bunkhouses, each working shift taking its turn in bed. The workers had little or no financial protection from industrial accidents. Nor was there any trace of insurance protection against old age and sickness. The workers were also fully exposed to the terrors of joblessness through economic crises.

The government, in all its branches, actively sustained this brutal exploitation. "The workers," says the Commission's report, "have an almost universal conviction that they, both as individuals and as a class, are denied justice in the enactment, adjudication, and administration of law" (p. 38). And, "It is quite clear that the fourteenth amendment not only has failed to operate to protect personal rights but has operated almost wholly for the protection of the property rights of corporations"  (p. 56).


The pre-World War I period that we are dealing with was one of an intense offensive against labor and the people by the greedy and arrogant monopolists. It was also a time of intensive counter-offensive by the working class against intolerable working and living conditions, a period of fierce strikes and of rapid growth of the workers' economic and political organizations.

During these years the A.F. of L. and railroad unions, despite the Gompersite theories of class collaboration, conducted many bitterly fought struggles. These were precipitated by the militant fighting spirit of the workers. The strikes were intensified by the economic crises of 1907 and 1913. Among the more important of the current strikes were those of the "shirtwaist" girls in New York in 1909 and the cloakmakers in New York and the men's clothing workers in Chicago in 1910, the national Harriman railroad strike in 1911, the desperate fight to organize the West Virginia coal miners in 1913, the Calumet copper mine strike of the same year, and the murderous Colorado coal strike of 1914. In all these strikes, the left wing was active. Everywhere the employers used the utmost violence. During the Calumet copper strike a company gunman shouted "Fire!" in a hall crowded with strikers' children, and 73 were crushed to death in the panic. The employers continued, too, to harpoon the unions in the political field, notably in the famous Dan-bury Hatters and Buck Stove and Range anti-boycott injunction cases. The first case led to a fine of $232,000 against the workers, and the latter case brought about the indictment, but not jailing, of Gompers, Morrison, and Mitchell, the top A.F. of L. leaders.

The politically and personally corrupt Gompersite leaders met this employers' onslaught in their usual spirit of retreat and surrender. Basing themselves principally upon the skilled workers and upon collaboration with employers, they rejected every proposal to establish industrial unionism; they voted down repeated moves for a labor party; and they broke their own strikes with the outrageous system of "union scabbing"—that is, part of the unions in a given industry working while the rest were striking. Their one feeble reply to the onslaught of capital was, in 1907, the outlining of what was called "Labor's Bill of Grievances." This series of timid legislative proposals finally resulted, in 1914, in the passage of the Clayton Act, which was supposed to shield organized labor from the Sherman anti-trust law, but did not. If during this period the membership of the A.F. of L. advanced from 1,676,200 in 1904 to 2,020,671 in 1914, this was due very largely to the efforts of the rank-and-file Socialists in the trade unions and to the effects of the big I.W.W. strikes, but not to the work of the overpaid and corrupt A.F. of L. leadership.

Two famous labor cases developed during this stormy decade. The first was the arrest, in February 1906, of Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone, national officers of the Western Federation of Miners, who were charged with the bomb-killing of Governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho in December 1905. After a bitter court fight which attracted national attention, this notorious frame-up was defeated and the three defendants were triumphantly acquitted. The second big labor case was that of the two MacNamara brothers, James and John (and eventually Matt Schmidt and David Kaplan). The MacNamaras were arrested in April 1911, and charged with dynamiting the Los Angeles Times building during a fierce struggle between the National Erectors Association and the Structural Iron Workers Union. The two brothers, after being betrayed into pleading guilty, served long terms in California penitentiaries. James J. MacNamara died in prison after being there 28 years. Several years before he died this indomitable fighter became a Communist.

Regarding the aggressions of American imperialism in Latin America, the A.F. of L. leaders, who in 1898 had vigorously opposed the seizure of the Philippines and "expansion" generally, had radically changed their position. They were now imperialistically minded themselves. Identifying their interests with those of the capitalists, they condoned Wall Street's infringement upon tire sovereignty of the peoples to the south. In particular their pro-imperialist meddling in the Mexican Revolution during these years was a deterrent to that great movement. The S.P. and the I.W.W., however, took more of a militant position against Wall Street's interventions and particularly in support of the Mexican Revolution.


The I.W.W. played a most important part during these immediate pre-war, pre-Communist Party years. At its foundation in June 1905, the organization was largely Socialist, but shortly thereafter it began to develop an anarcho-syndicalist, anti-political orientation. Already at the 1907 convention an unsuccessful attempt was made to strike out the endorsement of political action from the I.W.W. preamble. In the 1908 convention the "direct actionists," mostly floating workers from the West, who were led by Vincent St. John and William L. Trautmann, were in control, and they deleted altogether the hated "political clause." Thenceforth, the organization was to place its reliance upon the general strike, sabotage, and other methods of "direct action." More and more it took an anti-Marxist position in ensuing years. This move of the I.W.W. into syndicalism alienated the political Socialists. The W.F. of M. quit the I.W.W. during the first year, Debs withdrew shortly afterward, and the break with De Leon came in 1908. De Leon later organized the Workers International Industrial Union, which was similar to the old S.T.L.A.

The turn of the I.W.W. to syndicalism was to be explained by a number of factors, including (a) the disfranchised condition of many millions of foreign-born workers 4; (b) the workers' disgust at the opportunist political policies of the A. F. of L. and S.P. leaders; (c) the current widespread corruption in American political life; (d) the influx of consciously anarchist elements. As we have seen, roughly similar forces had combined to produce anarcho-syndicalism in Parsons' Chicago movement of the 1880's. A further important element in creating I.W.W. syndicalism was the long-continued influence of De Leonism itself. De Leon in his theorizing constantly played down the role of the Party and exaggerated that of the industrial unions before, during, and after the revolution. St. John and the other anti-parliamentarians and "direct actionists" of the I.W.W., by eliminating the Party altogether from their program, simply carried De Leon's ideas to their logical conclusion. Notwithstanding all his eventual denunciations of the I.W.W., De Leon was in truth the ideological father of anarcho-syndicalism in the United States.

The I.W.W. during this pre-war decade conducted many important and hard-fought strikes—at Goldfield, McKees Rocks, Lawrence, Akron, Paterson, New Bedford, Chicago, Little Falls, and in various parts of Louisiana, Minnesota, California, and Washington. These strikes were mostly among metal miners, lumber workers, textile workers, farm workers, and construction workers-largely foreign-born. The I.W.W. also led many courageous local fights for the right to speak on the streets to the workers-in Spokane, San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Sioux City, Omaha, and elsewhere. During these fights many hundreds of members were slugged and jailed by vigilante-police gangs. 5 The I.W.W. became the very symbol of indomitable, fighting proletarian spirit.

During this period I.W.W. militants were barbarously framed and prosecuted. Among the more outrageous of many such cases were those of Preston and Smith, Nevada, 1907, 25 and 10 years; Cline and Rangel, Texas, 1913, 25 years to life; Ford and Suhr, California, 1913, life imprisonment; and—most shocking of all—Joe Hill, celebrated I.W.W. song-writer, Utah, November 19, 1915, executed on a false murder charge.

The I.W.W. won, or half won, most of its bitterly contested struggles. Nevertheless, by 1914 it had organized only about 100,000 members. Already it was sharply displaying many of the internal weaknesses which were eventually to prove fatal to its growth and development. Among the more crucial of these weaknesses were its destructive head-on collision with the trade unions and the Socialist Party; its failure to cultivate the political struggle of the working class; its reckless use of the general strike; its incorrect handling of the religious question (the "No God, no master" slogan in Lawrence); its anarchistic decentralization, which prevented all solid organization; its identification with sabotage; its reliance upon spontaneity; and its sectarian insistence, among conservative workers, upon their acceptance of its syndicalist conception of the revolution.


In all the strikes, free speech fights, labor cases, and political struggles of this period, the left-wing worker fighters of the Socialist Party were in the front line. The dominant intellectuals patronizingly called them the "Jimmy Higginses"6 of the movement. That is, they did the work and the fighting, while the petty-bourgeois leadership got the credit and held the party's official posts. A good example of the militancy of the left-wing was the great fight it waged to save Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone. For example, Dr. Herman Titus, long the outstanding left-wing leader on the Pacific coast, moved his paper, the Seattle Socialist, to Boise, Idaho, the trial center, and published it from there, making the great trial almost its sole subject. The Appeal to Reason also carried on a tremendous campaign for the accused. In his famous Appeal article, "Arise Ye Slaves," the fiery Debs declared: "If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood, and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns."7

In consequence of its many activities in the sharp class struggle of the period, the Party grew rapidly in numbers and influence.   By 1912, the high-water mark achieved by the S.P., the Party had some 120,000 members. Pennsylvania was the banner state, with 12,000. The party had a powerful base in the trade unions. There was also strong organization among the western farmers. In this same year Max Hayes of the Typographical Union ran for President of the A. F. of L. and received 5,073 convention votes as against Gompers' 11,974. At this time, supporting the S.P. were the following A. F. of L. unions: Brewery, Hat and Cap Makers, Ladies Garment Workers, Bakery, Fur, Machinists, Tailors, and Western Federation of Miners. There were also large Socialist contingents among the leadership of the Coal Miners, Flint Glass, Painters, Carpenters, Brick, Electrical, Printers, Cigarmakers, and other unions. The Socialists likewise led many local and state councils of the A. F. of L. and they were generally a rapidly growing force in the unions.

The S.P. was also expanding its activity into many new fields. In 1905 the Intercollegiate Socialist Society was formed; in 1906 the Rand School was established; and in 1913 the Young People's Socialist League was organized. Very special attention was also paid to winning over the preachers, the Christian Socialists being a strong force in the party. The party carried on some work among women. In 1908 a national women's commission was set up. The same year the Socialist women of the East Side in New York organized a suffrage demonstration on March 8th, a date which later on became International Women's Day. Neglect of women's historical struggle for the vote, and underestimation of women's work in general, however, characterized both the S.L.P. and S.P. There were, nevertheless, many outstanding women workers in the Socialist Party.

The Party had considerable election success. In 1910 Emil Seidel was elected mayor of Milwaukee, and six months later Victor Berger was elected as the first Socialist in Congress from the same district. The Party in this period elected 56 mayors in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Montana, and New England, as well as 300 councilmen. In 1912 some 1,039 dues-paying Party members were holding elected offices. The presidential campaign of 1912, with Debs and Seidel as the candidates, resulted in a big advance for the Party—the vote, 897,011, being the highest polled by the Party up to that time.

The S.P. also built up a strong press. In 191s the Party had 323 periodicals. Among these were five English and eight non-English dailies; 262 English and 36 non-English weeklies; and 10 English and two non-English monthlies. The most important of these papers were the International Socialist Review, with about 200,000 circulation; Jewish Daily Forward, 200,000; National Rip Saw, 200,000; Wilshire's Magazine, 270,000; and the Appeal to Reason, 500,000.   The latter weekly, which then claimed the biggest circulation of any Socialist paper in the world, was owned by J. A. Wayland and edited by Fred D. Warren, with Debs a frequent contributor. It was a very aggressive organ, with a mixed policy of opportunist socialism, populism, and militant unionism. During 1912 it circulated 36,091,000 copies. It concentrated on large special editions. The big "Moyer-Haywood" and "Debs' Reply to Roosevelt" editions ran to three million copies each.8 It took four solid mail trains of ten cars apiece to transport each of these immense issues. The Appeal had behind it a devoted, organized "army" of up to 80,000 workers and farmers.

During this general period an internal development took place in the S.P. which was destined to have a profound effect upon the Party's future. This was the organization of the national groups, or "language federations." The opportunist leaders of the Party, with eyes fastened upon the skilled workers and the middle classes, characteristically paid little or no attention to Party organization work among the many millions of voteless, non-English-speaking immigrants. As a result the Socialist workers among these groups themselves took up their own organization along national lines. Thus, successively, there developed national federations of Finns, 1907; Letts, 1908; South Slavs, 1911; Italians, 1911; Scandinavians, 1911; Hungarians, 1912; Bohemians, 1912; Germans, 1913; Poles, 1913; Jews, 1913; Slovaks, 1913; Ukrainians, 1915; Lithuanians, 1915; Russians, 1915. 9 These groups, largely unskilled workers in the basic industries, developed highly organized movements, with elaborate papers, co-operatives, and educational institutions. Gradually, the federations, at first independent, became affiliated to the S.P.— to begin with, loosely as national groups, but finally also as individual members and branches. Each language group had a translator-secretary in the S.P. headquarters. By 1912 the federations had added some 20,000 very important proletarian members to the S.P.


The period 1905-14, among its many important developments, brought about a new resurgence of struggle by the Negro people, the most important since the crushing of the Negro people during the Reconstruction years following the Civil War. American monopoly capitalism, imperialism, with its generally accentuated reaction, was having catastrophic effects upon the persecuted and oppressed Negro people in the South.   Among these reactionary consequences were the repeal of the so-called Force Bills by Congress in 1894, the adoption all over the South of a whole series of Jim Crow laws relegating the Negro people to a position of semi-serfdom, the radical decline of land ownership in the South by Negroes, the rebirth of Ku Klux Klan terrorism, and the betrayal of the Populist movement in the South by such opportunists as Tom Watson and Ben Tillman. Particularly contemptible was the Jim Crow attitude of the southern white churches, which evidently looked forward to a "lily white" heaven. During 1888-1900, there was an average of 165 Negro lynchings yearly. 10 Bravely the Negro people fought against all this persecution.11

The greatly increased capitalist pressure upon the Negro people provoked sharp reactions from them. The first important expression of this was the organization of the Niagara movement in 1905. This movement was headed by the noted scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, and it sounded a ringing note of militant struggle for the Negro masses. Previously, from the early nineties on, Booker T. Washington had been the most outstanding spokesman of the Negro people. Through his Tuskegee movement he maintained that the Negro masses' path to progress was through improvement of their economic position by cultivating their skills and developing a strong middle class. He combated all struggle for social equality as "extremest folly." Washington was quite popular among white reformers and philanthropists; Andrew Carnegie, for example, gave him $600,000 for Tuskegee Institute.

The Niagara movement collided head-on with Washington's economic, political, and social doctrines. It rejected his policy of retreat and submission. "We shall not be satisfied with less than full manhood rights," its leaders declared. They demanded an end to all discrimination and insisted upon social equality. The modern Negro liberation movement can be said to have started with the Niagara agitation, which greatly alarmed the bourgeoisie. In 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded. This was an alliance of Negro middle class intellectuals and their white friends, mostly liberals and a few Socialists. Its line was to secure civil-rights justice in the courts and equal economic, trade union, and social opportunities. It fought against lynching and the poll tax. In 1910 the Niagara movement merged with the N.A.A.C.P. The National Urban League was established in 1911. A number of Socialist leaders helped to form these organizations.

The growing Negro liberation movement was, however, primarily the creation of the Negro middle class. The workers were not the vital factor in it that they were to become later. The organized Negro masses were also largely isolated from the general labor and Socialist movement. The A.F. of L. leadership, reeking with race prejudice, freely tolerated and encouraged unions with "lily-white" clauses in their constitutions. The Railroad Brotherhoods were even worse, all of them barring Negro workers from the unions and seeking to force them out of the railroad service. The I.W.W., however, took a much more advanced position, Haywood and the other leaders roundly condemning all manifestations of Jim Crow. The I.W.W. Brotherhood of Timber Workers, which conducted important strikes in the lumber industry of Louisiana during 1911-12, was composed about fifty percent of Negroes. Ben Fletcher, Philadelphia longshoreman, was the outstanding Negro leader in the I.W.W.

The S.P., under its petty-bourgeois leadership, virtually ignored the hardships and struggles of the Negro people. It held to the incorrect theory that the Negro was persecuted not because of his color, but only because he was a worker. The few Negroes who joined the Party in the South were placed in segregated locals. The Party conducted no campaign to halt the frightful campaign of lynching which was raging throughout the South.

This S.P. indifference to the oppression of the Negro people, as previously remarked, was largely due to white chauvinism, which is white supremacist Jim Crow. The extent to which this reactionary poison affected the S.P. middle class leadership was shockingly illustrated during the debate on Chinese exclusion at the S.P. national congress in 1910. The upshot of the discussion was that the Party, aligning itself with the corrupt A.F. of L. bureaucracy and in the face of strong opposition from Debs and other left-wingers, went on record with a weasel-worded resolution not to admit to this country Chinese and other Asian peoples who might "reduce" American living standards. Lenin sharply condemned this action, and even the opportunist Second International could not stomach it, publicly criticizing the American Socialist Party.

During this notorious debate, various right-wing leaders freely came forth with chauvinistic expressions, hardly to be outdone by the most rabid white supremacists. For example, the extreme right-winger, Ernest Untermann, who made the minority report at the convention, declared that "The question as to what race shall dominate the globe must be met as surely as the question as to what class shall dominate the world. We should neglect our duty to the coming generation of Aryan peoples if we did not do everything in our power, even today, to insure the final race victory of our own people."12


The Syndicalist League of North America was formed in March 1912, with William Z. Foster as national secretary and with headquarters in Chicago. The League was primarily a split-off from the I.W.W. Foster, after a year's study of the labor movement in France and Germany, during 1909-10, had become convinced that the I.W.W.'s policy of dual unionism was wrong. Returning to the United States, he pointed out that the effects of this dual unionism were to isolate the militants from the masses and to fortify the control of the Gompers bureaucracy in the old unions. He proposed that the I.W.W. should consolidate with the trade unions and devote itself to building the "militant minority" there in order to revolutionize these bodies. Frank Little was among those who agreed with Foster, but the I.W.W. as a whole would not hear of his policy. Foster, along with a few other militants, therefore, launched industrial organization.13

The League was not Marxist; it was syndicalist, modeled after the French Confederation of Labor. It advocated the general strike, industrial unionism, sabotage, anti-parliamentarism, anti-statism, anti-militarism, anti-clericalism, and an aggressive fighting policy. The S.L.N.A. had a distinct position of its own, however, in disputing the current syndicalist conception that the industrial unions would be the basis of the future society, taking the stand that labor unions were not producing bodies and that industry in the future would develop its own specific industrial organizations.14

The S.L.N.A. established about a dozen branches from Chicago westward, including a couple in western Canada. It carried on numerous strikes and organizing activities, and it produced four papers: The Syndicalist, 15 in Chicago; The Toiler, in Kansas City; The Unionist, in Omaha; and The Internationalist, in San Diego. Tom Mooney was a member of the organization, and he established a flourishing national section in the Molders Union. 16 Tom Mann of England, in 1913, made a highly successful national tour of the United States for the League.

The anarchist movement (Goldman-Berkman group), then almost completely decayed, tried to exploit the rising sentiment for French syndicalism. In Mother Earth, on September 30, 1912, Alexander Berkman and others published a call for the establishment of a syndicalist league, but nothing came of it.

The League petered out in 1914. Its death was primarily due to its incorrect syndicalist program. Its position against dual unionism was sound, but the left wing in the I.W.W. and S.P. was too deeply imbued with dual unionism to pay heed to the League's arguments for working within the old unions. Particularly so, as at this time the I.W.W. was carrying through a series of spectacular strikes. It is difficult to conceive now of how fervidly the left wing at that time believed in dual unionism. Bill Haywood said, "The 28,000 local unions of the A.F. of L. are 28,000 agencies of the capitalist class," and he added that he would rather cut off his right arm than belong to the A.F. of L. Vincent St. John declared that "The American Federation of Labor is not now and never can become a labor movement." De Leon stated that "The American Federation of Labor is neither American, nor a federation, nor of labor." Joe Ettor, Lawrence strike organizer, declared that it is "the first duty of every revolutionist to destroy the A.F. of L."17 Debs poured out a constant denunciation of the old craft unions and glorification of the dual industrial unions, and early in 1914 he called (in vain) for the establishment of a new labor movement, based upon an amalgamation of the U.M.W.A., the W.F. of M., and a regenerated I.W.W. 18 With such deep-seated convictions on dual unionism saturating the entire left wing, there was no place for the S.L.N.A. policy of "boring-from-within" the old unions. The S.L.N.A.'s anti-politics was also a big factor against it.


The big capitalists, greatly alarmed by the current growth of the trade unions, the I.W.W., and the Socialist Party during this period, in 1912 greatly elaborated their bourgeois reformism—in addition to their already extensive methods of breaking strikes, smashing unions, and generally fighting the advance of the working class. Thus was born in Democratic Party ranks the "New Freedom" of Woodrow Wilson, and in Republican circles the "Square Deal" of Theodore Roosevelt.

Wilson, with his anti-red demagogy, cried, "We are on the verge of a revolution," at the same time warning the people against the domination of the trusts. In general terms, he promised the people a new freedom, which, of course, failed to materialize. Roosevelt went even further than Wilson in his demagogy. With the steel trust behind him and sensing the need for a reform campaign, Roosevelt tried to get the Republican Party to write a few liberal planks into its platform. When he failed in this he seceded and launched the Progressive Party, with himself and Hiram Johnson as presidential candidates. This was the "Bull Moose," "Square Deal" ticket.

Roosevelt's program called for many reforms. He said, "We stand for the most advanced factory legislation. We will introduce state control over all the trusts, in order that there should be no poverty, in order that everyone shall receive decent wages. We will establish social and industrial justice; we bow and pay homage to all reforms; there is one reform and one only that we do not want and that is the expropriation of the capitalists."

In the three-cornered big-party fight Wilson won the election, with a million short of a majority; but with 435 electoral votes, against 88 for Roosevelt and 8 for Taft. The S.P., as we have seen, in spite of the double-barreled demagogy from the old party candidates, polled its largest vote up till then. The Progressive Party died after the campaign.

Lenin recognized the importance of the 1912 election, stating, "The significance of the election is an unusually clear and striking manifestation of bourgeois reformism as a means of struggle against socialism. . . . Roosevelt has been obviously hired by the clever billionaires to preach this fraud."19 The extreme right-wing elements in the S.P., on the other hand, began to see in this bourgeois reformism a "progressive capitalism" and, thus, a step toward socialism. Walling, for example, stated that bourgeois reform leads to state capitalism, hailed its coming as a basic step forward, like the growth of the trusts. He said that "certainly the Socialist platform did not go any further than Roosevelt's unqualified phrase that 'the people' should control industry collectively."20 Both the Socialists and the LaFollette progressives complained that Roosevelt stole their thunder. Organized labor stayed aside from the movement, seeing in it a sort of neo-Republican Party.


From its very beginning the Socialist Party, as indicated earlier, was a prey to the numerous middle class intellectuals and businessmen. Increasingly, they descended upon it—lawyers, doctors, preachers, dentists, journalists, professors, small employers, and even a few priests. Such people as these were Hillquit, Berger, Harriman, Wilson, Unterman, Hoan,  Wilshire,  Wayland,  Russell,  Mills,   Frank  and William  Bohn,

Simons, Ghent, and others. By 1908 there were 300 preachers in the Party, with other professional groups in proportion. There was also a substantial group of "millionaire Socialists"—Stokes, Walling, Lloyd, Patterson, Hunter, and company. These non-proletarian elements, plus certain conservative Socialist union leaders—Barnes, Johnston, Germer, Maurer, Walker, Schlesinger, and others—progressively fastened their grip upon the Party as the years went by. The national secretaries of the Party, from 1901 to 1914—Leon Greenbaum, W. Mailly, J. M. Barnes, and J. M. Work—functioned in harmony with the middle class leadership.

There is a proper and effective place in the Marxist Party for middle class intellectuals. They can help especially in its theoretical development. But this only upon the condition that they get rid of their petty-bourgeois illusions and identify themselves completely with the immediate and ultimate aims of the proletariat. Few of those in the S.P., however, did this; the bulk of them clung to their reformism and thus comprised the right wing of the Party. Their deleterious influence was not lessened by the fact that many of them, including Hillquit himself, had proletarian backgrounds.

On this general question, Lenin said, in speaking of the development of class consciousness among the workers: "This consciousness could only be brought from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e. it may realize the necessity for combining in unions, to fight against the employers and to strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals. The founders of modern Socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intellectuals."21

As we have previously remarked, these right-wing elements generally tended toward Bernsteinism. Their whole attention was devoted to parliamentary opportunism. They proposed to buy out the industries, and to them municipal and government ownership under capitalism amounted to socialism. They were "post-office Socialists." Their whole tendency was to kill the proletarian fighting spirit of the membership and to transform the Party into one of middle class reform. Among the dominant petty-bourgeois intellectuals were a group of centrists— Hillquit, Stokes, Hunter, et al. Radical in words, the latter elements, when it came to a showdown, traditionally served as a fig-leaf to cover up the political nakedness of the right opportunists.

The S.P. intellectuals produced many books and pamphlets, but not one important Marxist work. The many books of Myers, Russell, and Sinclair, although full of valuable factual material, were only a little above the bourgeois-reformist muckraking of Steffens, Tarbell, and others of the period. Hillquit's and Boudin's writings were but academic Marxism, and those of Simons and Oneal presented an opportunist conception of American history. Ghent's Benevolent Feudalism was something of a contribution, but quite important among the S.P. writings was The Iron Heel by Jack London—a book which foresaw, in a sense, the eventual development of fascism.

The S.P., like the S.L.P. before it, had a sectarian attitude toward American bourgeois culture. Its leaders, despite the contrary policies of Marx and Engels (and later of Lenin and Stalin), systematically ignored or deprecated the work of this country's scientists, inventors, artists, novelists, and democratic thinkers. It was only after the advent of the Communist Party, under the teachings of Lenin, that a correct Marxist attitude toward bourgeois culture began to be developed.

From the outset of the S.P. the working class membership, who wanted to make the Party into a fighting, proletarian Party heading toward socialism, tended to conflict sharply with the opportunists who controlled the Party. This growing left wing was the direct forerunner of the Communist Party. Its struggles were not without considerable progressive influence upon the Party's policies, particularly in the earlier years. Numerous collisions between the right and left took place in various cities and states. The traditional handicap of the young left wing in these fights was its lack of a sound program, free of sectarianism.

The first crucial struggle developed in the state of Washington, coming to a split at the Everett convention, held in July 1909. The leader of the left was Dr. Herman F. Titus, editor of the Seattle Socialist and for many years an outstanding national left leader in the Party. The local leader of the right wing was Dr. E. J. Brown, a rank opportunist. Alfred Wagenknecht and William Z. Foster were both members of the local S.P. in Seattle during this significant fight. The immediate cause of the split was a fight over control of the convention; but the basic reason was a long-developing opposition generally among the left-wingers to petty-bourgeois domination of the S.P. The outcome was a split and then two Socialist parties in the state. The National Executive Committee recognized the right-wing forces in Washington, although the left clearly had a majority. Consequently the latter found themselves outside the Party, most of them, including Foster, never to return.

The expelled left wing, those who did not commit themselves entirely to the I.W.W., formed the Wage Workers Party, with Joseph S. Biscay as secretary. This Party, which perished shortly, was typically ultra-leftist. It laid particular stress upon the fact that it confined its membership solely to proletarians, specifically excluding lawyers, preachers, doctors, detectives, soldiers, policemen, and capitalists. It published but one issue of its journal, The Wage Worker, in September 1910, before it died. Dr. Titus, with a grim logic, abandoned his profession and became a proletarian. Foster and many other expelled members, upon the demise of the W.W.P., joined the I.W.W.


The next big clash between left and right in the S.P. came at the Party's convention in May 1912, held in Indianapolis. This marked a new high stage in the development of the left wing, parent of the eventual Communist Party. The convention fight involved the whole line of the Party, including the perennial matter of petty-bourgeois leadership. The fight at the convention, however, boiled down to two basic questions—sabotage and industrial unionism. The right wing undoubtedly came to the convention determined to crush the left wing, which with the growth of the I.W.W. and the development of the "language federations," was threatening the control of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals, as well as their whole opportunist political policy. To this end, among their other preparations, they invited the opportunist German Social-Democrat, Karl Legien, to make a rabid anti-left speech at the convention.

The big struggle occurred over the question of sabotage. The I.W.W. and the left wing in the S.P., following the example of the French and Italian syndicalists, had been laying some stress upon sabotage as an important working class weapon. The right wing at the 1912 convention, with Hillquit in the chair, made its main attack upon this issue, proposing the following amendment to the constitution, the well-known Article II, Section 6: "Any member of the Party who opposes political action or advocates crime, sabotage, or other methods of violence as a weapon of the working class to aid in its emancipation, shall be expelled from membership in this Party." While the right wing concentrated its main assault upon sabotage, which should not have been defended by the left wing as a working class weapon in the daily class struggle, its main objective was to destroy the revolutionary perspective and militancy generally of the left wing of the Party. The rights, in this historic fight, were intensifying their drive to make the Party into simply an election machine with an opportunist program. This was the real meaning of the amendment and it was made quite clear in the discussions.

If most of the left wing voted against the amendment, this was primarily for the purpose of preserving the fighting spirit of the Party, then under attack from the right wing, rather than an endorsement of sabotage as a working class tactic. Marxists, on principle, condemn not only sabotage, but also syndicalism generally, as a destructive tendency in the class struggle. The previous S.P. convention of 1908, with but one dissenting vote, had rejected the use or advocacy of force and violence.

After a very bitter fight, the new clause was adopted by a vote of 190 to 91. The rights then pushed through a trade union resolution which evaded the burning issue of industrial unionism and virtually adopted a policy of neutrality on trade union questions, a resolution for which the left wing mistakenly voted. The rights even tried to defeat Debs for the presidential nomination, but in this case they were frustrated. C. E. Ruthenberg, eventual chief founder of the Communist Party, was an active left-wing delegate at this convention.

After their victory at the convention, the rights carried the war to the lefts by filing fake charges against Bill Haywood, alleging that he had violated the amended constitution by advocating force and violence in a public speech. This false charge was rammed through by a national referendum, which the rights won by a vote of 22,000 to 11,000. Haywood was thus recalled from the National Committee, whereupon he quit the Party. Without any formal split, many thousands of Socialist workers soon followed Haywood's example.

The effects of the split provoked by the right wing were almost catastrophic for the Party. In May 1912, the party had numbered 150,000 members (although the average for the same year was 120,000), but in four months' time it had dropped by 40,000. The Party also immediately went into a financial crisis. By 1915 the Party's membership had tobogganed to 79,374, and in 1916 with Benson as the candidate and with Debs refusing to run, its national vote was but 585,113, a falling-off of over 300,000 since 1912. In its policies the Party moved rapidly toward the right. Thenceforth, for example, it put up no more candidates against Gompers at A.F. of L. conventions, and it soon dropped its practice of introducing resolutions there for industrial unionism. The Socialist Party's opportunist leaders were now well on the way to their eventual tight alliance with the Gompers reactionaries. The S.P. was never able to recover fully from the 1912 split.


On the eve of World War I, the broad left wing, although greatly increased in strength over earlier years, was still lacking in developed leadership, solid organization, and a correct political line. There were three streams or segments in the growing left forces which were later to form the Communist Party. The major one was the left wing in the S.P.; then there were the Marxist forces in the I.W.W.; and finally, the militants of the Syndicalist League.

The real mass leader of the S.P. left wing during this crucial period was William D. Haywood. Born in Salt Lake City in 1869, Haywood was a fighting metal miner. He became secretary-treasurer of the Western Federation of Miners in 1901. His trial in 1907 gave him enormous prestige, and from then on he was the most dynamic figure on the left. He was a bold, dogged battler, although not a theoretician. He always recognized the workers' enemies—whether employers, capitalist politicians, labor fakers, or opportunist Socialists—and he fought them all relentlessly, with indomitable courage and without giving or asking quarter.

Eugene V. Debs, too, was of the left. He was a militant trade union fighter, a pioneer industrial unionist, a fiery and brilliant orator who boldly challenged capitalism and who did more than any other in his time to popularize socialism among the masses. He was an important forerunner of the Communist Party, despite the fact that, old and sick when the Party was formed, he did not grasp its significance and never joined it. A great weakness of Debs was his theoretical inadequacy. Also, while he courageously and tirelessly attacked the capitalists, he did not systematically attack their reflection in the Party—the right wing of the Party. He never attended Party conventions, nor did he accept any official Party posts until his final years. He never understood the basic anti-Socialist character of the Hillquits and Bergers. Haywood finally became a Communist, while Debs did not.

Two other men, eventually to become left wing leaders, began to function nationally in this period. These were Charles Emil Ruthenberg and William Z. Foster. Ruthenberg, a former carpenter, who joined the Party in 1909, was already a power in Ohio, and he played a big part in the ranks of the left at the S.P. 1912 convention. Foster, a railroad worker, had belonged to the Party from 1900 to the split in 1909, and was now busily organizing the left-wing forces within the old trade unions.

There were many outstanding women in this pre-war period, among them such well-known left wing S.P. fighters as Mary Marcy, Kate Sadler Greenhalgh, Rose Pastor Stokes, Anita Whitney, Margaret Prevey, Jeannette Pearl, and others. Especially to be mentioned are "Mother" Mary Jones, an early S.P. member and noted United Mine Workers organizer, who, when she died in 1930 at the age of 100, for almost three-fourths of a century had been in the forefront of all big strikes in every industry; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, nationally-known I.W.W. speaker and leader, now a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party, who was very active in the I.W.W. all through its heroic period; and "Mother" Ella Reeve Bloor, who died August 10, 1951, at the age of 89, and who had been an active organizer in Socialist ranks since 1897.

The national left wing rallied principally, in an organizational sense, around the International Socialist Review. But it was by no means a clear-cut Marxist journal. This monthly paper, founded in 1901, was edited by A. M. Simons until 1908, when he resigned and the Bill Haywood-Charles H. Kerr-Mary Marcy group took over completely. Here and there in the localities, the left wing also had more or less control over local papers, such as The Socialist in Cleveland; and in 1914-15, The New Review, a left organ of middle class intellectuals, was published in New York.

The program of the developing left wing left much to be desired from a Marxist standpoint. As we have seen, the line of the I.W.W. and also that of the S.L.N.A. was purely syndicalist. The policies of the left forces in the S.P. were also very heavily tinctured with syndicalism and De Leonist "leftism." There was, however, a qualitative difference between the S.P. left wing and the syndicalists. The S.P. left wing based itself upon the writings of Marx and Engels, called itself Marxist, believed in a workers' political party, and carried on political action (although sectarian—to all of which the syndicalists were diametrically opposed. The most authoritative statement of the S.P. left's program in this period was the pamphlet, Industrial Socialism (published by Charles H. Kerr Co. in 1911) by William D. Haywood and Frank Bohn. The latter was formerly national secretary of the S.L.P.

This pamphlet, while not specifically endorsing the I.W.W., presented much of the latter's program, except that it called also for some measure of political action. The political line was the familiar De Leon conception of the political party winning the powers of government in an election, whereupon the industrial unions would really take over. The program declared that "The labor union will become organized industrial society"; and, "Under socialism the government of the nation will be an industrial government, a shop government." This was De Leon's Industrial Republic all over again. The Haywood-Bohn conception was called "socialism in overalls." The pamphlet was full of the characteristic syndicalist-De Leonist underestimation of the Party, over-estimation of the role of the industrial unions, misconceptions of the state, playing down of immediate demands, and indifference toward the urgent Negro question.

An important distinction must be made, however. The De Leonite S.L.P., even in its best years of 1890-1900, was not a fighting, but a propaganda organization, and it organized and led no important strikes or other mass struggles. In contrast, the I.W.W. and S.P. left wing fought the Gompers bureaucracy, agitated tirelessly for industrial unionism, were highly militant, and conducted some of the hardest-fought strikes and free speech fights in American history.

The broad left wing during this period, while it paid much lip service to Marxism, nevertheless carried out a revisionist line in a "leftist" sense. Had it studied the Marxist classics more carefully, had it but grasped the lessons of the great Communist Manifesto, not to mention the other Marxist classics and the innumerable writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on the American question, it could have avoided its gross theoretical errors. But this elementary task of putting the American left wing upon a truly Marxist path was to await the time when the writings of the great Lenin should come to the United States and the Communist Party be founded.

1 V. I. Lenin, State and Revolution, p. 29, N. Y., 193a.
2 Final Report of the Commission on Industrial Relations, Washington, D. C, 1915.
3 This Commission, headed by Frank P. Walsh, was created by an act of Congress, Aug. 23, 1912, and was appointed by President Wilson.
4 From 1905 to 1914 inclusive, a vast host of 10,121,945 immigrants, mostly from southern and eastern Europe, poured into the United States. 
5 Vincent St. John, The I.W.W.: Its History, Structure and Methods, Chicago, 1919.
6 Ben Hanford originated this well-known characterization. 
7 Eugene V. Debs in the Appeal to Reason, March 10, 1906.
8 George Allen England, The Story of the Appeal, p. 277.
9 Fine, Labor and Farmer Parties in the U.S., p. 325.
10 Haywood, Negro Liberation; W. E. B. DuBois, Dusk of Dawn, N. Y., 1940.
11 Herbert Aptheker in Jewish Life, July 1950.
12 William English Walling, Progressivism and After, p. 378, N. Y., 1914.
13 William Z. Foster, From Bryan to Stalin, p. 58 ff., N. Y., 1937. 
14 Earl C. Ford and William Z. Foster, Syndicalism, Chicago, 1913.
15 The editor of this paper was Jay Fox, a veteran of the Haymarket affair.
16 International Socialist Review, Dec. 1912.
17 William Z, Foster, The Bankruptcy of the American Labor Movement, p. 47, N. Y., 1922.
18 International Socialist Review, March 1914.
19 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 16, pp. 190-91  (Fourth Russian edition).
20 Walling, Progressivism and After, p. 171.
21 V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, pp. 32-33, N. Y., 1929.

Chapter 9

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