Chapter Fourteen: The Communists and the Capitalist Offensive (1919-1923)

14. The Communists and the Capitalist Offensive (1919-1923)

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, shown here during her
years active in the I.W.W, was a key figure in
this period of capitalist reaction, especially
in the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti.  
Immediately after their foundation, the young Communist parties had to face a most vicious employers' offensive. American imperialism, as we have remarked, emerged from World War I as the leading world power in a capitalist system which, as the sequel has showed, had received a blow during the war from which it would never recover. It was stricken with an incurable, deepening general world crisis. The United States, now more firmly controlled by monopoly capital, and greatly enriched and centralized as a result of the war, was powerful, arrogant, and reactionary. It took a decisive hand in writing the Versailles imperialist treaty, and then stayed out of the League of Nations in order to preserve its own complete freedom of action. With its successive Dawes and Young plans,1 the United States largely dominated the economic life of the conquered countries of Europe. It asserted its growing power in the Pacific in the Nine-Power Pact. Under the "Open Door" policy it maneuvered to seize hold of war-torn China. With an active trade and political offensive in Latin America, it strengthened its grip in that great area at the expense of the Latin American peoples and of its weakened imperialist rivals, Great Britain and Germany.

Animated by the reactionary spirit which was soon to produce fascism in Europe, sensing its new position as the leading world capitalist power, and panic-stricken at the revolutionary spirit of the workers in Russia and elsewhere in Europe, Wall Street undertook to cripple the organization of the militant American workers. Consequently, during the first four post-war years there developed the most violent anti-labor drive in American history.

This offensive, aimed at every phase of the labor movement, had as its main objectives to cut the heart out of the trade unions and to destroy the newly-born Communist movement. During the war «he workers, despite the treacherous attitude of the top leadership of the A.F. of L-. and Railroad Brotherhoods, had won the eight-hour day in many areas of industry and had managed to extend trade unionism into various sections of the forbidden open-shop territory, the trustified industries. The most important of these advances were in steel, railroad, mining, marine transport, meat-packing, lumber, and textiles. Therefore, monopoly capital set out to drive the unions from these advanced posts and, if possible, still further back than they had been before the war. The capitalists would demonstrate in practice just how cynical had been their wartime slogan, "Make the world safe for democracy." They would give the workers a real taste of democracy, Wall Street brand.

Big capital in the United States deliberately sought to destroy the trade union movement and to replace it by its own system of the "open," anti-union shop and company unionism. Company unions, first suggested by one J. C. Bayles in 1886, began to grow after 1900.2 By the end of World War I there were 250 company unions, in the metal trades, on the railroads, and in the trustified industries. Generally, the employers built these company unions as barriers to the spread of the trade unions proper. The post-war plan was to extend this poisonous system as far as possible, thereby rendering the trade union movement virtually powerless. In developing this system of employer-controlled unions, American big business gave the lead to Mussolini and Hitler with their later, fully developed, fascist unions.3

Hardly had the war ended when the employers began their drive against the trade unions, but it only got really under way during the great steel strike of September 1919. This offensive was in evidence at the National Industrial Conference of October 1919, called by President Wilson presumably to adjust the stormy industrial situation. At this conference the big industrial dictators not only refused to settle the current steel strike, but they virtually declared war upon all organized labor. "Labor unions are no longer necessary," had said the arrogant Judge Gary, head of U.S. Steel, and the conference acted in this sense. The open shop movement, with its slogan of "the American plan," was soon raging throughout the country. All the big employers' associations —National Association of Manufacturers, United States Chamber of Commerce, and many powerful bodies in the individual industries-were in it, backing the National Open Shop Association. "By the autumn of 1920," say Perlman and Taft, "the country was covered with a network of open shop organizations. In New York State alone at least 50 open shop associations were active." 4 In the Middle West and West the drive was no less malignant than in the industrial East.


The first to feel the blow of the capitalist offensive were the more advanced and militant workers. The employers understood very well then, as they do now, the fighting role of the most class-conscious among the workers, and they always give them the heaviest and earliest blows. The capitalists particularly feared and hated the new Communist movement, which they sensed was the vanguard of the working class. We have already seen how the two young Communist parties were assailed and violently persecuted by the ferocious Palmer raids of 1919 and 1920. And over two years later, in August 1922, the government showed that it was still striving to wipe out the Communists by raiding the national convention of the Communist Party, held in Bridgman, Michigan.

The wartime attack upon the I.W.W. was also continued into the post-war period, with added fury. In Centralia, Washington, on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, during a parade of the American Legion, a gang of hoodlums attacked the I.W.W. hall and in the ensuing armed battle three Legionnaires were killed. One I.W.W. member was lynched and eight others were sentenced to from 25 to 40 years in jail. This was the signal for violent attacks upon the I.W.W. all over the West. As it turned out, the Communists, with the benefit of world experience at their hand, were able to save their organization during the post-war drive by protective measures, but the I.W.W. was largely cut to pieces. Partly from these attacks and partly from its failure to learn the general political lessons of the Russian Revolution, the I.W.W. from this period on ceased to be a real factor in the labor movement.


During the decade of the war and post-war period the working class had greatly changed. The number of workers engaged in industry was up by 31.6 percent. The sharp dividing line between skilled and unskilled was greatly blurred by the growth of mass production. A considerable Negro proletariat had grown up in the northern industries. And with immigration shut off, the speed of Americanization of the foreign-born workers had been hastened. All this made for a greater homogeneity and solidarity among the workers.

The workers, coming out of the war and harassed by the rapidly rising cost of living, were in a militant mood. Besides having their own immediate grievances, they also reflected to a considerable extent the revolutionary spirit of the workers in Eastern Europe. During 1919 4,160,348 workers engaged in strikes (the largest number in any one year in previous American history). This worker militancy produced, among many other struggles, the notable general strikes in Seattle (February) and in Winnipeg, Manitoba (August), the Boston police strike (September), the unofficial strike of 200,000 railroad shopmen, and the great coal and steel strikes (September). 5

These strikes, while bringing certain economic concessions to the workers in each case, were all beaten to a greater or less extent by the aggressive employers, with the help of the government, the police, and the courts. The coal strike was peremptorily outlawed by an injunction issued by Federal Judge Anderson, who forbade the national officers of the U-M.W.A. to do anything that would further the strike. John L. Lewis then called off the strike, making his well-known statement, "I cannot fight the government." The miners continued to fight on, however, and eventually won livable agreements. The big steel strike of 367,000 workers was fought out under terroristic conditions. The whole of the steel areas was overrun with strikebreakers, armed guards, police, deputy sheriffs, and troops. Pickets were arrested on sight, and in the great Monongahela River district outside of Pittsburgh, where 200,000 steel workers were employed, not a single mass meeting of strikers was permitted during the nearly four months of the strike. Finally, the strike was broken and the unions completely smashed. Among the 22 killed in this strike was Mrs. Fannie Sellins, U.M.W.A. organizer in the steel campaign, who was brutally murdered by steel trust gunmen at New Kensington, Pennsylvania. 6

The strikes of 1920-21 were sharpened by the outbreak of a severe economic crisis. This was caused primarily by difficulties in the changeover from war to peace production and by a heavy falling off of American exports—from $6,516,000,000 in 1920 to $3,771,000,000 in 1921. Industrial production dropped 25 percent, and by October 1921, there were 5.750,000 unemployed. Although profits remained at levels 100 percent higher than in 1913, the employers took advantage of the situation by slashing wages from 25 to 50 percent and by intensifying their assaults upon the trade unions.

The workers did not take these wage cuts unresistingly, and the years 1920-21 were marked by many hard-fought strikes. Notable among them was the "outlaw" switchmen's strike of April 1920, beginning in Chicago, fanning out all over the country, and paralyzing many of the biggest railroads. This spontaneous rank-and-file revolt was led by John Grunau. In West Virginia, during 1920-21, virtual civil war existed in the mining regions. In May 1921, the Atlantic Coast seamen went out, in the biggest strike in the history of that industry, a strike which was broken by employer violence. During 1921-22, the Typographical Union led a whole series of hard-fought strikes in many localities, and the building trades, notably in Chicago and New York, fought hard struggles against the open shop during 1921. The year ended with the defeat, in December, of 45,000 packinghouse workers in 13 cities, resulting in the nation-wide break-up of the unions in that industry.

The big post-war open-shop drive came to a climax in 1922. This year saw many big strikes, chief of which were those of the New England textile workers, the coal miners, and the railroad shopmen. The textile strike began in January, and it lasted six months, in the face of wholesale use of strikebreakers, court injunctions, and troops by the employers and the government.  The workers were largely defeated.

The coal strike, starting on April 1, 1922, involved 600,000 hard and soft coal miners. This strike, as usual with miners' strikes, was marked with extreme violence on the part of the employers' thugs. But in Herrin, Illinois, these gunmen bit off more than they could chew. In June they murdered a couple of strikers there in cold blood, whereupon the miners mobilized, killed 19 gunmen, and drove the rest out of the community. Result, 214 miners were indicted for murder, treason, and conspiracy, but in the strongly union coal country it proved impossible to convict them. The national strike resulted in an agreement which, however, left out the 100,000 unorganized miners who had struck in Western Pennsylvania, a disastrous betrayal by Lewis, as it turned out later.

The strike of the 400,000 railroad shopmen began on July 1, 1922, against repeated wage slashes put through by the Railroad Labor Board. The Harding Administration, which was bringing the country "back to normalcy," announced that it would break the strike by every means necessary. It was helped by the train service unions, which remained at work while the shopmen were striking, and by the Maintenance of Way Union, 350,000 strong, which pulled out of the strike movement on the eve of the strike date. On September first, Attorney General Daugherty secured a federal injunction virtually outlawing the strike. These blows were too much, and on September 13, with the strike practically broken, some 225,000 of the men were signed up in a surrender agreement known as the B. & O. plan—of which more later. About 175,000 went back without any agreements or unions.

All told, some ten million workers were on strike during the four years of intense struggle from 1919 to 1922 inclusive. Organized labor lost much hard-won ground.   The unions in the steel, meat-packing, lumber, and maritime industries were almost completely wiped out. Working conditions suffered accordingly. Even such well-established organizations as those in the coal, railroad, printing, building, textile, and clothing industries were deeply injured. As a result, the membership of the A.F. of L. dropped from 4,160,348 in 1920 to 2,926,462 in 1923. It was the most serious defeat ever suffered by the American labor movement.


The top leaders of the A.F. of L. and Railroad Brotherhoods—lazy, incompetent, corrupt, and reactionary—were shocked and demoralized by the big offensive from their capitalist friends of wartime. Their policy to meet the offensive was a combination of crass betrayal and cowardly flight. In the midst of the drive, on February 23, 1921, the A.F. of L. Executive Council called a meeting of high officials to consider the critical situation, "to combat the problems arising from unemployment, reaction, and Bolshevism." The conference proposed nothing but a publicity campaign to win popular support. As Lorwin says, it "could offer little tangible aid to the unions. Each international union had to face its own problems." 7

This was bankruptcy in the face of the aggressive enemy. The leaders of each union tried to save themselves at the expense of the other unions. An orgy of labor betrayal and "union scabbing" took place. In the steel strike the workers were shamelessly abandoned to their fate by the A.F. of L. leaders. In meat-packing the A.F. of L. leaders split the federation that had organized the industry, expelled the Stockyards Labor Council, and alienated the Negro workers. In printing, the Typographical Union fought for its life, 8 all the other unions in the industry continuing at work, trying to profit at the striking union's expense. When the Pressmen struck, on rank-and-file initiative, the ultra-reactionary leader, Berry, cynically replaced them with union scabs. The betrayal of the 100,000 unorganized striking miners in Western Pennsylvania in the settlement of 1922 ultimately became a disaster to the U.M.W.A. During the railroad shopmen's strike, the union scabbing reached its lowest depths. While the shopmen fought desperately against the companies and the government, not only did the Maintenance of Way Union pull out of the movement and make its own terms, but the four strategically situated operating Brotherhoods remained at work, and worse yet, actually made new agreements at the expense of the striking shopmen. Small wonder, then, that organized labor in general suffered such a big defeat.

The initiative in the struggle during this crucial period came from the rank and file and the lower officialdom. During the war, with the top leaders tied up with pro-war, no-strike, no-organizing agreements with the government and the employers, the organizing campaigns and strikes had been led by the workers. For example, the big meat-packing and steel campaigns were the work of the workers themselves, against the will of die upper union leadership. After the war, in the face of the employers' offensive, this rank-and-file initiative continued. While the reactionary top leadership ran for cover from the storm, it was the workers themselves who developed the struggle. Their fighting spirit and initiative were especially manifested by the "outlaw" shopmen's strike, "outlaw" switchmen's strike, "outlaw" pressmen's strike, the spontaneous strikes of the unorganized coal miners of Western Pennsylvania, of New England textile workers, and by strikes of various other groups of workers.


Unfortunately, throughout most of this great struggle there was no organized left wing in the unions to give leadership to the militant workers, betrayed by their high-paid, capitalist-minded officials. The T.U.E.L. was not formed until the end of 1920, and it took a year really to get under way; and the Communist Party was as yet too young and unready to register its latent strength in the struggle. The Party, itself the object of heavy blows from reaction, was fighting to unify itself and to secure its democratic rights to a legal existence.

But the greatest difficulty of all for the young Communist movement in this critical period was that it had not yet hammered out its Marxist-Leninist program. It was still primarily a party of Socialist agitation, with little or no program of partial demands and immediate struggle. The Party was also especially hampered by its long-time policy of dual unionism. Ruthenberg remarked later, "The Communist Party of 1919 stood outside of the labor movement, endeavoring to draw the workers into its ranks through agitation and propaganda which pointed to the necessity of a revolutionary party fighting for the overthrow of capitalism"; and, "The Party in 1919, and during 1920, was isolated from the trade union movement." 9

During this period the Party (in its two split sections) participated in a number of strike situations—in the 1919 steel strike, in the 1920 coal strike, and others. But in doing so it dealt almost exclusively with revolutionary objectives.   In steel, for example, with the city of Gary under martial law, the Party declared, "The workers must capture the power of the State. . . . The answer to the Dictatorship of the capitalists is the Dictatorship of the Workers."10 This was theoretically correct long-range advice, under radically different objective conditions, but with the workers fighting desperately to establish their unions and to abolish the twelve-hour day and the seven-day week within the framework of capitalism, it fell upon deaf ears.

It was not until late in 1921, with the achievement of Party unity and especially with the abandonment of the crippling policy of dual unionism, that the vigorous young Communist movement, now called the Workers Party, began to play a real part in the struggles of the hard-pressed working class. As Ruthenberg said in his above-quoted article, "In 1921 the Party revised its trade union policy and adopted the correct Communist policy of working within the existing trade unions." This shift in policy mainly took the practical form of all-out support to the Trade Union Educational League.

In this general respect the practical experience and union prestige of the group of T.U.E.L. militants, now become Communists, who had led the big meat-packing and steel organizing campaigns as well as many other progressive causes in Chicago, was of great advantage to the Party. Their effectiveness was further enhanced by the important fact that this group had a close, working united front with the Fitzpatrick-Nockels leadership of the Chicago Federation of Labor, a body of 325,000 members and the leading progressive labor center in the American trade union movement.


The T.U.E.L., although organized in November 1920, did not become a real factor among the trade unions until early in 1922. Its official organ, The Labor Herald, appeared in March of that year. Its program, printed in the first issue, assailed the reactionary bureaucracy and proposed a fighting policy instead of class collaboration, amalgamation of the craft unions into industrial unions, organization of the unorganized, independent political action, affiliation to the Red International of Labor Unions, recognition of Soviet Russia, and the abolition of capitalism ard the establishment of a workers' republic. As its organizational forms, the T.U.E.L. set up groups of progressives and left-wingers in the unions of the various crafts, industries, localities, and regions on a non-dues-paying basis to promote its general program. The entire trade union strength of the Workers Party was mobilized in the T.U.E.L., and most of the latter's leaders were Communists.

The T.U.E.L. was well received and soon developed a broad left-progressive coalition. Militant workers all over the country, disgusted with Gompersism, quickly became interested in its program. Among others, Alex Howat, Kansas mine leader, became a League member, and so did J. G. Brown, national head of the Labor Party, while John Fitz-patrick and Ed Nockels looked upon the organization with a friendly eye. Debs endorsed the League and wrote, "The Trade Union Educational League is in my opinion the one rightly-directed movement for the industrial unification of the American workers."11

The T.U.E.L. quickly established flourishing local and national groups in various industries: mining, textile, building, clothing, food, leather, etc. At its national railroad conference in Chicago, in December 1922, there were 425 delegates from all over the country. Otto Wangerin led this strong movement. T.U.E.L. groups were also established in Canada under the general leadership of Tim Buck.12

Almost at once the League began to exert a strong influence in many situations. In Chicago T.U.E.L. militants, Charles Krumbein, Nels Kjar, and others, were largely responsible for a union demonstration of 125,000 workers against the infamous Landis building trades award. At the
Detroit convention of the Maintenance of Way Union in 1922 the aroused delegation, led by a few T.U.E.L. members, fired Grable, the union president, and his entire administration, for their crass betrayal of the railroad shopmen's strike. In the current Machinists' Union national election the left-wing nominee for general president, the T.U.E.L. candidate, polled 14,598 votes against 41,837 votes for the incumbent, William H. Johnston. Andrew Overgaard led this movement. In the needle trades the left wing at once became an important factor.

In the national coal strike of 1922, League militants, by calling huge protest meetings of miners, prevented Frank Farrington, the Illinois district U.M.W.A. leader, from making a separate settlement that would have broken the strike. At the U.M.W.A. convention of that year the League members, working jointly with Alex Howat on the question of the latter's expulsion because of his all-out fight against the infamous Kansas  Industrial  Court  law,  polled  a  majority of convention votes against John L. Lewis. Early in 1923 Joseph Manley and Margaret Cowl were instrumental in preventing a split of some 50,000 foreign-born workers from the U.M.W.A. throughout the Pennsylvania anthracite regions. This secession movement was provoked when the conservative district leadership suddenly decided to change the union organization from a language to a mine basis, the purpose of which was to throw the union's control into the hands of conservative English-speaking elements. Pat Toohey and Tom Myerscough were the League's outstanding leaders among the miners.

The League members were especially active in the 1922 national railroad shopmen's strike. While on a national tour to strengthen the strike, Foster, the secretary-treasurer of the T.U.E.L., was kidnaped from a hotel in Denver by the Colorado Rangers (state police), held several days, spirited all the way across Colorado and Wyoming, and dumped out at the Nebraska state line. Debs wired Foster his support. This case was the central issue in that fall's elections in Colorado, with the result that the incumbent governor was defeated and the State Rangers were abolished during the new governor's term.


The Workers Party, in line with its growing role as the vanguard party of the working class, projected as the three most basic issues confronting the workers, the amalgamation of the trade unions into industrial unions, the formation of a labor party, and the recognition of Soviet Russia. These corresponded to the most pressing needs of the labor movement. In the trade unions directly, the Communists advocated these issues through the united front T.U.E.L.

The League concentrated its fight nationally around these three major issues. The great rank and file of organized labor, disgusted and indignant at the shameful bankruptcy of their leaders in the face of the employers' offensive, gave the three issues powerful support. "Amalgamation or Annihilation," "Amalgamation and a Labor Party," "Recognize Soviet Russia," were slogans that ran like wildfire throughout the labor movement during 1922-23. The Workers Party, through its extensive organization and press, rallied its forces actively for all these

The big campaign for amalgamation began with the adoption by a vote of 114 to 37 of a resolution by Johnstone and Foster at a meeting of the Chicago Federation of Labor, on March 19, 1922. At the following meeting the reactionaries, who hoped to rescind the resolution, were again defeated, this time by 102 to 14. Alarmed at these developments, on April 11th, Gompers came to Chicago and, fearing to attend the C.F. of L. session, called a meeting at the Morrison Hotel of several hundred hand-picked union officials. Putting out the slogan, "Capture the C.F. of L. from the Reds," he advocated what meant a violent attack on the local federation. But nothing came of this desperate proposal. The C.F. of L.'s endorsement of amalgamation stood fast.

The progressive prestige of the Chicago Federation of Labor was high, because of its sponsorship of the big meat-packing and steel campaigns, its leading role in the labor party movement, its active support of Mooney and Billings, and its general reputation as an anti-Gompers organization—so that when it endorsed amalgamation, this had a tremendous influence nationally. Trade union organizations all over the country, wherever the Party and the T.U.E.L. had contacts, began to adopt resolutions for amalgamation. The movement ran like a prairie fire, with the confused and alarmed Gompers machine unable to halt it. The rank and file saw in the amalgamation movement the labor solidarity and fighting policy so shamefully lacking in the bitter strikes of the period. The top union leadership saw in it a deadly menace to their whole corrupt position.

Sixteen international unions during the next 18 months endorsed amalgamation, including such organizations as the Railway Clerks, Maintenance of Way Workers, Typographical, Molders, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, Furriers, Bakery, Lithographers, Brewery, Butcher Workmen, and others. Seventeen state federations, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, and others took similar action. Scores of large city central bodies and trade councils also went for amalgamation, as did thousands of local unions—3,377 in the railroad industry alone. Tim Buck also reported, 'Amalgamation resolutions have been endorsed during the past year by almost every kind of union in every part of Canada." The League was well within the truth when it claimed that two million organized workers had endorsed amalgamation, or more than half of the whole labor movement.13

The Workers Party campaign for the labor party, which was also being advocated militantly all over the country by the T.U.E.L., was almost as successful as that for amalgamation. The workers drew correct lessons from the outrageous policies of the government in the political situation. A whole string of international unions and state and local labor bodies, in response to the Party's and the League's campaign, went on record for the labor party. In March 1923, the T.U.E.L. put out a national labor party referendum directly to 35,000 local unions of the A.F. of L. and Railroad Brotherhoods.14 Although this met with active opposition from the reactionaries, 7,000 locals replied favorably to the League, and doubtless many thousands more took affirmative action without notifying the T.U.E.L. In the following chapter we shall deal further with the labor party movement and the key role played in it by the Workers Party.

From its inception the Workers Party had made a continuous and resolute fight for the recognition of Soviet Russia. This, too, the T.U.E.L. took up as a central issue. The fight was widely successful among the masses. Many international unions, including the Miners, Stationary Firemen, Locomotive Engineers, Machinists, Painters, Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and so on, as well as innumerable central bodies, supported this demand. In 1919, in New York, the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations with Russia was formed—its president was Timothy Healey, head of the Stationary Firemen's Union—and many trade unions were affiliated to it.15 In addition to the Workers Party and the T.U.E.L., big factors in the recognition campaign were the Trade Union National Committee for Russian Famine Relief, headed by Joseph Manley, and the Friends of Soviet Russia, led by Alfred Wagenknecht. The latter organization, in its several years of very effective work, raised two million dollars for famine relief and technical aid for Soviet Russia, then fighting to live and develop in the face of a world of capitalist enemies.

Under the stimulus of its three big integrated campaigns for amalgamation, the labor party, and recognition of Soviet Russia, the influence of the Workers Party soared and the T.U.E.L. grew rapidly. For the Communists, this situation was indeed a far cry from that of but a short while ago, in the days of the Party's "underground" status, of its purely Socialist agitation, and its isolation from the labor movement.


The big rank-and-file movement that the Workers Party and the T.U.E.L. had created came to a head-on collision with the bureaucratic machine at the A.F. of L. convention in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 1923. By this time the A.F. of L. leaders, recovering from their initial fright and confusion at the sudden appearance of the strong Communist-progressive opposition, were again organized and in full control of their situation. In the convention, made up almost completely of top officials of the international unions, there was no trace of democracy. That over half the rank and file of organized labor had voted for basically new policies, meant nothing to these misleaders. With old man Gompers in the driver's seat, they proceeded cynically to violate the mandate of their members and to disregard the entire rank-and-file movement. In this policy the Social-Democratic union leaders at the convention fused completely with the Gompersites. The whole outrage was staged amid an orgy of redbaiting, designed to terrorize the delegates into compliance with the will of the Gompers machine.

Amalgamation was condemned as "communistic," with no discussion or roll-call vote permitted. The labor party resolutions were steamrollered to defeat, as "un-American," the vote on them being 1,895 for and 25,066 against. The resolution for recognition of Soviet Russia got the most support, Hayes of the Typographical Union, Healey of the Firemen, Smart of the Switchmen, Johnston of the Machinists, and others all speaking for it; but it too was swamped by the machine vote. Thus, the A.F. of L. leaders, faithful to the interests of their capitalist masters, cold-bloodedly condemned a program that would have brought real life to the labor movement, which they had nearly ruined by their reactionary policies. To cap the climax, a Communist delegate at the convention was illegally and dramatically expelled from the convention upon the motion of Philip Murray, then of the Miners Union.

A number of forces combined to make it possible for the A.F. of L. leaders to succeed with this monstrous flouting of rank-and-file wishes. First, the economic situation had ameliorated somewhat and the violent union-wrecking campaign of the bosses had also materially slowed down. Second, the A.F. of L. leaders at this convention came forth with a whole new program of class collaboration, of "union-management co-operation" (of this more later), which they elaborately paraded as a constructive and progressive policy. Third, the Workers Party and the T.U.E.L. had much too loose a following to back up their wide agitational support by vigorous organized action. Fourth, and highly important, was the fact that three months before, the Workers Party had a serious split with its progressive allies of the Fitzpatrick group over the labor party, and the Gompersites were able to take advantage of this split situation and to carry out the attack against the left wing. The Portland convention was the signal for a violent assault upon the Workers Party, the T.U.E.L., and all their friends and supporters throughout the labor movement.


Labor defense was a very important activity of the Workers Party during the period of intense capitalist offensive after World War I.

There were the numerous I.W.W. cases of the war and early post-war periods: the cases of Debs, Ruthenberg, and many others arrested in connection with the war; the historic Mooney-Billings case; the famous McNamara-Schmidt case; and various others. Then there were scores of cases of foreign-born workers arbitrarily jailed or deported by the reactionary Wilson and Harding governments. At first the Party either organized or co-operated with special defense committees around these various cases, but on June 23, 1925, in Chicago, it took the initiative, with other forces, in establishing the International Labor Defense, a united front organization on a mass basis. Prominent in this work were Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Anna Damon, and Rose Baron. In the same period the Council for the Protection of the Foreign Born was established.

On May 5, 1920, another celebrated case was added to the many frame-ups that were already disgracing American democracy. This was the arrest in Massachusetts of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. They were anarchists and both foreign-born, the first a shoemaker and the other a fish peddler. They were falsely charged with committing a $15,000 payroll robbery in South Brainlree, Massachusetts, during which a guard was killed. After a farcical trial, marked by the most cynical redbaiting and national chauvinism, the two defendants were convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. The Workers Party became the heart of the fight to save them.

The outrageous frame-up aroused indignation in labor and liberal circles all over the world. For the next seven years demonstrations, strikes, and protests against the legal lynching took place in many cities, with Communists everywhere playing a leading role. But the ruthless capitalists refused to let their prey escape, the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti being sustained all through the courts despite its obvious injustice. The two victims of class hatred were finally executed on August 23, 1927, in the midst of a great international protest. There were demonstrations in many cities in the United States, and also in Panama, Manila, Brussels, Havana, Mexico, Buenos Aires, Montreal, Warsaw, Belgrade, Melbourne, Cairo, and the Soviet Union. In Geneva, Switzerland, 50,000 demonstrated. Armed guards were posted at United States embassies all over the world. After the executions, 150,000 marched on the United States embassy in Paris and fought the police from barricades. In Boston, 250,000 turned out for the funeral in a downpour of rain.16 The Sacco-Vanzetti lynching was one of the bitter outrages for which the workers will one day exact retribution.

Then there was the defense of the 57 Communist leaders arrested and indicted in connection with the Communist convention in Bridgman, Michigan, in August 1922. The Labor Defense Council was set up to lead in the defense. This was a broad united front movement, including in its executive committee such figures as Eugene V. Debs, Max S. Hayes, Robert M. Buck, Rev. John A. Ryan, J. G. Brown, Roger N. Baldwin, R. D. Cramer, F. Fisher Kane, and George P. West. The chief counsel was the well-known attorney, Frank P. Walsh. The defense had the active support of the Chicago Federation of Labor and of trade union bodies in many other cities.

The trials took place in St. Joseph, Michigan, beginning in February 1923. Each of the three score defendants demanded and secured a separate trial under the state law. Foster was the first tried. After a three weeks' trial the jury was hung, six and six. Ruthenberg was tried next and, more drastic frame-up methods having been found necessary, he was quickly convicted. He was sentenced to three to 10 years for "illegal assembly." His conviction was sustained all through the courts, including the Supreme Court, but his death took place before he could actually begin serving his sentence. Meanwhile, the authorities in Michigan, facing the prospect of endless individual trials, abandoned the whole unprofitable business. Finally, in 1934, a dozen years later, the indictments were dropped by a New Deal attorney general in Michigan.

1 Wall Street financial plans ostensibly to save European capitalism.
2 The Workers Monthly, Sept. 1925.
3 Robert W. Dunn, The Americanization of Labor, p. 127 ff., N. Y., 1927.
4 Perlman and Taft, History of Labor in the U.S., Vol. 4, p. 491.
5 For a general account, of the strikes ot this period see Perlman and Taft, History of
Labor in the United States, Vol. 4, pp. 434-54. 
6 William Z. Foster, The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons, N. Y„ 1920.
7 Lorwin, The American Federation of Labor, p. 204. 
8 The Labor Herald, March 1922.
9  Workers Monthly, Sept. 1906.
10 The Communist, Oct. 11, 1919.
11 The Labor Herald, Apr. 1923.
12 A dual unionist deviation from Communist trade union policy at this time was the formation of the United Labor Council of America, in New York in November 1921. by a group of Communists. This organization assembled a number of the many small independent industrial unions of the period, but it soon passed out of existence. See The Toiler, Nov. 11, 1921.
13 Jay Fox, Amalgamation, Chicago, 1923.
14 Labor Herald, March lgsg.
15Alexander Trachtenberg in The Communist, Sept. 1939.
16 National Guardian, March 28, 1951

Chapter 15

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