Chapter Nine: World War I: Social-Democratic Betrayal (1914-1918)

9. World War I: Social-Democratic Betrayal (1914-1918)

"Big" Bill Haywood, I.W.W. member and active
with Butte miners' strikes during this period.
Would join the Communist Party when I.W.W.
strategies waned in the US labor movement.  
The first World War was an inevitable consequence of the entry of capitalism into its imperialist stage. It was a ruthless clash among the big imperialist powers, each fighting for a greater share of the world, its resources, and its markets. They began a battle royal for mutual subjugation or extermination. This struggle, which had been previously fought by economic and political means, was now to be decided on the field of battle. The war grew out of the very nature of the capitalist system. Capitalism, based on greed and force, could find no other way than war for resolving the fundamental conflicts among the big powers. The outbreak of the war expressed the working out of the law of the uneven development of capitalism, which was first stated by Lenin.1 That is, instead of developing at an even pace, the rate of growth and state of development of all the capitalist countries varied widely in tempo and extent. This spasmodic, jerky course of capitalist growth inevitably threw the great powers into violent collision with each other, to battle out a redivision of the world according to their changed economic and political relationships.

After the turn of the century Great Britain, the pioneer imperialist landgrabber, held more foreign territory than Germany, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States combined. But she had already lost her industrial leadership of the world. As Perlo says, "Between 1899 and 1913 steel production in the United States and Germany increased threefold, while British steel production increased by little more than fifty percent, and British iron production declined. The former industrial leader of the world fell far behind its rivals."2 Consequently, the rival imperialists were impelled to redivide the world in accordance with the new power relationships, and World War I resulted.

All the imperialist powers were war-guilty. Germany aimed at seizing colonies from Great Britain and France, and at grabbing the Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic provinces from Russia; tsarist Russia fought for the dismemberment of Turkey and the acquisition of the Dardanelles; Britain strove to defeat its great rival, Germany, and also to take over Mesopotamia and Palestine; the French wanted the Saar, Alsace, and Lorraine from Germany3; and the United States began to figure that with the weakening of its European rivals it could dominate the world.

The alliance, primarily, of Great Britain, France, and Russia (eventually involving the United States), fought against the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. All the great powers of the world were finally involved. The war, in which 65,000,000 soldiers were engaged, started July 28, 1914, and lasted over four years, until November n, 1918. It cost 10,000,000 soldiers dead, 21,000,000 wounded, innumerable civilian casualties, and it wasted $338 billion in wealth. In this typical capitalist wholesale butchery, the U.S.-British-French forces won the war and therewith the power to redivide the world to suit their imperialist greed.

World War I was an explosion of basic imperialist tensions. It evidenced the fact that the world capitalist system had begun to sink into general crisis. The system's internal contradictions had now become so deep-seated and destructive that their working out began to undermine and destroy the capitalist system itself. World War I, by costing capitalism the loss of one-sixth of the world's territory, Russia, to socialism, did irreparable harm to the world's capitalist system.


The Marxists had long foreseen the coming of the first World War. Engels predicted it as early as 1892, and Lenin had repeatedly signalized its approach, its causes, and its imperialist character. Even the right wing Social-Democrats recognized the looming war clouds upon the world horizon. Consequently, after 1900 the question of the growing war danger was repeatedly considered at the congresses of the Second International. These discussions climaxed at the Congress of Stuttgart, Germany, in 1907, in the adoption of an anti-war resolution containing the following key amendment, presented by Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and Martov, for the Russian and Polish delegations: "In case a war should, nevertheless, break out, the Socialists shall take measures to bring about its early termination and strive with all their power to use the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the masses politically and hasten the overthrow of capitalist class rule."4 This resolution was adopted at the Copenhagen Congress of 1910 and unanimously endorsed at the Conference of Basle in 1912.   American delegates from the S.P. and S.L.P. attended these gatherings. Meanwhile, the syndicalist leaders in France, Italy, and elsewhere were also militantly declaring that they would checkmate and defeat the threatened capitalist war by declaring a general strike against it.

But when the war crisis actually came, the right-wing Social-Democratic leaders promptly and in general ignored the "unanimous" resolutions against war, which they had adopted tongue in cheek. These people, as history has since so abundantly proved, were not Socialists at all. At most, they were but believers in a fake "progressive capitalism," and their interests all dovetailed with those of the capitalists in their countries. So they shamelessly followed the latter into the war, blessing it as a defensive war, and making no resistance to it whatsoever. This was the logical climax to their whole reformist, opportunist line. The chief syndicalist leaders of Europe, despite all their previous fiery denunciations of war, mainly took the same chauvinist position.

The German Social-Democrats took the lead in this treason to the working class. Three days after Germany entered the war the Social-Democratic fraction in the Reichstag voted the government war credits with only the courageous Karl Liebknecht and a few others firmly standing by their anti-war pledges-. Soon the conservative Social-Democratic leaders all over western Europe, the dominant Socialist group in each country, followed the lead of the German Social-Democrats, and lured and drove the masses into the slaughter on the pretext that they were fighting a defensive war. "The leaders of the Second International proved to be traitors, betrayers of the proletariat, and servitors of the bourgeoisie." The Second International was dead. "Actually it broke up into separate social-chauvinist parties which warred against each other."5 

But the Russian Bolsheviks and small groups of left-wingers in various countries held fast. This, too, was the result of their entire history of Marxism and internationalism. The Russian Bolsheviks, who since 1903 had combated the right wing within the Social-Democratic Labor Party of their country until they split and formed their own patty in 1912, further developed their international policies in fighting against the war. They resolutely combated the war in Russia, and they took steps to unite the international anti-war forces. Besides eventually having revolutionary consequences in Russia, these anti-war activities led to the holding of the important wartime conferences in Zimmerwald, in September 1915, and in Kienthal, in 1916 (both in Switzerland). At these conferences Lenin presented his famous slogan of transforming the imperialist war into civil war, for the establishment of socialism.   Lenin was a great champion of peace, and his slogan would not only have ended the current slaughter in World War I, but would have prevented the even greater butchery of World War II. Lenin's orientation for peace, was shown by a general appeal to all the warring countries to end World War I which was made upon the establishment of the Soviet government. The conferences in Switzerland, while not adopting Lenin's slogan, nevertheless represented significant first steps toward uniting the anti-war forces and toward the eventual establishment of the Third, or Communist International, to take the place of the defunct Second International.6 


When the war broke out in Europe the policy of the American bourgeoisie was to play neutral, to watch its imperialist rivals kill each other off, and to furnish them the necessary munitions with which to do the job, meanwhile making huge profits in blood money from the terrible slaughter. At the time the war began the United States was in the midst of an economic crisis, but the flood of war orders soon had the industries humming busily again. Profits piled sky-high, the monopolies expanded and multiplied, and before the war ended there were 20,000 new millionaires in the United States.

From August 1914 to the end of 1918 the cost of living rose very rapidly with wage rates dragging, and the workers were in a very militant strike mood. But the A.F. of L. leaders, obedient as ever to the basic interests of the capitalists, re-echoed the latter's neutrality slogans and damped down the efforts of the more and more impoverished workers to organize and strike. Most of the 4,924 strikes that took place during 1915 and 1916 were spontaneous, the work of the rank and file themselves. A notable struggle was the national eight-hour movement of the four Railroad Brotherhoods in 1916, which culminated in the passage of the Adamson law, a substantial victory for the 350,000 workers involved. The I.W.W., unlike the A.F. of L., carried out an active strike policy, with strikes, among others, of 8,000 oil workers in Bayonne, 15,000 iron miners in Minnesota, and 6,000 steel workers in Youngstown.

The Socialist Party, in August 1914, adopted a resolution denouncing the "senseless conflict," expressing "its opposition to this and all other wars, waged upon any pretext whatsoever," and calling upon the United States, while carrying out a policy of strict neutrality, to use all its efforts to have the war ended as quickly as possible. It also demanded that the question of war should be referred to the people in a general referendum before the government could engage in hostilities. In December 1914, the party also proposed a whole program upon the basis of which the war should be settled.7 This pacifist program, which did not discriminate between just and unjust wars, was supported in practice by a general agitation against war and against the campaign to bring the United States into the struggle. The left wing especially led a strong fight against conscription.8

The American S.P. leadership promptly exonerated the Social-Democrats in Europe of war guilt. In a statement on September 19, 1914, the National Executive Committee declared: "We do not presume to pass judgment upon the conduct of our brother parties in Europe. We realize that they are victims of the present vicious, industrial, political, and military system and that they did the best they could under the circumstances."9

The left wing of the S.P., while not yet clearly differentiating itself from the official pacifist policy of the Party, began to sharpen up its anti-war activity. In doing this it utilized principally the columns of the International Socialist Review. On November 26, 1916, the Socialist Propaganda League of America, an S.P. left-wing organization, with headquarters in Boston, issued a manifesto sharply repudiating the war and condemning the treason of the right opportunists of the Second International.4 Lenin replied to this document, greeting its general line and expressing the desire "to combine our struggle with yours against the conciliators and for true internationalism."10

One of the outstanding events of the years just before the entry of the United States into the war, was the arrest in San Francisco of Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings. They were charged with responsibility for the bomb explosion in the Preparedness Day Parade on July 22, 1916, which killed nine and wounded forty persons. In the prevailing war hysteria Mooney and Billings were shamefully framed up and sentenced to die, a sentence which later, under the pressure of the masses, including the revolutionary workers of Russia and other countries, was commuted to life imprisonment. The generation-long struggle of Mooney and Billings for freedom had begun. 

This country entered the war on April 6, 1917, three weeks after the world was startled by the bourgeois revolution in Russia, on March 14th. The reason why the United States went into the war was the fear on the part of the American bourgeoisie that the Anglo-French-Russian alliance would lose the struggle under the heavy blows of the German armies. The Wall Street monopolists, who could handle the declining British empire, feared the rise of a far more powerful German empire. The latter would have jeopardized their whole structure of foreign trade and investments. Hence, they plunged the United States into the war, eventually turning the tide against Germany.

Just five months before this, Woodrow Wilson got himself re-elected president with the hypocritical slogan, "He kept us out of war." This slogan was a pledge that the United States would continue to stay out; but as soon as Wall Street saw its vital interests threatened, it cynically trampled upon all such pacifist demagogy and flung the nation into the wholesale slaughter. In doing this the capitalists were quite unconcerned that the American people had repeatedly showed that they were opposed to going into the war. Monopolist America, as Wilson declared, was now out to "make the world safe for democracy."

In order to circumvent the peace will of the people, big capital needed to mobilize the support of the labor leaders for the war. This proved to be only a small chore, however. The Gompers clique, obedient servants of capitalism, were ready and eager for the task. Gompers, in the early stages of the war, called himself a pacifist; but keeping step with the war plans of the capitalists, he grew more and more belligerent, until finally he became the most rabid of warmongers. As the entry of the United States into the war approached, Gompers called a general trade union conference of the top officialdom, on March 12, 1917. This conference declared that "should our country be drawn into the maelstrom of the European conflict, we . . . offer our service . . . and call upon our fellow workers . . . devotedly and patriotically to give like service."11 This gave the government the green light, and three weeks later it rushed the country into the war.

Gompers, however, faced a considerable opposition to his war treason in the ranks of organized labor. The United Mine Workers, Typographical Union, Ladies Garment Workers, Western Federation of Miners, and Journeymen Barbers refused to attend his pro-war conference. Besides, local unions, city central bodies, and state federations in many partsof the country were evidencing a strong anti-war spirit. But the Gompers machine, with the active help of the government, overrode this peace sentiment. One of the most effective means for doing this was the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy, organized on August 16, 1917, by the A.F. of L., jointly with pro-war renegades from the Socialist Party. The Alliance, acting a government agency, held meetings in many parts of the country, peddling the war slogans of the imperialists.

The Gompers machine promptly became part of American imperialism's war apparatus. Gompers himself was chairman of the Committee on Labor of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense. Other officials occupied war posts of various kinds all over the country. Gompers remained a close co-worker of President Wilson all the way along, even at the peace conference of Versailles in 1919. The enemies of the workers hailed him as a great "labor statesman."

Gompers eventually wangled into the Versailles Treaty a watered-down version of his well-known dictum that "the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce." This sentence was quoted from the Clayton Act of October 1914, which was supposed to, but did not, exempt organized labor from the Sherman Anti-Trust Law. Its deeper meaning, as Gompers stressed, was that, contrary to Marx, American workers were free. It was daily refuted by the fact that tens of millions of workers, acting under severe restraints, sold their labor power to their employers. The bosses, enjoying the reality of the wage system, which Gompers endorsed, were willing to allow the latter his demagogic assertion that labor power was not bought and sold in the United States.

In addition to committing the labor movement generally to the war, the biggest service of the Gompers bureaucrats to the imperialists was to stifle the wartime efforts of the workers to organize and strike. Through the War Labor Board and National Defense Council, the A.F. of L. and Railroad Brotherhood leaders gave up the right not only to strike, but even to organize the open-shop basic industries. Lorwin says, "Organized labor relinquished its right to strike," and there was "the understanding at Washington that the status quo in industrial relations should not be disturbed."12 Thenceforth, the Gompers war policy was to smother strikes and to sabotage organizing campaigns.

The workers, however, harassed by the rapidly rising living costs and having but little feeling of solidarity with the war, were in a very militant mood and much disposed to organize and strike. In 1917, the first war year, there were 4,233 strikes, or more than in any other previous year in American history. Consequently, despite its leaders' ruinous polices, the A.F. of L. grew by 650,000 members during 1917-18. Had it not been for the treacherous Gompers no-organizing, no-strike agreement with the bosses and the government, the A.F. of L. could readily have organized at least ten million workers during the war and thus have accomplished the unionization of the basic and trustified industries—a job, however, that had to await the arrival of the C.I.O., almost two decades later.


As the United States entered the war on April 6th, the S.P. held its 1 Emergency Convention in St. Louis to shape its policy to meet the situation. The sentiment in the party had been demonstrated by the adoption, by a vote of 11,041 to 782 in a national referendum, of a resolution proposing to expel any and all Socialists holding public office who should vote money for the war. The party was slowly recovering from the blow of the 1912 split. Workers from the basic industries were again joining it. Membership increased from 79,374 in 1915 to 104,822 in the first three months of 1919.

The St. Louis convention was heavily anti-war. This was basically because of the tragic lessons of the socialist betrayal in Europe, the influences of the developing Russian revolution, and the anti-war attitude of the new proletarian elements which had come into the party. Consequently, the outright pro-war Socialists were swamped, and the Hillquit centrists also had to bend before the anti-war storm.

At the convention three resolutions were presented on the war question. The majority resolution, submitted by Hillquit, branded "the declaration of war by our government as a crime against the peoples of the United States and against the nations of the world," and declared the party's "unalterable opposition to the war." It stated that "the only struggle which would justify the workers in taking up arms is the great struggle of the working class of the world to free itself from economic exploitation and political oppression, and we particularly warn the workers against the snare and delusion of so-called defensive warfare." It proposed that the war be fought by "continuous, active and public opposition to the war, through demonstrations, mass petitions and all other means within our power."13 The second resolution, presented by Louis Boudin, varied but little from Hillquit's. The third resolution, by John Spargo, was openly pro-war, stating that "having failed to prevent the war, we can only recognize it as a fact and try to force upon the government through pressure of public opinion a constructive policy."

The convention vote was as follows: for the Hillquit resolution, 140 votes; for Boudin's, 31 votes; and for Spargo's, 5 votes. Later on, in a national referendum, the majority resolution was endorsed by a vote of 21,000 to 350.14

The Party's resolution was a product of a compromise between the center and the left. Ruthenberg was the outstanding leader of the left at the convention.15 He had also been a factor in the 1912 convention. Moreover, along with Wagenknecht, he had built a powerful Party organization in Ohio, and he was increasingly active in fighting against the war. As secretary of the subcommittee which drafted the majority resolution, Ruthenberg was responsible for most of its fighting clauses. Hill-quit's original draft was merely pacifist. Major weak spots in the resolution were that it did not more clearly distinguish between just and unjust wars, that it did not condemn the social-chauvinists abroad, and that it did not provide a definite program for anti-war struggle.

Following the convention, the pro-war elements—Simons, Benson, Stokes, Walling, Spargo, Hunter, Ghent, Russell, Gaylord, Frank and William Bohn, et a/.—quit the Party and joined the openly pro-war forces.16 Also many Socialist trade union leaders, while formally remaining within the Party, carried out the Gompers war line. Relatively few rank-and-file members were included in these defections.

The centrist Hillquit leadership of the Party, while adopting the anti-war resolution, did little to apply it. This lip service was necessary in order to cover up its betrayal in practice. Centrism was the dominant form of opportunist leadership in the S.P. in 1916-17, because the war was already two years old, revolutionary moods were rising in the ranks of the workers and soldiers in Europe, and this fighting spirit was reflected in the United States. The radicalism of centrism was designed to deceive these militant workers. The left elements, however, pushed the anti-war campaign vigorously, Debs, Ruthenberg, Wagenknecht, and others boldly speaking out against the war. Consequently, in the 1917 local elections the Party polled high votes in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and other centers, and its membership grew rapidly. Divergent attitudes toward the war created a growing friction between the right and left wings.

The I.W.W., from the outset, took a position of opposition to World War I and maintained it courageously. A couple of months after the war began, by convention resolution the organization condemned the war and refused participation in it. It declared that "We, as members of the industrial army, will refuse to fight for any purpose except for the realization of industrial freedom."17 This abstentionist attitude remained essentially the position of the l.W.W. throughout the war. It was in sharp contradiction to the pro-war position of the French and other syndicalists.

Paying but little attention to the political aspects of the war, the l.W.W. devoted its main efforts to the prosecution of economic struggles and to building its own membership. Its operations concerned mostly agricultural workers, miners, and lumber workers. In carrying out this economic line, which was accompanied by anti-war agitation, the l.W.W. encountered fierce opposition on the part of the government, the employers, the labor misleaders, and self-constituted vigilante gangs.

The Agricultural Workers Organization (l.W.W.) during the war years had an estimated 20,000 members. It conducted strikes of farm workers in many parts of the West—largely successful. One thing to which it paid special attention was halting the prevalent terrorizing and robbing of transient workers by railroad brakemen. It became so that a card in the A.W.O. was good to ride freight trains almost anywhere throughout the West.

In June 1916, the I.W.W. conducted a strike on the Mesabi iron range in northern Minnesota. All the miners in the district came out-some 16,000. Several strikers were killed, the leaders were arrested, and the strike was broken. Later, however, the companies had to improve the conditions of the workers. In Everett, Washington, in November 1916, the I.W.W., engaged in a campaign of organizing lumber workers, came into head-on conflict with local vigilantes. Five I.W.W. members and two vigilantes were killed. The militant I.W.W., however, pressed its work, and during 1917 it led strikes of some 50,000 lumber workers in Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Out of these fights eventually came the eight-hour day for the industry.

In 1917, the l.W.W. also conducted big strikes of copper miners— 24,000 in Arizona and 14,000 in Butte, Montana. The companies fought the strikes violently. In Bisbee, Arizona, 2,000 strikers were seized, transported far out into the desert, and left there with no food or water. This outrage provoked a national protest. In the hard-fought strike in Butte, on August 1, 1917, several gunmen kidnapped Frank H. Little from his hotel and hanged him from a railroad bridge on the outskirts 0f the city. Little, a member of the General Executive Board of the I.W.W., was laid up with a broken leg when the lynch gang seized him.

At the end of the war the I.W.W.'s membership was variously estimated at up to 120,000.


The International Trade Union Educational League was formed in St. Louis, on January 17, 1915, at a conference of a dozen former members of the Syndicalist League from Chicago, Omaha, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Chicago was chosen as headquarters, and William Z. Foster was elected secretary. Its principal papers were the San Diego International, the Omaha Unionist, and the Chicago Labor Nexus. The organization never really got established, however, basically because the left wing at the time, firmly wedded to the policy of dual unionism, had no use for the I.T.U.E.L.'s program of working within the old craft unions. A syndicalist organization, the I.T.U.E.L. was anti-political, endorsed industrial unionsm, and opposed the war. 18  It held the opinion that the trade unions as such were essentially revolutionary, whether led  by conservatives or revolutionaries. This was true, it argued, because they were class organizations, which followed a policy of securing all the concessions they could wring by force from the employers. In view of the ever-growing strength of the trade unions,  the I.T.U.E.L falsely assumed that this policy would eventually culminate in the overthrow of the capitalist class by the economic power of the workers; whereupon, the unions would take over the control of society. This syndicalism, of course, expressed a gross overestimation of the power of trade unionism and an equally great underestimation of the power of the capitalist state. It also underestimated  the disruptive  capacity of reactionary Social-Democracy, and it did not give necessary weight  to  the need for a class-conscious ideology and a vanguard political party.

By the spring of 1917 the I.T.U.E.L. had disappeared as an organization, about all that was left of it being a loose group of a couple of dozen militants in Chicago and a scattering of active workers in other cities. Most of the Chicago group, however, were leaders in their local unions and also delegates to the Chicago Federation of Labor. There they constituted a very important influence.

The former League members had fought against the war and American participation in it, and had taken the general position that the outbreak of the war should have been countered by a revolutionary general strike. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, they took the position that, inasmuch as the revolution had been betrayed by the reactionary Social-Democrats and syndicalists, the main task during the war was to organize the great unorganized masses into the trade unions. The trade unions, they held, were the all-important basic organizations that would one day emancipate the working class. The war situation, with the great demand for labor and the government's basic need for all possible production, presented an exceptionally favorable opportunity for such union-building work. This should be based on an active strike policy. Every other consideration in the war period was to be sacrificed to the central task of building the unions. Foster led this group.

This, of course, was a highly opportunistic conception. While it did not involve actual support of the war, it nevertheless was an incorrect compromise. It was a sort of economism, an attempt to by-pass the war and to focus the struggle upon immediate trade union questions. The very active unionizing and strike campaigns of the Chicago I.T.U.E.L. group did, however, conflict directly with the no-organizing, no-strike policies of the pro-war Gompers machine.

The Chicago group of militants were in a favorable position to get results in their aggressive unionizing campaigns. For several years they had been winning support in the Chicago Federation of Labor, and they had good working relations with the progressive Fitzpatrick-Nockels leadership. It was largely because of the work of this militant group that the C.F. of L. became the most progressive central labor union in the United States. The left forces, by their influence, made the C.F. of L. the national labor center in the big fight to save Mooney and Billings; it became the leader in the national labor party movement from 1917 on; it hailed the Russian Revolution and demanded the recognition of the Soviet government; it fought the Gompers machine on many fronts; and it became identified with every progressive cause. Significant of the left-wing influence in all this radicalism was the fact that when later on, in 1923, the left-center alliance in Chicago was broken, the C.F. of L. soon degenerated into a routine, conservative Gompers organization.

The first important wartime unionizing work tackled by the Chicago militants was in the railroad industry. Through the Railroad Labor Council, set up by a number of A.F. of L. and Brotherhood local unions which they led, the left forces organized some 25,000 workers locally into the railroad craft unions during 1916-17. This general movement, under the leadership of L. M. Hawver, a League member, finally culminated in the unofficial 1919 national strike of 200,000 railroad shopmen.

The next and still bigger campaign of organization undertaken by the Chicago militants, former members of the I.T.U.E.L., was to organize the national meat-packing industry. For thirteen years this great industry had remained almost completely without unions, and was considered by the A.F. of L. to be impossible to organize. But the Chicago group pushed through the work successfully, on the basis of a federation of the dozen craft unions in the industry and an active organizing and strike policy. John Fitzpatrick was chairman of this national committee and William Z. Foster was its national organizing secretary. Jack Johnstone, organizer for the C.F. of L., eventually became secretary of the Chicago Stockyards Council, with 55,000 members. Joseph Manley and various other left-wingers held key posts. The campaign began on July 11, 1917, and after striking the national industry once and taking another national strike vote, it ended successfully on March 30, 1918, with an arbitration award by Federal Judge Altschuler, granting big wage increases, the eight-hour day, union recognition, and other improvements. At these arbitration hearings the nation was amazed by the dramatic exposure of the horrifying wage and working conditions prevailing in the meat-packing industry.

One of the greatest achievements in this packinghouse campaign was the organization of the Negro workers. They formed at least 20,000 of the 200,000 workers who were organized nationally. Their organization was of major importance and also unique in trade union history. They constituted the largest body of organized Negro workers anywhere in the world. Thus, the "hopeless" national packing industry, the despair of organized labor for many years, became organized. The whole labor movement was thrilled. And the prestige of the Chicago Federation of Labor and its left wing soared.

The next big wartime organizing task which the Chicago I.T.U.E.L. group set itself was the organization of the national steel industry, the toughest of all tasks confronting the labor movement. This campaign was begun on April 7, 1918, only a week after the Altschuler decision in the packing industry. The left-wingers presented the resolution on organization to the Chicago Federation of Labor, which endorsed it. Foster was elected delegate of the C.F. of L. to the A.F. of L. convention at St. Paul, in June 1918, and he had the steel resolution adopted there. The organizing campaign began under a national organizing committee of representatives of 23 unions, with three million members. Rompers was chairman and Foster was organizing secretary. Later on, as the strike approached, Gompers got cold feet, resigned the chairmanship, and put John Fitzpatrick in his place.

The campaign was marked with the characteristic Gompers sabotage, employer violence, and government repression. Nevertheless, the organizers managed to unite 250,000 steel workers in all the major steel centers of the country. The plan of the lefts had been to force a favorable settlement through a strike in wartime, 19 but owing to lack of funds the campaign was slowed and the national strike of 367,000 steel workers did not come about until September 22, 1919, about ten months after the war's end. The strike was crushed, after nearly four months, by a combination of sabotage by the Gompers machine and wholesale strikebreaking and violence by the employers and the government. Although the great strike was lost the employers had to abolish the twelve-hour day and seven-day week and to introduce many improvements in wages and working conditions. The 1919 strike, by proving that the steel industry, the greatest of all trustified, open-shop, company-unionized industries, could be organized, paved the way for the completion of this basic task fifteen years later by the C.I.O.

The Chicago group felt that all these big organizing successes constituted a brilliant justification of its long-advocated policy of working within the old unions, but the S.P. left wing and I.W.W. militants still remained fascinated by the dual union policy, which had been traditional for some twenty-five years past.


The government, under the "liberal" Wilson, fearing the anti-war moods among the masses, immediately after pushing the country into the war, adopted a body of reactionary legislation directed at curbing the anti-war left. The first of these laws was the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, a sort of grab-all law aimed at curbing a host of labor activities. This infamous law was eventually followed by the Trading with the Enemy Act, Conscription Act, and so on, as well as by dozens of anti-sedition and anti-syndicalism laws in the various cities and states. The sum total of all this legislation was to strip the American people of rights of free speech which at least the whites, if not the Negroes, had practiced ever since the founding of the Republic almost a century and a half before. Under these Draconian laws the government, through Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, proceeded ruthlessly against the left wing of the labor movement.20

The I.W.W. was the organization to suffer the heaviest blow. On September 5, 1917, simultaneous raids, with vigilante participation, were made by Department of Justice agents upon I.W.W. headquarters all over the country. Private homes were broken into and records seized. Bill Haywood, general secretary-treasurer of the I.W.W., estimated that up to February 1918, 2,000 members were under arrest. The mass arrests covered all the members of the I.W.W. General Executive Board, secretaries of industrial unions, editors, and prominent local leaders. In Omaha, the whole convention of the Construction Workers Industrial Union—164 delegates—was arrested. Substitute sets of leaders were also arrested nationally. Everywhere the I.W.W.'s were railroaded to jail for long sentences, charged with general obstruction of the war. The raids culminated in mass trials in Chicago (165), Sacramento (146), Wichita (38), Tacoma (7), Omaha (27), Spokane (28). In the big Chicago trial, in April 1918, under the notorious Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, 15 I.W.W. members got 20 years, 35 got 10 years, 33 got 5 years, and 12 got one year, and $2,300,000 in fines were levied against the convicted men. In Sacramento, of the I.W.W.'s on trial, 26 got 10 years each. Similar savage sentences were levied elsewhere.

Many wartime raids and arrests were also directed against the Socialist Party. In September 1917, the national headquarters of the Party was raided. Dozens of Socialist papers, including the Appeal to Reason, International Socialist Review, The Socialist, New York Call and The Masses, were prosecuted, threatened with denial of second-class mailing privileges. Many of the papers died. Debs was arrested for a speech he made in Canton, Ohio, against war, on June 16, 1918, and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Scores of others—Charles E. Ruthenberg, Alfred Wagenknecht, Kate Richards O'Hare, J. O. Bentall, Scott Nearing, Rose Pastor Stokes, and many more—were jailed and given sentences ranging from one to three years. Molly Steimer, a young girl, got 15 years in jail for distributing leaflets against intervention in Russia. 21 The National Executive Committee of the S.P. was indicted through its officers—Victor Berger, Adolph Germer, J. Louis Engdahl, Irwin St. John Tucker, and William Kruse—but they did not serve time.

Besides the I.W.W. and S.P. cases, there were many other wartime arrests. Among them, Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were sentenced to two years for obstructing the draft. There were also various pacifists, conscientious objectors, and others jammed into the crowded jails. It has been estimated that 1,500 were sent to prison during the war. Debs went to jail on April 12, 1919, and got out on December 25, 1921. It was not until December 1923 that the last of the I.W.W. war prisoners were set free under the pressure of a strong, united front mass campaign for their release. The wartime terrorism against the left was the first fruit of the imperialist war "to make the world safe for democracy." It was, however, only a foretaste of the still more bitter fruits that were to come, after victory was won and presumably democracy had been assured.

The great war, precipitated by the uneven development of world capitalism, made that unevenness even more pronounced. The United States, the real capitalist victor in the war, enormously expanded its industries during the war. It entered the war a debtor nation and emerged a great creditor nation, with $20 billion in outstanding loans. The dollar had defeated the pound and the mark, and the center of gravity had definitely shifted from Europe to the United States. Imperialist Wall Street was well on its march to world capitalist domination. World War I sowed the seeds for World War 

1 Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. 5, p. 14I.
2 Victor Perlo, American Imperialism, p. 26, N. Y., 1951.
3 History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, p. 161, N. Y., 1939.
4 William English Walling, The Socialists and the War, p. 39, N. Y., 1915.
5 History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, p. 164.
6 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 18 The Imperialist War, N. Y., 1930.
7 Walling, The Socialists and the War, pp. 468-70. 8 See Alexander Trachtenberg, ed., American Socialists and the War, N. Y„ 1917.
8 Bimba, History of the American Working Class, p. 257.
9 International Socialist Review, Feb. 1917.
10 V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 18, p. 375.
11 John Steuben, Labor in Wartime, p. 25, N. Y. 1940.
12 Lorwin, The American Federation of Labor, pp. 161, 165.
13 Fine, Farmer and Labor Parties in the U.S., p. 313.
14 For text of all three resolutions, see Trachtenberg, ed., American Labor Year Booh, 1917-18
15 Oakley Johnson,  The Day Is Coming:  The Biography  of  Charles E. Ruthenberg, unpublished manuscript. 
16 Some of these and other pro-war elements were either expelled or resigned  even before the St. Louis convention.
17 Solidarity, Oct. 3, 1914.
18 For its program, see William Z. Foster, Trade  Unionism: The  Road  to Freedom, Chicago, 1916.
19 William Z. Foster, The Great Steel Strike and Its Lessons, N. Y., 1920. a Trachtenberg, ed., A
20 The Palmer Raids, N. Y., 1948. American Labor Year Book, 1919-20, pp. 92-113; Robert W. Dunn, ed.,
21 For wartime arrest cases, see Trachtenberg, ed., American Labor Year Book, 1919-20 P. 92 ff.

Chapter 10

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