Update 12-20: Sunday, May 13, 2012.
"Circular Letter to All Ohio Locals and Branches from Alfred Wagenknecht, Executive Secretary, Communist Labor Party." [circa Sept. 10, 1919] The failure of the two Communist conventions in Chicago to unite created an intense and bitter political situation -- referred to in this circular letter by top CLP leader Alfred Wagenknecht as an "emergency." This communication to the membership until recently comprising the Socialist Party of Ohio attempts to justify Wagenknecht and the Ohio delegation's course of action, reveals to these rank-and-filers the fait accompli of its new membership in the Communist Labor Party, and calls upon them to "maintain our strong Ohio organization and loyally cooperate with the efforts of new party officials to build a powerful national organization." New dues stamps and cards are said to be ready, based on a dues rate of 50 cents per month, and the constitution of the CLP adopted in Chicago is to be in effect "until such time as it is amended by referendum," Wagenknecht declares.
"Letter to Edward S. Smith in Warren, OH from C.E. Ruthenberg, Executive Secretary, Communist Party of America in Chicago, Sept. 30, 1919." Short note from Executive Secretary C.E. Ruthenberg to an activist in Warren, Ohio which notes the overwhelming decision of a delegated convention of Local Cuyahoga County [Cleveland] to affiliate with the Communist Party of America over the Communist Labor Party, by a vote of 178 to 3. The Cleveland local was by far the largest in the state of Ohio, which was regarded as the center of the CLP's activities -- indicating a grim political situation for the CLP from the outset.
"Circular Letter to CPA Members from Charles Dirba, Acting Executive Secretary over the Signature of C.E. Ruthenberg, Dec. 31, 1919." With the coordinated mass dragnet remembered as the "Palmer Raids" imminent, the Bureau of Investigation opened by raiding the Chicago headquarters of the Communist Party of America and seizing its mailing list. This mimeographed letter from acting Executive Secretary Charles Dirba informs the party membership of the DoJ's action. "Under ordinary circumstances and in law -- this means nothing," Dirba reassures the membership: "they can do nothing, just because they have found your name on a mailing list, no matter what list." Dirba believes the mailing list seizure to be part of a plan to disrupt distribution of the CPA's official organ, the weekly newspaper The Communist, and he asks for new addresses for bundle deliveries forthwith.
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in New York from C.E. Ruthenberg in Chicago, June 24, 1920." In the middle of April 1920, the 37-year old C.E. Ruthenberg was despondent with the unending factional war in the Communist Party of America, seemingly unhappy in New York City and pondering aloud his desire to quit the party and come back home to his wife Rose and son in Cleveland. Yet duty called, the April 1920 split of his faction from the CPA gave way to a May 1920 unity convention which established the United Communist Party. Just when he thought he was out, Ruthenberg was pulled back in. With political prosecutions facing him in two states and the factional war unabated, somehow Ruthenberg found a second wind. This letter, documenting the start of a new love, helps to partially explain the UCP leader's abrupt change in mentality. Ruthenberg is headed from Chicago to Pittsburgh on party business and he makes arrangements with his "Sweet," Rachele Ragozin, to meet him there. Their meeting is to be a brief one on Sunday morning: "You will be able to leave Pittsburgh Sunday night and be back in time for school Monday," Ruthenberg assures her.
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in New York from C.E. Ruthenberg in Chicago, June 26, 1920." [excerpt] In this follow-up to the letter of June 24, the love-smitten C.E. Ruthenberg offers party employment to his girlfriend, offering her work as a special "messenger" carrying out underground missions for UCP Technical Director L.E. Katterfeld. Presumably the tasks with which Ragozin would have been involved related to production and distribution of illegal party publications or the transfer of funds. "It will be dangerous, you may get locked up, but I think you can have it if you want it. We might arrange that the messenger stay very close to the editor [Ruthenberg] — and to a telephone. Will that be 'nice'? We will talk about it when I see you," Ruthenberg remarks.
"The Great Conspiracy." (leaflet of the National Defense Committee) [c. June 28, 1920] Text of a rare four page leaflet of the National Defense Committee, a defense organization closely linked to the United Communist Party initially established circa June 1920 for the joint legal defense of 127 defendants indicted in Illinois for violation of state "criminal syndicalism" laws for having participated in the founding conventions of the Communist Labor Party and the Communist Party of America. Jury selection in the first mass trial, that of the CLP, had begun on May 10, 1920, the leaflet indicates. Some seven weeks later, after 1200 prospective jurors were examined and tens of thousands of dollars spent on the case, the jury was still not empaneled. This flyer was sent out along with a fundraising form for the collection of funds to aid in the defense effort. Particularly useful is the lengthy list of those indicted in the case -- while not a complete roster of attendees of the two founding conventions, at least a substantial section. Also worthy of note is that a mass trial of the CPA was planned to follow the mass trial of the CLP, to have included about twice as many defendants -- a trial which never took place despite the conviction of all CLP members in the first mass trial.
"Open Letter from the United Communist Party to the Executive Committee of the Third International on Unity." [circa Nov. 20, 1920] This is an enormously long letter to ECCI outlining the United Communist Party's official position on unification with their rivals of the Communist Party of America, set to type as a newspaper broadsheet for domestic informational purposes. The leadership of the CPA are called "unprincipled characters" who "have manifested their love for, and understanding of Communism solely by a struggle for control." The document offers perhaps the most detailed critique extant of the CPA's "federation of federations" structure. The language federations began as a necessity in the Socialist Party due to that organization's failure to connect with immigrant workers, the UCP contends, many of whom were unable to vote. Over time these semi-autonomous organizations emerged as an instrument of power politics, voting en bloc. After the split of the SP and the emergence of the multi-lingual, non-electoral Communist movement, the largely independent language federations lost their reason for existence, but continued nevertheless as an instrument of clique control by a section of the CPA leadership. The UCP touts its multilingual party literature and declares the liquidation of semi-autonomous federations to be an essential precondition of lasting unity. The UCP also charges the CPA with having inflated paid membership statistics, owing to the inclusion of Lithuanian and Latvian legal organizations which were only nominally subdivided into pseudo-underground "groups" of 10. "The moment the parties united and the principle of strict centralization and underground organization is applied to them, they will disappear from the communist movement, and rightly so, as they are anything but communists," the UCP declares. The UCP repeats its demand for a 60% delegate set-aside in the forthcoming unity convention and proposes the possible alternative of a forced merger of the CPA into the UCP with no convention at all.
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in Brooklyn from C.E. Ruthenberg at Sing Sing Penitentiary, Ossining, NY, Dec. 29 1920." [excerpt] Imprisoned United Communist Party editor C.E. Ruthenberg recounts the recharging of his intellectual batteries for his girlfriend and muse, Rachele Ragozin. Only since his imprisonment had Ruthenberg felt fully revitalized, he writes: "For nearly a year, before, I had felt discontented and dissatisfied with the part I was playing; that I was not thinking up to my ideal. I felt, somehow, I had fallen below my own standard of the motives that should dominate and inspire me. I felt that, just as my face had grown a little heavier in outline, so also my spirit had become a little flabby.... The mental shirking is over. You have restored my faith and reinspired my thought in regard to the other. I have regained the spirit of my past life -- to work unflinchingly for what I consider worth working for, to love greatly -- if I can do that, life cannot hurt me no matter what it brings."
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in Brooklyn from C.E. Ruthenberg at Sing Sing Penitentiary, Ossining, NY, July 17, 1921." [excerpt] C.E. Ruthenberg's prison writings will never be mistaken for those of Antonio Gramsci. Hundreds of pages of correspondence flowed back and forth between he and his beloved girlfriend, Rachele Ragozin, who visited him weekly. Both were smitten and their voluminous communications (limited in length and frequency by prison regulations) were almost eerily apolitical. This letter from Ruthenberg to Ragozin is interesting for its self-critical self-analysis. Ruthenberg writes: "I am, I think, naturally rather rational and, possibly, cold, in my judgments and actions. I do not really give way to unreasoning anger and my enthusiasms are usually tempered with cool judgment. Because of these qualities I have rather felt myself alien among people who could let themselves go, who could be angry beyond control, who could manifest friendship beyond reserve, who seemed to be able to give themselves wholly in their emotions..." The love of their relationship has "made me more human, I think," Ruthenberg reckons, able now to appreciate "simpler human relations, to be social, to laugh a little in mere jolly friendship, to be, not only the cold and efficient human machine, but to be human."
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in Brooklyn from C.E. Ruthenberg in St. Joseph, MI, August 29, 1922." Freed on bail in April 1922 after more than 18 months behind bars, Workers Party of American Executive Secretary would remain free barely more than four more months before he was once again embroiled in the legal system -- this time facing allegations of having violated the Michigan state "Criminal Syndicalism" law for having attended the convention of the underground Communist Party of America held at Bridgman, Michigan. In this letter to his girlfriend, Rachele Ragozin, Ruthenberg discusses the need to raise the $10,000 bail on which he is held. Held away from his imprisoned comrades, Ruthenberg immediately lapses into the placid "prison state of mind" which he had only recently exhibited in hundreds of pages of love letters exchanged with Ragozin.
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in Brooklyn from C.E. Ruthenberg in St. Joseph, MI, Sept. 15-16, 1922." Himself free on bond following his August 22 arrest at the Bridgman, Michigan convention of the underground Communist Party of America, C.E. Ruthenberg details the progress being made toward bailing out all the remaining jailed Communists. Bill Foster and Max Lerner had been freed on Sept. 15, Ruthenberg notes, leaving 12 behind bars. A Detroit connection pledging $100,000 to the bail effort was moving forward, Ruthenberg notes -- an amount which would be sufficient to free all but one. Ruthenberg mentions the establishment of a new mass organization formed around the issue of legal defense of the Bridgman defendants, the Labor Defense Council, which he says includes participants from the Socialist, Workers, Farmer-Labor, and Proletarian Parties, as well as the Communists' Trade Union Educational League and various unions. A national office is to be established September 18, Ruthenberg notes, adding: "I think it will be a big thing."
"Letter to Rachele Ragozin in Brooklyn from C.E. Ruthenberg in Boston, Sept. 24, 1922." This mundane correspondence between C.E. Ruthenberg and his girlfriend Rachele Ragozin is actually quite illuminating as a demonstration of the qualities that made him an effective Executive Secretary throughout his career in the Communist movement -- with even his factional opponents attesting to his competence and ability and willing to leave him in place when they had control of the apparatus. Ruthenberg's business school training is evident as he outlines specific issues and tasks for an accounting of the party's books. Ragozin's place as assistant and helpmate is also evident in this rather banal document.
"The Menace of 'Criminal Syndicalism': War Time Repression by the Federal Government is Continued Through the States." [c. Dec. 1923] Full text of an extremely rare leaflet of the Labor Defense Council -- a mass organization established by the Communist Party of America to provide funds for bail and legal defense of those embroiled in the August 1922 raid of Justice Department and Michigan law enforcement officials upon the secret convention of the CPA. The leaflet emphasizes the fact that those charged in connection with the Bridgman Raid were accused of no concrete act beyond "assembling with" a group "formed to teach or advocate Criminal Syndicalism." The charge that the Communists inherently relied upon the use of "force and violence" was belied by recent events in Red Hungary, in which a Soviet government had come to power without bloodshed, according to the LDC piece. The Michigan and similar state criminal syndicalism laws were modeled upon the now repealed wartime Espionage Act, the leaflet argues, and were being used by right wing elements in the federal government as a means of extending that terminated policy indefinitely. C.E. Ruthenberg had been convicted by a packed jury and a biased judge and the legal fate of 30 others depended on a successful appeal in his case, the leaflet asserts. Funds for the legal defense are solicited.
Ruthenberg, Red Radical Leader, Dies: Cleveland Bookkeeper in Two Famous Trials Here for Communist and Anti-War Activities." (Cleveland Plain Dealer). [March 3, 1927] Hatchet job obituary from the main Cleveland daily newspaper marking the sudden death of C.E. Ruthenberg at age 44. Ruthenberg is said to have died "shattered and disillusioned" -- "He did not live to see the revolution, so his life’s work went for naught." The paper turns in a poetic bit of understatement when it notes that "Ruthenberg refused to keep still about the war" and is positively shocked to recall that "the President’s signature was hardly dry on the declaration of hostilities before Ruthenberg was on a soapbox in Public Square denouncing the conflict as 'mass murder,'" blithely ignoring the fact that the conflict had begun nearly 3 years and 10 million corpses earlier. The better part of a decade after the event, the Plain Dealer reverses its biased coverage of the Cleveland May Day Riot of 1919 at last to report: "The mob swept in from the curbs, tore down the red flags, snatched red sashes from the women, and reck neckties from the men. For a block the street was a grand free-for-all fist fight. Two men were killed and 200 injured. Instead of arresting those who had attacked the parade, the police arrested the marchers." Ruthenberg is characterized as a "bitter and humorless" stump speaker who was profoundly ineffective. His surviving widow and son are accorded a clean bill of health, apparently inaccurately, as "not communists." An impressively lengthy list of Ruthenberg's arrests is included.
"C.E. Ruthenberg," by William Z. Foster [April 1927] On March 2, 1927, 44-year old General Secretary of the Workers (Communist) Party C.E. Ruthenberg succumbed to a bacterial infection suffered in the aftermath of an appendectomy, giving the America Communist movement a new icon for which to burn a candle. This eulogy was published by the chief factional rival of Ruthenberg in the party, William Z. Foster. Foster gives tribute to Ruthenberg as "one of the most often indicted and imprisoned workers in the American movement" and recalls their joint embroilment in the St. Joseph, Michigan trials of the spring of 1923 which followed the raid of the August 1922 Bridgman Convention of the underground CPA. Foster recalls: "Ruthenberg made his defense like a true proletarian fighter. He made no effort to evade the question or to seek refuge in legal trickery. He made a clean-cut defense of the left wing movement. From the witness stand, in which Ruthenberg put hours of the time of the trial, he outlined the position of the party, its attitude toward the questions of the day, its role in the labor movement, its aims and its methods. His thoughtful analysis was itself a challenge and a warning to the capitalist court that while it was likely that he would be convicted, the historic movement which he represented at the trial could not possibly be imprisoned or defeated..."
"Ruthenberg, the Fighter: The Passing of an American Pioneer," by James P. Cannon [April 1927] Eulogy of the recently deceased leader of the Workers (Communist) Party C.E. Ruthenberg by a factional foe, published in the monthly magazine of International Labor Defense. Cannon recalls Ruthenberg's personal interest in the general movement for workers' legal defense and emphasizes his place as a founder of the ILD. He calls Ruthenberg "no fly-by-night dabbler" in the revolutionary movement, but rather a long-time and "consistent advocate of political action" who nevertheless "fought against the current of reformist corruption in the Socialist Party." Ruthenberg is characterized as a "tireless worker," a "party man," and a "soldier" for whom money meant nothing. Cannon lauds Ruthenberg for his "courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice" and asserts that "new generation of militants will be influenced by that tradition and will carefully safeguard it."