Update 12-21: Sunday, May 20, 2012.
"Ruthenberg Dead! Farewell Comrade Ruthenberg; Farewell Our Leader," by Jay Lovestone [March 15, 1927] An exercise in hagiography and succession politics by the chief lieutenant of recently deceased Workers (Communist) Party leader C.E. Ruthenberg. "The entire American working class has suffered the greatest loss in its history," Lovestone breathlessly asserts. Lovestone credits his "closest guide, leader, and friend" Ruthenberg with being the first person in the (four decade long) American revolutionary socialist movement "to realize the value of organization." Ignoring the two men convicted with him (Wagenknecht, Baker) as well as scores of other Wobblies, Socialists, and anarchists arrested more or less simultaneously, Lovestone credits Ruthenberg as the "first one" in America imprisoned "for inspiring and organizing masses of workers to resist the drive of our imperialists to throw the American working class into the death orgy of the great war." Ruthenberg, not Louis Fraina, is credited with being the motivator of the left wing movement that split the Socialist Party in 1919. It is Ruthenberg, not Alexander Stoklitsky of the Russian Socialist Federation, whom Lovestone calls the "leader of the forward step" of forming a Communist Party of America. It was Ruthenberg, not William Z. Foster, who issued a slogan which "aroused and inspired the thousands of steel workers of Gary to the most valiant resistance displayed in the whole strike," in Lovestone's estimation. And so on, and so forth. There are certain obvious parallels here between Lovestone's shameless and slightly unhinged paean to the factionally-driven competition between party leaders in Soviet Russia to canonize Lenin following his sudden death in January 1924.
"Letter to Oakley C. Johnson in NYC from Alfred Wagenknecht in Chicago, March 18, 1940." Letter from the former Executive Secretary of the Communist Labor Party about his CPA counterpart, written at the request of Oakley C. Johnson, who was engaged in research for a biography of C.E. Ruthenberg. Two decades after the fact Wagenknecht is demonstrably in error on various historic details, but the letter is useful as a retrospective estimate of factional politics in the 1919-1922 period. Wagenknecht recalls Ruthenberg as a "tireless worker" who would magically appear "each evening, without fail" at SPA headquarters in Cleveland to work into the night on the office tasks of the Socialist Party of Ohio. An account of his refusal to work in the laundry and subsequent torture is provided. Ruthenberg is characterized as "a very amiable and social character" with a "hankering for poetry and good literature," a man with the hobby of hiking and gathering bouquets of wild flowers, an "efficient organizer" with a "comradely attitude," and a "tireless student of revolutionary literature."
"Letter to Oakley C. Johnson in NYC from Alfred Wagenknecht in Chicago, April 5, 1940." Second preparatory communication between former CLP Executive Secretary and Ruthenberg biographer Oakley C. Johnson. Wagenknecht deals with Socialist leader Gene Debs's visit to the Canton workhouse on June 16, 1918, immediately prior to his famous "Canton Speech," made as a keynote to the state convention of the Socialist Party of Ohio. Content is esoteric.
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by Israel Amter: Notes from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940." This short memoir, previously an unpublished mass of handwritten scrawl, adds substantially to the store of esoteric detail about the seminal August 1922 raid upon the secret convention of the Communist Party of America at Bridgman, Michigan. It was head of the "Technical Department" L.E. Katterfeld who arranged the location of the gathering, Amter notes, adding that he also arranged the successful 1920 secret convention at the same place. Amter says he rode by train with stool pigeon Francis Morrow and two others from Philadelphia to the convention -- that en route Morrow stopped at a drugstore under the pretext of purchasing medicine, going in alone, with a police tail thereby apparently launched leading to the secret convention site near Lake Michigan. With the convention approximately evenly divided between pro-underground party "Geese" and anti-underground party "Liquidationists," Amter reveals for the first time the discovery of a secret "Center" faction including Liquidationist Jay Lovestone and ostensible Geese Bert Wolfe and Herbert Benjamin. Based upon these secret swing votes, "the Liquidators would have captured the convention if not for the raid," the former Goose leader Amter declares. Alerted to the forthcoming raid the previous evening, the convention's business was quickly concluded and starting at midnight a stream of round trips were made by car removing delegates in prioritized sequence. Amter notes that he escapted with the last group to make it out at about 6 am the morning of August 22. Ruthenberg's failure to leave in a very early group is characterized as the "romantic" misstep of a leader with the "psychology of a captain who wouldn't leave the ship till the last sailor is out." Ruthenberg is characterized as a calm, dignified, and widely respected leader -- "the force that held the Party together."
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by J.J. Ballam: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, June 3, 1940." Fascinating unpublished memoir, previously a mass of handwritten scrawl, by a feisty factionalist founder of the Communist Party of America. Ballam relates details of Lenin's famous "Letter to American Workers," which he says was delivered to him, addressed to Boston's Latvian Branch No. 1 -- the nexus of the proto-Communist movement in America, with which the non-Latvian Ballam was associated. "Pages were lost," Ballam notes. In Ballam's view Ruthenberg was consistently opposed to factionalism, refused to engage in gossip, and was driven to work 18 hour days on behalf of the party. He is depicted as straight-laced, rather stiff and dignified in bearing, an efficient administrator, and an able extemporaneous speaker despite a monotone delivery and an absence of rhetorical tricks. Ruthenberg's personal relationship with William Z. Foster -- caricatured in the scholarly literature as being a ceaseless and bitter factional opponent -- is recalled as having been generally cordial, with Ruthenberg having "accepted Foster from the beginning as a co-worker and accepted him as the trade union leader." Ruthenberg's behavior during the raid on the 1922 Bridgman Convention is portrayed as courageous. Ballam emphasizes a similarity of leadership style between Ruthenberg and Earl Browder.
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by Anna Damon: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940." Short memoir of the C.E. Ruthenberg collected from his party comrade and common-law wife at the time of the Communist leader's death. Damon offers exact details of Ruthenberg's fatal illness -- a chronicly inflamed appendix which ruptured the night of Feb. 26/27, 1927. No mention is made of heroic last words at the hospital (frequently quoted in hagiographic recountings of his life in the party press). Rather Ruthenbeg, given a final saline injection to revive him, "he just waved his arm, several times, as if to encourage everyone." Ruthenberg is characterized as a dedicated, modest, and economical man with an affection for long walks in the country and detective stories. "He was considered very stiff and correct but was a very fine human being. You’d have a hard time getting close to him. But when you did, there was the finest man! He said he built a fence around him to protect himself. He had a fear of being hurt and being exploited by people," Damon recalls. Damon, National Secretary of International Labor Defense at the time of her death in 1944, indicates that she was the first Boston District Organizer of the underground Communist Party of America -- a position previously believed held by Antoinette Konikow.
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by Charles Dirba: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940." Brief memoir of C.E. Ruthenberg collected by Oakley C. Johnson in 1940 for a biography which was finally published only in 1957. Dirba, a former assistant to Ruthenberg, served as the Executive Secretary of the parallel organization calling itself the Central Caucus during the last part of 1921, remaining at that post until January 1922. Although better qualified than any to shed light on that confusing period of underground history, Dirba only acknowledges that "the Federation group didn’t have much ground on which to stand," and that their attempt to send John Ballam and an unnamed second individual to Moscow to change the position of the Comintern was met only with "scolding." Dirba says he refused to serve in an official capacity after the Comintern's views were made clear but continued to pay dues to the dissident organization, returning to the regular CPA only in the fall of 1922. Ruthenberg is characterized as efficient and dedicated, more oriented to detail work than a public leadership role, and a consistent adherent of party unity.
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by Bill Dunne: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson, 1940." This interview with William F. Dunne was collected for a biography of C.E. Ruthenberg. Dunne, a factional opponent of Ruthenberg, makes no pretense of having been an acolyte -- Ruthenberg is called "uninspired" and "monstrously vain." "He was no scholar, he couldn't write — but he was a gentleman. His relations with the Party were always very formal.... He would become personally offended if he didn't get the deference which he expected," Dunne recalls. Detail is given on the exact location of the CPA's underground headquarters in early 1922 (an apartment 11 St. Luke’s Place, New York City). Also interestingly Dunne, with the benefit of hindsight, characterizes the Communist Party's majority faction as being one of "Pepper and Lovestone." Dunne declares: "Ruthenberg’s big mistake was to allow himself to be used by the Lovestone caucus.... Pepper and Lovestone began caucusing and they dragged Ruthenberg into it and made him their front man."
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by M. Golos: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940." Memoir of C.E. Ruthenberg by CPA Russian Federationist M. Golos -- not to be confused with Jacob "Red" Golos of Soviet espionage fame. Golos provides esoteric detail regarding defense work in the aftermath of the January 1920 raids and of the 1920 Ruthenberg faction spilt from the Communist Party of America. With regard to the deportations, Golos remarks: "Anybody who put up a fight wasn’t actually deported. Only outstanding anarchists were deported whether they wanted to be or not. Many wanted to be deported, however. They wanted to go back. So when they were asked 'Are you for the overthrow of the U.S. government?' they said, 'Yes.'" Golos points out that even factional opponents held Ruthenberg with respect and calls him "a boss, a business man, everything had to be just so when he was in the office."
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by Rachele Ragozin: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940." Memoir of C.E. Ruthenberg by his girlfriend of the 1920-1922 period, Rachele Ragozin. Ragozin provides outstanding esoteric detail about the first Bridgman Convention, held in 1920, at which she first met and fell in love with the Communist Party leader. Two decades later and 13 years after his death, the torch still clearly burns for him -- Ruthenberg is called a "warm and affectionate person," and is characterized as non-factional by nature and politically driven. Ragozin claims to have smuggled out of prison a program at the time of the establishment of the Workers Party of America in December 1921 -- she indeed makes further (rather dubious) claims at having smuggled out additional "pamphlets, leaflets, programs, articles" with the help of a Sing Sing inmate trusty who is said to have left documents for her in the women's restroom. Ragozin also records the decision of Ruthenberg's co-thinker I.E. Ferguson to drop out of the movement, quoting him as presciently declaring at the time of his release from Sing Sing in the spring of 1920: "There'll be a lot of trouble in this struggle and a lot of dead, and I propose to live my life for myself. I sympathize with you, but I want to live. You'll be arrested in 6 months. All the leaders will be sacrificed, and I'm not ready to do that." Includes biographical detail about Rachele Ragozin, one only three women present at the 1920 Bridgman Convention and probably the only female delegate.
of C.E. Ruthenberg by Alfred Wagenknecht: Excerpt from an Interview
Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940."
This material was gathered for a biography of C.E. Ruthenberg in 1940,
even though the book was published by International Publishers only in
1957. Wagenknecht concentrate upon the year 1918, providing detail
about the year which he, Ruthenberg, and Charles Baker spent in the
Ohio State Workhouse at Canton, imprisoned for speaking against the
European War. Wagenknecht -- Executive Secretary of the Communist Labor
Party and nominally a rival of Ruthenberg of the CPA in 1919-20 --
credits Ruthenberg for his election as State Secretary of the Socialist
Party of Ohio in November 1916. The two shared a cell for a time at
Canton, where they played checkers, argued over Ruthenberg's prison
pamphlet, Growing Toward Socialism,
and feasted on smuggled apples and white bread. Includes details about
their mistreatment over refusal to work in the prison laundry.
Wagenknecht offers no assessment of Ruthenberg's personality, ideology,
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by William W. Weinstone: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington, 1940." Short memoir of the Executive Secretary of the Workers Party of America by a man who was for a time his assistant. Ruthenberg is characterized as a "unifying force," able to appeal both to language federationists for his appreciation of the utility of federations, and his hard work and effective leadership, as well as to native English-speaking Americans. Weinstone asserts that the factional groups of the 1920s were not named for Ruthenberg and Foster, their nominal leaders -- both of whom actually existed "above the battle" -- but rather were known as the "Lovestone group" and the "Cannon group." Ruthenberg is said to have a dislike for Jim Cannon (regarded as lazy and unproductive), Ben Gitlow (a loud politician), and Louis Fraina (said by Weinstone to have been viewed by Ruthenberg as a "God damned leftist"). Ruthenberg is said to have been anti-factional by nature, ultra-loyal to the Russian Revolution and the Comintern, and to have been well acquainted with the Marxist corpus in translation.
"Memories of C.E. Ruthenberg by Morris Wolf: Excerpt from an Interview Conducted by Ann Rivington, 1940." Unflattering portrait of C.E. Ruthenberg by his attorney during his 1918 trial for undermining the American draft effort. Wolf -- a leader of the Socialist Party of Ohio even before Ruthenberg joined -- characterizes Ruthenberg as consumed by a strong messianic complex. "When he spoke, every other word was 'Jesus,'" Wolf recalls. Although possessed of a strong intellect and a rare ability to extract the thesis of sociological books after a quick skimming, Ruthenberg is portrayed as sarcastic and envious of those with winsome personal magnetism. "His objective was to become greater — to project Ruthenberg as a personality, therefore he had to be honest, punctilious, and unsparing. A great leader was like that," Wolf observes, adding, "The same man could shoot his friends after the revolution."
"Letter to Oakley C. Johnson and Ann Rivington in New York City from Rose Ruthenberg in Lakewood, Ohio, May 15, 1944." [excerpt] Note from the first wife of C.E. Ruthenberg to his biographers. Mrs. Ruthenberg provides detail about her situation during the 1918 incarceration of her husband, during which she was able to make ends meet due to the Socialist Party of Ohio continuing to pay C.E.'s salary of $30 per week. In exchange, Rose Ruthenberg worked in the office daily on clerical tasks, she states.
"Letter to Oakley C. Johnson in NYC from S.J. Rutgers in Amersfoort, Holland, April 21, 1958." Congratulatory message from revolutionary socialist pioneer and Dutch Communist S.J. Rutgers to Oakley C. Johnson upon the publication of his biography of C.E. Ruthenberg. "Ruthenberg knew how to combine the application of fundamental laws in the development of society with a personal approach towards co-workers that mirrored those fundamentals," Rutgers writes. "The hero of your book is a splendid example of combining theory and practice and avoiding right and left deviations and thereby achieving results." Rutgers sees parallels between the situation facing Ruthenberg and the contemporary world, in which the "World System of Socialism is getting the upper hand in [the] military and economic sense," forcing "temporary concessions to certain groups, in order to divide and rule." He declares that "This leads to right deviations in our ranks and the illusions of the broader masses."