Tony Benn

Update 14-12: Sunday, March 23, 2014.

"The Terror," by James Oneal  [event of June 1908]  Although perhaps slightly fictionalized for the allegorical telling, this short work by Socialist Party activist James Oneal detailing a June 1908 lynch mob which he witnessed stands as his most compelling piece of writing. First published in 1909, this powerful story was reprinted by the New York Call's Sunday magazine in September 1918.

"Farewell, Capitalism!" by Eugene V. Debs [May 24, 1918]  The slaughter of millions on European battlefields, the tottering of war-stressed economies, and the emergence of the Bolsheviks in defeated Russia combined to create a sort of mass hysteria among revolutionary socialists in America, in which prospects were exaggerated and grim political realities minimized. This short piece by Socialist icon Gene Debs is a gleeful grave dance upon a grave site not yet even dug. "The system in which capitalists and profiteers so long have fattened while working people and their families starved, body and soul, is in the throes of collapse and dissolution. The war has broken its backbone and ripped it into shreds and patches," Debs enthusiastically declares. "Farewell, capitalism! We have waited long and patiently for your end, and it finally has come. The frightful war of your own making shall be your funeral dirge.

"Debs Refuses Nomination: Physical Condition and Busy Months Ahead Given as Causes." (Truth)  [event of July 9, 1918]  Although a candidate for Congress in his home state of Indiana in 1916, Eugene Debs chose not to run in the subsequent 1918 election. His letter of declination was made public and widely printed in the Socialist press. While stating that he appreciated the honor of being made the SPA's candidate in the Indiana 5th District, Debs announces "there are reasons in my present situation, physical and otherwise, which make this absolutely impossible. The coming months promise to be very busy ones for me, and I have already more in hand than I can well manage, and am, therefore, compelled, much to my regret, to decline the nomination." He declares: "What is now needed above all things is sound education, the kind that clarifies the minds of the workers and enables them to see the international struggle of the working class against their exploiters and oppressors, and teaches them to organize their industrial and political forces and develop their power as a class that they may abolish the prevailing capitalist system of exploitation, emancipate the toiling masses of all nations, and bring democracy and peace, freedom and self-government, brotherhood and love to a war-torn, blood-drenched and distracted world."

"Bomb Explosion Kills 4 in Federal Building in Chicago; Arrests Reported." (NY Call)  [event of Sept. 4, 1918]  Terse initial report of the Sept. 4, 1918 Chicago Federal Building bombing as published the next morning in The New York Call, Socialist daily newspaper. The event is (apparently wrongly) reported as resulting from a thrown bomb. A correct casualty count of 4 killed and "more than 75 injured" is provided, with the reporter adding the detail "a majority of them slightly." "The bomb fell just outside the door of the north corridor. The material damage done was not great," the unsigned report notes. This appears to be the only coverage of the attack which The Call published.

"Chicago Federal Building Bombed: Four Persons Killed, 75 Injured: Haywood There at Time: Structure Containing Landis’ Courtroom Damaged." (Morning Oregonian) [event of Sept. 4, 1918]  Apparently a national wire news report of the Sept. 4, 1918 bombing of the Chicago Federal Building. Four were killed and 75 wounded when a high explosive bomb concealed in a suitcase and hidden behind a radiator blew out the Adams Street entrance of the building. Many injuries resulted from flying glass generated by windows of the lowest three stories of two buildings across the street being blown in on their occupants. The IWW -- 95 members of which had recently been sentenced in the building -- was immediately blamed for the terrorism and raids and arrests proceeded at once. For his part, IWW Secretary-Treasurer Big Bill Haywood, who was present in the building at the time of the blast, quickly "deplored the outrage" and vehemently denied an IWW connection. "I know that the IWW will be blamed," said Haywood, "but I am convinced in my own heart that no man of my organization was in any way connected with this matter. It would be insane for an IWW to commit such an act at this time." An effort by an IWW attorney to win low bail for convicted members pending appeal was summarily denied in the aftermath of the blast.

"Bomb Explosion Blamed on IWW: Many Fellow Workers Arrested and Held Following Explosion in Federal Building, Chicago, which Killed 4 and Injured Many." (Defense News Bulletin) [event of Sept. 4, 1918]  In the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1918, a bomb ripped through the entrance of the Chicago Federal Building, in which recently convicted IWW Secretary-Treasurer William D. Haywood was appearing in the office of the US Federal Marshal. Four people were killed and about 30 injured in the powerful blast, which rocked the building and was heard and felt for a considerable distance. The IWW was immediately blamed for the blast, with Haywood's "private secretary" J.W. Wilson targeted by authorities as responsible for the fatal bomb. This article from the IWW's weekly Defense News Bulletin denounces the  "fiendish crime" and details the series of arrests which followed the blast. Lack of motive is made clear: "Looking at the matter from the standpoint of organization and defense work, nothing worse for us could have happened at this time. It was our intention, after filing appeals in behalf of our fellow workers who have been sentenced to Leavenworth, to make an attempt to get a number of them out on bonds pending the appeal. The explosion made it simply impossible for us to do anything further along this line at the present."

"A Terrible Deed." (St. Louis Labor) [event of Sept. 4, 1918]  Short snippet covering the Sept. 4 bombing of the Chicago Federal Building from the pages of the Socialist Party of Missouri's weekly newspaper. Buried on page 5, the coverage is in the form of a summary of published news accounts, even-handed in tone despite the considerable antipathy to the IWW felt by many in the Missouri party -- which was closely connected to the local AF of L unions. "The blast occurred directly beneath the courtroom of Federal Judge K.M. Landis, where 95 IWW leaders were recently convicted and sentenced for obstructing the government’s war program," the report notes. It adds that "William D. Haywood, who was on the 8th floor of the building when the explosion happened, deplored the crime and expressed the fear that the IWW would be blamed for it."

"4,000 Listen to Socialists on Russian Affairs: War on Soviet Government Would Mean War on People, Says Speaker," (NY Call)  [event of Sept. 13, 1918]  Throughout 1918 the ongoing situation in Soviet Russia remained a topic of keen interest among the Socialists of New York City, as reflected in this short news item about a mass meeting from the pages of the New York Call. On Sept. 13, some 3,000 people were turned away at the door and another 4,000 gained admittance to hear speeches by journalist John Reed (recently back from Soviet Russia), representative of Red Finland Santeri Nuorteva, Louis Fraina of the newspaper The New International, and Gregory Weinstein, editor of the Russian-language Socialist weekly Novyi Mir (The New World). All the speakers seem to have discounted reports appearing in the bourgeois press of widespread civil disorder in Moscow and Petrograd. Socialist Assemblyman Ben Gitlow, chair of the meeting, brought the crowd to its feet for a raucous ovation when he mentioned the name of party leader Eugene V. Debs, currently awaiting sentencing in Ohio.

"Reed Held Under Spy Act; Bail is $5,000: Hearing Set for Tuesday on Charge of Violating Law in Recent Speech." (NY Call)  [event of Sept. 14, 1918]  One day after speaking before 4,000 New Yorkers at Hunts Point Casino, Liberator journalist John Reed was arrested for alleged violation of the so-called Espionage Act for remarks made during the course of his speech. Although $10,000 bail was sought, this was halved owing to the objections of Dudley Field Malone, Reed's attorney, the news report indicates. The Wilson administration's motivation and the timing of this arrest is made clear in the report: "Reed will go on trial with five others in the case of Max Eastman and The Masses editors."

"New Jersey Socialist Asks Governor to Right Wrong: Reilly Tells Edge Jersey City Police are Throttling Party’s Campaign," by James M. Reilly [Sept. 26, 1918]  Open letter by leading New Jersey Socialist and Senatorial candidate James M. Reilly to Republican Governor Walter Evans Edge pleading for intervention to overturn actions by the Democratic Jersey City political establishment to suppress the Socialist Party. Calling Jersey City "the fountainhead of dirty politics," Reilly notes that the city's police had been focused on Socialists: arresting Socialist speakers, coercing hall owners to refuse to rent their premises to Socialists seeking to hold mass meetings, and closing and locking the Socialist Party's Hudson Country headquarters. This last action had impinged upon Reilly's senatorial campaign, he notes, sealing away 54,000 copies of a Congressional speech by Meyer London, intended for mail distribution to voters. Moreover, new Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague's director of public safety was quoted as saying that Socialists "ought to be shot" and that they should be "interned for the war." In addition, the director of public safety hinted that policemen behaving brutally towards Socialists would be supported in their actions, Reilly charges. Reilly appeals to the Governor's sense of democratic fair play and the rule of law and to act in opposition to such "lawless and unpatriotic utterances."

"June 17th After LaFollette," by C.E. Ruthenberg [June 6, 1924]
  Executive Secretary of the Workers Party of America C.E. Ruthenberg attempts to put on a happy face following a body blow delivered to the chances of formation of a mass united front Farmer-Labor Party on May 26 by presumed Presidential nominee Sen. Robert M. LaFollette. In the wake of LaFollette's denouncement of the Workers Party-supported June 17th Farmer-Labor Party Convention, all attention was paid by many of the Senator's supporters to a rival July 4th Convention. Chances of combined action were thus cut off at the knees. Ruthenberg contends that the grapes were sour anyway, that the Communists knew full well that the liberal supporters of LaFollette would have to be separated from the organization at some stage of the process and that LaFollette had actually done the forthcoming organization a service, having managed "to strip away from it all those elements which have no place in it." Thus the road was cleared for establishment of an authentic "class" Farmer-Labor Party, Ruthenberg indicates. Ruthenberg optimistically claims that the forthcoming Farmer-Labor Party convention would have delegates which represented "a half-million to a million organized workers and farmers."

"Circular Letter to All Delegates of the June 17th St. Paul Convention from C.E. Ruthenberg, Executive Secretary of the Workers Party of America, June 10, 1924."  Brief circular letter instructing Workers Party delegates to the June 17th Farmer-Labor Party Convention to attend a pre-convention caucus at St. Paul's Ryan Hotel. "It is very important that there be a preliminary conference of the Party members who are delegates, so that they can be thoroughly familiarized with the Party policies at the Party Convention. It is essential that you attend this conference and you are instructed to do so," the communique reads.

"Letter to Nick Dozenberg, Accounting Department, Workers Party of America in Chicago, from Robert Minor in Chicago, Sept. 20, 1924."  Short internal communication to one of the paymasters of the impoverished Workers Party of America from cartoonist-turned-magazine editor Bob Minor, begging for some payment for Maurice Becker for his artistic work done on behalf of The Liberator. Becker had "stood by us at a time when the other cartoonists had nearly all deserted, and who furthermore has been patient and uncomplaining of the long months of failure to pay him," Minor notes, but he now found himself "dead broke" and needing at least some of the $78 owed him. Minor emphasizes Becker's enthusiasm and uncomplaining nature in contributing cartoons to both The Liberator and The Daily Worker.

"Allen Cook: A Tribute: A Pioneer of Socialism in Ohio Passes Away -- The Spirit of a Spartan," by Eugene V. Debs [event of July 20, 1925]  Brief memorial to a little-remembered Ohio Socialist, Allen Cook, who died of a stroke in July 1925 at the age of 41. Debs remarks upon Cook's decisive importance to the Socialist movement of Canton, Ohio, as a pioneer there. Cook was also "the chief promoter of the meeting at Canton which resulted in the writer being sentenced to prison," Debs notes. Cook is remembered as "a logical, forceful, convincing speaker and he wielded an incisive and trenchant pen" who never wavered, compromised, or lost faith in the ultimate triumph of the Socialist cause, Debs says.

"New Leader Refuses to Admit Fabrication of Stalin’s Speech," by C.E. Ruthenberg [Sept. 16, 1926]  On Aug. 14, 1926, the New York Socialist weekly The New Leader published what it purported were direct quotations from a speech by Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks), indicating a deep rift between the two main factional leaders of the Russian Communist Party. This publication was met with a swift official denial of authenticity by C.E. Ruthenberg on Sept. 9, to which pugnacious New Leader editor James Oneal responded with mockery and a refusal to retract (published in full here). Barred from their pages, Ruthenberg attempts to make hay among Daily Worker readers by publicizing Oneal's words: "The Socialist Party has sunk low indeed when it is necessary for it to publish manufactured speeches assigned to Communist leaders in order to carry on the struggle against Communism and Communist principles. The triumph of the proletarian revolution in Russia, the success of the proletarian dictatorship in building a socialist economic system, is becoming so clear to the workers that the Socialists can no longer challenge it on the basis of facts. The alternative is to use manufactured documents such as the capitalist governments have been using against the Communist International."

"Comrade Stalin Exposes Social Democratic Forgery." (Daily Worker) [cable of Sept. 21, 1926]  With C.E. Ruthenberg's demand for retraction ignored, General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) I.V. Stalin takes time to respond to a report in the Socialist Party weekly The New Leader reporting of comments made severely critical of Comintern chief Grigorii Zinoviev. In his cable Stalin denounces The New Leader for having published "falsified concluding remarks." Stalin insists in his communique to The Daily Worker: "I ask you to allow me to state through your paper that the reports of the 'remarks of Stalin' published in The New Leader of August 14, 1926, has absolutely nothing in common with my speech at the plenum of the CC either in contents or in form or in tone, and that this report is thus a most complete and ignorant forgery."

"The Socialist Party Furnishes Its "Insurgents,'" by Bertram D. Wolfe [Sept. 23, 1926]  Communist functionary Bert Wolfe takes a look at factionalism and "disintegration going on inside the Socialist Party" in this Daily Worker article. He sees the rightward-tilting Jewish Daily Forward as playing the decisive role in the dwindling Socialist organization, with that paper now having abandoned its opposition to Zionism and making an active play for the support of the petty bourgeoisie and right wing union leaders employing "gangster tactics" against left wing locals in the garment industry. Norman Thomas and the Young People's Socialist League have constituted a "vague and incoherent opposition" to the worst abuses of the ruling faction, Wolfe indicates, with Thomas being retaliated against by being "dumped" into an obscure candidacy and given one column in an otherwise hostile New Leader to "keep him quiet." Wolfe's interpretation of the factional situation which would erupt in the SPA over the next decade is prescient: "The Forward’s crowd is determined to run things with an iron hand and it is questionable how long they will permit even the innocent protests of Norman Thomas and how long they will still find any place for him at all in the ballot for him and in their paper. The only reason they tolerate him at all is because they know that his mild protest acts as a break upon the idealistic elements among the YPSLs, who are disgusted with the Forward’s crowd and its tactics but do not know what to do about it and have not enough initiative to make their own fight and have to look to a man like Norman Thomas for such leadership as he can give."

"Eastman Drops His Mask," by Max Bedacht [Oct. 20, 1926]  Top Ruthenberg factional lieutenant Max Bedacht takes up the Comintern's cudgel against supporters of the opposition in the Russian Communist Party headed by Grigorii Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky. The target here is former Liberator magazine editor Max Eastman, who had the temerity to publish a factionally-driven work on contemporary Soviet history entitled Since Lenin Died. Eastman is besmirched by Bedacht as "either a forger or a spy" for having "either made up his “documents” out of whole cloth — or he obtained them under false pretenses of friendship to make money out of them by selling them to the enemy." Rather than addressing the documents' content, Bedacht goes after the messenger, declaring "We doubt their genuineness, because we know Eastman." Pressured statements by N.K. Krupskaia and Trotsky undermining Eastman's legitimacy are quoted approvingly by Bedacht. Fortunately Eastman's mercenary "mental excrements on the Russian Communist Party" have been ignored, Bedacht notes, since that organization had already "overwhelmingly repudiated Trotsky and Zinoviev." He continues: "In the exercise of their inner party democracy, the workers organized in the Russian party have declared in overwhelming numbers that they stand with the Central Committee of their party."

"Eugene V. Debs and the Revolutionary Labor Movement," by C.E. Ruthenberg [Nov. 6, 1926]  General Secretary of the Workers (Communist) Party C.E. Ruthenberg answers Socialist critics who charge the Communists with misrepresentation and bad faith for conducting memorial meetings in honor of the recently-deceased SPA National Chairman Gene Debs. While acknowledging Debs' place outside the Communist Party, Ruthenberg pointedly remarks that "the Socialists do not care to be reminded of the many times that Eugene V. Debs disagreed with the reformist and reactionary position taken by the Socialist Party. They wish to make the tradition of Debs’ work in the revolutionary labor movement part of the background of the utterly bankrupt Socialist Party and hide it with the mantle of non-class struggle reformism, which is the policy of the Socialist Party today." Ruthenberg then illustrates his point with a series of historical anecdotes from 1910, 1912, 1917, and 1919, in which Debs openly and loudly espoused left wing positions on questions of internal party controversy. Ruthenberg also cites his membership in the Communist-sponsored Labor Defense Council and International Labor Defense as well as the Trade Union Educational League. "Although Debs did not clearly grasp the principles underlying the class struggle and their implications, he was a revolutionary fighter who instinctively took his stand on the side of the worker in every battle," Ruthenberg writes. "In every great struggle in American labor history Debs spoke out his flaming words in support of the workers.

"Harry Gannes Dies: Daily Worker Foreign Editor Succumbs to Complications Following Operation for Brain Tumor, Was 40 Years Old." (Sunday Worker) [event of Jan. 4, 1941]  Obituary from the official organ of the Communist Party USA detailing the life of Harry Gannes, former Foreign Editor of the paper. Gannes, born in England in 1900, was a key youth leader of the fledgling Young Workers League, before (presumably Comintern) work in China in 1932-33. Gannes was Foreign Editor for a decade, authoring a regular column on contemporary political affairs. In 1936 he co-authored a book with Theodore Draper on the Spanish Civil War for Alfred A. Knopf, the pair being given a three week deadline for submission of the manuscript and finishing in just 17 days. Gannes was diagnosed with a brain tumor late in 1939 and indicted by the Roosevelt Administration for passport fraud shortly thereafter. He underwent surgery at Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn on Dec. 16, 1939, but contracted pneumonia following the surgery and was bedridden for most of the rest of his life, according to the Sunday Worker piece.


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