The Left Wing Section of Greater New York was formed by a bolting group from the New York City Committee.
The first general membership meeting of the organization was held on April 20, 1919, and was attended by "about 800" people. A total affiliation in Greater New York of approximately 4,000 was claimed. The meeting was chaired by Benjamin Gitlow and Edward Lindgren served as Secretary.
The first membership meeting ratified the action of the Left Wing City Committee in establishing the New York Communist as the official English language organ of the Left Wing Section. The Yiddish language Der Kampf was also declared to be an official organ of the group.
"A New Appeal," by John Reed [January 18, 1919] Substantial essay by famed journalist John Reed about the state of the Socialist Party and the task of the revolutionary socialist movement in America. Reed sees a dichotomy in the ranks of the SPA -- "American" members of the petty bourgeoisie and intellectuals and "Foreign-born" workers and intellectuals. He states that due to its vast size and seemingly limitless resources and fluidity of social boundaries "the American worker has always believed, consciously or unconsciously, that he can become a millionaire or an eminent statesman," no matter how far detached from reality is this premise. The American worker also views his world politically rather than economically, Reed says, having a healthy disgust for the "dirty" politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties but viewing Socialism as an alien system "worked out in foreign countries, not born of his own particular needs and opposed to 'democracy' and 'fair play,' which is the way he has been taught to characterize the institutions of this country." The task of the Left Wing is not to pander for support of American workers at the ballot box, but rather to go to the workers, listen to their needs, and implement a practical program which not only meets those needs but raises the workers' thinking beyond these immediate wishes -- to "make them want the whole Revolution." It is not the ballot box but "revolutionary direct mass action" in the workplace that will bring about the Social Revolution, Reed states. He concludes that "the workers must be told that they have the force, if they will only organize it and express it; that if together they are able to stop work, no power in the universe can prevent them from doing what they want to do - if only they know what they want to do! And it is our business to formulate what they want to do."
"What Is the 'Left Wing' Movement and Its Purpose?" by Edward Lindgren. [Feb. 1919] Lindgren, one of the organizers of the Left Wing section of the Socialist Party in New York City, outlines a brief history of the faction in this article published in Louis Fraina and Ludwig Lore's theoretical journal, The Class Struggle. Lindgren contends that while factions had long existed inside the SPA, firm dividing lines were not drawn up until 1912, when the Right Wing won firm control of the party apparatus and launched a purge around the "sabotage" clause of the party constitution. The test of the 1914 war and failure of the party leadership to act in a principled manner led to an alienation of the rank and file membership of the party, which demanded and received an Emergency Convention in 1917 to declare its antimilitarist principles in no uncertain terms. The violent splits of the socialist movement in Germany (majority socialists/Spartacists) and Russia (Mensheviks/Bolsheviks) made the situation in the American party clear to "almost anyone who understands the theory of the class struggle." The "Left Wing" group was thus "the logical outcome of a dissatisfied membership -- a membership that has been taught by the revolutionary activities of the European movements 'to compromise is to lose,'" says Lindgren. Includes a "Tentative Program" and "Immediate Demands" of the Left Wing section.
"Is the 'Left Wing' Right? A Letter to the Editor of The New York Call, March 4, 1919," by Cameron King. The 1919 faction fight within the Socialist Party in general, and the Socialist Party of Greater New York in particular, was wound up in matters of personality, position, and power. This is a rare serious critique of the ideology of the opposite camp by one of the leaders of the New York Socialist Party establishment. King is critical of the contention in the Left Wing manifesto that the Socialist Party should eliminate reform planks from its platform limit itself to agitation for a complete revolutionary overturn of capitalism. He argues that the transition to Socialism will almost certainly be a long and protracted process, with initial victories in cities and several industrial states prior to the achievement of control of Congress and the Presidency by the Socialist Party. In the interval, the Socialist Party must actively improve the lot of the working class, or face defeat at the polls amidst charges of betrayal. Further, King cites a recent pamphlet by Lenin to validate his assertion that there is a roll for the political action of the central state in the administration and control of industry and distribution even after the revolutionary turnover of state power. The "Left Wing" doctrine on political action is inadequate and must be rejected because it does not recognize this essential policy of the pre-revolutionary socialist movement and the post-revolutionary state, King argues.
"A Left Wing -- And Why: A Statement of Cause and Effect," by N.S. Reichenthal [March 12, 1919] A lengthy and intelligent letter to the editor of the New York Call seeking a measured and open-minded approach to the emerging Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party. Reichenthal states that he is neither with the Left Wing and the "state within a state" in the Socialist Party nor a blind, epithet-spewing "loyalist." To these latter, "all those who are crudely attempting to change or modify party policy and tactics are rank disrupters, anarchists, or syndicalists" to be purged -- a mentality which Reichenthal believes is akin to the anti-liberal patriotic frenzy of the war years or the sectarian Socialist Labor Party regime in the factional war of 1899-1900: "Therefore, comrades, let's stop talking nonsense and imitating DeLeon and our own dear Security League. Let's discuss principles and tactics, not personalities and hare-brained metaphysics." Reichenthal states that the platform of the Socialist Party from 1900 to the one adopted in 1917 became steadily more "practical," to the point where "all reference to internationalism, to the party itself being the 'Left Wing' of the international proletariat striving to overthrow the capitalist state, is entirely eliminated." Combined with opportunistic local platforms and less-than-stellar performance in office by elected Socialist officials has been "disappointing and very disheartening, and seem to justify the conclusions arrived at by some that mere parliamentary action as encouraged and practiced by the Socialist Party is a snare and a delusion." On the trade union front "we became mere apologists for Gompers' unionism, and our policy compelled us to keep silent or defend many rotten deeds on the part of certain unions and their officials," resulting in the factional war of 1912-13 and the departure of thousands of supporters of the IWW and revolutionary industrial unionism. The Left Wing Section emerged as a direct response -- cause and effect -- to these factors. Reichenthal states that he has changed his own mind on these things since "we live in the midst of the revolution. Only action, revolutionary action, counts" and "the Russian Bolsheviki have demonstrated what a resolute, though 'ignorant,' proletariat and peasantry can do." Reichenthal calls for an honest discussion of the merits of the argument of the Left Wing Section rather than mechanically resorting to "parliamentary tricks" or "reorganization" to stifle dissent in the manner of Daniel DeLeon.
"Left Wing Are Distruptionists," by Joseph Gollomb. [March 12, 1919] Text of a long letter to the Editor of The New York Call, in which SPA member Joseph Gollomb attacts the ideology and tactics of the Left Wing Section and its leaders in the struggle for control of the party apparatus in New York City. Gollomb charges that the so-called "Left Wing Section" is an internal enemy of the Socialist Party, "the spirit and purpose of old Michael Bakunin." These "anarchists, IWWs, and SLPs" have flocked into the SPA "not out of conversion, but with blackjacks behind their backs. They have organized a body within the party, with delegates from different branches, Central Committees, Executive Committees, State Committees, a National Committee, constitution, and membership cards, part for part with the organization of the party proper, with mandates on their members to be carried out at the meetings of the party." Gollomb cites concrete examples of Left Wing tactics at SP branch meetings, with specific charges directed at Nicholas Hourwich and Jim Larkin. Gollomb advises immediate action to stop the seizure of the party by an organized minority.
"'Parliamentarism' and 'Political Action,'" by Jay Lovestone and William Weinstone. [March 17, 1919] Former City College of New York Young People's Socialist League leaders Jay Lovestone and William Weinstone co-authored this lengthy letter to the New York Call in response to New York Socialist leader Cameron King's critique of the Left Wing Manifesto published earlier in those pages. Lovestone and Weinstone conceive of the radical movement as being divided between "moderates" and "socialists." The pair conclude that "the moderate contends that the industries can be socialized by means of the present bourgeois state... Our conception of socialist political control is, to quote Marx, 'a transition period, in which the state cannot be anything else but a dictatorship of the proletariat.' We hold with the Communist Manifesto that 'the proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of this state -- i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class.'... It is not by attempting to solve the insolvable, capitalism's contradictions, but by 'teaching, propagating, and agitating exclusively for the overthrow of capitalism and the necessity of instituting of the proletarian dictatorship' that socialism can be attained!"
"'Wants a Conference," by J. Codkind [March 18, 1919] Letter to the Editor of The New Yok Call in reply to the long March 12 letter of Joseph Gollomb. Codkind, a Left Wing member of New York City's 17th Assembly District Branch states that Gollomb is a purveyor of inaccuracies, indicating that attendance at business meetings of the the 17th AD Branch had increased rather than decreased over 1918 and that no business had been conducted by the Left Wing in the wee hours. Codkind states: "Undoubtedly, there have been unfair tactics employed. In my opinion, this is much more prevalent among the Right Wingers than the Lefts, but both sides are equally guilty. Why people on both sides - undoubtedly honest and sincere in their convictions - should descent to the use of these methods is more than I can understand... Let us stop calling each other names. Let us act like real men, and not like kids. Let us face the absolute fact - that both sides are honest and sincere. Let us try to calm ourselves; and let both sides elect or select about five delegates to hold a conference through which our differences may be settled without a party split." Codkind suggests that the delegates to such a conference might be chosen by the factional caucuses of the Central Committee of Local New York.
Letter to Morris Hillquit in Upstate New York from Adolph Germer in Chicago, March 22, 1919. Historians of American Communism running the gamut from Theodore Draper to William Z. Foster have depicted Morris Hillquit as the master puppeteer behind the expulsions, suspensions, and split of the Socialist Party in 1919. As this letter from SPA National Executive Secretary Adolph Germer indicates, Hillquit was actually out of the loop during the critical months of 1919 -- at a sanitarium at Saranac Lake, New York, recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. Rather than the far-seeing General calling all the shots, Hillquit was resting and recuperating, receiving periodic updates of information by mail. In this letter, Germer notes that since the imprisoned Eugene Debs was $1400 in debt, the Socialist Party would be retaining him on the payroll at the rate of $50 a week, with periodic articles promised and some small chance of eventual repayment. Germer also expresses surprise at Kate O'Hare's decision to accept nomination for International Secretary and run against Hillquit in the 1919 SPA election, a reversal of her expressed opinion of a fortnight earlier. Germer also updated Hillquit on the plans of the Left Wing section, noting that based on information received from New York party leader Julius Gerber, "they are making a well organized campaign to capture the district. What is true of District 1 is true of every other district. The impossiblists are determined to capture the party. If they cannot do it by capturing the National Executive Committee, they intend to do it in convention. As usual, they have no sense of responsibility and are of the opinion that the all important thing is to 'propagate,' regardless of consequences."
"A Basis for Discussion: A Letter to the Editor of The New York Call by 13 Members of the Socialist Party, March 23, 1919." With the internecine war heating up in the ranks of the Socialist Party, an effort was made by some members associated with the "Center-Left" to work out the programmatic differences between the Regulars and the insurgent Left Wing in an orderly manner. This open letter to the daily New York Call lists 9 assertions of principle around which a newly radicalized party might unite. The letter declared for a uniform declaration of principles, agitation for socialism only and elimination of reform planks from the platform, new party literature, propaganda for industrial unionism, and enforcement of party discipline upon elected Socialist officials. Particularly interesting is the ideological range of the signers of the statement, including founding members of the Communist Labor Party (Moses Oppenheimer, Albert Pauly), future members of the Workers Party of America (Scott Nearing, Ludwig Lore, Benjamin Glassberg), and a couple of names associated with the Anti-Left Wing movement (David Berenberg, editor of the New York Socialist, and Walter Cook, Secretary of the Socialist Party of New York who presided over the SEC that purged Left Wing Locals and Branches later in 1919).
"Minutes of the State Executive Committee, Socialist Party of New York, Meeting of March 26, 1919." These minutes are most important for what is not included -- nary a word on the Left Wing Section or any hint the split which was to rupture the New York organization in a matter of months. Sitting on the outgoing SEC was Alexander Trachtenberg, later one of the principles of the CP-affiliated International Publishers. A list of nominees for the 9 member SEC appears; included among the long list are a number of future Left Wing luminaries: Joseph Brodsky, Louis Boudin, Benjamin Gitlow, Ludwig Lore, Scott Nearing, A. Pauly, and Alexander Trachtenberg. The majority of the new SEC fell into the hands of the SP Regulars, however, with drastic consequences for the Left Wing movement in the state.
"Proposal Ambiguous and Incomplete," by Algernon Lee. [March 29, 1919] Letter to the Editor of the New York Call by Lee, a founding member of the Socialist Party of America and leading figure of the New York constructive socialist faction. Lee takes issue with a proposal made by 13 members of the New York Left Wing for a reasoned settlement of party differences rather than proceeding down the path of mudslinging and factional trench warfare. Lee accuses the 13 of having advanced a "creed" and a "statement of ready-made conclusions," of being "ambiguous and incomplete" in their demand to eliminate all social reform planks from the party platform, and of sidestepping the fundamental questions of whether America would face a revolutionary crisis in the near future and whether a majority of the populus would support the program of a revolutionized Socialist Party in the crisis. If the crisis were instead to be fought between a revolutionary minority and a reactionary minority, Lee states that there was no consideration of which side was apt to win, and based upon that likelihood, whether the revolutionary crisis was to be sought or avoided by the party.
"Socialist Tactics?" by John Reed [April 19, 1919] In the debut issue of The New York Communist, Left Wing Socialist John Reed editorializes about the fact that Secretary of Local New York Julius Gerber had spoken against the Left Wing Section by reading from an original copy of the Left Wing City Committee's meeting minutes. While "the Left Wing is not a secret organization" and the minutes would be subsequently published, Reed notes, "the important point is that an official of the Socialist Party reads from copies of minutes that he had no title to possess, to one of the highest delegate bodies of our organization. It was obvious to everyone present that he had not come by his copy openly, yet he was allowed to proceed without anyone making a protest." Reed sees as hypocritical the fact that the Socialist Party protests against government and private labor espionage, but " sits open-eared and prepares to act on the information" when its own officials practice similar espionage. "Are these the methods the Right Wing intends to use inn the future? Does the membership of the party support these methods?" Reed asks.
"The Party Situation in New York," by John Reed [April 19, 1919] The April 13, 1919, annual session of the New York State Committee effectively banned the Left Wing Section in the party, instructing the State Executive Committee to revoke the charters of all locals and branches supporting the Left Wing manifesto. This article by John Reed provides other details about the factional civil war in the Socialist Party of New York. First and foremost, Reed notes that membership access to the party was being restricted by the Party Regulars: "In the past the party has been very lax regarding the admission of new members, practically anyone who signed an application blank being admitted without question. This fact has often been pointed out by many of those members who now constitute the Left Wing, but without result. But those who suggested a change in the method of admitting new members had no idea of handing the control of the growth of the party in this city over to a few handpicked individuals." The filtering of Left Wingers at the time of their attempted entry of the party is "a direct attempt by those at present in control to perpetuate themselves," Reed believes, and he charges that hundreds of applications have been held up for factional reasons. A historically valuable first-hand account of the "inquisition" of the "amateur Overman Committee" to which new applicants in New York were forced to submit in the spring of 1919 is provided in full. Reed also charges that the Regulars engaged in other unscrupulous tactics in the factional fight, including failure to allocate the requisite number of seats on the City Central Committee to branches believed to be dominated by Left Wing sentiment; gerrymandering party districts to minimize Left Wing power; and banning of mention of Left Wing meetings or advertising of the Left Wing press from the dominant Socialist Party publications of New York City -- The Call and The Jewish Daily Forward.
"One Reason for an Organization Within an Organization: A circular letter to factional allies from Julius Gerber in New York, April 19, 1919." With the decision made for factional war to the knives in the Socialist Party at New York by decision of the State Executive Committee at its seminal meeting of April 13, 1919, the Regular faction of the Socialist Party commenced to organize itself. The primary leader of this faction was Julius Gerber, Secretary of the Socialist Party of New York County, who sent this organizational letter to a limited number of factional allies on April 19. In Gerber's view, "The reason the Left Wing has grown and is making converts is because they have an organization that does nothing else. They have their organs that give their side. They act as a group while we have neither organization, nor press (The Call should not be used for factional purposes) and our comrades act as individuals. Result is chaos on our side, organization, discipline, and success on their side." Gerber indicates that "The situation in the party is rather critical at this time, and it is almost too late now to stem the tide," noting that "the so-called Left Wing is determined to either capture or split the party." Gerber believes that "A split in the party will at this time do irreparable injury to our party and to the Cause, while the control of the party by these irresponsible people will make the party an outlaw organization, and break up the organization." He calls for an organizational meeting on the night of April 21 at the home of the Rand School of Social Science, in advance of the critical meeting of the Central Committee of Local New York. "At this meeting the die will be cast as far as Local New York is concerned. We ought to decide beforehand. We ought to know what we are to do," Gerber declares.
"Minutes of the Left Wing Section of Greater New York: First General Membership Meeting -- April 20, 1919." Minutes of what seems to be the first general membership meeting of the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party in New York City, Chaired by Ben Gitlow. The minutes state that the organization originated with a bolting minority delegation at a City Central Committee meeting, which had grown to an organization of 4,000 in Greater New York, of whom "about 800" were in attendance at this meeting at the Manhattan Lyceum. The group heard a resolution sent in by Ludwig Martens of the Russian Soviet Government Bureau "extending his allegiance and support to the Left Wing movement." Resolutions were adopted calling for a strike on May Day, supporting the Lawrence Strike, and calling for establishment of a working class organization to fight for the freedom of Political Prisoners. A resolution was adopted supporting the candidacy of Max Cohen for Secretary of Local New York (running against Julius Gerber) and for three Left Wing candidates running for the NEC of the Socialist Party in the electoral district -- Louis Fraina, Nicholas Hourwich, and Edward Lindgren. The action of the New York City Committee of the Left Wing establishing the New York Communist was approved and a "Red Week" of fundraising to support that paper and the other recognized publication of the Left Wing Section, the Yiddish-language Der Kampf, was approved. There was a discussion about the State Executive Committee's dissolution and reorganization of the 17th Assembly District branch, and a committee of 7 was elected to cooperate with the 10 Left Wing members of the branch's Executive Committee ousted in the fight.
"State Committee Proposition: Letter to the Editor of the New York Call," by L. Basky [pub. April 23, 1919] Left Wing Hungarian Socialist Federation member L. Basky writes to the New York Call about the April 13, 1919, ruling of the New York State Committee finding the Left Wing Section to violate "the spirit of the constitution" and instruct its Executive Committee on that basis to revoke the charter of any local that affiliates with the Left Wing Section or which permits its subdivisions or members to be affiliated. Basky calls for the decision of the 24 members of the State Committee majority to be put to a referendum vote of the Socialist Party of New York. "The Left Wing is not a counter-organization to the Socialist Party," Basky states, but rather a reflection of the sentiment "that it was high time to set the party abreast of the revolutionary events" and "to make it a useful instrument in the darkest and bitterest and most critical hours of the class struggle instead of making it what the Social Democratic Party of Germany turned out to be -- the last fortress of the dying capitalist system." Changing the party's course required organization and a program, Basky notes. This program is reducible to a set of concrete propositions, he feels: "To abolish all reform planks in the Socialists' party platform; to strictly adhere to an uncompromising class struggle, the last phase of which will be the dictatorship of the proletariat; to propagate revolutionary industrial unionism; to have the party own all its official papers and institutions; to repudiate the Berne Congress and to elect delegates to an international congress proposed by the Communist Party of Russia." He calls for an electoral test to determine whether these values reflect majority opinion in the Socialist Party. However, "The fight is on," Basky notes, adding "I welcome the attack of the State Committee. We at least know some of those we would have to face in the critical hour. Might as well fight it out now, whether they or the Left Wing represents the party. Let us find out right now who is with us and who is against us."
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