The Proletarian Party emerged from the Socialist Party of Michigan, particularly from the Detroit party organization. During the 5 years preceding American entry into the European War, the state secretaries of the Socialist Party of Michigan were, in succession, cigarmaker Ben Blumberg of Grand Rapids, shoe merchant Joseph Warnock of Harbor Springs, and shoemaker John Keracher of Detroit. The latter, together with Al Renner, a clerk and accountant, held lectures and classes in Detroit on Marxist theory, including not only economics but the negative ideological influence of such institutions as the press and the church. Similar Marxist study groups and lectures were sponsored by SP locals throughout the state of Michigan.
[fn. Oakley C. Johnson, Marxism in United States History Before the Russian Revolution (1876-1917). (NY: Humanities Press, 1974, pp. 32; 127.]
By 1918 a conscious Marxist faction had emerged and gained control of Local Wayne County [Detroit] and the state party. In May of that same year, a monthly publication called The Proletarian was launched, with a notice on its masthead that it had "the endorsement of Local Wayne County [Detroit] and the Socialist Party of Michigan." Prominent in its pages was material produced by a machinist and trade union activist named Dennis E. Batt, a man who would go on to become a leading member of the National Left Wing Council and editor of that group's Chicago newspaper, The Communist.
Following the September 1918 state convention of the Socialist Party of Michigan, a number of delegates, including Keracher and Batt, met at the editorial office of The Proletarian to discuss combining and unifying the various Marxist study groups, including those in other states. This discussion resulted in the formation of a formal organization. Thereafter, the masthead of The Proletarian proclaimed that it was issued as "The Official Organ of the Proletarian University of America."
[fn. The Proletarian, v. 2, no. 1 (May 1919), pg. 11]
The Proletarian University united and formed study circles in a number of towns around Michigan and in other cities throughout the country, including Buffalo, Rochester, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Eight months after the formation of the Proletarian University of America, on May 24, 1919, the outgoing National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America expelled the militantly Marxist Socialist Party of Michigan with its approximately 6.000 members, ostensibly for the state party organization's attacks on religion and repudiation of "immediate demands." Michigan Socialist Oakley C. Johnson was incensed, charging in the pages of The Proletarian that the NEC had "expelled the only red state in the national organization" -- but the expulsion stood.
[fn. Alexander Trachtenberg and Benjamin Glassberg (eds.), The American Labor Year Book, 1921-1922. (NY: Rand School of Social Science, 1922), pg. 429; The Proletarian, v. 2, no. 4 (Aug 1919), pg. 4).
An Emergency Meeting of the Socialist Party of Michigan was held in June, at which a resolution was passed calling for the establishment of a new Communist Party on September 1, 1919. This call placed the Michigan group into alliance with the five suspended Language Federations of the Socialist Party in organizing a Communist Party of America, as opposed to those who pressed the strategy of fighting for control of the 1919 Emergency Convention of the SPA.
[fn. Alexander Trachtenberg and Benjamin Glassberg (eds.), The American Labor Year Book, 1921-1922. (NY: Rand School of Social Science, 1922), pg. 429.]
0. Special Organizational Meeting -- Detroit? -- Oct. 5, 1919
The Michigan-based grouping clustered around the Proletarian University and the monthly magazine The Proletarian was quick to organize factionally. On Sunday, Oct. 5, 1919, a special joint meeting was called bringing together the governing Boards of those two institutions for the purpose of "deciding upon the course to be pursued." A draft program was composed at this meeting and circulated to supporters around the country in a confidential circular letter, with a request made for comments and suggestions to be submitted by local groups before the program was printed in final form.
The circular letter to local groups recounted the meeting:
It was the consensus of opinion at our meeting that the time is not ripe for the lunching of a new party embodying our views; it appears to be advisable to defer action until such time as the issues was forced upon us, or until we had developed sufficiently in strength to make the venture a success. In the meantime, the intention is to proceed with the work of strengthening and unifying the groups now in existence, and organizing and assisting ne groups. We are confident that within the ranks of the several parties now in existence there are elements who will join with us; but these are for the most part unknown to us at this time.
The question then arises: When will be the most fitting time to launch a party such as we favor? Should it happen that the issues is not forced upon us prematurely, it appears that the ideal moment would be immediately preceding the national convention of the present parties. This would mean that we should be prepared to act in May 1920. This allows ample time for preliminary organization; so that we may have the framework of the new organization prepared, and have on hand funds necessary for carrying on propaganda and organization work on a national scale.
While the immediate organization of a party was rejected at this time, there was an effort made by the Oct. 5, 1919, meeting did determine to establish a centralized proto-organization around The Proletarian, taking the form of "Pledge Cards," with funds collected to be committed to an "Extension Fund" -- to be used to extend the faction's network of study groups and to put its official organ on a solid financial basis. Detroit was to be the central "clearing house" for the faction's activities, with groups to maintain affiliation with the Proletarian University. The local "Proletarian Clubs" were to charge $1.00 initiation fees, to adopt uniform rules and regulations, and to each elect a Secretary to maintain communication with the central office in Detroit. The factional organization was to be largely funded by voluntary donations, with the central office to handle the routing of speakers and organizers and the publication of The Proletarian as the group's central organ.
[fn. Confidential Circular Letter of the CPA's "Proletarian Club" Minority to Its Adherents, circa Oct. 15, 1919, NARA M-1085, reel 929. Available as a downloadable pdf file from www.marxisthistory.org
Early in 1920 the Central Executive Committee of the CPA ordered that the Proletarian University be made a party institution under its supervision and control. The Michigan group refused to accept this decision and a formal split ensued.
1. Founding Convention -- Detroit -- June 27-29, 1920.
On June 27, 1920, the Proletarian University group formally organized itself as the Proletarian Party at a convention held in Detroit. A total of 11 voting delegates from 10 locales and 3 non-voting fraternal delegates were in attendance. A constitution, manifesto, and declaration of principles were approved and a set of officers elected, including Dennis Batt as National Secretary and a 7 member National Executive Committee. The monthly magazine The Proletarian was named the official organ of the new party, which existed in parallel with the Proletarian University organization. Terms of the relationship between the two bodies were left to be resolved by the executives of the two groups.
The organization initially maintained significant branches in Detroit, Chicago, Rochester, NY, and Buffalo, NY. Membership at the time of formation appears to have been approximately 100, based on a conservative reading of the reports of convention delegates published in the minutes of the convention.
The Proletarian Party did not go "underground" during the period of repression that swept the country in the early 1920s.
A representative of the Proletarian Party was not seated by the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921.
2. 2nd Convention -- Detroit -- Nov. XX-XX, 1921.
The Second Convention received reports from Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Rochester. The party was organized into English-speaking locals, with no Foreign Language Federations, although it did count a sizable number of foreign-born among its membership.
The convention adopted a Manifesto and Program for the organization, which was published as a leaflet.
The Proletarian Party was not amenable to the formation of a legal Workers Party of America (WPA) by the Communist Party in late 1921. It declined to participate in the new organization.
On March 29, 1923, the Executive Committee of the Communist International requested that the PPA liquidate itself and that its members join the WPA. The Proletarian Party answered aggressively in the negative, declaring that it could see no reason for renouncing "sound, constructive, and honorable revolutionary action" in order to be absorbed into the "fetid swamp of sentimentalism" known as the Workers Party. The group similarly declined to participate in the Trade Union Educational League, due to dissatisfaction with the tactics of TUEL among left-wing union activists -- a dissatisfaction which "makes cooperation practically impossible."
[fn. Solon DeLeon and Nathan Fine (eds.), The American Labor Year Book, 1923-1924. (NY: Rand School of Social Science, 1924), pp. 170-171.]
Although the Proletarian Party had its roots in Detroit, the headquarters of the party and its publication was moved to Chicago in the early 1920s, where it remained for the rest of the organization's history.
During 1922, the Proletarian Party included reports in its official organ from PPA Locals in Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse (launched Oct. 11, 1922), NY; Chicago, IL; Detroit, Flint, and Jackson, MI; Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA; Philadelphia (organized Oct. 31, 1922); Milwaukee, WI; and Cleveland, OH.
3. 3rd Convention -- Chicago -- September 2-4, 1923.
The Third Convention was attended by 17 delegates representing 12 cities, 5 fraternal delegates, and 2 ex-officio delegates, including National Secretary John Keracher and NEC member Philip Kerr of Buffalo, NY. Minutes of the gathering were published in mimeographed form.
The gathering adopted a new manifesto and program for the organization, replacing the document adopted in 1921.
4. 4th Convention -- Detroit -- [date?] 1925.
In 1926, the pages of The Proletarian noted activity in party branches located in Akron, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Rochester, and San Francisco.
5. 5th Convention -- Buffalo, NY -- May 30 - June 2, 1928
The 5th Convention of the Proletarian Party of America was called to order by National Secretary John Keracher in the afternoon of May 30, 1928 and heard a keynote address by C.M. O'Brien of Local Rochester, who spoke on the party's prospects in 1928.
6. 6th Convention -- Detroit, MI -- Sept. 2-8, 1933
This convention was preceded by the suspension of a number of leading members of Local Detroit.
7. 7th Convention -- 1937???
No detail available at this time.
8. 8th Convention -- ???
No detail available at this time.
9. 9th Convention -- ???
No detail available at this time.
10. 10th Convention -- Chicago -- May 30-June 1, 1946
The 10th Convention was attended by delegates from Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Michigan. Keynote address was delivered by National Secretary John Keracher. The gathering spent most of its effort planning an expansion of the party and its weekly organ, the tabloid newspaper Proletarian News.
"Organization Proclamation of the Proletarian Party of America." [circa March 15, 1920] One of the earliest official documents of the Proletarian Party of America. This typewritten document, dated from internal content, declared the intention to form a new political party based upon "the principles of revolutionary socialism which have been propagated in the state of Michigan for the past number of years." The constitution of the Socialist Party of Michigan is to remain loosely in operation and acting State Secretary of Michigan Dennis Batt to serve in a similar capacity until such time as a convention can be called. An ideological requirement that individuals and local groups joining must maintain "a complete recognition of the Class Struggle, the Materialistic Conception of History, and the Labor Theory of Value and Surplus Value" is specified. John Keracher's monthly magazine, The Proletarian, is specified as a tentative official organ, the office of that publication in Detroit is named as national headquarters, and "Proletarian Party of America" is submitted as the working name for the new group, until such time that a convention can make a formal decision.
"Letter to the Comintern by the Representative of the Proletarian Party of America," by Dennis E. Batt. [First half of 1921] Dennis Batt, former member of the National Left Wing Council, was the Executive Secretary of the PPA at the time this letter to the CI was written. In it he asks for a ruling on the PPA's application for affiliation. Batt offers an analysis of the American situation startlingly close to the actual course of events: an explicit statement that "America has not been, is not, and will not be for a considerable time on the verge of revolution" and a strong recommendation that revolutionary rhetoric be terminated. He also advocated the immediate formation of "an organization that functions openly and propagates Communism as far as that is possible... This open organization should be controlled by the underground movement and would function as a recruiting ground for same." The letter was fully translated into Russian and may well have played some role in decision to move forward with the parallel legal-WPA/underground-CPA structure that emerged in the winter of 1921.
"Third International Events in America," by A.J. McGregor [March 1921] Commentary on the underground Communist Party of America and United Communist Party from the pages of the official organ of the Proletarian Party of America. McGregor states that unity negotiations between the CPA and UCP were said to be moving forward slowly, although other communist groups (such as the PPA) were not invited to participate in the negotiations. Given all the secrecy, McGregor notes that "It is far easier to follow the developments of the movement in far off Russia or Armenia than to know what is going on at home. Of course, if one were a police-spy it might be different." McGregor cites Lenin in support of the assertion that any sound principle taken too far can be transformed into absurdity, which is exactly how he views the CPA/UCP mania for underground organization. When "the entire work of a party must at all times be conducted in secret; and that in order to be truly revolutionary a communist party must of necessity be an outlaw organization, then the principle is transformed and made absurd," McGregor states. Anticipating the course of events in the CPA by nearly 2 years, McGregor argues that organization of the communist movement as an underground organization with camouflaged legal work means disaster : "To adopt such a plan of organization means simply that we would sever our connection with the general working class movement and turn the workers over to the gently nursing of the reactionary Socialist Party." Instead, primary party organization and function should be open, with the secret parallel organization called for by the Comintern to consist of "only the tried and experienced members" functioning alongside the open organization. McGregor additionally observes that "it would be the height of folly to advertise that such an organization existed."
"Stedman's Red Raid," by Robert Minor. [May 1, 1921] Full text of a pamphlet produced by the UCP's Toiler Publishing Association detailing a particularly disgusting footnote to the 1919 split of the Socialist Party. Minor indicates that in the immediate aftermath of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's anti-red raid of January 2, 1920, Socialist Party attorneys Seymour Stedman and Lazaras Davidow attempted to expropriate the assets of the Socialist Party of Michigan under the flimsy pretext that as "Communists" the expelled Michiganites of the party's holding company were participants in a criminal organization which "advocated the overthrow of the government by force and violence." At bottom of this scheme was a Detroit headquarters building owned by the Michigan party, represented by Minor as having approximately $90,000 of equity. Stedman issued a Bill of Complaint paralleling the criminal charges of the state against the unfortunate Michigan party members already jailed for alleged violation of the state's Criminal Syndicalism law. He then red-baited the members of the legitimate holding company on the stand in an attempt to have the property awarded to a hastily gathered and minuscule Michigan "organization" retaining ties to the national SPA. Minor states that when they were at last confronted about their uncomradely behavior by concerned Socialist Party members, Stedman and Davidow thereafter lied and mislead their inquisitors as to their actions and had a further smoke screen laid by SPA National Executive Secretary Otto Branstetter with a fallacious news release of his own to the socialist press. A sordid tale of greed, deceit, and foul play...
"Berger's Convention," by John Keracher [July 1921] This is an interesting perspective of the 1921 Detroit Convention of the Socialist Party of America, written by the leader of the Proletarian Party of America (based in Detroit) and published in that organization's official organ. Keracher sees the 1921 SPA Convention as a triumph of "Bergerism," with the new SPA "Left Wing" based around the publication The Workers Council and the Chicago party organization tiny, isolated, and decisively defeated. "These delegates had practically no support, a fact that was quickly taken advantage of by Berger, who made them the target for his shafts of wit," Keracher notes, adding that the most controversial matter -- the question of international affiliation -- readily disposed of on the first day of the proceedings, with association with the 3rd and 2-1/2 Internationals defeated handily and a decision not to affiliate with any international body passed by a vote of 31 to 8. Berger mockingly referred to the Left Wing as "Chicago Communists," Keracher notes, adding that he talked down to Left Wing leader William Kruse "like a daddy talking to a wayward boy, hoping that he would bye and bye grow into a great big man." Keracher also emphasizes the debate over the question of the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," with the Left Wing's endorsement of the concept of a "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" in the transition period from Capitalism to Communism defeated by a big majority. Thus "these 'pure democrats' who expelled only 60 percent of their membership expressed themselves as 'opposed to the rule of any Minority,'" Keracher snidely observes. A further split of the SPA Left Wing in the near future is anticipated by Keracher.
"The Proletarian Party of America," by Warren W. Grimes [July 20, 1921] The American secret police apparatus maintained a substantial network of professional agents and undercover spies observing and reporting upon a range of left wing and labor organizations in the early 1920s, running the gamut from unions to the Civil Liberties Bureau to the Socialist Party to parties of the revolutionary left. This document is a section of a report by a "Special Assistant to the Attorney General" examining the organizational nature and biographies of the two principal leaders of the Proletarian Party of America. The biographies of Dennis Batt and John Keracher are useful synopses of secret police reports, gathered by the "General Intelligence Division" of the Department of Justice's "Bureau of Investigation." A large section of Grimes' report, microanalyzing the program of the Proletarian Party, has been deleted from this version, but his conclusions remain: The PPA is described as a "novel case" which "has made consistent efforts, in its program and activities, to avoid the use of terms as well as clearly expressed tactics which would make it objectionable.... If the failure to use direct terms in the program is intended as camouflage...the attempt is futile, for where they have avoided using the express terms "forcible" or "mass action" and so forth, they have not been able to avoid the "dictatorship of the proletariat," the "Third International," the overthrow of the "capitalist state," the use of armed citizenry against the police and army, which are legal agencies of organized government employed according to law on works opposed to the accomplishment of communist aims, and so forth."
"The Third International Congress," by Dennis Batt [Nov. 1921] Proletarian Party of America representative to the 3rd Congress of the Comintern Dennis Batt (a guest rather than a delegate) outlines a number of policy positions of the CI -- each of which is said to support the long-standing position of the PPA -- in contrast to the contrary positions of the Communist Party of America. These included the assertion that successful revolution implies the winning of the conscious support of a majority of the working class and other toilers; the necessity of maintaining an open organization; the importance of making use of every means to win support for communism, particularly parliament and parliamentary elections; and the need to enter existing mass unions and thus "by virtue of their activity and devotion to the cause of the workers, to convince the membership that Communism is the only solution for the endless struggle in which they are engaged." In each of these instances, Batt indicates that the position of the Proletarian Party was closer to the current Comintern line than that of the Communist Party, the membership of which was said to be " too stupid and ignorant of the proper Communist position" on legalization, adherents of a "silly semi-syndicalist attitude" on participation in elections, and continuers of a 25 year old policy of attempting to organize "pure" unions and then try to smash the AF of L.
"Memorandum to the CEC of the CPA on the Proletarian Party," by H.M. Wicks [circa Dec. 1922] This memo from former member of the Proletarian Party Harry M. Wicks notes that "since the fact that the Comintern has so far ignored [the Proletarian Party] is the only excuse they now have for remaining out of the Communist Party of this country I suggest that a communication be sent direct to [the PPA] requesting them to work in harmony with other Communist groups in the United States. Such a communication would undoubtedly force the leaders of that party to act or would alienate their membership from them, with the result that all the better elements of the Proletarian Party would join the recognized party of the Comintern [the CPA] and proceed to work under the discipline of that party." This idea was met with the Dec. 22, 1922, letter from CPA Executive Secretary Abram Jakira to the Comintern requesting the same and providing an outline of the Proletarian Party's history and suggested content for the communication -- which was issued on Feb. 19, 1923 by ECCI Secretary General Otto Kuusinen. This memorandum by Wicks is an excellent summary of the early history of the Michigan tendency in the Socialist Party of America and its emergence as the Proletarian Party of America, describing the events of 1919 through the eyes of an adherent of the Michigan group. Wicks states that he had been a follower of the Michigan tendency since 1916, that is, prior to his moving to Portland, Oregon and activity in the Socialist Party of Oregon. This explains much of Wicks' seemingly unstable political activity in the 1920-22 period -- behavior that has been attributed by some to external direction, with Wicks in the role of police spy. Instead, a certain coherence and logic to Wicks' actions reveals itself. Wicks freely admits that he broke the discipline of the Michigan faction in 1919 when he accepted a position on the CEC and Executive Council of the new Communist Party of America, but provides an explanation for his behavior (that he was "hoping to be able to propagate the Michigan tendency in order to test the Party position at the next convention.") His subsequent action was wholly in accord with the PPA's general political line up to his break with that organization in the fall of 1922, it now seems. Includes copious footnotes and a short biography of Harry Wicks.
"Comments Regarding the Wicks Memorandum on the Proletarian Party of America," by C.E. Ruthenberg. [circa December 1922] C.E. Ruthenberg's critical comments on various aspects of Harry Wicks' December 1922 memo outlining Proletarian Party of America history and recommending that the Comintern issue a communication instructing the PPA to liquidate itself and for its members to join the CPA/WPA. Ruthenberg accuses Wicks of painting too rosy a picture of the Michigan group's ideology, noting that Batt's alternative program had been "laughed out of court" by the June 1919 Conference of the Left Wing Section; that the group had held a sectarian anti-union position and had rejected the entire notion of mass action; that Wicks had misrepresented the nature of the St. Louis Manifesto of 1917 and the Socialist Party of Michigan's response to it; that the CPA's ideology had been misunderstood and mischaracterized as "Blanquism;" that the PPA's organizational strength had been exaggerated by a factor of 2; and that the details of the Michigan group's exclusion from the CPA were presented inaccurately. Rather than being expelled in November 1919 as Wicks contended, Ruthenberg asserts that "The Proletarian group was still part of the Communist Party in January 1920 after the raids. I personally went to Detroit to reorganize the CP and conferred with [Al] Renner, [A.J.] MacGregor, and [John] Keracher. They refused to become part of an underground party. They were dropped out of the CP in February of 1920 because they refused to have any part in the reorganization."
"Letter to the Executive Committee of the Communist International Regarding the Proletarian Party of America from Abram Jakira, Executive Secretary of the Communist Party of America, Dec. 12, 1922." This letter from the head of the underground Communist Party of America to ECCI illustrates the way in which the center-periphery relationship between the early Comintern and its member national Communist Parties was not a one-way street with Moscow arbitrarily "commanding" and the national parties silently and compliantly "obeying." In this case, the CPA requests of Moscow that a political letter be written by the Comintern to the Proletarian Party of America, instructing PPA members who wish to participate in the international communist movement to immediately join the Communist Party of American and Workers Party of America. An outline history of the Proletarian Party and its split from the CPA is provided to the ECCI as background information for the writing of the letter. An extensive set of points for inclusion in the letter is also provided, including a statement that the Comintern should tell the PPA that it considers the members of the Proletarian Party "to be good Communists," that the decision to exclude the PPA from the preparations of the Workers Party of America be admitted as a "tactical mistake," that the PPA's educational work "must be applied to organizing large masses of workers under the banner of a revolutionary party," and so on. Jakira states to ECCI that the CPA seeks the infusion of the small Proletarian Party due to the fact that "they are mostly English-speaking, good speakers, several good writers and active union men. There is such a scarcity of such material in our own ranks that the addition of the several hundred members in their ranks will be of tremendous importance for our immediate activities." Jakira's request for a Comintern letter to the PPA was met by ECCI Secretary-General Otto Kuusinen on April 7, 1923, when he wrote an open letter to the members and CEC of the Proletarian Party (also available as a downloadable file).
"Letter to C.E. Ruthenberg, Executive Secretary of the Workers Party of America in NY from John Keracher, Executive Secretary of the Proletarian Party of America in Chicago, March 3, 1923." Ultra-esoteric cover letter accompanying correspondence between the National Executive Committee of the Proletarian Party of America and the Central Executive Committee of the Workers Party of America regarding a unity appeal by the former to the latter. Adds minor detail to the chronology of the exchange of communiques.
"Open Letter to John Keracher, Executive Secretary of the Proletarian Party of America in Chicago from C.E. Ruthenberg, Executive Secretary of the Workers Party of America in New York, March 17, 1923." The Workers Party sought to consolidate their growth in 1923 by incorporating the members of the Proletarian Party of America into their ranks. The PPA (formerly based in the Socialist Party of Michigan) is lauded by Ruthenberg as "an earnest self-sacrificing group inspired by the determination to help realize the goal of the Communist movement." Membership in the Workers Party, with its "20,000 members" would enable these individuals to "render vastly greater service" to the Communist movement in America, Ruthenberg notes. Understanding the PPA's fundamental belief that the current task of the Communist movement is to educate and enlighten the working class to prepare it for an eventually assumption of the reins of state and economy, Ruthenberg holds up the attractive possibility that PPA members might well play "very great" service "along the line of assisting in carrying on the educational work within the party." Ruthenberg asks Keracher to take the issue of joining the WPA en masse up with the National Committee of the Proletarian Party.
"Open Letter to the Members and the CEC of the Proletarian Party of America from O.W. Kuusinen, Secretary-General of ECCI, April 7, 1923." In the spring of 1923, the Workers Party of America put on a full court press attempting to win over the members of the Proletarian Party of America to its ranks. This letter by the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Communist International makes the appeal in no uncertain terms: "The whole Proletarian Party must join the Workers Party of America. All who accept the leadership of the Communist International must be inside the ranks. The Proletarian Party as the last detached organized remnant today asserting communist principles and adhering to the ideas of the Communist International must no longer delay in becoming part of the unified revolutionary working class movement of America." The PPA is lauded for its "valuable educational work in Marxism" through the conducting of study classes, lectures, and street meetings. At the same time, it is held that the PPA "overestimated the value of purely educational activity," which to be effective must be applied through participation in the mass revolutionary movement. "The party organizing the workers must have as its tactic the getting of larger and larger masses into action until ultimately the big mass of workers will be prepared for the final struggle for power," Kuusinen states. Kuusinen calls the isolation of the small Proletarian Party "tragic" and urges the members of the PPA to "join the Workers Party, to accept the program, constitution, and decisions adopted by the last convention of the party, and help to develop it into the revolutionary mass party of the American working class."
"What Heinous Crime is This?" by H.M. Wicks [May 26, 1923] The spring 1923 attempt of the Workers Party of America to convince the Proletarian Party of America to discontinue its separate existence and to amalgamate was decisively rejected by the National Executive Committee of the PPA. The NEC went on the offensive, instructing PPA members to discontinue support of and participation in the Trade Union Educational League and insisting that it, the PPA, remained the sole legitimate vehicle of American Communism. Former PPA member Harry Wicks was called upon to return the salvo in kind, which he did with this article from the pages of The Worker. Wicks pulls no punches, calling his former comrades on the PPA's NEC "boastful hypercritical super-Marxists (?)" who were tending towards the swamp of Centrism through their over reliance on rank and file spontaneity in lieu of vanguard leadership. Wicks ironically remarks that "The Proletarian Party favors independent political action of labor, but that action must be confined to the Proletarian Party and does not embrace a Labor Party. However, it will favor a Labor Party 'if brought on by the rank and file.' What sort of leadership is this? Here are those who pretend to be a part of the vanguard of the proletariat waiting for the rank and file to act, then they, as gallant leaders, will follow." The Proletarian Party leadership dismisses the program of the Workers Party as a "fig leaf to cover old Centrist Leaders," Wicks notes, but in actual fact, the PPA's belief that a Labor Party was impossible without its development through the spontaneous action of rank and file workers was "as ridiculous as the opposite position held by J.B. Salutsky and his Centrist group," who asserted that a Labor Party is impossible due to resistance of Samuel Gompers and the AF of L machine. These were two sides of the same coin, in Wicks' opinion. "In the present case it is clear that the objective conditions for such a Labor Party are here, and evidence is accumulating every day that the subjective condition, viz., a strong demand for such a party from the rank and file of labor, also exists," Wicks asserts.
"Letter to O.W. Kuusinen, Secretary, Executive Committee of the Communist International in Moscow from John Keracher, National Secretary, Proletarian Party of America in Chicago, May 26, 1923." Formal reply of the Proletarian Party of America to the Feb. 19, 1923, request of Otto Kuusinen on behalf the Communist International that the PPA liquidate its organization and join the ranks of the Workers Party of America. Keracher indicates that the Comintern is seriously misinformed about the situation in America -- that neither the Proletarian Party nor the Workers Party itself was in any way a mass political organization of the American proletariat. "Far from having achieved influence in and having gained control of any portion of the labor movement, the WP is following a course which, if unchecked, will add to the discredit of the revolutionists within the organized labor movement of America," Keracher remarks, adding that "If members of the Proletarian Party have "attacked" some leaders of the Trade Union Educational League, it has been because they disagreed with the tactics of these individuals. If the Proletarian Party has withdrawn its support from the Trade Union Educational League, it has done so after mature consideration." Keracher emphatically states that "While being desirous of cooperating at all times with the work of the Communist International in the struggle against world capitalism, the steps urged upon the Proletarian Party in the communication [i.e. liquidating itself and joining the CPA/WPA] are so out of harmony with the requirements of the revolutionary movement in America that the Proletarian Party can not bring itself to an acceptance of this unsound proposal." Keracher closes with a call for "COMMUNIST UNITY," which he characterizes as an amalgamation based upon "full knowledge of conditions here, and this knowledge can only be obtained by a thorough investigation and study of conditions as they exist in America, as well as the principles of the different revolutionary groups here" rather than through external fiat.
"Minutes of the National Convention of the Proletarian Party of America: Held in Chicago, Illinois — Sept. 2-4, 1923." These are minutes to the 3rd convention of the Proletarian Party of America, an organization by this date headquartered in Chicago. A total of 17 voting delegates from 12 locals were in attendance, joined by 5 non-voting fraternal delegates and 2 ex-officio officers of the party. The gathering re-elected John Keracher as National Secretary and elected a 15 member National Executive Committee. Minutes are terse and do not shed light on the group's organizational situation. The newly launched weekly newspaper The Labor Digest, while lauded by Keracher for expanding the party's influence among the working class seems to have been an enormous financial drain from the start, with barely 1/3 of the paper's targeted financial nest egg successfully raised and the organization's cash flow pushed into negatives by the paper's ongoing expense. The convention affirmed the NEC's rejection of unity proposals from the Workers Party and passed a resolution prohibiting party members from membership in or adherence to the discipline of the Trade Union Educational League. The Dennis Batt case was considered and it was resolved that any PPA member endorsing an electoral candidate not approved by the organization (as apparently had Batt) would be expelled. The group's independent existence was carried forward by a resolution which declared the PPA would "maintain its separate existence from other working class parties...except at such time that a crisis may arise in the working class movement which necessitates the combined unity of the working class. At such time it will be the duty of the Proletarian Party to cooperate with other working class parties."
"Ten Years," by C.M. O’Brien [May 1928] Ten year historical review of the Proletarian Party of America by Canadian-born activist Charlie O'Brien. Ignoring the fact that all factions of the Socialist Party supported the October Revolution, O'Brien asserts that The Proletarian was "the first paper to make its appearance within the Socialist Party, representing a group which was aiming to win the rank and file to the support of the Bolshevik Revolution." He criticizes the hastiness of Louis Fraina's Revolutionary Age and its obsession with "Mass Action" and belief in the imminence of American revolt instead of painstaking ideological preparation of the working class for revolution. The Left Wing National Conference in June 1919 is accused as having suffered from acute "infantile Leftism" and professing a "mish-mash of Anarchism, Socialism, and Syndicalism" -- an endemic "confusionism" which pushed the Michigan-based Proletarian group to establish a Communist Party of America in conjunction with Russian and other language groups which had found themselves out of the SPA. The expulsion of the Proletarian group from the CPA is said to have come two months after the party's formation, "without any warning or notice of any kind." Government suppression had followed immediately, driving the CPA underground. The above-ground Proletarian group had continued their activity, forming the Proletarian Party of America in June 1920, O'Brien notes.
"The Proletarian Party and Its Work," by John Keracher. [Jan. 1929] Keracher, the leading figure in the Proletarian Party, outlines the organization's history and political philosophy in the loosest of terms in this article which first appeared in the Jan.-Feb. 1929 issue of the Party's official organ, The Proletarian.
Proletarian Bulletin [January 1933] Graphic pdf. Extremely rare internal bulletin of the Proletarian Party of America. Includes a brief report on the NEC meeting of Dec. 31 1932 to Jan. 3, 1933, held in Detroit. The PPA ran candidates in the Nov. 1932 Michigan elections, it was reported, receiving about 300 votes each. Membership is said to be slightly up from the previous year, but income down since "so many unemployed comrades are on Exempt Stamps" -- a new "Penny-A-Day Fund" is announced to continue the previous "Campaign and Expansion Fund" forward as a new "Expansion Fund." A money-making opportunity is announced in which members are called upon to sell 6 subscriptions to the party's official organ, Proletarian News, for 50 cents each, turning in $2 of the $3 to the National Office. Physical production cost of the paper is revealed as 2 cents per issue for the current size, quality, and print run. New Charles H. Kerr & Co. reprints are announced for The Communist Manifesto, Mary Marcy's Shop Talks on Economics, and Paul Lafargue's The Right to Be Lazy. A convention is called for May 27, 1933 in Detroit. Although delegate travel funds are not guaranteed, a convention fund is announced for delegates traveling from the Atlantic or Pacific Coasts. In conjunction with this, an internal discussion period is announced for Feb. 1 to May 1 in which "any sort of change can be advocated at the Local meetings, or through writing to the Party Bulletin," although discipline remains in force for public events. The party's finances are revealed to be very short, with a treasury balance of negative $50 as of Jan. 1, 1933. "Weekly taxation" of Locals per the constitution is reemphasized: "If you can't send dollars, send times, but send something. Even postal stamps are better than promises."
Proletarian Bulletin [May 1933] Graphic pdf. Extremely rare internal bulletin of the Proletarian Party of America. As the NEC had postponed the forthcoming national convention from May 27 until Labor Day, pre-convention internal discussion was correspondingly extended to Aug. 1. In this connection, veteran party member Charlie O'Brien, now living in Los Angeles, bemoans the general lack of theoretical expertise in the party, pointing to a "mental poverty" of the current 15 member NEC and its Executive Committee, with only one member, Com. Bielskas, having contributed anything of substance to the pre-convention discussion and the rest seemingly having "nothing to offer" and seeking "to learn something from the members." O'Brien advocates election of a new National Secretary and the election of party leader John Keracher instead as NEC member and party organizer. John Davis of Local Flint adds an article on "The Press and the Party," in which he argues against changing the official organ, Proletarian News, to a lighter and more topical publication by reducing its theoretical content. Davis declares the paper's deficiencies in size, content, and frequency reflect general weaknesses of the PPA, not weaknesses of the leadership. Another O'Brien article follows, "Our Party Leadership," in which it is asserted that party leaders should be informed, experienced, consistent, theoretically able, and energetic. Since few have this full set of characteristics in a very small organization like the Proletarian Party, O'Brien advocates the reduction in size of the NEC from 15 to 7 members. A final article by William Heinhuis of Local Elkhart on "Immediate Demands" advises that the PPA stay its impossibilist course, declaring that "'Immediate demands,' when they have for their aim reforms, have no place in a revolutionary party," but instead represent a real danger by watering down the membership of the party. The Proletarian Party, as currently structured, could not even handle a large upsurge in membership, let alone function effectively in a revolutionary situation, Heinhuis asserts.
Proletarian Bulletin [June 1933] Graphic pdf. Extremely rare internal bulletin of the Proletarian Party of America. Financial reports show seven separate funds, the sum of which grew by less than $350 from late April 1933 through the first week of June. Active party locals (11) included: Chicago, IL; Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and Jackson, MI; San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA; Rochester and Buffalo, NY; Boston, MA; and Elkhart, IN. Small locals (8) also existed in: New York City; Niles, Benton Harbor, and Mecosta County, MI; Hanover, CT; Danville, PA(?); as well as Milwaukee and Mishawaka, WI. Pre-convention discussion continues, with Leo Sherwood of Buffalo listing party shortcomings; R.J. Landgraf of Detroit calling for a training camp for prospective party members; C.M. O'Brien of Los Angeles on "The Negro Problem"; Isidor Tishler of Rochester on the party press; Stanley Novak of Detroit with a list of policy suggestions for the coming convention; three criticisms of other members' articles by Charlie O'Brien; Al Renner of Detroit (soon to be suspended from the party for 6 months in a faction fight) on the need for more specialization and more frequent physical meetings of the NEC; and a short piece by Mary Wright challenging the previous convention's endorsement of the Comintern, advancing the argument that "if the CP of A is rotten, then the CI is no more sound, for the errors we find in the CP of A are carried out under the guidance of the CP."
Proletarian Bulletin [July 1933] Graphic pdf. Extremely rare internal bulletin of the Proletarian Party of America. Financial reports show the seven separate party funds increasing by about $390 during the last three weeks of June 1933 and the first week of July. Pre-convention discussion continues with an opening piece by Morris Prizant of San Francisco on the need to overcome individualism and isolationism in the party and to expand the party's work among the "10 million native born Americans of the negro races." Carl Babbit of Flint, echoes O'Brien's May allegation of the "theoretical poverty" of the Detroit PP organization and defending the traditional refusal of the Proletarian Party to espouse ameliorative reform under capitalism. "The workers in their struggles to improve their conditions under Capitalism can never raise themselves above the level of bourgeois ideology and bourgeois politics," Babbit insists. A major factional split with the Detroit local is foreshadowed in Babbit's article. Babbit adds a second piece responding at length to a previous article by Detroit factional leader Wass. Anthony Bielskas of Grand Rapids offers opinions on the unemployment question, noting the growth and revolutionary potential of organizations of the unemloyed. F. Miller of San Francisco offers views on party discipline. Stanley Novak of Detroit defends the idea that the Proletarian Party has historically favored partial demands for such things as freedom of speech, press, and assembly, if not the reform of capitalism. He notes the Bolshevik use of the slogan "Bread, Peace, and Land" as an effective use of partial demands by a revolutionary organization and argues that similar, carefully chosen partial demands should be advanced by the Proletarian Party.
Proletarian Bulletin [August 1933] Graphic pdf. Extremely rare internal bulletin of the Proletarian Party of America. With the convention scheduled for Labor Day, no financial reports are presented; instead there is final pre-convention discussion. Stanley Novak of Detroit (an adherent of the reform faction) takes on views expressed in print by party regular C.M. O'Brien of Los Angeles, taking the latter to task for a lack of constructive suggestions in his criticism. Novak is also critical of National Secretary John Keracher, accusing him of failing to subjugate his actions to the direction of the National Executive Committee. There is "too great centralization of the Party's work in too few hands," Novak states. Anthony Bielskas of Grand Rapids repeats O'Brien's refrain that the NEC is "a weak one," calling out Novak by name and declaring that the party rank-and-file "should know who to keep as leaders and who to get rid of." John Durbin of Detroit takes a shot at O'Brien for his accusation that the sitting NEC is exemplified by "mental poverty," noting that O'Brien himself has contributed nothing of substance to the party press. Durbin also takes aim at Carl Babbit of Flint, declaring that he has make "plenty of noise" in criticizing Local Detroit, while being "strangely silent" with constuctive suggestions. M.A. Larson of Detroit paints O'Brien as a conservative defender of an undynamic and aging party. He further attempts to gain factional advantage with analysis of economic trends during the depression designed to undercut O'Brien as a theoretician. Party regular Carl Babbit of Flint publishes a lengthy piece on the "Detroit Merry-Go-Round," criticizing the Detroit-based NEC members for failing to express their ideas for party reform in the Proletarian Bulletin and revealing the central factional dispute as a disagreement between National Secretary Keracher and the Detroit-based NEC members. "Because the National Secretary dares to have opinions and ideas opposed to theirs and has the courage to stand on his own feet, they recommend that the office of National Secretary as constituted at present be abolished," Babbit writes, adding ominously: "I think that in the coming Convention these 'babes in the woods' will find out that the other locals in the party will have something to say about how the Party should be run..." Fred West and George Snider of San Francisco offer views on party official organ Proletarian News. They also criticize the policy views of regulars Novak and O'Brien. O'Brien and Novak return fire against their own critics. Jack Gardner of Boston opines on immediate demands. Anthony Bielskas of Grand Rapids offers views on the routing of party speakers.
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