PARTY HISTORY


The Social Democracy of America

While he was incarcerated in the Woodstock jail for 6 months (May to Nov. 1895) following the crushing of the 1894 American Railway Union strike, Eugene V. Debs exhaustively read socialist literature provided to him by Milwaukee publisher Victor L. Berger and other independent Socialists. Debs converted to the Socialist cause, believing in the aftermath of the ARA affair (suppressed by federal troops and what Deb's called "Government by Injunction") that trade union action alone was insufficient to bring about the liberation of the working class.

In this same summer, smarting from a failed effort at establishing a socialist community near Tennessee City, TN, publisher Julius A. Wayland established in Kansas City a new Socialist weekly newspaper, The Appeal to Reason, eventually moving the operation for financial reasons to a small town in southeastern Kansas called Girard. This paper was a major success, quickly gaining a paid subscribership of 80,000 and invigorating the Socialist movement. A new colonization project was conceived through this paper, the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth, which aimed to seed an undecided western state with socialist colonies and to electorally take over the government of that state, thus establishing a foothold for socialism in America. Eugene V. Debs was named the head of this project and the planets were thus aligned for the formation of a new national political organization. A convention of the remnant of the American Railway Union was called for June 15, 1897 in Chicago.

[fn. "A Brief History of Socialism in America" in Social Democracy Red Book, (Terre Haute: Debs Publishing Co., Jan. 1900), pp. 50-51, 56. Date corrected to that in The Social Democrat [Terre Haute], v. 4, no. 13 (July 1, 1897), pg. 1.]

 

1. "Founding Convention" -- Chicago, IL -- June 15-21, 1897.

The Social Democracy in America was founded at a joint convention amalgamating the remnants of the American Railway Union of Eugene V. Debs and the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth, created in conjunction with the popular weekly newspaper The Coming Nation. The convention began as a final conclave of the American Railway Union, which opened Tuesday morning, June 15, 1897, in Handel Hall, Chicago. Director William E. Burns called the meeting to order and A.B. Adair of the Typographical Union presided. President of the ARU Eugene Debs delivered an address to the assembled delegates. The first three days of the convention were occupied with hearing reports of officers and of committees and closing up the affairs of the American Railway Union.

On Friday, June 18, the organization formally changed its name to "The Social Democracy of America" and adopted a new Declaration of Principles. The doors were opened to a reception of delegates from other organizations. Those represented included the Socialist Labor Party, the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, the Scandinavian Cooperative League, the Metal Polishers and Buffers' Union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, the Chicago Labor Union Exchange, and an assortment of other organizations. The convention elected an initial Executive Board of the National Council consisting of the following:

Eugene Debs, Chairman; James Hogan, Vice-Chairman; Sylvester Keliher, Sec.-Treas.; William E. Burns, Organizer; R.M. Goodwin, Organizer.

The Social Democracy of America initially did not have an official head -- its executive posers were vested in an Executive Board, with a chairman merely presiding over the activities of that body. The unit of organization of the Social Democracy was the "Local Branch" of at least 5 members. On the first Tuesday in April, each of these Local Branches was to elect a single representative to the "State Union," the state-level governing body. On the first Tuesday in May, all the State Unions were to assemble and elect one representative each to the "National Council," which was in turn to meet on the first Tuesday in May and elect a 5 member "Executive Board," which was to hold office for a term of one year.

An initiation fee of 25 cents was set, and monthly dues pegged at 15 cents per month. Office of the organization was established at 504 Trude Building, Corner of Randolph and Wabash Aves., Chicago.

[fn. The Social Democrat [Terre Haute], v. 4, no. 13 (July 1, 1897), pg. 1.]

The Social Democracy of America was initially oriented towards a policy of colonization, naming a 3 member "Colonization Committee" on Aug. 1, 1897, consisting of Col. Richard J. Hinton (Washington, DC), Wilfred P. Borland (Bay City, MI), and Cyrus Field Willard (Chicago, IL). This trio explored the possibility of establishing a colony to seed the future "Cooperative Commonwealth" in the Cumberland plateau of Tennessee. As an associated side-project seems to have made a concrete proposal to the city of Nashville to construct 75 miles of railroad for the city -- a project which would put to work the blacklisted and unemployed former members of the ARU/Social Democracy in America to work and helped build the notion of social ownership of productive capital in a single moment, it was hoped.

Shortly after the establishment of the organization, the group found itself bitterly divided over this strategy. In addition to the "colonizationists," who favored concentration of their efforts on building a model economic unit and gaining the achievement of socialism through the power of example there emerged a "political action wing," which sought to achieve socialism through political organization and the electoral process. During the evenings of the convention a committee met at McCoy's hotel to perfect the formation of a new political party. This group included Eugene Debs, his brother Theodore, and their right-hand man at the ARU, General Secretary Sylvester Keliher, as well as the midwestern independent Socialists Victor L. Berger, Frederic Heath, Jesse Cox, Seymour Stedman, and Charles R. Martin.

 

2. "First National Convention" -- Chicago, IL -- June 7-11, 1898.

At the second Convention of the Social Democracy in America was attended by 70 delegates representing 94 branches. It was convened at 9 am on Tuesday, June 7 in Uhlich's Hall on N Clark Street, Chicago. An early SDP historian recalled the opening of the session:

"Chairman Debs presided. Outwardly the meeting presented the picture of a pleasing and harmonious gathering, creditable to the Socialist movement. Under the surface, however, there was a hostility that meant almost certain rupture. The presence of such well-known Anarchists as Mrs. Lucy Parsons, wife of one of the victims of the outrageous Haymarket trial, Emma Goldman, common-law wife of Berkman, who shot Manager Frick at the time of the Homestead strike, and others, all enlisted under the colonization wing, the members of which were now using the phrases of the Anarchists at sneering at political action, showed that a parting of the ways must come. It rapidly developed that the colonization forces had organized to get control of the convention and had even gone to the length of organizing local 'branches on paper' within three days before the convention, in order to increase its list of delegates and make its control a certainty. These branches had been organized by William Burns and the other members of the national board, with the exception of Messrs. Debs and Keliher."

--- Frederic Heath, "A Brief History of Socialism in America" in Social Democracy Red Book, (Jan. 1900), pp. 61, 63.

The first day was marked by a protracted controversy over a number of Chicago area branches that had been hurriedly established to bolster the voting strength of the colonization wing of the party. A meeting of the National Board on the evening of June 7 (the majority of which favored the colonization program) granted charters to 8 of these organizations, and their delegates were seated at the opening of the second day of the proceedings. After the written report of the Colonization Commission was delivered by C.F. Willard on the 3rd day of the proceedings, detailing the proposed purchase of a Colorado gold mine and the establishment of a colony around that operation fanned the sentiments of the party's political actionists (who called themselves the "antis"), who found themselves more anxious than ever to disentangle themselves from what they perceived as an unsavory stock-selling scheme. A caucus was held of the "anti" faction on the 3rd evening at which the group determined to fight the colonization program without compromise.

Eugene Debs delivered an hour-long report as Chairman of the National Executive Board in the afternoon of Thursday, June 9, at which he declared in favor of political action and colonization. Only a small section of this speech by Debs was published in the official organ of the colonization faction.

During the fourth day of the proceedings, Friday, June 10, things turned increasingly bitter when James Hogan of Utah delivered a 2 hour report as Vice Chairman of the National Executive Board and Treasurer, during the course of which he directly attacked Secretary Sylvester Keliher (a political actionist), alleging incompetence or dishonesty. The day was absorbed by a bitter debate over the program of the organization, with the main object of division a minority report put forward by John F. Lloyd on behalf of the colonizationists (disparagingly called the "goldbrick" faction by the "antis"). The arguments went on all day Friday, June 10, finishing at 2:30 am with a vote in which the colonization minority plank was carried by a vote of 53 to 37. The meeting was adjourned and many delegates straggled off to bed, the anti-colonization faction already having decided to depart the organization and to establish a political party of their own in the aftermath of defeat on the colonization issue. The "anti" faction gathered in Parlor A of the hotel across the street where most of them were staying and in hushed tones continued their discussion until 4 am.

June 11, 1898 marked the conclusion of the convention of the Social Democracy of America as well as the day that 33 delegates bolted to hold a meeting establishing themselves as the Social Democratic Party of America.

[fn. "A Brief History of Socialism in America" in Social Democracy Red Book, pp. 61-67; "The Convention" in Social Democrat, v. 5, no. 23 (June 16, 1898), pg. 1.]

The Social Democratic Party published an official organ called Social Democratic Herald, the first weekly issue appearing in Chicago dated July 9, 1898.

 

 

The Social Democratic Party of America (Chicago faction) 

1. "Organization Meeting" -- Chicago, IL -- June 11, 1898.

The political action wing of the Social Democracy in America bolted the final day of the June 1898 Convention of the Social Democracy of America and instead held their own gathering at Hull House on South Halsted Street in Chicago. Since the gathering was held by a bolting faction of a Convention formally called by the Social Democracy of America, subsequent party histories do not regard this first organizational meeting as a formal "Convention" -- although the party organ established at the same time, The Social Democratic Herald, did consider it such.They issued their organizational platform in the form of a "Statement of Principles" on June 11, 1898. In this document, the group categorized socialism as "the collective ownership of the means of production for the common good and welfare" and called upon "the wage-workers and all those in sympathy with their historical mission to realize a higher civilization" to sever ties with existing conservative capitalist and reformist political parties and to instead work for "the establishment of a system of cooperative production and distribution."

From the last part of July 1898, the Social Democratic Party maintained an office at 126 Washington Street, room 56, Chicago -- a building directly opposite city hall.

The split of the Social Democracy in America into a colonization organization on the one hand and the electorally-oriented Social Democratic Party of America on the other demoralized many American socialists. According to a founding member of the SDP, "the split...disheartened many Socialists, so that the party grew very slowly. It was not until fully a year after [the split] that real headway began to be made, outside of a few party strongholds like Massachusetts, Milwaukee, and St. Louis."

[fn. Heath, "A Brief History of Socialism in America" in Social Democracy Red Book, pg. 68.]

 

2. Conference --- Chicago, IL --- July 6, 1899

A special conference of the SDP was called by the Executive Board to discuss the controversial farm plank in the platform, the subject of sharp criticism both from the orthodox Marxist members of the SDP and also especially from the rival Socialist Labor Party. The gathering decided to eliminate the farm plank from the platform, subject to a referendum vote of the party membership, which was subsequently passed. The conference also set the date and time for the party's next regular nominating convention, to be held in Indianapolis, Indiana in March of 1900.

 


 

The so-called "Kangaroo" Faction of the Socialist Labor Party of America /
Social Democratic Party of America (Springfield faction)

In 1899 a great faction fight erupted in the ranks of the Socialist Labor Party, pitting a Right Wing against Executive Secretary Henry Kuhn, Party Editor Daniel DeLeon, and their allies in control of the party apparatus. The insurgent SLP Right (pejoratively called "Kangaroos" by their political opponents) fought bitterly for control of the SLP over the issues of dual unionism (the SLP Regulars sought to establish socialist unions in all industries to compete with the conservative unions of the AF of L) and centralized control of the party press (the SLP Regulars sought to bring all party press organs under the direct control of the party's Central Executive Committee).

 

1. [so-called] "10th Convention of the SLP" -- Rochester, NY -- January 27 - February 2, 1900.

Not to be confused with the "regular "10th Convention of the SLP, which was held in NYC from June 2-8, 1900. A stenographic report was kept of the one Convention of the "Rochester SLP." The DeLeonist SLP regulars held their own 10th Convention of the Socialist Labor Party later in 1900, for which a stenographic report also exists.

 


 

3. "1st National Convention" -- Indianapolis, IN -- March 6-9, 1900.

The so-called "First National Convention" was held at Reichwein's Hall, Indianapolis, Indiana. At the time of its first formal convention in March of 1900, the fledgling SDP claimed more than 4500 members in 226 branches in 25 states -- being particularly strong in the states of Massachusetts, where it elected one mayor and sent two SDP members to the state legislature, and Wisconsin. Delegates to the convention had previously gathered signatures of individual party members authorizing them to act as proxies, and cast the number of votes indicated by these signatures on the floor of the convention. The total number of allocated proxies was 2,1367, spread over 67 delegates representing 17 states.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States, (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pg. 333.]

The convention was opened with a singing of the songs "Hark! The Battle Cry is Ringing" and the "Marseillaise." The convention re-elected A.S. Edwards of Chicago editor of the Social-Democratic Herald. It was noted that the paper's circulation has grown from 3,000 to 8,000 copies per week. The party itself had grown by about 1,000 in the first 9 weeks of 1900, standing at "about 4,500 dues-paying members" at the time of the convention, according to the report of the proceedings.

The Indianapolis Convention was attended by representatives of the breakaway "Right" faction of the Socialist Labor Party, including Job Harriman, Max Hayes, and Morris Hillquit. The three representatives of the "Rochester" SLP addressed to the convention advocating unity, their speeches frequently punctuated with applause. The convention agreed to pursue unity with the SLP Right and entrusted a committee of 9 to work out the details of the union with a committee of similar size already named by the Rochester convention of the insurgent SLP. The convention also moved towards unity by naming a joint ticket for President and Vice President of the United States consisting of Eugene V. Debs (SDP) for President and Job Harriman (Rochester SLP) as his running mate.

The two unity committees met on March 25-26, 1900, in New York City. Representatives of the SDP included James F. Carey, John C. Chase, Margaret Haile, Frederic Heath, G.A. Hoehn, Seymour Stedman, William Butscher, and W.P. Lonergan (Victor Berger being absent). Representatives of the Rochester SLP were J. Mahlon Barnes, G.B. Benham, C.E. Fenner, Job Harriman, Max Hayes, Morris Hillquit, F.J. Sieverman, N.I. Stone, and W.E. White. The combined committees quickly agreed upon candidates (ratifying the Debs-Harriman ticket approved by the SDP convention) and a platform (cobbling SDP planks onto the end of the Rochester SLP's platform) but bitterly disagreed over an organizational name and location for headquarters -- the SDP favoring retention of its name and the Rochester SLP advocating the name "United Socialist Party." The matter was resolved with a decision to put the specific issue to a vote of the combined membership, with the unified organization to be governed by a 10 member executive committee located in Springfield, MA, consisting of 5 members of each constituent party.

Shockingly, the unity agreement of the committee was denounced in no uncertain terms by the National Executive Board of the Social Democratic Party immediately after the conclusion of the March conclave. A manifesto was issued recommending rejection of the unity agreement. The result of the election showed the SDP rejecting unity by a vote of 1,213 to 939. A new split resulted, with the pro-unity forces of the SDP refusing to accept the result of this vote and bolting the organization to join with the Rochester SLP in a new organization. Somewhat surprisingly, when the matter was put to a vote, adherents of the Rochester SLP also voted for the name "Social Democratic Party" for the combined organization. Thus were formed two competing branches of the Social Democratic Party -- the regular Debs-Stedman-Berger faction based in Chicago and the newly combined "union SDP/Rochester SLP" faction headquartered in Springfield. A three-way polemic was conducted between these organizations and the regular ("DeLeonist") SLP, based in New York City.

A tacit truce was maintained between these two Social Democratic Parties throughout the 1900 campaign, and the unlikely ticket of Debs and Harriman -- members of two competing organizations -- held good throughout the fall.

[fn. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States, (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1903), pp. 336-337.]

 

In May of 1901 the Springfield SDP had 15 state organizations. Executive Secretary of the organization was William Butscher.

 

These two tendencies were not finally brought together until the Socialist Unity Convention of July 1901.

 

4. name??? -- city??? -- January XX-XX, 1901.

There was a convention of the Chicago-based Social Democratic Party held in January 1901. This gathering issued a convention call for a Joint Unity Convention of all American Socialists.

 

 

The Socialist Party of America

Regular Conventions of the SPA were subsequently held every four years so that the party could handle the business of choosing its nominee for President and Vice President of the United States in addition to engaging in the usual programmatic debates.

Unlike the Socialist Labor Party, the Socialist Party did not generally "number" its conventions until the 1930s, instead referring to them by year. Stenographic reports were published for the first 6 Conventions of the SPA, including the St. Louis gathering. As a cost-cutting measurer, no stenographic records were kept after 1917 -- simple meeting minutes were taken instead.

 

1. "Socialist Unity Convention" -- Indianapolis, IN -- July 29 - Aug. 1, 1901.

The "Socialist Unity Convention" of 1901 brought together the anti-merger faction of the "Chicago" Social Democratic Party headed by Eugene V. Debs and Victor Berger and the "Springfield" Social Democratic Party, a group which included such luminaries as Henry Slobodin, Max Hayes, Morris Hillquit, Job Harriman, and Algernon Lee. Also amalgamating were independent state socialist parties from Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kentucky. The Convention was held in the Masonic Temple of Indianapolis, and was attended by about 130 delegeates representing (in addition to these "two main wings) delegates from four independent and territorial organizations. The meeting was called to order at 10 am on the morning of July 29 and continued over the course of 4 days and 3 nights. This gathering was touted in the official organ of the new organization, the Social Democratic Herald [Milwaukee], as "the largest national convention of Socialists ever held in this country."

Daily Chairmen elected by the gathering were George Herron of Chicago (July 29), James Carey of Haverhill, MA (July 30), Max Hayes of Cleveland (July 31), and Philip S. Brown of Chicago (Aug. 1). William Mailly of New York City was elected permanent Secretary.

The main work of the convention was the adoption of a Program and Constitution. The sharpest debate of the entire convention took place, when the Program Committee checked out two versions -- a Majority Report featuring a list of concrete "immediate demands" for ameliorative reform (backed by the Chicago SDP delegates and a section of the Springfield SDP delegates) and a Minority Report eliminating all such demands in favor of a limited call for the overthrow of capitalism (backed by a portion of the Springfield SDP, lead by Algie Simons of Chicago and Gaylord Wilshire of California, among others). The debate took much of the 2nd day, an evening session, and ran into the third day of the convention. The matter was ultimately resolved by an amendment indicating the difference between capitalist reformism and socialist reform. The Majority Report on Platfrom -- including the "Immediate Demands" -- was passed by a vote of 5,358 to 1,325 proxies.

After the fundamental question of "Immediate Demands" was resolved, the platform was considered line by line; amendments were made and a "farmer's plank" stricken out altogether and referred to the Committee on Resolutions.

Another matter over which the convention spent a great deal of energy dealt with the matter of "State Autonomy." After a debate described in the press as "long, voluminous, and protracted," the convention ultimately agreed upon a structure providing absolute autonomy to the state organizations over their own affairs, and established a weak national headquarters. To make sure that the national office did not grow into a powerful institution akin to that of the Socialist Labor Party, the National Committee and its Local Quorum was furthermore expressly prohibited from establishing an official organ for the organization. State organizations would handle their own speakers, establish their own programs, and control their own memberships under the scheme adopted. Papers remained independent of the party organization -- the most important organs of the Socialist Party press being the Social Democratic Herald [Milwaukee -- later the Milwaukee Leader], The Workers' Call [Chicago -- later the Chicago Daily Socialist], and The Worker [New York -- later the New York Call] as well as the weekly publication better remembered by history, The Appeal to Reason [Girard, KS]. There were scores of other Socialist newspapers in cities around the country.

As a means of resolving the factional battle between the Chicago and Springfield party apparati, SPA headquarters were established in St. Louis, MO, which was selected over Chicago by a vote of 3,517 proxies to 3,096. While the structure of the organization placed most of the organizational authority in the hands of the state organizations, which were joined in a federation, day to day operations of national headquarters (essentially limited to the task of creation of propaganda and publicity of the organization) were to be conducted by a "Local Quorum" of five party members living in the St. Louis area. Leon Greenbaum, an individual who had not participated in the factional shenanigans of 1900 and who was thus acceptable to both sides, was elected the National Secretary of the organization. Supreme party authority between conventions was vested in a "National Committee" consisting of one elected representative from each state organization. This body was to meet in person only once a year, with the right to call additional emergency sessions should the need arise.

The Social Democratic Herald, former official organ of the Chicago SDP published a lengthy article on the Joint Unity Conventon which in addition to discussing the major event of the gathering included the new organization's complete program, constitution, many of its resolutions, a delegate list. Algie Simons wrote another excellent summary of the gathering which is available for free download here.

[fn. "The Socialist Party," Social Democratic Herald [Milwaukee], Aug. 17, 1901, pp. 2-3; A.M. Simons, "The Convention at Indianapolis," The Workers' Call, Aug. 10, 1901, pg. 1; Quint, The Forging of American Socialism, Chapter 11, passim.]

 

 

1st Annual Meeting of the National Committee -- St. Louis, MO -- Jan. 24-26, 1902.

The January 1902 plenum of the National Committee was the first annual gathering of the organization's governing body. The meeting was held at a cost of $700. The meeting received an extensive report from National Secretary Leon Greenbaum on the state of the organization after its first five months of activity.

Party headquarters were located at 427 Emilie Building, St. Louis, MO.

  

2nd Annual Meeting of the National Committee -- St. Louis, MO -- Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 1903.

The January 1903 plenum of the National Committee was one of the seminal events in the history of the early Socialist Party. It was attended by 22 members and 5 members of the St. Louis Local Quorum of the party. Committeeman George Boomer of Washington published a brief account of the proceedings.

The St. Louis "Local Quorum," which conducted the day-to-day operations of the organization, was firmly in favor of a policy of collaboration with other working class political organizations during campaigns ("fusionism") -- activity which provided a pretext for the NC at the January 1903 meeting to move party headquarters from St. Louis to Omaha, Nebraska, in the process thus deposing the St. Louis "Local Quorum."

William Mailly of Massachusetts was elected over W.G. Critchlow of Ohio as National Secretary, by a vote of 16 to 10, with Victor Berger of Wisconsin casting a lone vote on behalf of John Work.

The January plenum adopted a set of four resolutions, including a strict "Anti-Fusion" resolution which called for the expulsion of any state Socialist organization which participated in fusion activities or allowed its locals to participate in fusion activities.

The 1903 plenum also established the principle of non-interference between economic (trade union) and political (SPA) arms of the American working class movement, vowing non-intervention in union affairs and maintaining strict separation of unions from the party's national conventions.

Report in Appeal to Reason no. 376 by Allan Ricker. /// Report in Social Democratic Herald no. 237 by Victor L. Berger.

 

As of Jan. 1, 1903, there were 32 state and territorial organizations affiliated with the SPA. During the first half of 1903, additional charters were granted to Alabama, Arkansas, and Vermont, and Oklahoma was declared in good standing in March, when dues for 10 locals from the state were paid in dating back to the first of the year.

 

Meeting of the National Quorum -- Omaha -- July 5-6, 1903.

The National Quorum -- forerunner of the NEC -- received a communication from the Nebraska State Quorum preferring charges against Walter Thomas Mills (NC, Kansas) and W.G. Critchlow (NC, Ohio) charging them with violation of the SPA's constitution.

As of Jan. 1, 1904, there were 33 state and territorial organizations affiliated with the SPA -- AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KT, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, MT, NE, NH, NJ, NY, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SD, TX, VT, WA, WV, and WI.

 

Meeting of the National Quorum -- Omaha, NE -- Jan. 16-18, 1904.

The National Quorum -- forerunner of the NEC -- met at Omaha from Jan. 16-18, 1904, in a session attended by 4 of the 5 members of the body: Victor Berger, Barney Berlyn, S.M. Reynolds, and John Work. Executive Secretary William Mailly told the body that "After a year's experience, I am compelled to state that Omaha does not offer the proper advantages necessary for conducting the growing work of the National Headquarters." He cited a shortage of printing facilities, making it difficult to obtain printing on short notice and altogether impossible to obtain printing in various foreign languages, work which had to be jobbed out to other cities. He also noted "extremely poor" mail facilities. In response to this report, Victor Berger moved that a call be issued to the National Committee for nominations for new national headquarters, with nominations to close 3 weeks from the date of the call.

The meeting also set the date and location of the 1904 party convention for Chicago, to begin May 1, 1904.

Socialist Party headquarters were removed from Omaha to Chicago by Referendum B, 1904. In this referendum, Chicago received 5,867 votes; Indianapolis, 1,182; and Washington, DC, 506.

 

2. "First National Convention" (de facto 2nd Convention) -- Chicago, IL -- May 1 - 6, 1904.

The 1904 Convention of the Socialist Party of America was attended by 175 delegates representing 33 states and territories. Although it was touted as the "First National Convention" of the SPA, it was actually the second national gathering of the party, following the Unity Convention of 1901 which established the organization.

 

First Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- April 20-22, 1905.

The NEC met the evening of April 20 and for full days Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22. The session was attended by Executive Secretary Mahlon Barnes and was attended by NEC members Victor Berger, Barney Berlyn, Will Mailly, Stephen Reynolds, Henry Slobodin, and John Work, with Robert Bandlow initially absent and joining the session in progress.

The meeting adopted rules of order, received a report of clean accounts for 1904 recordkeeping by former National Secretary Mailly, set a subscription price of 25 cents per year for the new Official Bulletin, with each member to receive a free subscription to the same publication. $100 was allocated for the National Secretary "to stokc the literature department with standard works on Socialism."

The National Secretary was empowered the schedule agitation tousf for "John M. Work, John C. Chase, John Collins, Dan A. White, John Spargo, James F. Carey, John W. Brown, George E. Bigelow, Jospeh Wanhope, Charles G. Towner, Ben Hanford, John W. Slayton, S.M. Reynolds, Guy e. Miller, and such other capable speakers as may be available."

[fn. "First Meeting National Executive Committee," The Socialist, Toledo, OH, whole no. 241 (May 6, 1905), pg. 7.]

 

3. "1908 National Convention" -- Chicago, IL -- May 10 - 17, 1908.

The 1908 Convention of the Socialist Party of America was attended by 215 delegates representing 46 states out of a possible 218 provided for in the apportionment. Challenges were made against the seating of the Nebraska and Washington delegations, which were ultimately seated by the convention.

The gathering considered the questions of Industrial Unionism, unity of socialist forces, and the agricultural question. A platform was adopted for the coming campaign and Eugene V. Debs was nominated for the third time as the SPA's Presidential standard-bearer. Ben Hanford of Brooklyn, NY was named the party's Vice Presidential nominee by the convention.

The met for 8 days, including 2 night sessions.

The Socialist Party moved its National Headquarters to 180 Washington St., Chicago, effective May 1, 1908.

 

4. "National Congress" -- Chicago, IL -- May 15 - 21, 1910.

The so-called "National Congress" of 1910 was intended as a programmatic meeting which was not to be distracted by the Presidential nomination process. It differed in no other fundamental respect from the "Conventions" of 1904-1912. The gathering was attended by 125 delegates, representing 44 state organizations and 9 of the Socialist Party's foreign language affiliates.


Due to a post office numbering change, on April 1, 1911, the address for SPA National Headquarters was changed to 205 W Washington Street, Chicago. There was no physical move associated with the change.


In the summer of 1911 National Executive Secretary J. Mahlon Barnes was forced out due to sexual ethics scandal. Following his forced resignation veteran agitator John M. Work assumed the National Secretary position on September 1, 1911.

 

Conference of Socialist Officials -- Milwaukee, WI -- Aug. 19-21, 1911.

A gathering of Socialist Party elected officials from around the country was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, beginning Saturday, Aug. 19, 1911. Thirty elected officials participated at the gathering, which was held at the same time as meetings of the National Executive Committee and the National Women's Committee. Participants of all three meetings merged periodically. Papers were delivered to the Conference of Officials by C.B. Whitnall, City Treasurer of Milwaukee, on the work on "city planning" that had been done in that city; Carl D. Thompson told about the problems faced in the struggle for more equitable distribution of the tax burden. The work of the Milwaukee health department and paving department were also detailed, so that Socialist officials might learn from Milwaukee's experience in the event that they held the reins to power.

 

5. "1912 National Convention" -- Indianapolis, IN -- May 12 - 18, 1912.

The Indianapolis Convention of 1912 proved to be the largest party gathering ever held by the SPA. It was attended by 287 voting delegates and 8 non-voting delegates, representing 47 states plus the District of Columbia and 7 of the party's foreign language groups.

 

In the aftermath of the 1912 National Convention, the party was governed by annual meetings of the National Committee, which itself elected the five member National Executive Committee in place of membership referendum. The 1913 and 1914 National Committee meetings were dominated by the center-right faction that retained majority control of the 1912 convention.

 

Annual Meeting of the National Committee -- Chicago, IL -- May 11-16, 1913

The annual meeting of the National Committee of the Socialist Party was a testy affair which pitted an electorally-oriented majority against an inflamed revolutionary minority -- agitated by the recent successful recall of Big Bill Haywood from the NEC. As Ohio left wing NC member Tom Clifford later recalled:

The meeting of the National Committee at Chicago, May 11-16 [1913], was anything but harmonious. The lines were clearly drawn between the revolutionists and conservatives. While the former were in the minority, what they lacked in numbers was made up in aggressiveness.

An effort was made to propose the elimination of the hated Section 6, Article II of the constitution which had lead to Haywood's recall, but the effort was defeated after limited discussion by a vote of 16 in favor to 46 opposed.

Efforts were also made by William Bessemer of the Ohio delegation to prove that Morris Hillquit and his friend Maylon Barnes, paid head of the 1912 SP Campaign Committee, had violated the party constitution by illegally holding up party referendum 1912-C, which was to recall Barnes as Campaign Manager until literature opposing the matter could be circulated to important parts of the country and speakers dispatched to trouble spots. Bessemer held internal documents demonstrating the complicity of Hillquit and Barnes in this matter, the substance of which was apparently not disputed by Hillquit. When the NC demanded the return of the purloined documents, Bessemer refused, resulting in his suspension from the National Committee.

The NC found the party facing a deep $25,000 debt as a result of its overspending on the 1912 Debs Presidential campaign and its financially unsuccessful Lyceum Bureau (Speakers' Department).

The gathering elected a new NEC consisting of Adolph Germer, Victor Berger, James Maurer, George Goebel, and J. Stitt Wilson. Walter Lanfersiek of Kentucky was elected National Secretary by a vote of 37 to 9 for John Work, 8 for William Bohn, and 5 for J.E. Snyder. Oscar Ameringer was elected to the ceremonial post of National Chairman over Tom Clifford. Winnie Branstetter was elected head fo the Women's National Committee over May Walden. The Women's National Committee was to include May Wood-Simons, Gertrude Breslau-Fuller, alma Kriger, Gertrude Reilly, Bertha Howe Mailey, Anna A. Maley, and Lena Morrow Lewis.

The report of outgoing Executive Secretary John Work indicated that there were 12 Socialist daily newspapers (2 of which in English, the New York Call and Milwaukee Leader), 185 weeklies (151 of which were in English), 35 monthlies (31 in English), and 1 English quarterly.

Ohio delegate Tom Clifford published an account of the proceedings written from a Left Wing perspective.

[fn. "National Committee Passes on Many Party Problems" and Tom Clifford, "The National Committee Meeting," Cleveland Socialist, v. 2, whole no. 83 (May 24, 1913), pg. 4.]

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- Sept. 19-21, 1914

The September 1914 plenum of the NEC was attended by Executive Secretary Walter Lanfersiek and NEC members Wilson, Maurer, and Germer.

The meeting spent a full day dealing with the factional war in the Finnish Federation. After hearing representatives of both sides, It ordered the Federation not to expel members of the minority left faction from the party for reading, subscribing to, or financially supporting the publication Sosialisti, a Duluth, MN newspaper started in response to the constructive socialist majority of the Federation gaining editorial control over the Middle District's organ, Työmies. Members already expelled for this offense were to be reinstated. According to a special English-language edition of Sosialisti published in January 1915, this directive to reinstate expelled members of the faction was ignored by the right wing executive body of the Finnish Federation. A subcommittee consisting of Victor Berger, James Maurer, and Adolph Germer was appointed to attend the forthcoming emergency convention of the Finnish Federation (Berger and Germer were unable to attend and were replaced by Walter Lanfersiek and Oscar Ameringer). In addition to attending the Finnish convention, the subcommittee held another fact-finding meeting, attended by seven representatives of each faction. A report was made to the next regular meeting of the NEC, held in December 1914.

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- Dec. 12-14, 1914

The December 1914 plenum of the NEC revisited the controversy in the Finnish Federation. The meeting passed a resolution which gave an unequivocable green light to the constructive socialist leadership or the Finnish Federation to purge its ranks of the revolutionary socialist "disrupters" behind the Duluth newspaper Sosialisti, resolving that "the decision of the Finnish Federation as to expulsion of locals or members shall be accepted by state, county, and local organizations as final."

The December plenum also appointed a sub-committee to draft a manifesto and program for international disarmament and peace. This sub-committee was to submit its proposal to the NEC and later to the National Committee and finally to the International, in the hope that it might serve as the basis for united action of the international socialist movement to end the European carnage. The subcommittee consisted of NEC members Lewis J. Duncan and J. Stitt Wilson, Executive Secretary Walter Lanfersiek, Carl D. Thompson (SPA Information Dept.), John C. Kennedy (Illinois State Secretary), and May Wood Simons (Women's National Committee). The group submitted a draft manifesto and program a short time later, which was published in the party press.

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- May 6-8, 1915.

The May 6-8, 1915, was the final session of the NEC's term. The committee received and accepted the resignation of J.A. Rogers as Director of the Young People's Department; it also received and deferred the resignation of Winnie Branstetter as Director of the Woman's Department. The Committee also set rules and an agenda for the forthcoming annual session of the National Committee, to be held in Chicago starting May 9, 1915. The NEC issued two recommendations to that forthcoming gathering: (1) that the activities of the Woman's Correspondent henceforth be performed by the Executive Secretary; and (2) That after June 1, 1916, Foreign Language Federations should have to maintain a membership of 1,000 members to be entitled to office space in headquarters and a paid Translator-Secretary at the specified rate.

 

Annual Meeting of the National Committee -- Chicago, IL -- May 9-14, 1915.

A turning point came with the 1915 National Committee meeting held in Chicago -- with a strong left majority group making itself felt at the gathering. There were 56 of the NC's 65 members in attendance. [member list] Reports of the session were published by Left Wing NC members L.E. Katterfeld and James Reid as well as by William Garver of Missouri. The 1915 National Committee meeting made provision for a return of the election of National Officials to the party membership (one year terms, beginning July 1 of each year) and language inserted into the party constitution prohibiting the National Office from intervening in state controversies. The party's nominees for President and Vice President were henceforth to be conducted by referendum vote of the entire party membership as well. All 17 constitutional alterations proposed by the NC at its 1915 meeting were ratified by the party membership by large margins, with the balloting closing in August 1915 and the provisions becoming effective in October.

Executive Secretary Walter Lanfersiek was reelected over Edward Kintzer of West Virginia after two ballots of the NC. The 5 member NEC included the following: Adolph Germer (majority on 2nd ballot); James Maurer, Emil Seidel (3rd ballot); George Goebel (7th ballot); Arthur LeSueur (8th ballot) -- the last non-elected candidate being C.E. Ruthenberg, who lost to LeSueur by a margin of 40-12.

The gathering voted to hold the 1916 convention of the party in Chicago starting the first Sunday after the first Monday in June 1916 [June 4]. The meeting of the National Committee for 1916 was thereby dispensed with.

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- Sept. 11-15, 1915.

The Sept. 1915 meeting of the NEC heard reports from the various committees of the party as well as the Translator-Secretaries of the Jewish, Slovak, Italian, Polish, Bohemian [Czech], German, and South Slavic [Slovenian/Croatian] Federations. A request of the Jewish Federation to temporarily move the office of its Translator-Secretary (J.B. Salutsky) to New York City as a money saving measure was denied.

A protest was raised in a letter from Local Cook Co. (IL) Secretary R.H. Howe regarding the NEC's action accepting the affiliation of the Lithuanian Federation. The chief complain levelled was that the members of the Lithuanian Federation had not made individual applications for membership in the Socialist Party, but rather had attempted to join en masse. NEC member James Maurer was appointed a committee of 1 to take up the matter with the Secretary of the Lithuanian Federation and to report back to the NEC at its next physical meeting, which he did on December 21, 1915.

The factional war continued to rage among the Finnish Federation of Minnesota; the (Left Wing) state party organization was refusing to issue charters to new locals organized by the (Regular) Finnish Federation in the state. On this the NEC declined to act, drafting a letter which noted that "Under the present national constitution of the Socialist Party, the Executive Committee has no jurisdiction in matters of this kind, and is therefore powerless to act. We are convinced any action we take as a committee instead of helping the situation may but lead to further friction and bitterness." An appeal was made to the Minnesota State Committee to "take up these differences in a spirit of comradeship."

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- Dec. 18-21, 1915.

The December 1915 meeting of the NEC continued to deal with the Minnesota controversy, with a letter from State Secretary W.A. Stafford rejected as inadequate. The NEC sought additional informatoin as to why Finnish members were expelled and charters refused -- with NEC members James Maurer and Adolph Germer favoring continued intervention and George Goebel in opposition, on the grounds that the NEC had no constitution to intervene in a purely state matter.

The NEC was also brought into a controversy in the Polish Socialist Federation, in which charges had been preferred by Local Allegheny Co. Pennsylvania that the Federation had violated the principles of the SP in its collecting money for Poland. The Federation was charged with conducting propaganda on behalf of reactionary nationalist Polish Legions. The matter of the disputed ownership of the paper Gornik Polski ["The Polish Miner"] came before the NEC as well, with the committee determining it had "no jurisdiction to determine the ownership" but which nonetheless attempted to provide the basis for a temporary settlement by ruling that the regular federationists who formerly controlled the publication were entitled to the mailing list and mail privileges which were being claimed by a group of dissident left wing locals. The NEC recommended that the seceding Left Wing Polish branches should return to the Federation and that henceforth under no circumstances should the Polish Federation engage in soliciting or coercing members to lend aid or assistance to Polish military organizations. The NEC urged the membersip of the Polish Alliance to "bury their differences and concentrate all efforts toward building up a strong organization."

With regard to the controversy in the Lithuanian Federation, Committee of 1 on the matter James Maurer reported that the complaint that members of the Lithuanian Federation had not made individual applications to the Socialist Party was do to a misunderstanding and that the members had in fact signed applications printed in the Lithuanian language. The matter was thus closed.

 


Cancellation of the 1916 Convention

With a constitutional change already in the books to nominate the SPA's Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates and to elect its Executive Secretary and National Executive Committee by referendum of the membership, it was proposed to dispense with the scheduled 1916 party convention as a means of saving the estimated $25,000 expenditure that such a gathering would retire. The motion to suspend Article IX of the constitution for 1916 (thus cancelling the convention), called Referendum "C," 1916, (closing Jan. 18, 1916) passed by a tally of 8,393 to 6,746. The NEC was authorized to draft the platform for 1916 by the same referendum, this proposition passing by a margin of 9,775 to 5,186.

[fn. "Wipe Out National Convention; Retain Information Department," The American Socialist, Jan. 26, 1916, pg. 3.]


 

Eugene V. Debs chose not to run for President, running instead for US Congress in his home state of Indiana -- with every hope of actually winning the race -- and anti-war activist Allan Benson was selected as the nominee of the SPA by a referendum of its members.

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- March 11-13, 1916.

The March 1916 meeting of the NEC defeated a motion by NEC member George Goebel to transform The American Socialist into a a semi-monthly publication devoted exclusively to party news and to additionally lauch a low cost propaganda monthly aimed at a general readership. Executive Secretary Lanfersiek was instructed to obtain data on the cost of such a propaganda publication, however. Shortly after this matter was resolved, Editor of The American Socialist Louis Engdahl made his regular report on the SP's offical organ, noting that due to the large percentage of content dedicated to purely party-political matter, it was difficult to extend thecirculation of that publication. He echoed the previously defeated Goebel proposal that a small publication be issued twice a month called The Party Builder, to be dedicated exclusively to internal SP matters. This suggestion was deferred.

The NEC received a letter from Arnold Petersen, Executive Secretary of the Socialist Labor Party, who acknowledged the result of SP Referendum "A," 1916, which by a wide margin established a 5 member unity committee of the Socialist Party and urged the SLP to do likewise, with a view to a rapid unification of the two organizations. Petersen stated in his letter that the matter would be taken up by a future meeting of the SLP's National Executive Committee.

The factional struggle in the Polish Federation continued to draw the NEC's attention, and it named a special committee of 3 to investigate the financial affairs of the Polish Alliance fo the SP and their daily paper, Dziennik Ludowy, with a view to determining to what extent, if any, that organization and paper were subsidized by the Polish government. The committee was also charged with investigating the matter of Gornik Polski (The Polish Miner), the organ of the dissident Left Wing which had separated itself from the Federation. Members of the committee were Robert Howe, Executive Secretary Walter Lanfersiek, and Max Sherover, and the committee was instructed to report to the NEC in writing at the earliest possible date.

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- January 6-7, 1917

The January 6-7, 1917 plenum of the National Executive Committee received a lengthy report on the state of the organization from Executive Secretary Adolph Germer. Germer noted that the party's vote in the recent 1916 Presidential campaign fell short of the 1912 tally, which he attributed, among other reasons, to "the general apathy that has prevailed in the party for the past three or four years and from which we have only in a measure recovered." Germer noted that the party's membership had fallen from a peak of 118,000 in 1912 to just over 83,000 for the first 11 months of 1916 -- a slight increase over the previous year but "far from satisfactory in view of the campaign activities." The party had an $8,800 deficit remaining from the 1916 campaign. Finances were tight and the party was in arrears to the tune of over $1200 for dues to the International. Germer remained upbeat, however, noting "In spite of our failure to roll up the vote that we so earnestly worked for and confidentially expected, there is no cause whatever for discouragement."

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago, IL -- March 10-11, 1917

The National Executive Committee of the SPA met in Chicago over the weekend of March 10-11, 1917. War seemed imminent and a referendum calling for a special Emergency Convention in September had just been certified as having been properly seconded and mailed to the membership for a vote (Resolution "A" 1917). In view of the speed of the approaching crisis, the NEC decided to set aside the organization's constitutional procedures and issue a call for a convention to be held April 7 in a city to be named later (see meeting minutes). Input was sought from the members of the National Committee, who responded by wire -- overwhelmingly in favor of an immediate Emergency Convention. As in accord with "Referendum A," 200 delegates were apportioned to the various states according to average paid membership for 1916, and instructions were issued to the State Secretaries for the immediate election of delegates. Due to a lack of available space in Chicago on such short notice, St. Louis was decided upon as the site for the extraordinary convention.

6. "Emergency National Convention" -- St. Louis, MO -- April 7-14, 1917.

The "Emergency National Convention" of 1917 was called by the National Executive Committee for April when it became clear that the membership referendum for an Emergency Convention to consider the position of the SPA on the European War would pass. The date of the Emergency Convention in the referendum was set for Sept. 1917; the NEC rushed the timetable for an Convention so that a more timely gathering could be held.

Nearly 200 voting delegates and representatives of the 8 foreign language federations of the Socialist Party and Young Peoples Socialist League assembled in St. Louis in the immediate aftermath of American entry into the Great European War. The convention chairman was Morris Hillquit, who delivered the opening keynote address, a strenuous anti-militarist appeal, declaring that "War means reaction at home. War creates a mob spirit of unreason. War creates conditions under which all the powers of reaction, all the predatory powers of the country, can satisfy their desires, and accomplish their attacks upon popular liberty, upon popular rights with impunity.... This convention, comrades, will make or unmake the Socialist movement in the United States."

A strong majority of the Emergency Convention (141 of 200 delegates) voted in favor of an aggressive manifesto against American entry into the European war later known to posterity as the St. Louis Resolution. This majority report of the War and Militarism Committee (authored by a subcommittee consisting of Morris Hillquit, C.E. Ruthenberg, and Algernon Lee) stated in no uncertain terms that "our entrance into the European war was instigated by the predatory capitalists in the United States." The war was one for crass profit, the resolution stated, since democracy could not be imposed nor could militarism be eliminated by force of arms. "We brand the declaration of war by our government as a crime against the people of the United States and against the nations of the world," stated the resolution, and "continuous, active, and public opposition to the war" and "vigorous resistance to all reactionary measures" were promised. Two minority reports were also reported out of the Committee on War and Militarism, a Left Wing minority report authored by Louis Boudin (differing rather insignificantly from the Ruthenberg-Hillquit-Lee report) and a Right Wing minority report authored by John Spargo which accepted American participation in the European war as a positive.

A minority of the convention signed and forwarded to referendum vote an alternative manifesto and program. This alternative report recognized American participation in the war as an established fact and demanded the "conscription of wealth," preservation of civil rights, and the nationalization of monopolies, and the establishment of contact between the SPA with the socialist parties of "enemy" countries so that peace might be reestablished "on democratic terms" at the soonest possible moment. The ballot containing both reports (Referendum B-1917) went out to the membership on May 5, 1917 and was submitted to Local Secretaries by June 24, with final voting submitted to the National Office by Independence Day, the 4th of July. The St. Louis Resolution easily carried over the Minority Resolution in a vote of Socialist Party members, tallying a win by a margin of 22,345 to 2,752.

Incidentally, the American government's chief tool of repression, the so-called Espionage Act, went into effect on June 15, 1917 -- that is, before the St. Louis Resolution was formally ratified by the SPA.

The St. Louis Convention also radically revised the constitution of the Socialist Party, enlarging the governing NEC to 15 members, and changing the method of election from an at large basis to a district basis.

Socialist Journalist J. Louis Engdahl provided first-hand news accounts reviewing the activity of the St. LouisConvention: FIRST | SECOND | THIRD | FOURTH

 

 
A segment of the SPA's Right Wing quit the party over the organization's militant opposition to the war and attempted to form a new third party, joining forces with Prohibitionists, Single-Taxers, and the Left Wing of the Bull Moose Progressive Party in the cause. At a convention held October 3-4, 1917, the National Party was established. A revised platform and constitution for the group was approved at a second convention held in March of 1918. This social-patriotic social democratic party did not long survive the war, however, expiring shortly after the November Congressional elections of 1918.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Chicago, IL --- Dec. XX-XX, 1917.

 

 

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Chicago, IL --- Feb. XX-XX, 1918.

At the February 1918 session of the NEC, a memorial was issued to President Woodrow Wilson and Congress endorsing "unreservedly the peace program of the Russian Socialist government based upon the demand for the evacuation of all territory occupied by hostile forces and its physical restoration from an international fund" as well as a set of specific principles upon which peace could be built. The recognition of the Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia was urged as was the immediate joining of peace negotiations between Russia and the Central Powers. The NEC also issued a Proclamation to the People of the United States calling for immediate peace and restoration of the war-torn areas, and the expansion of political democracy in America by eliminating secret diplomacy and one man rule in foreign affairs. The Socialist Party pledged its support to "the fundamental revolutionary aims and purposes of the enlightened workers of every country," including not least Soviet Russia.

 

Conference of State Secretaries and Socialist Officials --- Chicago, IL --- Aug. 8-XX, 1918.

Gene Debs made a rare appearance at a party gathering at this meeting, dropping by unannounced. He was immediately given the floor and made a speech to the assembled delegates.

An extensive state of the party report was delivered by Executive Secretary Adolph Germer, reviewing the activities, size, and finances of the Socialist Party since the April 1917 St. Louis Emergency National Convention. Germer was very upbeat about the Socialist Party's ability to approximately maintain its organizational size during the harsh repression of the war years. "If the party can hold such a membership in the face of the unprecedented odds, it is certain that when the oppressive barriers are forced down, there will be a growth of our movement such as no country ever experienced," he said. Germer noted that state repression had been waged against the SPA most effectively in the "smaller communities where the movement was weakest," while "in the larger cities, where the movement was well established and could strike back, the Party organization has enjoyed a substantial growth."

Germer renewed his recommendation, first made to the NEC at its December 1917 meeting, that small and less organized state parties be combined under the direction of a professional party fuctionaries called "Organizer-Secretaries," who could devote their full time to the task of building the Socialist Party. "I am not hopeful of ever building up a state organization when the work depends on a comrade who is obliged to toil long and weary hours in a shop or factory in order to make a living and give only the tired hours of his life to the party," Germer declared.

Germer's complete report, including state-by-state, month-by-month dues stamp sales figures, is available here as a downloadable pdf.

 

 


Conference of the Russian Revolutionary Socialist Federations --- New York --- February 9, 1919

This conference was called due to the sense that a split was in the offing in the Socialist Party of America between its antagonistic Left and Right factions.


Convention of the Left Wing Section --- New York --- February 15, 1919

This convention of Socialist Party members adopted a Manifesto and Program of the Left Wing.


 

 


  

Meeting of the NEC --- Chicago, IL --- May 24-30, 1919.

The May 24-30 meeting of the National Executive Committee in Chicago was one of the landmark events in the history of the Socialist Party. On Saturday, May 24, the NEC voted 7-3 to expel the entire Socialist Party of Michigan from the party due to a newly-approved clause in the Michigan which called for the expulsion of any member who engaged in or advocated political action -- a clause which stood at fundamental odds with the constitution of the SPA. Following this, heated debate began regarding a suspension of seven of the party's language federations amidst allegations of election fraud and advocacy of the manifesto of the Left Wing Section. The Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, South Slavic, and Ukrainian Federations -- with 30,000 members in all -- were suspended forthwith. In a related motion, the Translator-Secretaries were thrown out of the national headquarters building without notice.

 

The state of Massachusetts held its state convention on May 30, 31, and June 1, 1919. The gathering elected delegates to the Left Wing Conference held in New York City later in June.

 


National Left Wing Conference -- New York -- June 21-24, 1919.

The Conference of the Left Wing Section was organized on short notice, the call for the conference only appearing in the Left press around the first of June 1919. The call was made jointly by Local Boston, SP (Louis Fraina, Sec.), Local Cleveland, SP (C.E. Ruthenberg, Sec.), and the Left Wing Section of Greater New York (Maximilian Cohen, Sec.). Cohen acted as the coordinating secretary for organization of the event. Basis of representation was one delegate for every 500 members, with no group to name more than four delegates. Each local or Left Wing minority fraction of a local was entitled to one delegate. Delegates were to be taxed $25 each for a central fund, with these funds divided to pay the expenses of participants.

The Conference began Saturday, June 21 and ran through Monday, June 24, 1919 in New York City. The Conference was attended by approximately 90 delegates from 20 different states, predominantly from the Northeast, Midwest, and Upper Midwest. This Conference did not adopt a formal program but did elect a 9 member National Council, consisting of John Ballam, Maxmilian Cohen, I.E. Ferguson, Louis C. Fraina, Benjamin Gitlow, James Larkin, Eadmonn MacAlpine, C.E. Ruthenberg, and Bertram Wolfe. The National Council was delegated the task of continuing the work of the Conference in drafting a program, which, along with a new Manifesto of the Left Wing was published in the July 5, 1919, issue of The Revolutionary Age.

New York City resident Maximilian Cohen served as Secretary of the Left Wing National Council. At the first meeting of the National Council, Fraina was elected Editor of The Revolutionary Age and MacAlpine Managing Editor. Both immediately resigned from membership on the National Council, leaving seven members on this governing body.

Minutes of the gathering were compiled by Secretary Fannie Horowitz. An account of the Conference, probably by Louis Fraina, was published in The Revolutionary Age, which also later published extended stenographic extracts of speeches on the floor.

 


 


Meeting of the "New" NEC -- Chicago -- July 26-27, 1919.

The candidates for the NEC of the Socialist Party who were declared winners in the substantial (albeit partial) tabulation published by The Ohio Socialist on June 18, 1919, were called into session in Chicago by "Executive Secretary pro tem" Alfred Wagenknecht. This full group included: Dennis E. Batt, Dan Hogan, Louis C. Fraina, Kate Sadler Greenhalgh, Fred Harwood, Nicholas Hourwich, Ludwig E. Katterfeld, John Keracher, Edward Lindgren, William Bross Lloyd, Mary Raoul Millis, Patrick Nagel, Marguerite Prevey, C.E. Ruthenberg, and Harry M. Wicks. A bare quorum of 8 of the 15 members declared elected were in attendence.

The meeting adopted a resolution declaring the Executive Secretary Adolph Germer's position vacated. L.E. Katterfeld delivered an extensive report detailing plans for establishment of a coordinated party-owned press, publishing house, reestablishment of a lyceum bureau, and foundation of a party training school under the direct ownership and control of the SPA.

By the time of the Emergency National Convention, only 6 of the 15 members of this "new" NEC remained committed to the tactic of attempting to win control of the SPA at the convention -- a number less than the quorum necessary to conduct business -- weakening the ability to contrast the "legality" of this group to the unconstitutional "old" NEC which had arbitrarily abrogated the 1919 party election. The July session marked the only time that the "new" NEC gathered.


 

7. "1919 National Emergency Convention" -- Chicago, IL -- August 30 - September 5, 1919.

The 1919 Emergency Convention was convened in response to pressure from the organized Left Wing Section of the SPA; the Left Wing originally sought the Convention to solidify the SPA's position towards the socialist revolution in Russia. Instead, the gathering wound up being the nexus of the great show-down between the party regulars, headed by National Executive Secretary Adolph Germer and New York State Executive Secretary Julius Gerber, and the Left Wing Section, headed by Alfred Wagenknecht and L.E. Katterfeld. The Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party first met downstairs in the same hall before leaving the premises for more spacious accomodations, where they declared themselves the founding convention of the Communist Labor Party.

The opening remarks to the convention were made by Executive Secretary Adolph Germer, who declared that disagreement over tactics was only one part of the ongoing factional controversy in the SPA, adding "I always believed that this factional division leads to healthy methods, provided it is not carried to the extent where the organization is torn into parts and shreds, and leaves us an easy prey to our common enemy." The second part of the crisis, according to Germer, was the thick blanket of "personal slanders and conspiracies against individuals that have been engaged in for no other reason than to break down the confidence of the membership" in the party's elected leadership. The Left Wing critics of the NEC and the Germer administration offered "no specific statements, but general gossip, rumor, suggestion, innuendo," he declared.

The first order of business of the seminal 1919 Emergency National Convention was the election of a chairman of the day, a post handily won by Regular Seymour Stedman over Left Winger Joseph Coldwell of Rhode Island, by a vote of 88-37. Upon his election, Stedman delivered the traditional keynote speech to the convention. Stedman reviewed the history of the previous 5 years of war and controversy and detailed the factional controversy in the party, judging the split of the Socialist Party to have been an accomplished fact from the moment of the opening gavel.

There was little, if any drama, about the ultimate outcome of the convention based upon the composition of the delegation, which had been neatly packed by the united Regular faction, while the Left Wing split over the question of tactics, failing to challenge the seating of the massive -- and thoroughly conservative -- New York delegation and the stacked delegation from "reorganized" Massachusetts, there was nevertheless disagreement the legality and righteousness of the NEC's actions in the weeks leading up to the convention. In particular, the recommendation of Jacob Panken's Credentials Committee on Aug. 31 to seat an alternate slate from the state of Minnesota rather than the slate of delegates elected by the party members of that state in referendum was the cause of a protracted and interesting debate, which touched upon the major questions of philosophy and legality. Ultimately, the elected Minnesota delegation -- which refused to accept its seats in any event -- was not seated in favor of the slate appointed by the (Regular) State Executive Committee, which was granted voice but not vote at the convention.

A report by a special investigating committee appointed by the National Executive Committee detailing an extensive list of irregularities and illegalities said to have been systematically perpetrated by several of the suspended language federations was unanimously received by the convention, setting aside the results of the 1919 party election except for a referendum calling for the SPA to affiliate with the Communist International in Moscow, the passage of which by a margin of over 6-to-1 had precluded any possibility of fraudulent passage. This initiative was declared adopted by the convention when it approved the committee report.

Upon receiving a supplemental report of the National Executive Committee detailing its actions from May until August 1919, the convention predictably ratified the action of the outgoing NEC in abrogating the 1919 party election, suspending the 7 dissident language federations, and decertifying (and thus expelling) the state organizations of Michigan, Massachusetts, and Ohio. An extensive debate was held and some criticism was levied of the NEC for its failure to appeal to the membership of the suspended and expelled organizations to rejoin the organization, but the NEC's action was ultimately ratified by a vote of 95-8. This decision as well as the conventions own factional activities in denying seats to certain contested delegates was publicized by a proclamation to the membership of the party adopted on the last day of the 1919 gathering.

A list of 117 credentialed delegates from 22 states was published in the press.

At the 1919 Emergency Convention the SPA's Constitution was substantially changed. Henceforth the Constitution mandated that annual National Conventions be held and that these would elect the members of the governing National Executive Committee, which would henceforth consist of not 15 members, but 7. A new Board of Appeals to handle appeals of actions of the NEC was added. The extensive changes made to the SPA's constitution were later submitted to the membership by referendum and ratified.

As 1919 was not an election year, it was decided that the situation called for the adoption of a manifesto rather than a platform. A document, drafted by Morris Hillquit (ill with tuberculosis in a sanitarium in upstate New York) was read and passed with no significant debate, to resounding applause.

Dues were raised by the 1919 convention to 50 cents per month, of which 10 cents was to go to the National Office, 15 cents to the State Office, and 25 cents to be retained at the local level to conduct the party's work. It was determined that a 1920 campaign book should be produced by the SPA for the electoral struggle during the coming year.

Daily reports of convention events appeared in the pages of the New York Call by its staff reporter on the scene, Herman Michelson:

PRE-CONVENTION | DAY ONE | DAY TWO | DAY THREE | DAY FOUR | DAY FIVE | DAY SIX | DAY SEVEN

Other published accounts of the convention were made by radical New York journalist Max Eastman [available as a large file with graphics or as a text-only version], California Left Wing delegate John Taylor, SPA Regular stalwart James Oneal, the Socialist Labor Party's correspondent Emma Denney, an unnamed correspondent of St. Louis Labor (likely William Brandt), non-defecting Illinois Left Winger Bill Kruse, and Communist Labor Party founder William Bross Lloyd.

Annual SPA conventions continued throughout the decade of the 1920s before being again lessened in frequency due to their great expense to the organization.

 

Meeting of the NEC -- Chicago -- Sept. XX-30, 1919.

The September session of the NEC named a replacement for resigning Executive Secretary Adolph Germer. Veteran Oklahoma Socialist Otto Branstetter was named to the position, with Germer retained on the party payroll as a national field organizer for the organization. The NEC heard reports about the status of the organization in various hotly contested states, including Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Rhode Island. A month-long campaign attempting to win amnesty for political prisoners was launched, the effort to attempt to forge links with trade unions and other progressive groups in pursuit of this goal. The NEC also determined to send an organizer to the west coast, making the reorganization of the SP's California organization a top priority, along with the states of Utah and Colorado. An "Emergency Committee" of the NEC was named, consisting of National Secretary Otto Branstetter and two NEC members from the geographic vicinity, Edmund Melms of Wisconsin and Oliver Wilson of Illinois.

A sub-committee to draft a declaration of principles for the party, in accord with instructions of the recently complete Emergency National Convention was named. This group consisted of James Oneal and Morris Hillquit of New York; Victor L. Berger of Wisconsin; Gus Hoehn of Missouri, and Joseph E. Cohen of Massachusetts. The draft was to be ready not later than Feb. 29, 1920.

A brief summary of this NEC session quoting NEC member Ed Melms was published in the Milwaukee Leader.

 

 

8. "1920 National Convention" -- New York City -- May 8 - 14, 1920.

The 1920 National Convention of the Socialist Party was held at New York City in Finnish Socialist Hall, located at 2056 -- 5th Ave. (corner of 127th St.). The meeting pitted a remaining radical faction based in the Illinois delegation, featuring William F. Kruse and J. Louis Engdahl, against a Center-Right bloc, including Morris Hillquit, Algernon Lee, Jacob Panken, James Oneal, Meyer London, and Cameron King. A list of over 160 delegates and alternates was published, as well as an excellent account of the proceedings by Harry Laidler.

The first test of strength took place the first day, when Morris Hillquit was elected Chairman for the day over J. Louis Engdahl by a vote of 91 to 29. Upon assuming the gavel, Hillquit, attending his first party gathering in two years, delivered an aggressive keynote address to the gathering skewering the hypocrisy and anti-democratic practices of President Woodrow Wilson, noting the purported pacifist had drawn the nation into "the world's most frightful war," had established a large standing army and nay, had imposed conscription, had wielded autocratic powers against his opponents, truncating freedoms of speech, thought, and conscience, filling the nation's jails with political prisoners and creating a climate that cast such dubious fellows as Palmer, Burleson, Lusk, and Ole Hanson to the political fore. "The only active and organized force in American politics that combats reaction and oppression, that stands for the large masses of the workers and for a social order of justice and industrial equality is the Socialist Party," Hillquit declared.

The 1920 Convention nominated Eugene V. Debs, serving a ten year sentence in federal prison in Atlanta for speaking out against the war, its candidate for President and nominated Chicago attorney Seymour Stedman its candidate for Vice President. In addition to nominating its 1920 ticket, the convention dealt at length with three main issues: (1) adoption of a declaration of principles, (2) adoption of a party platform, and (3) adoption of a position on International affiliation.

The body approved a very mild and general Declaration of Principles , the draft of which was prepared ahead of the convention by Morris Hillquit, refusing an appeal by the Illinois-based Left Wing to refer the document to committee for additional amendment. A replacement Left Wing statement of principles proposed as a basis of discussion was rejected by a vote of 103 to 33, and the Hillquit statement was ultimately approved after extended debate and minor modification by a similar margin. The defeated minority collected enough signatures of delegates to bring the matter to a referendum vote of the party for ultimate decision, however.

The Illinois-based Left Wing group also put forward an alternative platform for discussion as a replacement for the tepid document constructed in committee. This proposal met with greater support on the floor of the convention, but was defeated nevertheless by a vote of 80 to 60. The platform was approved after relatively short debate with minor modifications.

The convention voted to work towards formation of a new International containing "all true Socialists of the world" (meaning particularly the Socialists of France, the ILP in Great Britain, and the Independent Socialists in Germany) while attempting to gain a seat in the Third International in Moscow by a vote of 90-40. This majority proposal did not accept either the universality of Russian forms and tactics or the theoretical concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the transition period, placing its reliance instead upon democratic norms. The Left Wing minority sought a more radical alternative of affiliation with the Third International without qualifications and without attempting to engage in "fishing expeditions" to create a new and more inclusive International organization after attaining membership in the existing Moscow International. It implicitly accepted the conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. A third and decidedly more conservative position (very slightly supported by the convention) was advanced by Victor Berger, which while lending support to the Russian revolution sought to remove itself from any attempt at affiliation with the Third International, instead working to affiliate in a new International with the French Socialists, the British Independent Labour Party, and the Independent Socialists of Germany. As with the Statement of Principles, the Left Wing minority gathered sufficient signatures of convention delegates to refer ultimate decision of the matter to a referendum vote of the entire membership of the SPA.

[fn. Laidler: "The Socialist Convention." The Socialist Review, June 1920, pp. 26-36]

Heated debate dealt with the defense of the five Socialist Party Assemblymen expelled from the New York state legislature, which was conducted on a basis deemed to be strictly patriotic and limited to appeals to bourgeois legality, according to the Left. William Kruse was allowed only a short time on the floor to make his case before Meyer London was recognized by Vice Chairman of the Day Dawidow of Michigan. London spoke against the measure and simultaneously (contrary to parliamentary procedure) made a motion to shut off debate. The chair repeatedly refused to recognized Benjamin Glassberg, who sought to read the exact pages of the proceedings of the Albany trial which brought offense. Instead a motion to table the resolution and expunge record of this matter from the minutes was recognized and passed by the gathering.

 

The 1920 convention also voted to again bring the Young People's Socialist League under party control. It voted as well to make American citizenship a requirement of all party officers and delegates to national conventions of the party.

Immediately after the close of the 1920 National Convention, a "Committee for the Third International" was organized inside the Socialist Party, with J. Louis Engdahl chosen as the group's secretary. This party faction ultimately exited following the convention of 1921 and incorporated itself as part of the Workers Party of America from its founding convention late in December of that year.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Pittsburgh, PA --- Aug. 21-23, 1920.

The National Executive Committee met in Pittsburgh, PA, on Aug. 21-23, 1920. The committee adopted a motion by James Oneal to defer consideration of the question of international affiliation until such time that the NEC had a definite proposal to consider -- a delaying tactic intended to defer the SPA's referendum decision to affiliate with the Communist International with conditions.

 

There seems to have been a meeting of the NEC in the office of the warden of the US Federal Penitentiary at Atlanta sometime in 1920

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Chicago, IL --- Dec. 4-6, 1920.

The decision was made to circulate a national petition calling for general amnesty for all political prisoners imprisoned under wartime legislation.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Boston, MA --- March XX-XX, 1921.

 

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Detroit, MI --- June 24, 1921.

The NEC gathered at Northwestern High School in Detroit on June 24, 1921 to make final preparations for the 1921 convention, to be held the next day in the same location. The meeting, which lasted all day and well into the night, prepared an order of business and temporary rules for the convention, and wrote a report of the NEC for the gathering, which dealt with the international situation and the internal situation in the party. Those attending the meeting included George Roewer of Boston, Ed Melms of Millwaukee, William Brandt of St. Louis, and William Henry of Indianapolis, along with National Executive Secretary Otto Branstetter. Absent were Bertha Mailly and Jim Oneal of New York City and Irwin St. John Tucker of Chicago.

 

9. "1921 National Convention" ("9th Convention") -- Detroit, MI -- June 25 - 29, 1921.

The 1921 Convention of the Socialist Party, opened at Northeastern High School in Detroit, was attended by 39 delegates, representing 22 states, and 6 fraternal delegates.

If the preceding convention had been focused on the question of international affiliation of the Socialist Party, the 1921 Convention was focused on another matter -- the reaction of the party establishment to Left Wing elements still inside the SPA. Frontman in this offensive against the Left Wing was National Executive Secretary Otto Branstetter, who put forward a resolution making the support or endorsement of the Third (Communist) International grounds for immediate expulsion, with the NEC directed to enforce this decision. This was bitterly opposed by the "Committee for the Third International," headed by J. Louis Engdahl, County Secretary of Local Cook County (Chicago) and editor of The Chicago Socialist.

The convention voted 37 to 2 to instruct the incoming National Executive Committee to "make a careful survey of all radical and labor organizations in the country, with a view to ascertaining their strength, disposition and readiness to cooperate with the Socialist movement upon a platform not inconsistent with that of the party." This resolution of the convention would later be used as justification for direct participation in the Conference for Progressive Political Action.

On Tuesday, June 28 the convention moved to Auto Workers' Hall in Detroit. A resolution initiated by National Secretary Branstetter through the Illinois party organization, calling for the expulsion of supporters of the Third International, was handly defeated, with only two delegates supporting the measure in the end. Details on the SPA's dire financial straits were not made publicly, but were rather discussed by the delegates on the 28th in executive session. The Convention ultimately raised party membership dues to 50 cents per month, of which the National Office was to receive 10 cents, the state organization 15 cents, the county or city organization 10 cents, and the local or branch office 15 cents.

Day by day accounts of the 1921 Detroit Convention by journalist William M. "Billy" Feigenbaum were published in the New York Call and are available as downloadable pdfs here: DAY ONE | DAY TWO | DAY THREE | DAY FOUR | DAY FIVE

National Executive Committee member James Oneal contributed a summary of the events of the convention of his own, which was published in the Sunday magazine section of the New York Call immediately after the close of the Detroit procedings.

 

In February 1922 a new consolidated district of the SPA was created -- the "Mountain States Organization District," comprised f the states of Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. O.A. Kennedy, previously State Secretary of Utah, was appointed to serve as State Secretary for each of the states in the district.

 

10. "1922 National Convention" ("10th Convention") -- Cleveland, OH -- April 29 - May 2, 1922.

The 1922 Convention was attended by 22 delegates representing 17 states as well as 6 fraternal delegates representing the five language groups and the YPSL. The gathering was observed by Workers Party Executive Secretary C.E. Ruthenberg, newly released from Sing Sing Prison, who wrote about the "portly, gray-haired men with a look of petty-bourgeois prosperity about them" for the Communist press.

The first day's discussion dealt with international affiliation. Three proposals were made: to continue the decision of the 1921 Convention not to affiliate with any International Socialist organization; a second to send delegates to the next conference of the "Two-and-a-Half" International and for these delegates to return to make recommendations; and a third calling for immediate affiliation with the "Two-and-a-Half" International. By a vote of 11 to 9, with one vote for non-affiliation, the convention voted to immediately affiliate with the Vienna group.

The Committee on Appeals was eliminated from the Constitution of the Party at the 1922 convention.

A 1922 Congressional Program was not acted upon by the Convention, but was referred to the National Executive Committee.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Cleveland, OH --- Dec. 9-10, 1922.

The National Executive Committee met in Cleveland on Dec. 9-10, 1922, in conjunction with the 2nd Conference of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, held in that city from Dec. 11-12. The meeting discussed the state of the organization, noting an 11 month average membership for the group in 1922 of 11,223, the Russian Relief Fund, Party finances, and other matters. With regards to Russian Relief, as the SP was unable to distribute its relief directly, it terminated its fundraising effort at the $6,450 mark and signed over its unremitted balance to the American Friends Service Committee of Philadelphia. The SPA pointedly ignored the fundraising efforts of the Communist Party's Friends of Soviet Russia mass organization.

 

The National Executive Committee met in New York on Feb. 24-25, 1923. The group received a report from its representative at the Convention of the Young People's Socialist League and was occupied with organizational and financial matters. A forthcoming Congress of the Socialist and Labor International was noted, to be held May 21, 1923, but the NEC determined that it was unable to send a delegate due to financial considerations -- but that the elected representatives of the party, Morris Hillquit and Victor Berger, would nonetheless be attending the gathering at their own expense.

 

11. "11th National Convention" -- New York -- May 19 - 22, 1923.


The 1923 convention, held at Finnish Hall, 2056 Fifth Ave., New York City was attended by 22 Regular and 4 Fraternal delegates. This was the second Socialist Party convention held at this location.

attended by Eugene Debs -- one of his very rare appearances at these gatherings of the party faithful. He did not speak to the body but made a banquet speech to many of the convention delegates. The keynote was delivered by a non-delegate, Abraham Cahan of the Jewish Daily Forward, who launched into a tirade against Soviet Russia that set a new mark for vituperation. Trotsky was denounced as a "bombastic windbag," Zinoviev taunted as a "rotten egg" with a Swiss bank account, and Bukharin deemed to be a "simpleminded fellow." As for the "muddlehead lunatic" Lenin, his deteriorated health was derided from the rostrum as a byproduct of "his earlier complete moral collapse." Cahan is said to have looked at the sparse crowd and to have announced that "the fact that so few comrades are present is proof that we [the SP] are a failure." Cahan's remarks were neither heckled nor applauded, a Communist witness reports.

[fn. Wicks, "Socialist Party National Convention Delegates Remain Silent in Face of Attack on Soviet Russia," The Worker, June 2, 1923, pg. 5.]

Party leaders Morris Hillquit and Victor Berger were abroad to attend an international gathering on behalf of the party, so leadership on the scene included National Secretary Otto Branstetter, James Oneal, and Algernon Lee.

Workers Party leader John Pepper viewed the 1923 SP Convention as a demonstration of a dying party. In an article prepared for The Worker, he stated the Socialist Party was devoid of leadership and principles and amounted to nothing more than an "opportunistic sect." He sharply criticized Chairman of the Resolutions Committee James Oneal for fabricating content of documents to cast the United Front proposed by the WPA in the worst possible light. In the same publication, WPA attack dog Harry Wicks added additional hostile comments on the keynote speech of Abraham Cahan as well.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- St. Louis, MO --- Feb. 9-12, 1924.

The National Executive Committee met in St. Louis, MO, at the Hotel Majestic on Feb. 9-12, 1924. This meeting was held in conjunction with the 3rd Conference of the CPPA, also taking place in St. Louis on Feb. 11-12. The gathering received the Feb. 1, 1924, resignation of Otto Branstetter as Executive Secretary, who called himself "tired and worn out," and named Assistant Executive Secretary Bertha Hale White as Executive Secretary of the party. The body discussed the proposed St. Paul Convention of the Farmer-Labor Party but took no formal action on the matter; it also discussed the Conference for Progressive Political Action. The majority of the NEC resolved that the Socialist Party should enter a Labor Party if one should be formed, with it understood that the organization would retain its own group identity within the new political association.

 

12. "1924 National Convention" (12th Convention) -- Cleveland -- July 6 - 8, 1924.

The 1924 Convention of the Socialist Party was held in Cleveland immediately after the closing of the First Convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Action in that city. It was attended by 157 delegates and alternates. The gathering voted 115 to 17 in favor of a report on the CPPA that endorsed the candidacy of Robert M. LaFollette for President and instructed the party officials to cooperate with the CPPA in the upcoming campaign, to seek increased SP representation on the National Committee of the CPPA, and to send a full representation to the CPPA's 2nd Convention and instructing these delegates "to vote and work for the formation of a party composed of economic organizations of labor, working farmers, the Socialist party, and other advanced groups; to be separate and distinct from and opposed to the Republican, Democratic, and other capitalist parties..."

The 1924 Convention also adopted a new Declaration of Principles.

After this date, conventions of the Socialist Party were to be held biannually, although a "Special Convention" was convened in 1925.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- New York City --- July 22, 1924.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Washington, DC --- Dec. 13, 1924.

The National Executive Committee met in Washington, DC, on Dec. 13, 1924. The meeting was held in the aftermath of the National Committee plenum of the Conference for Progressive Political Action, which took place on Dec. 12. The gathering discussed a plan to retire the indebtedness of the party's National Office and the forthcoming Second Convention of the CPPA, which was slated to begin in Chicago on Feb. 21, 1925. Eugene V. Debs, Morris Hillquit, and SP Executive Secretary Bertha Hale White were elected as the three delegates of the SP National organization to the CPPA conclave.

On a motion or Morris Hillquit, a Special Convention of the Socialist Party was called to meet in Chicago on in February 1925, as well. The call for a special convention of the Socialist Party was issued by Executive Secretary Bertha Hale White on December 16, 1924. According to the call, "the purpose of our special convention is to consider the course to be followed by the Socialist Party in whatever plans may be considered by the national convention of the Conference for Progressive Political Action and submitted for acceptance or rejection by its affiliated organizations." According to the constitution, representation of delegates to the special convention was to include all State Secretaries of the party, plus 1 delegae for every organized state with a membership of 1,000 or less, and an additional delegate for every additional 1,000 members, or major fraction thereof.

 

13. "Special Convention" (13th Convention) -- Chicago -- Feb. 23 - 25, 1925.

 

 

14. "1926 National Convention" (14th Convention) -- Pittsburgh -- May 1 -3, 1926.

A mimeographed report of the convention proceedings was published.


Meeting of the NEC --- Philadelphia, PA --- Jan. 14-15, 1927.



 

15. "1928 National Convention" (15th Convention) -- New York -- April 13-17, 1928.

The 1928 National Convention of the Socialist Party was held at Finnish Socialist Hall, located at 2056 -- 5th Ave. (corner of 127th St.), New York City. This was the third national convention of the SPA held at this location, following the 1920 and 1923 gatherings. (The upper floor of this building was destroyed in a fire in 1930).

[fn. Wilno Hedman, "Finnish Branch Celebrates 30th Year," The New Leader, April 29, 1933, pg. 6.]

The convention unanimously nominated Norman Thomas as its candidate for President of the United States and James Maurer its candidate for Vice President.

The body approved changes to the party constitution, including one that removed reference to the words "class struggle" from the membership application, another which set party dues at $1 per year unless state organizations fixed them otherwise, and a third which returned the party to a schedule of holding regular national conventions only during presidential campaign years. These changes were sent to the membership of the party by referendum and were approved.

A mimeographed report of the convention proceedings was published.

 


The Faction Fight of the 1930s -- "Militants" and "Progressives" vs. "Old Guard"

Beginning in 1930, a long-running faction fight began to develop in the Socialist Party, pitting relative newcomers to the party, anxious to achieve "Socialism in Our Time," against the organization's aging veteran cadres. In the words of historian Bernard Johnpoll, this was "more a struggle between generations than between ideologies. The ideological content of the struggle did not develop until the disagreement was almost two years old..." Basic differences between the two groupings were more over the question of tactics than principles, with the Militants seeking organized Socialist caucuses in the ranks of the trade union movement while the Old Guard adamently defended the historic separation between the political and economic arms of the workers' movement.

The Militants sought to make a primary appeal to the intelligentsia and middle classes, believing that the working class would tend to follow the lead of the more educated citizenry, while the Old Guard held a more traditional perspective basing itself on the primacy of the working class. As Johnpoll notes, "the adherents of the Old Guard were, if anything, more Marxist than the militants." The perspective on the Soviet Union further divided the two factions, with the Militants tending to be more supportive of the Soviet Union during this violent period of Mass Collectivization and the First Five Year Plan than were the more democratically-oriented Old Guard.

On another level, the fight between Militants and Old Guard was a battle of personalities, pitting Norman Thomas (doyen of the Militants) against Morris Hillquit and his cohort of party leaders who cut their political eye-teeth during the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Neither of these factions were monolithic or particularly well organized, differing within themselves on matters of theory and practice. As Johnpoll notes, some of the Militants wanted the SP to move away from Marxist rhetoric and to appeal to the American people as exploited consumers rather than producers, while others within the faction wanted to turn the organization into a more revolutionary Marxist organization. In Johnpoll's estimation, the ideological split between the two main SP factions of the 1930s was one between "aggressive Social Gospel progressivism" (Militants) vs. "lethargic Marxism" (Old Guard).

[fn. Bernard Johnpoll: Pacifist's Progress: Norman Thomas and the Decline of American Socialism. (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1970), pp. 77-86.]

Historian David Shannon depicts the division within the Socialist Party as a three-way split, with the anti-Old Guard faction split between a boisterous but numerically small Marxist "Militant" group and a group of "radical non-Marxists" which he categorizes as the "Progressives." As with Johnpoll, Shannon sees the Old Guard as a group of superannuated evolutionary Marxists, containing both "men of great ability" such as Hillquit, Lee, and Oneal, and others who "occupied positions of importance for which only their length of party service qualified them." The Old Guard was strongest in the states of Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, Shannon noted, adding that it additionally controlled most of the state committees and offices.

[fn. David A. Shannon: The Socialist Party of America: A History. (New York: Macmillan, 1955), pg. 211.]


16. So-called "17th National Convention" -- Milwaukee, WI -- May 21 - 24, 1932.

Some 223 delegates were elected to the 17th National Convention of the Socialist Party of America, held at the Municipal Auditorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sixty-seven alternates were also chosen, as well as fraternal delegates from the Czechoslovak, Finnish, Italian, Jewish, Yugoslav (Slovenian), Lithuanian, and Polish Language Federations of the party. The published list of elected delegates and alternates appears here.

The gathering was preceded by a plenum of the National Executive Committee on May 19 at the New Randolph Hotel in Milwaukee. The next day featured an "Organizational Conference" of the NEC, also held at the New Randolph Hotel, a gathering which was addressed by Julius Gerber of New York, William W. Busick of Los Angeles, and Leo Krzycki of Milwaukee on the "Problems of Organization in Large Cities." The afternoon session was dedicated to "Small Town and Rural Problems," featuring reports by Jasper McLevy of Bridgeport, CT; David George of Hopewell, VA; and Amicus Most of Charleston, WV.

The formal convention started on Saturday, May 21, with National Secretary Clarence Senior chairing the session and Mayor Daniel W. Hoan of Milwaukee speaking to welcome the delegates. A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published.


Meeting of the NEC --- Baltimore, MD --- Dec. 9-11, 1932.

 

17. "18th National Convention" -- Detroit, MI -- June 1- 3, 1934.

A typeset report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published. The convention decided to revise the party's constitution to provide that national conventions be held every two years.

The 1934 Convention, after bitter debate, approved a new Declaration of Principles that was in tune with the line advocated by the Revolutionary Policy Committee. The party's Old Guard, concentrated in the New York State organization and the Jewish and Finnish language federations, fought a bitter campaign to have this declaration defeated by the party in a referendum vote. The Declaration ultimately passed by a vote of 5,995 to 4,872, with 10,087 members not voting. In response to this, the entire Socialist Party of Oregon found it necessary to disaffiliate with the national SP to avoid being embroiled in the state's "Criminal Syndicalism" law, and the Old Guard began preparations for a final split of the organization.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Boston, MA --- date, late 1934?

The New York situation came before the NEC at its meeting in Boston, apparently late in 1934.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Buffalo, NY --- March 23-24, 1935.

The March 23, 1935 meeting of the National Executive Committee at Buffalo, New York was one of the seminal events in that body's history. The gathering faced three major issues for decision: (1) Receipt of a report exploring the possibility of establishing a new farmer-labor party; (2) Action on the report of the special committee appointed to investigate the Revolutionary Policy Committee; and (3) Consideration of the motion introduced by mail by NEC member Albert Sprague Coolidge of Massachusetts demanding that the New York State organization show cause why its charter should not be revoked.

The case for the revocation of the charter of Local New York was presented by Jack Altman, who charged the New York State Committee had refused to abide by a provision of the national party constitution providing for the automatic admission of members of the Young People's Socialist League upon completion of two years tenure. Instead, the New York branch of the YPSL had been locked out of its office by Local New York due to its refusal to support The New Leader, the factional organ of the Old Guard. Local New York challenged the right of the NEC to command its presence, instead sending Algernon Lee and Julius Gerber as "observers."

The NEC issued a resolution reaffirming the "ineligibility of advocates of violence and communism" to party membership but demanding that state and national constitutions be rigidly enforced. The New York State Committee was instructed to rescind its resolution forbidding locals from accepting members of the YPSL to membership as contrary to the national constitution. The YPSL was instructed to be reinstated on the basis that it should be subject to the decisions of Local New York, while at the same time not being "required to support any Socialist paprer that engages in recognized factional warfare." The New Leader was instructed to restore its previous constitution, to "cease to be a factional organ," and to make its Association and Board of Directors "representative of the entire party membership in New York."

Failure of any of these groups to "substantially comply" with these instructions would incur a "special meeting of the NEC at the earliest possible practicable date." Six weeks were given for compliance.

[fn. "Socialist Leaders Map 30 Hr. Drive; War on Sales Tax," The Socialist Call, v. 1, no. 2 (March 30, 1935), pp. 2, 6.]

 

Meeting of the NEC --- New York, NY --- July 13-15, 1935.

A mass meeting of party members and Young Socialists, with admission by party card only, was to launch the July session of the NEC in New York City. The mass meeting was to take place at Irving Plaza and 15th Street, with the full NEC to be in attendance.

 

Meeting of the NEC --- Philadelphia, PA --- January 4-5, 1936.

A two day meeting of the NEC in Philadelphia early in 1936 resolved the festering situation in New York State, when by a vote of 8-2 the NEC resolved to pull the charter from the Socalist Party of New York and to reorganize the state.

The New York Old Guard-dominated State Committee, headed by Louis Waldman, refused to attend the Philadelphia session of the NEC, claiming that adequate notice had not been served, an argument made in person by NEC member James Oneal. This allegation was dismissed, however, under the claim that the New York situation had been under constant discussion by the NEC for several months previously and that the situation in the state (in which a reorganizational purge had been declared by the Old Guard State Committee) constituted a party emergency.

The NEC was torn between a variety of proposals attempting to resolve the situation in New York: on the one hand, a proposal by NEC member Devere Allen for recognition outright of a new State Executive Committee named at an Emergency State Convention held at Utica on Dec. 28-29, 1935, dominated by the Militant Faction. At the other end of the spectrum, a vague proposal for "mediation" of the Old Guard and Militant Factions, chaired by a member of the NEC -- an idea floated by Old Guard ally James Graham of Montana. The compromise idea, which one the day, proposed by Darlington Hoopes, called for the termination of the New York State Committee's charter and the naming of a temporary temporary State Committee -- a 21 member body which indluded only 3 members of the Militant faction, thee work of which was to be overseen by an NEC subcommittee of 3. After several hours of heated debate this "compromise" idea won the day on Sunday, January 5, when Allen withdrew his motion in the name of party unity. The Hoopes resolution passed by a vote of 8-2.

Upon the vote on revoking the New York charter, Old Guard leader James Oneal read a previously prepared statement of protest to the gathering and walked out of the session. His comrade in the minority, James Graham of Montana, apparently remained in attendance. All sessions were held in front of a crowd of nearly 300 party members from all parts of the country.

 

18. "19th National Convention" -- Cleveland, OH -- May 23 - 26, 1936.

The 19th Convention of the Socialist Party, attended by 250 delegates from around the country, nominated Norman Thomas for President and George A. Nelson of Wisconsin for Vice President. It also adopted a platform and took action on a range of issues facing the party.

Old Guard leader James Oneal, ruled ineligible to function as a member as a member of the NEC due to the lapsing of his party status when he failed to re-register in the New York state organization reorganized under the direction of the NEC, was allowed to present a 2 hour minority report to the convention, punctuated by the demands of 44 New York Old Guardinsts who demanded a place in the convention hall. On the motion of Norman Thomas, they were seated on the platform. When Oneal was finished, Thomas associate Devere Allen spoke on behalf of the majority of the NEC, followed by Louis Waldman, top leader of the Old Guard, who addressed the convention for an hour. Waldman defended himself against charges of violating party discipline, defended his right to use the capitalist press to present his point of view in attacking the national organization of the SPA, and denied having any affection for populist New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Waldman was followed by Norman Thomas, who demanded to know whether Waldman was planning on supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt or not and answering Waldman's attack on the SPA's 1934 Declaration of Principles.

Several hours of often heated discussion ensued, with some members of the Pennsylvania delegation coming to the defense of the New York Old Guard. Mayor Dan Hoan of Milwaukee attacked the Old Guard, condemning their refusal to compromise and denouncing them for disregarding the democratic decisions of the party. Hoan proposed a compromise of seating 12 New York delegates to 32 for the Progressive/Mililtant bloc, provided that the minority would recognize the authority of the New York state party organization -- a percentage reflective of the results in the 1936 primary election at which the delegates were elected. The Old Guardists refused to compromise or reply.

A new National Executive Committee was elected to a two year term. This included 8 former members -- Norman Thomas, Daniel W. Hoan, Darlington Hoopes, Devere Allen, Franz Daniels, Maynard Krueger, Albert Sprague Coolidge, and Powers Hapgood. Joining them were three new members: Max Raskin of Milwaukie, George Rhodes of Reading, PA, and Max Delson of New York.

The delegates declared The Socialist Call, New York paper supported by Norman Thomas' progressives and the Militants with whom they were allied, the offricial 1936 campaign organ, supplanting The New Leader, organ of the Old Guard.

A resolution was passed explicitly stating that "the state organization shall have full authority over admission and expulsion of members, being responsible, however, to the National Executive Committee and the national convention."

By a vote of 109 to 64, the convention expressed the willingness of the Socialist Party to support a genuine Farmer-Labor party.

By a vote of 89 to 54, a resolution rejecting a political united front with communists was adopted for discussion, while permitting joint actions within labor groups and with Communists on specific issues. The entire united front matter was referred to the party in a referendum to be submitted on December 1, 1936.

An appeal by the CPUSA for a united Presidential ticket was unanimously defeated.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published.

[fn. "Thomas Heads Ticket," The Socialist Call, vol. 2, no. 63 (May 30, 1936), pp. 1, 3. "National Convention Ends Party Conflict," The Socialist Call, vol. 2, no. 63 (May 30, 1936), pg. 6.]

 

19. "Special National Convention" -- Chicago, IL -- March 26 - 29, 1937.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published. This was an emergency gathering held only 10 months after the close of the regular 19th Convention of the party. The gathering was ostensibly called to reorganize the structure of the party, replacing the historic loose federation of state organizations with a stronger role for the national office and a national party press. The convention unanimously voted to ban all factional inner-party publications in an effort to stave the rampant factional warfare that was cannibalizing the organization.

A preliminary conference under the direction of the National Unemployment Committee was held in Chicago on the preceeding day, Thursday, March 25, 1936. That evening a mass meeting was held at the Exhibition hall of the LaSalle Hotel (site of the convention), addressed by Norman Thomas, Mayor Dan Hoan of Milwaukee, Devere Allen, Victor Reuther, and Howard Kester.

The first day of the session heard a report of new Executive Secretary of the SPA, Roy E. Burt, who replaced Clarence O. Senior effective December 15, 1936. The afternoon session dealt with the party's work in "Mass Organizations, Labor Unions, and Unemployed," which heard reports from party Labor Secretary Frank N. Trager, NEC members Franz Daniel and Powers Hapgood, Minnesota Teamster Vincent Dunne, and David Lassner, head of the party's work with the unemployed.

The evening session was a discussion of Farmers organization, with reports from Chester Graham and H.L. Mitchell and discussion from the floor.

On March 27, the 2nd day of the convention, the morning session was occupied with discussion on a Labor Party, with reports by Max Raskin, Alice Hanson, Albert Goldman, and Norman Thomas, and floor discussion.

The afternoon session was on the United Front and People's Front questions, with reports by Harry Laidler, Andrew Biemiller, Glen Trimble, and Herbert Zam, and floor discussion.

The evening session was on Anti-War and Anti-Fascist Activity, featuring reports by Gus Tyuler, Devere Allen, and Paul Porter, followed by floor discussion.

On March 28, the 3rd day of the convention, the morning session was occupied with the meeting of the Resolutions Committee and "Miscellaneous Business."

The afternoon session dealt with Party Structure and Constution, with reports by Roy e. Burt and Arthur G. MacDowell, and discussion from the floor. The evening session began committee reports, which along with "Convention business" also occupied the final day's sessions, held on Monday, March 29.

[fn. "National Convention Convenes March 26," The Socialist Call, vol. 3, whole no. 105 (March 20, 1937), pg. 3.]

 

Several different perspectives on the results of the 1937 Special Convention were published in the party's theoretical monthly, including articles by Samuel Romer and Hal Siegel, by Max Shachtman, and by Gus Tyler, representing three of the primary party factions. A dissident delegate's view was published by Frederic Heath in The New Leader, organ of the rival Social Democratic Federation.

 
 

The Socialist Party hiked dues rates effective June 1, 1936, to 15 cents per member per month for employed members, half that for couples with only one family income. Unemployed members were to pay 5 cents per month. In addition, an additional special assessement was levied beginning the same time, of another 15 cents per month -- 10 cents of which was to go to the Socialist Call and the American Socialist Quarterly to help defray their expenses, and 5 cents of which was to go to the national office.

These hikes were approved by the NEC of the party at their Philadelphia meeting.

Despite the special assesssment, The Call and the ASQ remained available by subscription only, not as a free membership benefit.

[fn. "Dues System," The Socialist Call, May 29, 1937, pg. 10.]
 

The NEC then ordered a re-registration of all party members, to take place from June 1 to July 15, 1937, during which time the 15 cent special assessment was to be held in abeyance.

The NEC declared:

"The major reasons for holding up the application of the special assessment are as follows: there is a genuine need now for rallying all the forces of the party back of the five-point program:

"If the re-registration is carried on with vigor and determination it ouoght to restore to active membership a large number of inactive comrades and greatly increase the number of dues paying members... * * *

"This re-registration is not to be considered a re-application for party membership, but merely a census of the party to ascertain party resources so that these recources may be put to effective use. Registration itself, though important, is not the end, it is registration for participation in a program of action."

[fn. "With the Party," The Socialist Call, June 5, 1937, pg. 10.]


 

20. "21st National Convention" -- Kenosha, WI -- April 21 - 23, 1938.

The 1938 Convention was held on April 21-23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with a meeting of the NEC taking place beforehand on April 20.

The gatherating reiterated the organization's stance in favor of revolutionary action against war.

Dan Hoan, Mayor of Milwaukee, was in the chair, Devere Allen of Connecticut reported for the Resolutions Committee, and Joseph M. Coldwell of Rhode Island delivered a speech to the gathering relating the story of the imprisonment of Gene Debs.

The convention voted to initiate a campaign for 5,000 new party members and voted to establish training schools in various parts of the country.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published.

 

21. "1940 National Convention" -- Washington, DC -- April 4 - 6, 1940.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published. No convention journal was issued, unlike previous events.

 

22. "1942 National Convention" -- Milwaukee, WI -- May 30 - June 1, 1942.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published.

 

23. "1944 National Convention" -- Reading, PA -- June 2 - 4, 1944.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published.

 

24. "1946 National Convention" -- Chicago, IL -- May 31 - June 2, 1946.

A mimeographed report of the convention minutes and resolutions was published.

 





Note: The URL for this page is http://www.marxisthistory.org/subject/usa/eam/socialistparty.html
Author: Tim Davenport. Title: "Socialist Party (1897-1946): Party History." Site: Early American Marxism website. Last updated: Feb. 20, 2014.