The Workers' Council of the United States was a short-lived independent organization which emerged from the Socialist Party of America after its 1921 National Convention held at Detroit. The group was comprised of the members of the SP faction known as "The Committee for the Third International," which included prominently among its members J. Louis Engdahl, former editor of The American Socialist, and William F. Kruse, former head of the SP's youth section. Also forming a part of this small group were a host of individuals who played a significant role in the Jewish Socialist Federation, including Alexander Trachtenberg, Benjamin Glassberg, Moissaye J. Olgin, and J.B. Salutsky.
The Workers' Council of the United States published ten issues of a biweekly newspaper called The Workers' Council, and at least one pamphlet, entitled Go to the Masses! J. Louis Engdahl was the Secretary of the organization, which maintained an office located at 80 E 11th Street in New York City.
The Workers' Council was one of the organizations signing the call for the formation of a legal Workers Party of America in November of 1921 and dissolved itself into that new organization at its December 1921 founding convention.
"The Workers' Council: An Organ for the Third International," by Benjamin Glassberg [April 1, 1921] Unsigned lead editorial announcing the formation of a new publication aiming to "become the expression of revolutionary Socialism" and to carry agitation for the Third International "into working class circles that have never been reached before." The Workers' Council was clearly intended as a publication rather than as a political organization, and was closely linked to the Left Wing still inside the Socialist Party. Secretary of the Editorial Board was Benjamin Glassberg, and Secretary of the publishing association which produced the journal was Walter M. Cook -- a person depicted as a sort of Party Regular alter-ego of Julius Gerber and Adolph Germer in the pages of Theodore Draper's history of the early Communist American Communist movement. Mounting frustration with the Socialist Party is clear, the organization being characterized as "vacillating between the Second and the Third International, standing upon a platform of ineffectual reforms and parliamentarism of the kind that have, since the war, been discarded by every European socialist party outside of the Second International" and thus "not today the instrument of revolutionary working class education and action."
"Proceedings of the SP National Convention at Detroit: Nationalistic Spirit Rules. Delegates Repudiate Affiliation with 3rd International. Left Wing Hopelessly Weak. 'Milwaukee Socialism' in Complete Control," by Thurber Lewis [events of June 25-29, 1921] An extensive first-hand account of the 1921 Socialist Party convention in Detroit, at which the SPA stepped away definitively from any possible affiliation with the Third International. Since no stenogram exists for this gathering , Lewis' account has the effect of filling in blank spots in our information. One scene related by Lewis is particularly dramatic: on the last day of the gathering, some 100 nationalists from the "Disabled Veterans of the World War" marched into the high school auditorium where the convention was being held. There were only 39 regular and 11 fraternal delegates to the convention -- they were thus outnumbered by 2:1. Their spokesman, a man named Horr from Seattle, attempted intimidation, as Lewis recounts: "He said that the news had reached them that there was evidence of disloyalty at the convention. He 'hoped to God the reports were untrue.' But if it were true that someone said the red flag of Internationalism was the only flag (Engdahl), if there were those here who advocated force, he went on in a passion, let them come outside. Of course, no one arose to comply. He then warned the convention that 'force would be met with force.'" Lewis expresses grudging admiration for the brave response by the Socialists' chairman of the day, Cameron King of California, who told the veterans: "As Americans we demand the right of free speech, free press, and free assemblage. You have suffered, it is true, but we, too have suffered," he went on. "If we had had our way, you would not have had to suffer." Lewis comments that "The Vets were of course whipped, and they showed it as they meekly filed out," although he cattily remarks that the Right Wing veterans had been "applauded by the delegation, coming in and going out."
"Berger's Convention," by John Keracher [events of June 25-29, 1921] This is an interesting perspective of the 1921 Detroit Convention of the Socialist Party of America, written by the leader of the Proletarian Party of America (based in Detroit) and published in that organization's official organ. Keracher sees the 1921 SPA Convention as a triumph of "Bergerism," with the new SPA "Left Wing" based around the publication The Workers Council and the Chicago party organization tiny, isolated, and decisively defeated. "These delegates had practically no support, a fact that was quickly taken advantage of by Berger, who made them the target for his shafts of wit," Keracher notes, adding that the most controversial matter -- the question of international affiliation -- readily disposed of on the first day of the proceedings, with association with the 3rd and 2-1/2 Internationals defeated handily and a decision not to affiliate with any international body passed by a vote of 31 to 8. Berger mockingly referred to the Left Wing as "Chicago Communists," Keracher notes, adding that he talked down to Left Wing leader William Kruse "like a daddy talking to a wayward boy, hoping that he would bye and bye grow into a great big man." Keracher also emphasizes the debate over the question of the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," with the Left Wing's endorsement of the concept of a "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" in the transition period from Capitalism to Communism defeated by a big majority. Thus "these 'pure democrats' who expelled only 60 percent of their membership expressed themselves as 'opposed to the rule of any Minority,'" Keracher snidely observes. A further split of the SPA Left Wing in the near future is anticipated by Keracher.
"'Farewell!' to the Socialist Party: An Appeal to Its Remaining Members: Statement by the Committee for the Third International of the Socialist Party to the Members of the Socialist Party." [Circa July 1921]. The Committee for the Third International was the organized faction for Left Wing realignment of the Socialist Party of America in 1920-21, after the departure of the great bulk of the Left Wing Section for the Communist Party of America, Communist Labor Party of America, and Proletarian Party of America. Headed by Secretary J. Louis Engdahl and including such future Communist leadership cadres as William F. Kruse, Benjamin Glassberg, Alexander Trachtenberg, J.B. Salutsky, and Moissaye Olgin, the Committee for the Third International formally left the SPA with this statement, published as a pamphlet in the aftermath of the June 25-29, 1921 Convention of the party. "A new home for constructive revolutionary Socialism must be built. Another political party of the working class must be established with the passing of the Socialist Party," the farewell statement declared. In the interim, a formal organization called The Workers' Council was established -- a group which merged with the American Labor Alliance and elements of the majority underground CPA to form the Workers Party of America in December 1921.
"'In Re: Workers Council.': Report of a Meeting Held in New York, Oct. 8, 1921," by Department of Justice Undercover Agent "P-134" This is an unusual document, the report of an undercover agent of the Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation of an open meeting of the Workers' Council group in New York City. Agent "P-134" quotes Secretary of the Workers' Council J. Louis Engdahl as saying that "he is a Communist, and that the Workers Council is organizing for the purpose of establishing Socialist Soviet Republic in the US." He quotes Engdahl as saying that the primary mission of the group is to "help all the revolutionary classes unite into a true revolutionary Socialist organization." The meeting was also addressed by Benjamin Glassberg, Rose Weiss, Comrade Ligoria of the Italian movement, Alexander Trachtenberg, I. Cohen of the Independent YPSL, and Ludwig Lore of the Newyorker Volkszeitung. Agent "P-134" quotes Lore as admitting his membership in the Communist Party of America and declaring that "the American working class will not take any orders from a clique, namely, the [CEC] of the Communist Party of America, which is termed illegal and underground." Lore seems to have taken a similar independent position towards the Executive Committee of the Comintern, saying that regardless of "whether the 3rd International says that Workers Council is proper or not, they will go before the masses openly and preach Communism and the establishment of a Soviet Republic in the United States." Agent "P-134" states that Lore "also said the Workers Council will organize the class conscious revolutionary forces of this country regardless of what the orders from Moscow may be, and carry on their educational campaign organizing mass open organizations, whether it be legal or not..."
"Socialist Party Declared Dead: Ex-Members Dine, Chant Requiem for Organization in Various Keys." (NY Call) [event of Oct. 8, 1921] This short news report in the New York Call notes the formation of the Workers Council organization by anti-Socialist Party members of the Jewish Socialist Federation and the newly departed SP Left Wingers of the Committee for the Third International. This article chronicles a dinner held in New York City and addressed by J.L. Engdahl, Benjamin Glassberg, J.B. Salutsky, Rose Weiss, Alexander Trachtenberg, L. DeGregoria, Isadore Cohen, and Ludwig P. Lore. The purge of Communists at the Rand School of Social Science seems to have been a contributing factor to the formation of the Workers Council organization, with both Glassberg and Trachtenberg alluding to the event, the latter of whom said: "I have tried to continue on in the Socialist Party. A few weeks ago I found that it was impossible to stay in. Now is the time to build up a class-conscious, revolutionary party that will stay our in the open." Keynote speaker was Lore, who told the attendees ""We need the Communist Party. We need frank discussion and education for the masses. This is the movement which will give us what we want and need."
"The Open Communist Party -- The Task of the Hour," unsigned appeal by The Workers' Council. [Oct. 15, 1921] While there was stiff opposition to liquidation of the underground party inside the unified CPA itself, there was a countervailing tendency standing outside of the ranks of the party pushing in exactly the opposite direction -- for the elimination of the underground apparatus and for commitment to a fully legalized communist movement. This tendency's organizational expression was "The Workers' Council" -- formerly the "Committee for the Third International of the Socialist Party," which departed that organization after the June 1921 Detroit Convention of the SPA. This appeal of the Workers' Council states that the "infantile radicalism" of the newborn communist movement was contemptuous of mass movements and "called for small, intensely class-conscious organizations that should take upon themselves the leadership in the approaching struggle against world capitalism." This perspective had been denounced by Lenin and was refuted by the Comintern at its recently concluded Third Congress. Instead, the Comintern now called for participation in the actually existing conservative unions and "openly condemns the agitation for armed insurrection and open rebellion in countries where the revolution is still in the distant future and insists that the communist movement, in every country, must proceed at once to the creation of an open, aboveboard mass movement." The secret movement had been intellectually stultifying for the American party, the Workers' Council declared, and its secrets were no secret to authorities, who had inevitably made use of espionage to penetrate the underground organization. The underground form had become an end in itself. It was a form unable to adapt to crisis and dominated by a handful of romanticist underground leaders. Instead, the Workers' Council called for an open organization, a form able to do effective work. "There could be no better time. Raise your voices, Comrades. Come out of your cellars into the open. Go to your brothers in the mills, the mines, and the factories, and talk to them openly, fearlessly."
"We Want an Open Communist Party." Unsigned appeal by The Workers' Council. [Nov. 15, 1921] This unsigned statement from the pages of The Workers' Council is a pointed attack on the plan of some inside the underground CPA to maintain a parallel secret organization in conjunction with the open Communist Party designed "to act in the capacity of a controlling organ, directing the activities of the public party, representing it internationally, determining its tactics and its principles.They insist on a system of parallel underground groups whose membership shall, in all important questions, act as a determined unit in the open organization." This amounts to perpetuation of the fundamental error, the WC statement contends, since "the underground form of organization places a premium on mediocrity. That part of the membership that has the destinies of the movement most at heart, and feels its individual responsibility most keenly, that can think for itself and see the mistakes that are being made, must struggle against almost impossible odds to make itself heard and to make its influence felt." At the same time, "Executive offices will be filled with men and women who will take dictation, who can be relied upon to carry out every order that is handed down to them." The purity of a sect is what is sought by the advocates of a directing underground structure. "But there is ever present the danger that discipline becomes tyranny." Examples of the imposition of party discipline for dubious objectives are cited for the German and American Socialist movements. This excessive discipline is dangerous and needless, the Workers' Council statement argues, since "the movement whose membership understands so little of its ideals and purposes as to need the watchful eye of a secret caucus, is a menace to the world revolution and should be abandoned."
"The Communists Answer," by Jay Lovestone [Nov. 26, 1921] Member of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of America Jay Lovestone (writing as "R.B. Nelson") vigorously replies to charges levied by the Workers' Council group that the CPA went underground of its own volition, due to the "revolutionary romanticism" of many of its leading members -- a decision which lead to a separation from the masses of American labor and to the fostering of a false sense of security. Lovestone replies that the decision to go underground was in no way a choice: "While the 'above-boarders' of the Workers' Council were striving to win over the traitorous Socialist Party to a 'real, revolutionary international' (whatever that could have meant after 40,000 to 60,000 suspected of being Communists were expelled), the American Communists were openly fighting as Communists and were being jailed for scores of years of penal servitude." It was through the arrest and jailing of thousands in Dec. 1919 and Jan. 1920 that finally the communists "were driven to cover for protection and worked underground in order to save their organization," Lovestone declares, adding that "Since then the communists have tried their best to work in the open." The underground form of organization was not an end in and of itself, Lovestone states, noting that the Comintern itself declared for the need of parallel legal and illegal organizations in each country. The Comintern had never supported sectarian and "splendid-isolationist" policies, Lovestone declares and he states his belief that the inconsistent positions of the Workers' Council group "shows clearly that our Left Wing Socialist comrades were not in the past and are not even today ready to accept fully the principles and tactics of the Third International."