Many readers of the Newsstand will recognize the name S.J. Rutgers, who was a regular writer for the venerable International Socialist Review, as well as New Review and Class Struggle with pioneering essays arguing for a new, third, international and a revolutionary response to the imperialist cataclysm of World War One. Here is a brief biography of a comrade who has remained too much of a mystery. Following the article is a collection of links to comrade Rutgers column for ISR, ‘The Left-Wing.’
Meet Sebald Justinus (S.J.) Rutgers, Unsung Founder of U.S. Communism by Revolution’s Newsstand.
Comrade Sebald Justinus (S.J.) Rutgers was born on January 25, 1879 in Leiden, Netherlands and would become a prominent figure in ‘Dutch Marxism’ and the movement for a Third International. Raised in a progressive middle class Dutch family, his father was a doctor, Jan Rutgers. After his studies, in hydraulic engineering of all things, Sebald worked on the port of Rotterdam. 1899, comrade Rutgers joined the Social Democratic Party of the Netherlands an in 1911 he moved to the colonial Dutch East Indies to direct its road department. This committed, and left-wing socialist was absorbing these experiences, as he was the works of Marxism. Something of an Engels character, he lived the double live of a respected international engineer for giant capitalist concerns, and an utterly committed, generous, anti-imperialist and partisan of the proletarian and its emancipation.
Moving to New York in 1915 as a Dutch-Indian Railway representative, his first stope as travelled across the country was to visit Mary E. Marcy in Chicago, who he had long admired from her writings. There he also met the editors and milieu of International Socialist Review. Immediately hitting it off, Rutgers began his relationship with ISR writing dozens of erudite and impassioned articles on the war, as well as for Louis B. Boudin’s and Louis Fraina’s ‘New Review.’ These articles would help define the revolutionary, internationalist Left Wing just then coalescing in the Socialist Party of America. They are deserving of a place of study in the history of the U.S. and international workers movement.
Comrade Rutgers was an early member of the Socialist Propaganda League of America, helping to finance its work and publications and histing regular Sunday meetings at his modest Manhattan Beach home. He would come to share his home with Sen Katayama, who he had met in Japan, with his daughter, then eluding possible extradition. Rutger’s work and international connections reached the Zimmerwald Movement and its Left, and places him in its vanguard. In 1915 he wrote, with a circle of S.P.L.A. comrades, including a Latvian émigré F. Rozin, “Appeal to the Members of the Socialist Party”, arguing for the creation of a new International. Through Rozin’s connections, this appeal shortly made its way to Lenin in Switzerland, who quickly returned his enthusiastic agreement along with acute observation on the U.S. political scene:
“We are very happy to receive your flyer. Your appeal to the members of the Socialist Party to fight for a new International, for genuine revolutionary socialism taught by Marx and Engels, against opportunism, especially against those who stand for the participation of the working class in a defensive war, fully corresponds to the position that our party ( The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the Central Committee) occupied from the very beginning of this war and which it has always occupied for more than 10 years.
“We send you our most sincere greetings and best wishes for success in our struggle for true internationalism…
“We agree with you that we must be against trade unions and for industrial unions, that is, for large, centralized trade unions and for the most active participation of all Party members in the economic struggle and in all trade union and cooperative organizations of the working class…
“We wholeheartedly sympathize with you when, in a political action, you demand a “mass action” of the workers…
“We fully agree with your criticism of the old International…
“In conclusion, I once again repeat the best greetings and wishes to your League. We would be very glad to continue to receive information from you and unite our struggle against opportunism for true internationalism. Yours, N. Lenin.”
Thus began the relationship between Lenin and the U.S. left. The following year, his emissary Alexandra Kollontai would arrive on an internationalist mission crossing the country in its service.
On January 6, 1917, the first issue of the S.P.L.A.s anticipated weekly paper, ‘The Internationalist, debuted. Produced in Boston where S.P.L.A. leader C.W. Fitzgerald lived. Rutger’s penned to the paper’s ‘Manifesto.’ In a few months the paper would move to New York City and in now legendary January 14, 1917 meeting at Ludwig Lore’s Brooklyn apartment with Rutgers, Boudin, Louis Fraina, Sen Katayama, Leon Trotsky, Nicholai Bukharin, Kollontai, Volodarskii and Chudnovski gathered to discuss a new press, with ‘The Internationalist’ becoming ‘New International’ and the birth of ‘Class Struggle,’ a magazine destined to lead the revolutionary charge the following years.
A close relationship with the Russian paper ‘Novy Mir’ made the S.P.L.A. comrades the most knowledgeable of U.S. leftist on the unfolding Russian Revolution. Given that it is no surprise that the brilliant Louis C. Fraina was able to speak with the authority he did. After the 1917 Revolution, and the deportation mania, Rutger’s safety in the U.S. was increasingly at risk. With his extensive construction and engineering contacts in the East, he hoped to utilize those weak links in the imperialist blockade on Soviet Russia to facilitate much needed investment and reconstruction. Rutgers arrived in Vladivostok in 1918 by way of Japan where he hoped to win Japanese Socialists to the new International.
Arriving during the Civil War, Rutgers made the precarious, and intense journey from Vladivostok to Moscow. There he met Lenin, his old correspondent, and joined the Communist Party (b), and acted as a delegate of the S.P.L.A. at the Comintern’s founding congress in March, 1919 (the only other U.S. delegate was a member of the S.L.P.).
Staying in Soviet Russia, he set about organizing the foreign delegation for the coming Second Comintern Congress and the Communist International’s Amsterdam Bureau, which he became Secretary. Working with William D. Haywood on the project, Rutgers supervised the construction of the Kuzbass international industrial cooperative beginning in 1922. He would be the primary inspiration and technical leader of the Kuzbass experience; he retained life-long contact with its veterans, Aikovites, and pride in what he saw as its accomplishments. This despite a number of accusations of ‘irregularities and corruptions. Throughout the 1920s, Rutgers put his engineering skills first learned at the behest of Dutch imperialism at the service of the new workers’ state supervising large construction projects. He also found time to edit and write for the English-language Soviet paper “Moscow News.”
Moving between his Holland birthplace, Vienna, Germany and Moscow for the next decade, he helped to organize the Dutch Communist Party and represented Soviet interest at a number of technical and political conferences. Rutgers returned to the Netherlands in 1938 for good where he continued his membership in the Party, though not as a leader.
Rutgers, his wife, and comrades and were involved in anti-fascist resistance during the Nazi occupation of Holland and arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. After the war, Rutgers lived out his life as a respected but not influential member of the Dutch Communist Party primarily involved in his engineering work and activity on behalf of the Soviet Union. Sebald Justinus Rutgers died on June 14, 1961.
Articles written for International Socialist Review
Down with American Militarism, July 1915
Far Eastern Imperialism: 1. Modern Imperialism, September 1915
Far Eastern Imperialism: 2. China, October 1915
Far Eastern Imperialism: 3. Japan, November 1915
Fighting for Peace, January 1916
Fighting for Peace, January 1916
Review of Socialism and War by Louis B. Boudin, February 1916
The Left Wing: 1. The Battle Cry of a New International, May 1916
The Left Wing: 2. Imperialism, June 1916
The Left Wing: 3. Economic Causes of Imperialism, July 1916
The Left Wing: 4. The Passing of the Old Democracy, August 1916
The Left Wing Socialists: 5. The Passing of the Old Democracy, October 1916
The Left Wing: 6. Mass Action and Mass Democracy, November 1916
The Railworkers’ “Victory”, November 1916
The Left Wing: 7. An Actual Beginning, December 1916
Mass Action in Russia, January 1917
The Future of International Socialism, March 1917
Letter From Karl Liebknecht, April 1917
Our Action Against Conscription, June 1917
Introduction to the History of Japanese Labor, July 1917
World Policies, September 1917
Boudin’s Policy in Peace and War, October 1917
Imperialism and the New Middle Class, December 1917