‘An Actual Beginning: The Socialist Propaganda League of America’ by S. J. Rutgers from International Socialist Review. Vol. 17 No. 6. December, 1916.

A milestone organization and document for the history of the revolutionary working class movement in the United States. S.J. Rutgers reports on the November, 1916 Boston meeting of the Socialist Propaganda League, founded the year before, and its manifesto. The S.P.L.A. won control of the Socialist Party’s Boston branch largely on the strength of its Lettish (Latvian) local. Its first secretary, C.W. Fitzgerald, began a correspondence with Lenin which would culminate in S.J. Rutgers being the U.S. delegate to the founding conference of the Communist International as a representative of the S.P.L.A. The League published New Internationalist and counted Nikolai Bukharin and Alexandra Kollantai as members when living in the U.S. Louis C. Fraina would take over editing of New International, with the S.P.L.A. becoming the gravity that helped to pull the Left Wing of the Socialist Party together in the aftermath of 1917’s Emergency Convention to address the war. What would become the Communist movement in 1919 was a direct organizational descendant of the S.P.L.A., a tendency born within the Socialist Party of America years before the Bolshevik revolution in response to specific U.S. dynamics in the larger context of the war and the International’s collapse.

‘An Actual Beginning: The Socialist Propaganda League of America’ by S. J. Rutgers from International Socialist Review. Vol. 17 No. 6. December, 1916.

While many of us were “talking it over,” a group of comrades in Boston performed a deed, made an actual beginning in trying to organize the Left Wing forces in the Socialist Party of America. Born in the actual fighting of a minority opposition in the State Convention of Massachusetts, the “Socialist Propaganda League” is a legal offspring of the Socialist Party.

Its first manifesto appeals to the members of the Socialist Party asking for revolutionary socialism instead of opportunism; democracy instead of bureaucracy, a firm stand for Industrial Unionism as being superior to Craft Unionism and endorsement of Political Action in its fullest sense instead of Parliamentarism for reforms and offices only.

S.J. Rutgers.

Furthermore, this manifesto appeals to all Socialists who stand for the uncompromising class struggle on the industrial, as well as on the political field, to unite and emphasize the fact that this unity should be made international in a new international organization “with authority on questions affecting workers in more than one nation,” under control of a world referendum.

It goes without saying that a special demand is made that the party members should take a firm stand against all militarism, including compulsory military service, as well as defensive wars.

It was inspiring to meet the Boston comrades who took the initiative for this “Socialist Propaganda League,” a bunch of class-conscious workers who, mostly through every-day facts and experiences of life, had come to realize the new forces of imperialism as it develops all over the world and who rightly responded by an act. Organizing means preparing for action, is a part of the action, and once started on a sound basis is bound to proceed. Local in its beginning, the Socialist Propaganda League has now decided to make a nation-wide appeal and to support their action and their organization by a weekly paper, “The Internationalist Weekly of the Left Wing.”

Comrades all over the United States

This is an effort to organize the workers of the New World to take their share in the immense world struggle between the capitalist and the working classes, of which the European war is only a most frightful but instructive episode. The Socialist Party in this country confronts a capitalist class unscrupulous in its methods, fully under control of financial monopolistic capital. In no other country of the world has “bourgeois democracy” been so abused to fool the workers, and the results of parliamentary action along the old lines nowhere have been poorer. There is not the least doubt but among the rank and file of the Socialist Party, as well as among thousands of former members and uncounted workers who have not joined it, there exists a hopeless feeling and a disgust with the inefficiency of present methods of fighting. They know that the working class has to fight and has to win, but they do not see how it can be done. Let them look the world over and notice that everywhere, even on the battlefields of Europe, new hope is arising.

Left Wing organizations are an international feature in the Socialist parties of all countries. They mean new life rising from old ruins. Do your share; join the Socialist Propaganda League; read the new weekly, together with THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST REVIEW, the monthly that has kept to the fighting line all the long years of its existence. Don’t say that the program in the Manifesto should be a little more this or a little more that. It is a living proposition that will grow and develop with the facts and with you—if you at least join and work for it with heart and soul.

Don’t worry about this not being the most formal way to reorganize a Socialist Party. We have already had far too much of formalities. The party members advocate new forms of action, new forms of organization, and the party will have to follow, no matter in what manner this majority expresses itself.

Freedom of speech and of criticism is the very fundamental democracy, and we have the right to form organized groups to criticise and if possible to reorganize the party in every land. To deny the full rights of criticism or to keep to dead formalities in a period of rebirth and readjustment will mean to disrupt the Socialist Party. We want a new adjustment of opinions and a new lining up. This is to the interest of new groups, which can only gain by clearing up the situation. But suppression of free speech has often been the tactics of old elements who fear that criticism will hasten their downfall. If those elements refuse a chance for reorganization, this will only illustrate their lack of vitality.

There now is a beginning of action, however small as yet. Some of you may not like it at this moment, others perhaps would have preferred it in some other form. Don’t bother about smaller details. Act; join; participate in discussions, in meetings, in demonstrations; give your backing, give your personality, and this will gradually develop into a strong group, an organized power capable not only to disorganize the government of the capitalist class, but to build up the organized “New World” of the workers. It is worth while to join and to try.

Send $1.00 to P.O. Box 23, Roxbury, Boston, Mass, for a yearly subscription to the new paper, The Internationalist Weekly, and join the League.

Manifesto of the Socialist Propaganda League of America

Adopted at a Meeting Held in the City of Boston, November 26, 1916.

It is manifest to every thinking class-conscious worker that the present terrific struggle for world power is waged by the capitalist classes to secure a greater share in the exploitation of labor. It is a matter of paramount importance that we, as Socialists, apprehend the basic conditions underlying the strife, and that we prepare to meet the consequences to the world’s workers that will issue from it. This address to American Socialists and the working class generally is directed to such an understanding.

The war opens a new era of great conflicts, impelled by the new form of absolutism — the rule of the monarchs of money and the subjugation of a more or less independent class of small capitalists. It means also a more aggressive policy towards labor. The proof of this appears in the United States, where the action of government in appropriating a larger portion of the public revenue to militaristic purposes than any other country, in a so-called time of peace, is accompanied by the massing of material capitals amounting to 8 billions of dollars in a single Board, to “fight labor.” War, with the American republic cooperating, thus becomes the highest form of exploitation by the capitalist class.

In the confusion arising from false issues of the capitalist class, put forward to mislead the workers, we must ever be on our guard against the crafty apologists of wrong posing as friends of labor. When we are told that we must produce more if we would get more, we know the advice is a bit of special pleading in the interest of those who live without producing. When we are told that we need compulsory arbitration or anti-strike laws, we know that such laws not only fail but are a denial of the working class right to develop all its powers to gain emancipation. When we are told that we must be patriots, which, when interpreted by the capitalist class, means readiness to serve in wars to kill our fellow men and defend the property interests of the owning class, as the President of the United States has said, we know that the proletariat is a propertyless class with no country to defend and no fatherland to fight for. This advice from the President — servant of big capital — is not less erroneous and is certainly more dangerous, when given under the name of Socialism, advocating a bourgeois citizens’ army or military defense of capitalist interests. We strongly denounce all brands of social patriots and social imperialists as opposed to the interests of the working class. Instead of nationalism we must do all in our power to promote the true internationalism of labor.

To the thoughtful observer it must be apparent that the elements of wealth production in our present society have outgrown the bourgeois forms of existing nations in which they are restricted. The centralization of production, as well as of capital and the monied interests, the close relation of big business and trusts with finance capital — all these developments put great capital not only at the head of industry and production, as the dominating power, but also in controlling influence over the political life and activities of the people. All groups and classes of the people in every so-called civilized nation are dependent upon the all powerful financial interests of each nation.

There is no difference in this respect between “darkest” Russia, with its autocratic form of government, and “enlightened” United States, with its “democratic” institutions that are distinguished by the denial of free speech and organization and shooting by militia and “company thugs,” for examples of which we do not forget Calumet and Ludlow.

Louis C. Fraina.

In the demoniac chase for markets where national capital may be invested, for the acquisition or retention of colonies and the expansion of spheres of influence, capitalist power divides the universe for exploitation among a few groups of nations, and these are bent on world-control, even at the cost of exterminating each other, as well as their smaller and dependent associates in crime. It is this higher phase of capitalist development — making futile the policies of free trade, free competition, and the hopes of social reformers — that compels the governments of the larger nations to provide military resources of increasing magnitude to fight for a leading position in the world scramble for supremacy. In this race for world leadership we see Germany and England, France and Italy, Austro-Hungary and Russia, the United States and Japan. The triumph of neither of them can be achieved without the destruction, immediate or impending, of them all.

The Dawn of a New Era.

Comrades and Fellow Workers: The time is passed when our national Socialist parties, bound by old forms and moved by old ideals, can proceed with its old propaganda within the confines of capitalist legality and morals, and expect within these limits to advance the cause of industrial democracy. We are at the dawn of a new era; the day is big with the content of social eruptions, economic and political strikes, revolutions. It is an era in which the class conflict approaches its climax. The struggle, in all its variations, develops and intensifies from the new policies of imperialism; that is, from the encroachments of the capitalist class using the mailed fist of political governments.

In the class war, all constitutional rights and prerogatives of the people are ignored or abolished and the capitalist class, abominating Liberty and supported by guns, meets the working class with the armed power of the capitalist state. When the workers seek shelter in constitutional guarantees and essay to use these rights for the betterment of their conditions, they too often find that rights and guarantees are mere “scraps of paper.” The capitalist class, with political governments and judicial courts conniving, will tolerate no interference with their class schemes for world domination.

Meanwhile the condition of the working class becomes steadily worse and the future less secure. With the cost of essential necessaries of life rising to higher and prohibitive levels, the average workman is in constant fear of hunger, and with sickness and disease ever haunting him, has now reached the stage of habitual privation.

Reaction and Revolutionary Ideals.

The years immediately behind us are marked by inaction in the Socialist Party. A true revolutionary spirit and action has never been less in evidence among the party leaders than during the period of the war. But before that calamity befell us we were subjected to a flood of reformistic phrase-mongering, muddling municipalism, boring trade unions from within, captivating the American Federation of Labor, cramming the capitalist moral code down the necks of revolutionists to get middle-class votes, instead of staying on our own job with a consistent propaganda for revolutionary ideals. The four years of reformistic preaching and preparation for chronicling the rise of “socialist” votes to millions in 1916 have proven abortive, while almost none of the rosy predictions of political leaders have materialized. Still, with a strange fatuity, they cling to old forms and discredited methods, blind to the fact: First, That the organization we have is not adapted to develop political power and the principal function of the Socialist movement is to participate in the class struggle in such a way that the workers are educated to realize that their industrial power must back up a political or general class fight, in which the masses are to gain such a degree of organization and understanding that they can disorganize the political supremacy of capitalism and substitute the organization of the working class, by the exercise of their own influence on uncompromising Socialist principles. Is it not high time for a thorough reorganization of the party?

Our Socialist parties still fix their hopes on winning seats in congresses and parliaments, although the real and fixed location of government has been transferred to money exchanges and banking institutions of the money kings. Sacrificing principles of international brotherhood, they are fighting in wars not for the solidarity and independence of the workers of all nations, but for the aggrandizement of their respective national capitals. Failing to give support to the mass action of the workers in the industrial field, as evinced at Lawrence, McKees Rocks, the Mesaba Range, and elsewhere in the United States, and similarly in Germany, England, and Belgium, the reformers have also failed by constant appeals to legality to crystallize the revolutionary sentiment on the political field.

Must Change With the Times — Or Perish.

What, then, can be the duty of present-day Socialists, except to recognize the collapse of the old and resolutely set to work building the new alongside the industrial evolution and complying with the requirements of the modern and intensified class struggle? It is high time for Socialists to abolish obsolete tactics, abandon middleclass ideals, put away the will-o’-the-wisps of reform, and proclaim a working class program conforming with and equal to the demands of industrial and commercial development. The times change; we must change with them — or perish. The new aggressive policy of the capitalist class, which we call imperialism, has for its primary object the appropriation of a bigger share of the general surplus values. Under the operation of this feature of capitalist industry the possessing class appropriates increasing wealth while the producing mass can not, with the wages received, provide for themselves and their dependents the necessaries of life. Therefore, we urge the workers, in America and all other countries, to organize in their respective industries in such a manner as to ensure for themselves a material reduction in their working time, a corresponding increase in their share of the social wealth, the expansion of their class power, in order that they become efficient workers for the final overthrow of capitalism and the organization of a cooperative commonwealth.

Lenin’s handwritten letter, in English, to the S.P.L.A.

Finally, we adopt and recommend:

1. Instead of a form of labor organization on the economic field that conserves the interests of capitalist exploiters and of industrial democracy, INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM, i.e., MASS ORGANIZATION AND ACTION ON THE INDUSTRIAL FIELD.




5. By mass action we mean: Action by the workers in collective organization for protest and demand on both the economic and political fields, for exercising the power of the strike, opposing anti-strike legislation, refusing military service to maintain capitalism, holding public meetings and demonstrations, and opposing all capitalist class means of repressing the rise of industrial democracy. In mass action we see the only means for the development of a new form of organized democracy in which the rank and file will control.

6. The Socialist Propaganda League of America endorses the position of the Left Wing Socialists of Europe and pledges itself to work in harmony with them for the upbuilding of the Third International, and in the United States for reorganization of the Socialist Party of this country. Fraternally submitted, SOCIALIST PROPAGANDA LEAGUE OF AMERICA

C.W. Fitzgerald, Secretary. A. S. Edwards, Asst. Sec’y. Office: 2107 Washington Street Roxbury Station, Box 23.

Second Edition — Revised. Boston, Mass., Jan. 1, 1917.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v17n06-dec-1916-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdf

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