Cleveland, Ohio had among the strongest and most vibrant lefts of any large city in the country, vividly attested to by the number of important May Day rallies it held. Here future Communist leader Charles E. Ruthenberg, who would receive 30% of Cleveland’s vote the following year describes 1917’s determined internationalist manifestation which led a campaign and the arrest under the new ‘Espionage Act’ of leading figures Ruthenberg, Alfred Wagenknecht, and Charles Baker.
‘Cleveland Against War on May Day’ by Charles. E. Ruthenberg from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 18 No. 1. July, 1917.
The members of Local Cleveland determined at the beginning of the war that so far as it lay within their power they would continue their activities just as if there had been no declaration of war. They determined that in reference to the war and attempts to abridge the rights of the workers, there would be no faltering, no hesitancy, no yielding of rights previously exercised, but open, bold and unafraid opposition.
The first step was to organize a May day parade which would be a demonstration of internationalism and against war. This parade, which was the biggest ever held on May Day in Cleveland, was referred to by the capitalist papers as “a streak of revolutionary red across the heart of the city.” Scores of signs were carried in the parade denouncing the war, conscription and the capitalist class carried thru the downtown streets at the hour when tens of thousands of workers were leaving their work for their homes.
Since the May Day demonstration five great peace demonstrations have been held on the Public Square and Market Square. These have been attended by from three to six thousand people. Three distributions of fifty thousand leaflets each have been made. Among these has been the party war manifesto and an anti-conscription leaflet. Street meetings attended by audiences ranging from five hundred to a thousand people are being held nightly.
Altho the police are always in evidence at the meetings, as shown by the accompanying picture, and a court stenographer takes down the speeches for the federal authorities, the only trouble thus far has been the arrest of Alfred Wagenknecht, state secretary of the party, at a meeting held May 27th, and of Charles Baker, state organizer of Ohio, at one of the street meetings. Both comrades are charged with disorderly conduct. Comrade Wagenknecht was in the midst of an anti-conscription argument when stopped and Comrade Baker was arrested on the trumped up charge of a war patriot who tried to break up his meeting, that he had made disrespectful remarks about the flag. The Socialist News, local weekly of the party, has been withheld from the mails for two weeks, but hundreds of Reviews have been sold.
The result of the campaign which the party is making, has been three hundred new members added to the party in six weeks’ time. Collections ranging from $125 to $350 have been taken up at the big mass meetings and a thousand new readers have been added to the mailing list of the ‘Socialist News’ and interest and enthusiasm among party members such as has never been developed locally before.
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.
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