‘War in the Socialist Party’ by Austin Lewis from Revolt (San Francisco). Vol. 2 No. 29. January 13, 1912.

The formal turn to the right made by the Socialist Party in 1908 brought about its first great national conflict between reformist and revolutionists. The militants associated with the Bay Area’s short-lived Revolt newspaper combined a commitment to revolutionary political action with a bedrock industrial union orientation and were a local manifestation of a larger trend. This hard left in the Socialist Party elected William D. Haywood to international delegate in 1910 and national leadership in 1912, shortly after this article. No intellectual in the Party was more associated with this Left than Austin Lewis, whose life as a Marxist began in the 1880s and whose writings provided many of the theoretical underpinnings for this current. As, his words, a “cockroach lawyer” he could not join the I.W.W., but would long serve as a defense counsel for its members and speaker and its events. Though he commits to staying in the Party in this essay, Lewis would leave when Haywood was recalled from the National Committee in 1913.

‘War in the Socialist Party’ by Austin Lewis from Revolt (San Francisco). Vol. 2 No. 29. January 13, 1912.

Respectable Socialists Abandon Cause of Proletariat


Every social movement begins as a critical essay. It attacks its environment, for the sprouting seed must first force its way through the opposing soil. Afterwards comes the bourgeoning, or as our opportunistic friends would say the “constructive process.” It should not be forgotten that these same bourgeois socialist friends have in their time been fairly violent critics and only very recently have they begun “constructing” in favor of their small middle class supporters. So fast, however, has the constructive policy for the benefit of the small merchant, the small farmer, and the skilled mechanic, for everybody, in short, except the proletarian, proceeded that it is now in full blast.

We of REVOLT and others therefore, have been driven to criticism in the United States and elsewhere. In Australia, Great Britain, France, in fact in every place where the bourgeois political system has been’ established and modern industrial development has effected a footing the necessity for criticism has arisen.

We have been obliged to attack the leadership of the Socialist and so-called labor parties in these countries. Why? Because in many cases the Socialist and labor leaders have proven false to their trust. They have diverted and are deliberately diverting the proletarian from the advancement of his own interests to the support of the interest of the small capitalist, the trader, the farmer, in short, the middle class. Now I have always been of the opinion that Socialism is a movement of the proletarian by the proletarian, that the proletarian is the only real revolutionary factor in modern society and that the proletarian element is the only one which has any real claims on the Socialist Party.

In this I may be wrong. It is possible that I have utterly misunderstood the Socialist philosophy arid that my reading of the Socialist standard writers is at fault. If such, should prove to be the case there would be nothing left but to back out and clear off. I should have been pursuing an illusion. And if the doctrine of the class struggle is a myth there is no philosophy left except such as I have a decided and inherent disinclination to accept.

But we have faith in the class struggle and hold very persistently that the Socialist Party came into being to take part in that struggle. We believe moreover that the only value which the Socialist Party possesses is as the exponent of the proletarian attitude in. that struggle. That is why we are members of the Socialist Party and that is why we carry on our war in the ranks of the Socialist Party. That is why we protest against the machinery of the Socialist Party being used for the benefit of any class other than that which a Socialist Party should represent the proletarian class. That is why we criticize!

And our criticism is received by. those in authority in the Socialist Party in no whit different spirit than was theirs by the capitalists. They accuse us of anarchism, of being antipolitical, of self-seeking, because we threaten their jobs. They have had the same accusations rammed down their own throats a thousand times by the capitalists. Every name which they plaster upon us they wore themselves in the days before they became respectable, for it is only quite lately that the trusts have begun toward Socialism as a conservative force. Formerly the men who despise us as pariahs and nickname us anarchists were themselves so despised and nicknamed. Only to-day do they get the plaudits of the respectable, only to-day when they have clearly abandoned the cause of the proletariat.

Under these circumstances that wing of the international movement which has made the interests of the proletarian its special care is compelled to criticize. The gamesters in control would try to persuade themselves that REVOLT is only a local symptom, and that those of us who stand with it are just disgruntled soreheads. On the contrary, REVOLT is the local manifestation of a growing movement with which the bourgeois movement everywhere must soon come to grips.

It is a pity that our local Socialist politicians are so generally educationally deficient and that they are, by virtue of their unfortunate lack of training, necessarily limited and local in their views. This constitutes a real drawback for men who aspire to take leading parts in what is, after all, an international movement, and which predicates a knowledge of international conditions and a grasp of the play of forces now are practically universal in the modern civilized world. If they were genuine working men their interests might be trusted to give them a general direction, but that ill-informed members of the middle class should be in control of the Socialist forces is both unseemly and dangerous. Yet that is precisely the position in which we find ourselves to-day,

These are the circumstances under which the necessity for the movement of which REVOLT is the local organ has arisen; they constitute the ground for the critical attitude which has hitherto marked the industrial Socialist manifestation.

But this development of our movement has already reached the stage when the merely critical attitude will not suffice. We must produce our positive platform, for. a merely negative criticism falls far short of being sufficient. We have now reached the point where actual organization must be begun, a program outlined and steps taken to establish the American form of the universal proletarian movement. We have taken root, we should now grow.

But let not those who oppose us think. That we are going to abandon the Socialist’ Party, and that they will be free from our criticism and our opposition in the future. Nothing Of the kind is contemplated. Some of us have worked hard and long in the building up of the Socialist Party, and have ploughed a barren field when those who now claim the reward of our efforts were trying to make good as little bourgeois. We shall remain members of the Socialist Party and strive for the victory of our principles inside that party. With the passing of time and the development of the economic situation we shall be in control of the Socialist Party, for by then the proletarian as such will have begun to function and will seek its expression naturally in the Socialist Party.

Those in control of the Socialist Party imagine that they have killed the proletarian spirit in the Socialist movement; they fancy that they have persuaded the working class to mirror the superstition, the meanness, the small self-seeking, and the pettifogging of the small bourgeoisie. But they are mistaken. The proletariat will repudiate them. They win for a while and do their utmost to kill the reputation of the party. But we are coming, back, gentlemen, we are coming back.

In the meantime we must organize everywhere in industrial Socialist groups. We must proclaim the tenets of industrial Socialism, we must again take up the burden of propaganda now practically abandoned by the politicians, and find in the working class itself the antidote to the bourgeois poison which now spreads through the veins of the Socialist Party.

Revolt ‘The Voice Of The Militant Worker’ was a short-lived revolutionary weekly newspaper published by Left Wingers in the Socialist Party in 1911 and 1912 and closely associated with Tom Mooney. The legendary activists and political prisoner Thomas J. Mooney had recently left the I.W.W. and settled in the Bay. He would join with the SP Left in the Bay Area, like Austin Lewis, William McDevitt, Nathan Greist, and Cloudseley Johns to produce The Revolt. The paper ran around 1500 copies weekly, but financial problems ended its run after one year. Mooney was also embroiled in constant legal battles for his role in the Pacific Gas and Electric Strike of the time. The paper epitomizes the revolutionary Left of the SP before World War One with its mix of Marxist orthodoxy, industrial unionism, and counter-cultural attitude. To that it adds some of the best writers in the movement; it deserved a much longer run.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/revolt/v2n29-w38-jan-13-1912-Revolt-.pdf

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