From the March 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard
For the first time in the history of Socialism in the United States, we have lost votes in a presidential election. Let us not blink the fact. In 1912 we had 900,000. Last November it now appears we fell back to about 660,000—not much more than the vote in 1910.
So writes Algernon Lee, one of the prominent leaders of the Socialist Party of America, in the “New York Call” (Jan. 7, 1917). In spite of the frenzied efforts of Allan Benson, the Presidential Candidate, the vote fell back by 240,000 compared to 1912. Such is the success of our eminently practical politicians. But that is not all. Lee writes further:
As a matter of fact, if only 5,000 more of the Californians who voted for Debs in 1912 had stuck to Benson in 1916 Hughes would have been elected”! ! !
Interviewed by the Socialist Party newspaper (see “Michigan Socialist,” Nov. 17, 1916) after the campaign of Nov. 7,1916, Benson was bitter and furious.
In April, 1912 we had a party membership of 135,000 and polled a vote of 901,000. . . . We entered the Presidential Campaign of 1916 with our organisation thoroughly discouraged, with our membership below 80,000.
Although a period of intense depression followed by intense “prosperity” had intervened between the two elections, 1912 and 196, the Socialist Party of A. lost 55,000 in membership! Speaking of the lessons of the election he said :
One thing we must do is to kick out the gentlemen in our Party who are fighting Socialists instead of outsiders. I mean the few intellectuals so called, who spend the time between campaigns criticising, fighting, hampering the Party and then, before election time, go to the capitalist papers with long statements as to which of the two capitalist candidates they prefer.
After referring to the Government spies in the Russian movement, Benson says:
Why should we be blind to the probability that the same tactics are being worked in the Socialist Party? Why should we ignore the probability that these men who are fighting inside the Party and not outside it, are in the pay of the capitalist class to disrupt the Party?
There are not many of these men. They are few. I know who they are, and by God! (his fist came down with a bang on the table) if they don’t quit, I’m going to blazon their names forth and nail their hides upon the wall. And you can say that one of them lives in Brooklyn.
Codlin, not Short.
If we had said that certain prominent men in the “Socialist” Party were paid by the capitalists we should have been called “foul slanderers.” But Mr. Benson is disappointed in not receiving his much talked of two million votes, hence his tears. One of the prominent men he was thundering at is Max Eastman, editor of the illustrated monthly review, “The Masses,” which widely circulates amongst the “intellectuals” styling themselves "advanced thinkers.” Like Wm. English Walling, “the great American Socialist,” he suggested to newspaper reporters that he would rather see Woodrow Wilson elected than Republican Hughes. But, of course, that’s permissible in the S.P. of A.
Socialism as It Is Not.
Max Eastman’s statement to the Woodrow Wilson Independence League was flashed to the newspapers of every part of the country and used to advantage. Here it is:
I would rather see Woodrow Wilson elected than Charles Hughes because Wilson aggressively believes, not only in keeping out of war but in organising the nations of the world to prevent war. His official endorsement of propaganda for international federation in the interest of peace is the most important step that any President of the United States has taken towards civilising the world since Lincoln.
His announcement that the best judgement of mankind accepts the principle of the eight hour day is another proof that he has vision and sympathy with human progress.
A “Great” Party.
In “The Masses" following the election, “Comrade" Max Eastman thus replied to his critics:
The American Socialist Party tends to become a religious sect, rather than the political instrument of the working class. This was shown in the selection of Allan L. Benson, a journalist of middle-class connections, to be the candidate for President, when a militant labor union leader of the ability of James H. Maurer was available. I like Benson; I have a special respect and admiration for his grouch; I voted for him; but I do not think he should have been the candidate of a working-class party, and I do not think he was. Sometimes I feel as though he were the candidate of a sectarian Sunday School.
The “intellectuals” of the Socialist Party of America are very busy explaining and regretting the slump in votes and treachery of shining lights. It reminds one of the controversy which has been carried on in Germany about the action of the great men in the Social Democratic Party.
“Feed America First”!
The nonsense taught by the “Appeal to Reason” here is like its circulation—immense. Just now, apart from Allan L. Benson’s reform rubbish, they are carrying on a campaign to “Feed America First.” Their argument is that the American working class should not have to pay high prices owing to necessities being shipped to Europe—thereby reducing supplies. In other words, they are preaching the narrow, insular doctrine so well known to us in tariff agitation. They appeal to the same narrow nationalism and patriotism they profess to condemn.
The chief point to be remembered by the workers is that while the capitalist class rule, and therefore as long as capitalism lasts, the national policy will be shaped and put into operation by the capitalists. Further, the cry of “Feed America First” creates the false view that the deep poverty of the working class here is due to the lack of wealth left for home consumption.
Debs Damns His Party.
In the “National Rip Saw” magazine for Jan., 1917, Eugene V. Debs writes on the “Decline of the Socialist Vote.” He says:
There are doubtless a number of reasons why our vote declined so materially in the recent campaign but I think there is one principal and dominating reason and that this reason is responsible for the rest. This reason is that the Socialist Party has become too much of a political party and that in the late campaign it was controlled too largely by political considerations and paid too much attention to catching votes.
The lesson of this decline is that the Socialist Party must pursue the straight and uncompromising course and steer clear of the vote-chasing, fusing, office-seeking, and grafting and boodling methods of capitalist politics.
After every election we read the same self-criticism but the opportunist methods still continue.
The Socialist-Labour Trimmers.
In New York City the S.L.P. joined with other organisations in an anti-militarist movement against military preparedness and it was announced as such in their “Weekly People.” In Buffalo their local reporter wrote to the "People,” saying, “We began the campaign here by holding an anti-war demonstration, jointly with the Socialist Party.” Such action, of course, demonstrates that the existence of the two parties is an anomaly. If there are sufficient points of policy upon which these two parties can agree to hold anti-war demonstrations it is time they ceased their separate existence. Let all the fools and befoolers get together and form a single target for a real Socialist Party. Mere opposition to war or to capitalism is not a common platform for Socialist workers, but unity for establishing Socialism must be the all- important object.
The New Unionism.
The Industrial Workers of the World, formed in 1905 at Chicago, which was to unite the working class economically and also politically, has had an eventful history. Since the S.L.P. separated in 1908 there have been two I.W. W.’s Recently, however, the original (S.L.P.) section of the I.W.W. changed its name to the Workers' International Industrial Union—the W.I.I.U.—thus giving a clear field to the Chicago I.W.W. for its claim to be the only I. W. W. Subsequently the speakers of the S.L.P. lectured through the country on “The death of the I.W.W.” The W.I.I.U. refuses, however, to endorse its parent, the S.L.P., and hence we have the conditions of 1905 over again. Men of every brand of politics and those without any can unite in the economic organisation.
A Revolutionary Union!
Evidence of this lack of real knowledge and also of unity, abounds. W. W. Cox, a well-known speaker of the S.L.P. in St. Louis and a member of the Party for 20 years wrote to the "Weekly People" (Dec. 30, 1916) as follows:
The Workers’ International Industrial Union recognises no political party and it has a Republican, Democratic, Progressive, Prohibitionist and Socialist Party as well as S.L.P. membership. Confusion. I repeat it remains for the S.L.P. to dispel this confusion. It is no more the duty of the W.I.I.U. than it is the duty of the S.L.P.
The S.L.P. as the educational movement should force the issue. How? By helping to build up the W.I.I.U. to the point where it will set on foot the political party of labor.
Evidently the Socialist Labour Party is not "“the political party of labour"!
Socialism and Religion.
The unsound position of the S.L.P. economically is on a par with its unscientific attitude towards religion. It takes the view that religion is a private matter and bitterly assails those who hold that religion is a matter of social origin and influence. The curious attitude of such a party claiming to accept the materialist conception of history makes one ponder on the water-tight compartments in which some people keep their religious views.
The materialist conception of history teaches that material conditions give rise to religious conceptions and organisations in harmony with them; hence one cannot oppose the economic system logically without opposing the ideological institutions it has generated in its defence. Further, religion has ever been a powerful weapon for poisoning the proletarian mind.
The death of Jack London recalls his burning criticism of the “Socialist" Party of America. London joined the Socialist Labour Party in Los Angeles in 1895. He was then a boy in his teens. Soon after the “Socialist Party" was formed in Oakland, California, J. London became a member. In 1896 he was chosen as Party candidate for State Senator but had to decline being under 21. In March 1897, whilst still a student at the University of California he was Party nominee for school director at large. When subsequently the Oakland authorities forbade Socialist street meetings London volunteered as a speaker and was arrested. He pleaded his own case and was acquitted. In 1899 he ran for Mayor in Oakland on behalf of the local “Socialist" Party. In 1905 he ran again. By this time his fame as a writer was spreading abroad but he was not elected.
Jack London’s Politics.
Unlike most of the noted members of the S.P. of America he gave a good deal of his time freely to lecturing for the Party. He was a dues-paying member of the Oakland local until a branch was formed at Glen Ellen, where his ranch is situated, in the beautiful Sonoma Valley (“The valley of the moon").
At a memorial meeting in Oakland (California) the following message was read from Charmian London (his wife):
Mrs. London wishes you to know that she feels that this meeting to-night is the one meeting that will put Jack London in his true light, and that will bring out the character and purpose of his whole life. She also wants you to know that he never went back on a principle, and that he was as much a Socialist when he died as he ever was, and that the only position he ever took in opposition to the Party was that it was not radical enough in its battle against the evils of capitalism.
An Interesting Letter.
Sept. 21st, 1916.
To Wm. Davenport,
The Socialist Party of the United States,
1056, Frederick St,
Dear Wm. Davenport,
In reply to yours of Aug. 29th, 1916 with which I received copy of the "Manifesto.’’
Please read my resignation from the Socialist Party and find that I resigned from same for the same reasons that impel you to form this new party.
I was a member of the old Socialist Labour Party. I gave a quarter of a century of the flower of my life to the revolutionary movement only to find that it was as supine under the heel as it was a thousand centuries before Christ was born.
Will the proletariat save itself? If it won’t it is unsaveable.
I congratulate you and wish you well on your adventure. I am not bitter. I am only sad in that within itself the proletariat seems to perpetuate the seed of its proletariat.
(Signed) JACK LONDON.
The New Party.
The above letter was sent to the Secretary of the new party recently formed in Detroit, in reply to the “manifesto” of the Party sent him. London’s letter, whilst inclining towards pessimism, at the same time establishes the fact that he still accepted political action. The I.W.W. created the impression that London was in favour of the General Strike, but not even the Iron Heel shows the success of the latter idea.
The new party (The Socialist Party of the United States) was formed in response to the utter disgust of several active local members of the “Socialist Party of America,” reinforced by members of the “Socialist Party of Canada” and the “Socialist Party of North America" who emigrated to the U.S.A. At the time of writing the Constitution of the new party has not been definitely drawn up and hence a full valuation of the Party’s position cannot be laid down. Its manifesto, however, shows signs of undigested statements besides erroneous views on questions of social importance. However, even the short few months the Party has existed has purged the organisation of useless elements and we look for a somewhat changed attitude and policy in the promised second “manifesto." The Party contains for the most part young, earnest and studious workers.
It is an open question whether the Party will survive, as the necessary work of preparing the ground throughout the entire country was not taken in hand prior to formation, and consequently small new organisations have grown up independently elsewhere.