Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left


The Grand Hall at Cooper Union, November 22nd, 1909 - Source: Labor Arts

Chapter XVII: Experiments in Solidarity: New Strategies for a New America

During his successful bout for the presidential title, William R. Hearst keenly employed labor agitation as a tool to secure electoral victory, but, as noted, he was unable to pass any meaningful legislation to qualm the woes of working people in the United States. That is not to say, however, that workers were content to remain in squalor while men in Washington waited idly by. It was truly quite the opposite, with industrial workers proving more than capable of enforcing their own demands down the gullet of an unsuspecting owner class. Unskilled laborers, sometimes known or referred to as a the "machine proletariat," became the unlikely vanguard for a new chapter in the American labor movement.

In the summer of 1909, a railcar manufacturing business based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mandated to its workforce a novel method of distributing wages. To their 6,000-strong cache of employees, owners of the McKees Rocks Pressed Steel Car Company introduced a primitive system of scientific management designed to increase worker output by lowering its base wage according to the least productive plant worker. This allowed for the company to establish artificially raised rates and bonus incentives for the most efficient workers. In such a system, particularly in conjunction with an industry rife with managerial corruption and a hushed network of kickbacks, the owners could retain a psychological advantage over its workforce.

Finding the above methodology inhumane and their lousy pay wholly unacceptable, some hundred workers walked out from their factories. They were soon joined by the remaining McKees plant laborers, and thereafter workers in neighboring plants. IWW organizers Bill Haywood and Wiliam Trautmann swiftly arrived to assist in the developing work stoppage and worked to convince the strikers to join in their cause for industrial unionism. The AFL's continued refusal to adjust its traditional doctrine of forbidding unskilled workers to join in their ranks allowed for complete displacement by the IWW in this instance, and dozens more. Once violent skirmishes began to break out between the scores of mounted members of the Pennsylvanian constabulary and the thousands of strikers of whom were chiefly first and second generation immigrants, one AFL delegate famously blamed the fighting on, "ignorant, foreign labor."

The strike held throughout the month of July and lasted all through August. Not until September, when thirteen in all had died from the bloody affair, did the Pressed Steel Car Company call for a settlement. Company owners bent to the will of the strikers, shockingly redacting the reward system and granting an increase in wages. The entire ordeal, thereby dubbed the McKees Rocks Strike, proved the power of organizing unskilled workers as well as the ignorance of the old AFL policies. The IWW, which dunked itself into the Pittsburgh brouhaha with a spirit of inclusivity and solidarity (exemplified through its deployment of bilingual speakers and publications), won their first significant victory since the enlistment of the United Mine Workers in 1907. Mirrored strikes at steel factories in McKeesport and South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, also led to wins for the laborers as the IWW sowed class-wide unity among all sects of workingmen.

Additional hot spots for the growing American Labor Movement emerged in New York City and Philadelphia, when the young female workforce of the novel shirtwaist-manufacturing industry rallied against brutal working conditions. They were expected to work 12-hour days with no time off and with zero union representation. Their pay was a meager $4-6 per week, with deductions for needles, thread, and the electricity used by their sewing machines. Employees of the Leiserson Shirtwiast Company walked out from their jobs in September of 1909, joined shortly thereafter by the all-women workforce of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Both groups aspired for coordination with a strong industrial union to ally themselves with. They turned to a local chapter of the recently established Workingwomen's Craft and Industrial Union League: An IWW-affiliate organization built to advance the interests of women within the union movement. As an unapologetic ally of skilled and unskilled women workers, it contrasted itself with its more conservative, AFL "business unionist" counterpart: The Women's Trade Organization.

The WTO was underfunded (it relied heavily on upper-class philanthropist donations) and underappreciated by AFL President Samuel Gompers, while the WCIUL, by comparison, was prominently endorsed by IWW leaders as a tool to be used to contest with the open-shop system, ameliorate the conditions for working women, and secure women's suffrage. Led by activists including famed settlement house organizer Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Polish-born social feminist Rose Schneiderman, and rent strike leader Pauline Newman, the small and inexperienced union organized a picket line. Allies to the cause gleefully joined extended picket lines in New York as word of the strike spread, including members of the WTO. Police officers commonly harassed the striking women, oftentimes culminating in violent beatings and arrests. City officials refused to comment.


An absolute turning-point for the Triangle Workers' Strike came about on a brisk day in late November, when these inspired women paraded to New York's Cooper Union to call for a general strike. They arrived in such astounding numbers that the crowds spilled out into the street. Representatives of the local unions, including workers-rights advocate Frances Perkins, spoke their peace to the sea of agitated workingwomen. Then, a young Jewish immigrant and WCIUL-affiliated garment laborer named Clara Lemlich rose. In her familial Yiddish, she told of her experience on the picket line, the beatings, arrests, and sexist shouts from the officers.
She said to them, "I am a working girl, one of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. What we are here for is to decide whether we shall or shall not strike. I offer a resolution that a general strike be declared - now." The audience roared in approval and were galvanized to demand the general strike be called. Two thousand women swore to honor the strike. Their righteous course set, tens of thousands of shirtwaist makers answered the call. The strike would spread to Pennsylvania, and it would receive prompt assistance from dozens of labor organizations, women's groups, and the local and national Socialist parties. [...] This became known as the Uprising of the 20,000.
Benjamin McIntyre, The Workers' Struggle: The Birth of a Columbian International, 2018

Left with no other option but to concede, the company owners acquiesced to the demands of the strikers. After three and a half months of brutal picketing in the freezing city streets, the women won. The WCIUL negotiated contracts for over two-thirds of the total 337 shirtwaist companies in NYC and Philadelphia, with the WTO only holding representation among five. As recalled by Helen Marot of the WCIUL, "The unyielding and uncompromising temper of the strikers showed that women make the best strikers." The WCIUL became one of the most powerful union organizations in New York City, with newcomers like Clara Lemlich rising to the forefront. Humbled company owners like Triangle's "Shirtwaist Kings" Max Blanck and Isaac Harris begrudgingly agreed to recognize the women's union, and, within the year, followed-up with slightly reduced hours, heightened pay, and more sanitary conditions and safety precautions in the shops.

Due to the victories of the shirtwaist workers, as well as a second strike involving 50,000 cloakmakers in 1910, the newly elected Progressive Mayor of New York City, John Purroy Mitchel, implemented building safety standards as a mandate for all industrial operations located in the metropolitan area. Two years following the Shirtwaist Strike, when a fire had broken out in the Triangle-occupied Asch Building, these safety standards were celebrated as a chief reason for the efficient and orderly evacuation of the burning building. Not one worker was harmed from the building fire, and to this the IWW, the WCIUL, and a receptive progressive city government was granted kudos.
Wonderful!
Sitting at the edge of my seat here
 
You just butterflied away the Triangle Shirtwaist fire death toll, @PyroTheFox...

Congratulations for doing that (doesn't mean there won't be a similar tragedy to it ITTL, sadly)...
 

The Chicago Daily Socialist's Depiction of Milwaukee Mayor Emil Seidel, April 1910 - Source: Wiki Commons

American Socialists were left disappointed in the wake of Bill Haywood's somewhat lacking performance in the 1908 presidential election. After an exceptional boost in raw vote totals between Debs' 1900 and 1904 campaigns, the meager 0.39% improvement delivered by the Western labor organizer did not deliver to the party's expectations. Some pointed to the rise of reformist factions in competing political parties as a chief cause of this development. Hearst's populist brand of Democracy had been cited by the socialist press as one which severely undercut Haywood's messaging.

There had been a slim contingent of Socialist Party members who halfheartedly supported Hearst upon his inauguration, hoping beyond hope that the media magnate's promises to enact labor reform could serve to benefit the immediate needs of the working class. Should he have been true to his word and concentrated on, for instance, workplace protections instead of engaging in all-out war with the party bosses, it is certainly plausible that radical union activists would have been split over the issue of engaging in the Democratic Party. However, Hearst's quick abandonment of labor as president cost the leader what little support he had by the American Left, and all incumbent Socialist congressmen in the House of Representative would go on to join in the demand for an investigation into the Manhattan Scandal. Hearst's move to disrupt the status quo failed miserably, and with this setback to the Democratic Party came a notable burst of energy for the SP.

Congress-wise, the party had yet to lose a single elected representative, and continuously gained seats to the point that their delegation reached six members in the 62nd Congress. All throughout the nation, card-carrying members of the SP began winning hotly contested races for city council and town council positions. Even in the unlikeliest of regions like the American Southwest, an interest in Socialism and a recognition of class antagonisms began to stir. Due to a combination of plump landowners possessing an imbalanced hold on the agrarian economic system as compared with tenant farmers, and active agitation and organization by the United Mine Workers rallying coal miners to their cause, the Socialist Party of Oklahoma captured a greater share of the vote in 1910 than in almost any other state. Clearly, within the ever-expanding "blue-collar belt" in the American heartland, industrial unionism had birthed a degree of class consciousness that had not existed prior.

From small towns to tightly packed urban centers, an awareness pertaining to class relations and a distinct lack of workplace democracy resulted in a sporadic spree of electoral successes for the left-wing political party. Socialists succeeded in sweeping in a new class of elected officials in 1911 on the municipal level. They won hearty minorities on city councils throughout the Industrial Midwest, including in Findlay, Ohio, where the SP managed to defeat an incumbent Democratic mayor. Likewise, Socialist mayors won elected office in the diverse, metropolitan venues of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Schenectady, New York. In each of these cities, victory only came about as a natural result of intensified working-class support. The Machinist Union in Schenectady and the Federated Trades Council in Reading strongly endorsed the leftmost candidates in 1911, practically guaranteeing support by the union workers.

Just as in the above examples, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, elected a member of the Socialist Party to the mayorship. In 1910, German-American trade unionist Emil Seidel easily defeated opponents in the other three major parties to be elected the first Socialist mayor of a major American city. Seidel, upon taking office, administered a staunch, pro-labor administration, organizing a public works department and expunging casinos and brothels from the city. He also oversaw the exponential growth of the Milwaukee branch of the SP, which quadrupled in membership from 1911 to 1913. It is also crucial to note that the city chapter of the Socialist Labor Party, in an unprecedented vote, chose to endorse Seidel in his 1912 re-election campaign. This had been the first time that the SLP and the SP united on a single candidate, and in doing so acted against the sparring of the national organizations.

Especially in the aftermath of the McKees Rocks and Shirtwaist strikes, the Socialist rank-and-file understood the necessity of forging solidarity and formulating unity-in-action to combat the oppression of the owner class. That being said, the SP leadership remained feverishly divided as a big-tent political group. The Left and Right wings sharply disagreed on the matter of labor policy as well as whether to cooperate with other political associations. Haywood's lackluster showing demonstrated to the conservative faction fruitlessness of appealing to disruptive unions like the Industrial Workers of the World. This sect instead demanded the party focus its mission solely on the election of representatives to municipal and state offices. Victor Berger, who in 1910 succeeded in capturing Wisconsin's 5th congressional district, readied to face a strong, pro-IWW faction in the upcoming Socialist convention. He would, of course, be facing off against an empowered, increasingly antagonistic Eugene Debs.

The large increase in the socialist vote in the late national and state elections is quite naturally hailed with elation and rejoicing by party members, but I feel prompted to remark, in the light of some personal observations during the campaign, that it is not entirely a matter for jubilation. [...] The danger I see ahead is that the Socialist party at this stage, and under existing conditions, is apt to attract elements which it cannot assimilate, and that it may be either weighted down, or torn asunder with internal strife, or that it may become permeated and corrupted with the spirit of bourgeois reform to an extent that will practically destroy its virility and efficiency as a revolutionary organization.

Of far greater importance than increasing the vote of the Socialist party is the economic organization of the working class. To the extent, and only to the extent, that the workers are organized and disciplined in their respective industries can the socialist movement advance and the Socialist party hold what is registered by the ballot. [...] We have just so much socialism that is stable and dependable, because securely grounded in economics, in discipline, and all else that expresses class-conscious solidarity, and this must be augmented steadily through economic and political organization, but no amount of mere votes can accomplish this in even the slightest degree. Voting for socialism is not socialism any more than a menu is a meal.
Eugene Debs, "Danger Ahead", International Socialist Review, January 1911

Debs' concern that the party had relied too heavily on electoral goals lied together with his commitment for industrial unionism. Since cementing ties with Bill Haywood and the IWW, the radical leader led the charge to ingrain the relationship betwixt the IWW and the SP. He knew that doing so jeopardized any shred of hope of reforming the far more influential AFL, but Debs became determined on furthering this line as the party convention drew closer. Only through an industrial unionist policy could any left-wing organization sufficiently build solidarity for all workers regardless of language, color, or skill. The IWW was well on their way to doing just that, while the AFL blindly marched in the wrong direction. Achieving simple victories on the municipal and (occasional) congressional scale without tying in a concise labor policy was akin to fighting a war with one's arms tied behind one's back. For Debs, rebutting the conservatively oriented direction of the party was essential in building a socialist future.
 

The Chicago Daily Socialist's Depiction of Milwaukee Mayor Emil Seidel, April 1910 - Source: Wiki Commons

American Socialists were left disappointed in the wake of Bill Haywood's somewhat lacking performance in the 1908 presidential election. After an exceptional boost in raw vote totals between Debs' 1900 and 1904 campaigns, the meager 0.39% improvement delivered by the Western labor organizer did not deliver to the party's expectations. Some pointed to the rise of reformist factions in competing political parties as a chief cause of this development. Hearst's populist brand of Democracy had been cited by the socialist press as one which severely undercut Haywood's messaging.

There had been a slim contingent of Socialist Party members who halfheartedly supported Hearst upon his inauguration, hoping beyond hope that the media magnate's promises to enact labor reform could serve to benefit the immediate needs of the working class. Should he have been true to his word and concentrated on, for instance, workplace protections instead of engaging in all-out war with the party bosses, it is certainly plausible that radical union activists would have been split over the issue of engaging in the Democratic Party. However, Hearst's quick abandonment of labor as president cost the leader what little support he had by the American Left, and all incumbent Socialist congressmen in the House of Representative would go on to join in the demand for an investigation into the Manhattan Scandal. Hearst's move to disrupt the status quo failed miserably, and with this setback to the Democratic Party came a notable burst of energy for the SP.

Congress-wise, the party had yet to lose a single elected representative, and continuously gained seats to the point that their delegation reached six members in the 62nd Congress. All throughout the nation, card-carrying members of the SP began winning hotly contested races for city council and town council positions. Even in the unlikeliest of regions like the American Southwest, an interest in Socialism and a recognition of class antagonisms began to stir. Due to a combination of plump landowners possessing an imbalanced hold on the agrarian economic system as compared with tenant farmers, and active agitation and organization by the United Mine Workers rallying coal miners to their cause, the Socialist Party of Oklahoma captured a greater share of the vote in 1910 than in almost any other state. Clearly, within the ever-expanding "blue-collar belt" in the American heartland, industrial unionism had birthed a degree of class consciousness that had not existed prior.

From small towns to tightly packed urban centers, an awareness pertaining to class relations and a distinct lack of workplace democracy resulted in a sporadic spree of electoral successes for the left-wing political party. Socialists succeeded in sweeping in a new class of elected officials in 1911 on the municipal level. They won hearty minorities on city councils throughout the Industrial Midwest, including in Findlay, Ohio, where the SP managed to defeat an incumbent Democratic mayor. Likewise, Socialist mayors won elected office in the diverse, metropolitan venues of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Schenectady, New York. In each of these cities, victory only came about as a natural result of intensified working-class support. The Machinist Union in Schenectady and the Federated Trades Council in Reading strongly endorsed the leftmost candidates in 1911, practically guaranteeing support by the union workers.

Just as in the above examples, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, elected a member of the Socialist Party to the mayorship. In 1910, German-American trade unionist Emil Seidel easily defeated opponents in the other three major parties to be elected the first Socialist mayor of a major American city. Seidel, upon taking office, administered a staunch, pro-labor administration, organizing a public works department and expunging casinos and brothels from the city. He also oversaw the exponential growth of the Milwaukee branch of the SP, which quadrupled in membership from 1911 to 1913. It is also crucial to note that the city chapter of the Socialist Labor Party, in an unprecedented vote, chose to endorse Seidel in his 1912 re-election campaign. This had been the first time that the SLP and the SP united on a single candidate, and in doing so acted against the sparring of the national organizations.

Especially in the aftermath of the McKees Rocks and Shirtwaist strikes, the Socialist rank-and-file understood the necessity of forging solidarity and formulating unity-in-action to combat the oppression of the owner class. That being said, the SP leadership remained feverishly divided as a big-tent political group. The Left and Right wings sharply disagreed on the matter of labor policy as well as whether to cooperate with other political associations. Haywood's lackluster showing demonstrated to the conservative faction fruitlessness of appealing to disruptive unions like the Industrial Workers of the World. This sect instead demanded the party focus its mission solely on the election of representatives to municipal and state offices. Victor Berger, who in 1910 succeeded in capturing Wisconsin's 5th congressional district, readied to face a strong, pro-IWW faction in the upcoming Socialist convention. He would, of course, be facing off against an empowered, increasingly antagonistic Eugene Debs.


The large increase in the socialist vote in the late national and state elections is quite naturally hailed with elation and rejoicing by party members, but I feel prompted to remark, in the light of some personal observations during the campaign, that it is not entirely a matter for jubilation. [...] The danger I see ahead is that the Socialist party at this stage, and under existing conditions, is apt to attract elements which it cannot assimilate, and that it may be either weighted down, or torn asunder with internal strife, or that it may become permeated and corrupted with the spirit of bourgeois reform to an extent that will practically destroy its virility and efficiency as a revolutionary organization.
Of far greater importance than increasing the vote of the Socialist party is the economic organization of the working class. To the extent, and only to the extent, that the workers are organized and disciplined in their respective industries can the socialist movement advance and the Socialist party hold what is registered by the ballot. [...] We have just so much socialism that is stable and dependable, because securely grounded in economics, in discipline, and all else that expresses class-conscious solidarity, and this must be augmented steadily through economic and political organization, but no amount of mere votes can accomplish this in even the slightest degree. Voting for socialism is not socialism any more than a menu is a meal.
Eugene Debs, "Danger Ahead", International Socialist Review, January 1911

Debs' concern that the party had relied too heavily on electoral goals lied together with his commitment for industrial unionism. Since cementing ties with Bill Haywood and the IWW, the radical leader led the charge to ingrain the relationship betwixt the IWW and the SP. He knew that doing so jeopardized any shred of hope of reforming the far more influential AFL, but Debs became determined on furthering this line as the party convention drew closer. Only through an industrial unionist policy could any left-wing organization sufficiently build solidarity for all workers regardless of language, color, or skill. The IWW was well on their way to doing just that, while the AFL blindly marched in the wrong direction. Achieving simple victories on the municipal and (occasional) congressional scale without tying in a concise labor policy was akin to fighting a war with one's arms tied behind one's back. For Debs, rebutting the conservatively oriented direction of the party was essential in building a socialist future.
Interesting.
 

Lawrence Textile Workers in a Picket Line, March 1912 - Source: Wiki Commons

After a brief slowdown of labor activity in the winter of 1911, 1912 started off with a thunderous bang. Trouble had been brewing for some time in the industrialized city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, where tens of thousands of men, women, and children worked grueling shifts in unregulated textile mills. The American Woolen Company, a corporation that employed about half of all city residents, ignored the pleas of its workers for some semblance of workplace safety or a regular wage scale. Well-meaning reformist Massachusetts lawmakers passed a law mandating shortened working hours for women and children, and it went into full effect on January 1st. The mills, in response, slashed its workers' wages.

Sparked initially by a walkout of a small group of Polish textile workers, a work stoppage escalated with crowds of dozens swiftly turning into hundreds. Some damaged manufacturing machines on their way out of the factories while others persuaded friends and neighbors to join with them. This event accelerated into an industry-wide strike of over 20,000 who picketed and protested detestable working conditions and intolerable pay. Many of the Lawrence workers in the woolen and cotton mills were already somewhat organized by the IWW by 1912, familiar with their recent victories, accessibility for non-English speakers, representation of second-wave European immigrants. Mimicking their effective strategy from the McKees Rocks Strike, multilingual IWW speakers rallied together workers of all stripes in a united condemnation of the owners' brutality.

Italian-American New Yorker Joseph James "Smiling Joe" Ettor arrived to Lawrence that January. Ettor, a 27-year old IWW organizer capable of speaking five languages, rallied the outraged strikers and encouraged expanding the strike to every mill. As an unskilled worker himself, Ettor could empathize with the plight of the textile workers and speak to their frustrations with the bosses and fear of being unheard. Alongside fellow union agitators Arturo Giovannitti, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Bill Haywood, Ettor emphasized the philosophy of the IWW and its primary aim to restructure American life based on industrial unionism. The IWW strike fund, a crucial component to any earnest work stoppage, was vigorously supported by the Massachusetts Socialist Party in a key act of cross-organizational solidarity.

Mill owners possessed two elemental allies in the Lawrence Strike. First, the United Textile Workers of America, a powerful union affiliate of the AFL, decidedly refused to intervene. UTW managers upheld Gompers' line in regard to excluding immigrants and unskilled workers from their ranks. Gompers himself dismissively and insultingly described the strike as a "passing event," and allowed for the UTW to attempt to break the strike on behalf of the workers themselves (although this tactic ultimately failed). Secondly, at the start of the strike, the American Woolen Company retained near-total support by the city government and the middle-class population of Lawrence and nearby towns. Owners frequently accused the IWW of fermenting anarchy, and too attributed labor unrest to the immigrant workforce. They alleged that the Central and Eastern European migrants brought with them to the United States Old World-style class discrepancies. Those opposed to the strike embraced this sense of Nativism, and to this they often professed immigration restriction as a viable solution.

By the hundreds and thousands, strikers picketed the factories and peacefully marched from mill to mill. State militia and police forces responded with fire hoses, blasting young women and children to the cold pavement. IWW leaders actively pushed the strikers to remain peaceful rather than unleashing a broken retaliation. The strikers listened, and did indeed follow this guideline. Eugene Debs gave full-throttled support to the strikers, as did Socialist House Minority Leader John Chase. The Socialist Party's candidate for the upcoming Massachusetts gubernatorial election, organizer Roland D. Sawyer, also expressed solidarity with textile-manufacturing workers. Together, members of the SP and the IWW helped orchestrate massive parades in the city, complete with sprawling banners demanding what soon became the affixed slogan of the strike: "We Want Bread and Roses Too."


Towing the picket line, a wise tactic purposefully developed to evade loitering charges, the striking workers marched, they chanted, and they sang. In the words of Ray Baker in The American Magazine, "Always there was singing. Lawrence is the first string I ever saw which sang. And not only at the meetings did they sing, but in the soup houses and in the streets." Marchers sang the French Marseillaise and L'Internationale, belting out choruses with the rhythmic voice of solidarity.
Parents fearful of successive, appealing police beatings and winter starvation somberly began transporting their children off to relatives' homes in New York and Philadelphia. Socialist Party members similarly offered shelter, lending their assistance in totality to the now-nationally renowned Lawrence mill workers. The conscious choice to highlight the plight of the Lawrence Strike Children gained the strikers widespread sympathy and did far more to benefit the their cause than anarchist-proposed 'direct action' could ever bring. Historians estimate consultations between Debs and Haywood during this period led to the latter forever disavowing outright sabotage and similar alienating methods in place of bilateral movement with the Socialists.
Benjamin McIntyre, The Workers' Struggle: The Birth of a Columbian International, 2018

After a tumultuous eight-week work stoppage, the 'Bread and Roses Strike' finally came to an end on March 12th. The American Woolen Company resentfully acceded to the demands of the strikers, including an adjustment of the wage system and a recognition of the union. The IWW initially intended on spurning the signing of a contract, believing doing so legitimized the superiority of the owners, but at the urging of Debs and the Socialist Party, they went ahead with negotiating a permanent presence. It appeared after growing tension by sections of each major socialist tendency, the two seemingly disparate forces of the IWW and the Socialist Party discovered a path to cooperation.

More so than any prior strike, the events of Lawrence, Massachusetts, appeared to embody what was possible with the synchronization of a union organization with a political organization. "One most gratifying feature of this struggle," one article in the April edition of the International Socialist Review read, "is that in the presence of a common enemy, we Socialists forgot our factional fights. While the Industrial Workers of the World were in direct charge of the struggle at Lawrence, the Socialist party contributed the greater part of the funds needed to keep the workers from being starved into submission. [...] The battle that has been won is only a beginning. Its importance lies in the fact that winning tactics have been discovered and have received the virtual endorsement of the Socialist Party of America. The two-headed dragon of socialist agitation is no longer an untried theory, nor is that of industrial unionism. Henceforth its progress will be swift and sure."
 

The Socialist Party National Convention, May 12th, 1912 - Source: EHistory/ISR

Bill Haywood, Joe Ettor, and Arturo Giovannitti jubilantly returned from the Lawrence struggle determined to enact further progress on the political level. Haywood had recently been elected to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party, and for this he faced endless scrutiny from the party's conservative wing. Traditional socialists, hoping to expand electoral victories by retaining an honorable image, intensely disliked Haywood and his ilk for muddling SP respectability with flashes of revolutionary rhetoric. Even though the process to elect him to the board was democratic in nature, the IWW founder was treated by some in the party as if he conspired to gain that position. In reality, Haywood's ideas were certainly more in line with the direction of the labor movement and its trend toward industrial unionism.

The Lawrence Strike sufficiently validated the effectiveness of industrial unionism as well as how proper cooperation betwixt the IWW and the SP could satisfy the goals of each organization. This seemingly proved Haywood and Debs correct, as opposed to Berger who remained firmly on the side of reforming the AFL. Uniting American industries into one big union did not necessarily bring about socialism in and of itself, but in the course of fermenting class consciousness and building solidarity throughout the entire working class, anti-capitalist sentiment was bound to arise. That, perhaps, would lead workers to prefer the politics of a socialist society versus the status quo. Accomplishing such a task required a political organization capable of coordinating with the unions and pushing systematic change. Therefore, enthusiasm emanating from the success of Lawrence funneled directly into the Socialist National Convention.

The SNC took place in May of 1912 at an Indianapolis venue, bringing together quarreling factions to sort out their differences and set the future direction of the party. This was its largest convention yet, encompassing several hundred delegates and thousands of supporters. Conservatives and radicals encompassed the two halves of the party, each about equally represented by its fair share of delegates. Berger stood statically with the sect most virulently opposed to associating with the IWW and its predominantly immigrant union workers. He, in fact, endorsed restricting immigration, considering the influx of European migrants a threat to the native-born American working class. Haywood and the radicals positioning themselves opposite to the conservatives on the national committee gave the impression that a bitter fight was on the horizon, one that could potentially shred the big tent of the Socialist Party to ribbons. Even as the party reached 200,000 members and held office in 42 states, not all was well.

Party Chairman Morris Hillquit, now a dyed-in-the-wool conservative stiffly opposed to the strike-oriented tactics liberally employed by the IWW, struck an unexpectedly mild, compromising tone during his opening remarks. He stated, "We need not close our eyes to the fact that we come here from different parts of the country, with different and sometimes conflicting views on various questions of policy and tactics. It is well it should be so. No live popular movement can exist without like differences between adherents of that movement. Let us carry on our deliberations with all the differences, legitimate differences of opinion that we have and should have, in the realization that, after all, we are here for one joint common cause, the emancipation of the working class, and let us act accordingly." Regardless of his wish that the party concentrate on disavowing violence (the type some publications accused the IWW of perpetuating), Hillquit notably did not lead with that perspective.

Soon enough, Congressman Berger took command and spoke out in favor of association with the AFL. The party labor plank was always destined to be a point of contention by the delegates, as it no longer seemed appropriate to leave the subject vague as in conventions past. Berger believed that the growth of the AFL as a pragmatic and non-controversial vehicle for unionization stayed the best bet to achieve nationwide unionization. Determining the matter of pivotal importance, he demanded the platform settle on this issue once and for all. Judging by the profuse applause to his statement in favor of the pro-AFL motion, as well as similar acclamation for Ohio delegate Max Hayes for the same, it looked as if Berger would prevail. Yet, when Haywood spoke on behalf of the IWW, coining victories by "garment workers in New York, steel workers in Pittsburgh, and textile workers in Lawrence," as both economic and political progress (citing a specific enfranchisement effort by the IWW), the audience gave a twenty-minute standing ovation accompanied by deafening cheers. 178-132, above the ravenous objections of the conservatives, Berger's motion failed, and the party formally adopted ties with the Industrial Workers of the World.


Their startling downfall was playing out in slow motion. Never before did Berger directly challenge an opponent and lose. True, the Milwaukee Socialists were a big movement within the Socialist Party of the early twentieth century, but the powerful and tightly organized radical faction dominated the self-important congressman. He tried to strike back, expressing support for an anti-IWW amendment laced with hauteur and fear. It was Hillquit's writing, allegedly, though the man himself smelt the sulfur in the air and rightly distanced from it.
Carl Thompson, a Berger protege, voiced approval for expelling Socialist members who advocated some ethereal notion of violence. He plead to the moral high ground, using "IWW" and "Anarchy" interchangeably. [Germer] seconded the motion, referring to Haywood and the IWW's tactics as "idiotic." They were anxious to disassociate themselves from perceived lawlessness to better attract the American Federation of Labor and middle-class voters. It failed, of course, by resounding margins. Haywood had already disavowed the sort of techniques he was accused of promoting, and neither he nor the IWW engaged in violent agitation. Lawrence made the difference. If Debs hadn't been in Massachusetts to witness the strike himself, he might not have convinced Haywood to stay the course.
Harry Braverman, 6th President of the New York State Assembly, The Early Socialists: A Prelude to the Revolution, 1969

The call to build permanent ties with the AFL failed, the demand to expel suspected anarchists failed, and a last-ditch recall vote to remove Haywood from the Executive Committee would fail as well. The IWW and their legions were in the Socialist Party to stay, and in spite of the dramatic theatrics performed by the conservatives, no one bolted the convention hall and the party was not accused of harboring lawbreakers or criminals. Berger's limited view of Socialist Party conduct did not win over any new SNC delegates, and, by all accounts, it was outright alien to the party rank-and-file. Milwaukee's own labor unions supported coordination with the IWW, and they did not appreciate Berger reneging on his promise to abide by their views.

Despite the odds, the Socialist Party in 1912 presented an indivisible image. Not all was resolved, not every dispute was removed from play, but the party consciously allied itself with the direction of the American Labor Movement. Eugene Debs, albeit not a material presence at the convention, was named by a four-fifths of the delegates to once more don the nomination crown. No other individual could better exemplify a sense of party unity and of 'being above the fray' than the two-time candidate and enormously popular public speaker and working class champion. Minnesota Congressman Thomas Van Lear (S-MN), a Spanish-American War veteran and Minneapolis machinist, was selected as vice president. As a side note, this ticket is notable for winning the endorsement of the Socialist Labor Party of America by a hair-thin margin at their separate nominating convention, something that had not yet occurred on the national level.


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*The fourth official convention was a National Congress held in Chicago in 1910. 1912's event is described in the stenographic report of convention proceedings as the Fifth National Convention of the Socialist Party.
 
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Rebels During the Mexican Revolution, 1911 - Source: Wiki Commons

The Hearst Administration had effectively been consigned to the dustbin of United States history by 1912. Once a robust and efficacious populist, Hearst devolved into a textbook lame duck president, paralyzed by Congress and endlessly scrutinized by an increasingly antagonistic press corp. He failed to satisfy his pledge to back the plight of workers' rights and distinctly opted against voicing support or offering federal arbitration in any of the major labor disputes in the span of his tenure. His estimated national approval plummeted since the opening of the Manhattan Scandal investigation, and its irresolute conclusion did not assist in rebounding Hearst to his former glory. On the domestic front, Hearst's chief legacy would be the appointment of four Supreme Court justices in the span of three years, although this too would be limited by Congress and the virtuousness of his appointees would prove incontrovertible.

Hearst's undisputed disapprobation allowed for a sharp resurgence of the Republican and Progressive parties, as first illustrated in the 1910 midterm elections. Both oppositional groups capitalized on the Tammany affair for their own gains to the extreme detriment of the president and the Democratic Party. Each soon looked to utilize their newfound approval to catapult themselves into the White House. The Republican nomination contest appeared to epitomize a serious horserace as numerous candidates came forward, but Progressives did not fancy a strenuous convention fight. An overwhelming majority of Columbians prayed for the return of their beloved champion: Former President Roosevelt.

From the time of his return to the United States partway through 1910, Roosevelt proved an unmistakable voice of sensibility in contrast with the arbitrary president. He decried Hearst when necessary, but otherwise allowed incumbent officeholders to take the lead. Now, with November on the horizon, not even the Rough Rider's closest friends and allies could speculate as to his future. Some days it seemed Roosevelt was itching to return to the realm of politics, while on others he waved away the notion of throwing his hat into the ring. It was not until the autumn of 1910, when Roosevelt visited the small city of Osawatomie, Kansas, that the press placed their bets. The former president delivered a monumental speech that September that roared with progressive fervor. He called for an invigorated federal government capable of eliminating social disparities, worker exploitation, and corporate domination of the economy. "The betterment which we seek," he boomed, "must be accomplished, I believe, mainly through the National Government. The American people are right in demanding that New Nationalism, without which we cannot hope to deal with new problems."

As for the Democratic Party, its leadership dreaded the Hearst albatross tied tight around its neck and longed to be rid of it as soon as possible. Much of the party turned away from Hearst at the height of the scandal, especially doing so in the aftermath of the abysmal midterms. Even Democratic National Committee Chair William Osborn, Tom Johnson's successor, refused to comment to the party's commitment to the Hearst program nor its prospective choice of a nominee in 1912. Their options were plentiful as there was no shortage of aspiring 'rising stars' within the Democratic ranks, but all understood the importance of disallowing Hearst from a second nomination. Distancing from the incumbent was their only chance of survival.

Hearst, like Chairman Osborn, did not respond to inquiries concerning his electoral plans. It was clear that a re-election bid would end in utter humiliation, far more so than the congressional investigations. An uncooperative Congress and legislative bickering could stain any presidency, but an electoral loss equaled nothing apart from complete dismissal by the American people. Several officials in Hearst's Cabinet planned their own career paths moving forward, most often involving a return to the private sector. We could also determine, judging by Vice President Champ Clark's meeting with Osborn and House Majority Leader Henry Clayton early in the year, that the second-in-command was considering a return to the House of Representatives and a potential run for the speakership. Any sane man would have viewed the writing on the wall, but Hearst did not meet those qualifications.


The United States in the latter part of the nineteenth century and at the start of the twentieth owned an economic arrangement with the government of Mexico that allowed unlimited foreign investment. [...] President Porfirio Díaz, an oligarchical ruler governing Mexico since 1876, kept tidy relations with the U.S. He welcomed with open arms the plundering of his country by foreign entities, specifically oil drilling and coal mining by British and American enterprises. Like in the case of China, a mass sentiment of indignation against foreign domination and state repression arose among the Mexican people and propelled them to revolt against the government. Revolutionaries called for, "Land for the landless and Mexico for the Mexicans." [...] When Díaz finally resigned in 1911, the reality of the situation set in (for the Hearst Administration).
Daniel Tanner, "Mexico and the Second Independence War", Anti-Imperialism in the 20th Century, 2002

Hearst paid close attention to the affairs in Mexico as the rebellion ensued, observing the revolution as closely as he observed the unfolding of the congressional investigation. He understood that the rise of an anti-American government in Mexico could threaten U.S. development in the region, possibly shuttering the American-owned oil fields, rubber plantations, and silver and copper mines. Between an escalating trend of raids on U.S. holdings and the resignation of Díaz, Hearst knew that the preservation of American interests (partially owned by the Hearst estate, mind you) counted on presidential action. Still, other than placing soldiers on the border with Mexico, the climate had not yet worsened to the extent that an order for military intervention could be deemed suitable. Therefore, in February of 1912, reasoning that he alone could prepare the nation for the eventuality of war against an intolerable Mexican government, President Hearst announced that he would seek a second term.
 
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Part 5: Chapter XVIII New

An Overflowing Crowd at the Republican National Convention, June 18th, 1912 - Source: Wiki Commons

Chapter XVIII: The Election of 1912: United Let Us Be, Rallying Round Our Liberty

Long before President's Hearst's fateful announcement concerning his interest in attaining a second term, Republicans and Progressives each treated the coetaneous political climate as if it was a referendum on the incumbent. It was no secret that the GOP suffered immeasurably in the prior decade, sliding from an unquestioning position of authority down to congressional minorities and low electoral ceilings. They managed to avert total disaster in the recent midterm elections as a logical byproduct of staunch hostility to the unpopular president, but none were certain whether this development was the beginning of a grandiose return to prominence or a final gasp of air. Some party officials dared to whisper their greatest fear in the lead-up to the election: President Chauncey Depew may have been the last Republican president.

Regretful over their downward trend yet optimistic for a turnaround, the Republican Party gathered at the Chicago Coliseum on June 18th to finalize and commemorate their latest platform and presidential contender. Since their last defeat, the party had already undergone somewhat of a political facelift. Most of the nineteenth century Old Guard either faded into obscurity or had died by 1912, leaving a new class solidly in the driver's seat. House Speaker Thomas Butler was, by far, the most powerful Republican presently occupying office, and yet he had only served as a congressman for 15 years. His direction of congressional procedures garnered him public adoration by the growing anti-Hearst electorate and his ability to coalesce with House Progressives made it an arduous task for the reformers to unleash the same degree of criticism that met his more conservative counterparts. Still, Butler had not indicated an explicit interest in the party's presidential nomination despite these clear advantages.

Other potential candidates for the upcoming race, like Senators Knox and Fairbanks, began emitting signals that they possessed a desire for higher office. Fairbanks essentially started from the ground-up, gathering likely allies as well as recollecting his senatorial campaign staff to explore the field. Meanwhile, Knox, having run a presidential campaign four years prior, already prepared a national organization and started utilizing his resources to sway potential state delegates. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the exceptionally well-known power broker in the upper house of the legislature (and, like Butler, had widespread appeal beyond the traditional Republican base), was speculated to have begun a silent campaign for the presidency as well. Unwilling to contend a presidential contest with Roosevelt, a close friend of the senator, he did not actively campaign. Lodge's name was nonetheless entered into the running in various states.

A series of state-run primaries and caucuses were featured in the prelude to the national conventions. Several states passed initiatives in 1910 through 1912 that mandated primary elections, or caucuses, be held to determine how delegates should be selected. As state Republican chairs disliked the prospect of public primaries, very few allowed for these elections to 'bind' delegates to the outcome of the vote. Therefore, these results proved inconsequential on the Republican side save the right to declare oneself chosen by the voters. Perhaps at first these contests were eyed curiously by the party as a legitimate signal for which direction they ought to proceed, but these presidential primaries chiefly award victories to favorite son candidates (Fairbanks in Indiana, Lodge in Massachusetts, etc.) and largely failed to demonstrate much else. The only exception to this rule was in Illinois, where Butler won a surprising 60% win. According to historical sources on the subject, that landslide outcome promptly tempted the House leader to seek the nomination more actively outright.

At the convention site, an astonishing crowd of thousands arrived to witness the political festivities. The halls of the coliseum grew so packed with attendees on the first day that the Chicago police were forced to blockade the doors to prevent an unbearable influx of guests. It had been years since the Republican National Convention was met with such interest by the general population, and, as some publications pondered, this phenomenon confirmed just how detrimental Hearst's presidency had been to the Democratic Party and to the cause of progressivism. If the Republicans generated this extent of tremendous enthusiasm before the campaigns lifted off the ground, perchance hope remained for the once-insurmountable political force. Convention

Settling the arena and quelling the impatient audience, Chairman John Weeks pounded his gavel as the convention came to order. Republican congressmen, governors, and local and state officials commenced with a chain of long-winded speeches in the aftermath of an opening prayer, and in doing so set a unique tone for the event. In speech after speech, the guests harshly reprimanded the Hearst administration and the Democratic Party for "four years of utter chaos, scandal, and what may be a permanent loss of public faith in our institutions." They concentrated on the character of the president, his shady business and political associations, and the "flagrant lawlessness of Tammany Hall" much more so than their policy proposals. Albeit steering clear of simple name-calling, Republican speakers named Hearst one of the worst presidents in United States history, far surpassing their old punching bag, former President Bryan. Some cited the president's potential involvement in intimidation tactics, "a crime worthy of impeachment," while others derided Hearst's dangerous ties to the yellow press. All in all, to the unbeknownst onlooker, it was as if the Senate committee found Hearst guilty of every accusation.

Following the unanimous approval of an uncontroversial party platform, one which contained proposals for a raised tariff, called for an enforced Federal Trade Commission, and frequently contrasted conservative righteousness with the Democrats' "lack of constructive statesmanship," the delegates went on to call the rolls for president.


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It took three calls to settle the shifting seas, but Speaker Butler received the necessary number of delegates to win the nomination. Senator Lodge and Senate Conference Chairman Shelby Cullom endorsed the temperate legislative leader just prior to the second ballot, stirring the pot just right to award sufficient momentum for Butler to sail to victory in the third count. Knox, to his frank embarrassment, lost control of the Pennsylvania delegation to Butler on the second ballot as well, likely crushing his spirit to pursue the nomination and thereby allowing Butler's team to vacuum up his supporters. Like the party platform, Butler's telegraphed acceptance speech condemned President Hearst and the compliant Democratic Party to the nth degree. "We must return to respectability, and thenceforth rid ourselves of the weed of demagoguery in all of its forms. This is the newest challenge faced by our republic, but the obstacle is nothing new. General Cleon rose to power in Ancient Athens by manipulating and bullying his contemporaries. He professed a false love for democracy, showering praise on his allies and raining insults on his enemies. He spoke of a brilliant future won through battle, but this lie led the Athenians to certain catastrophe. My fellow Americans, I charge that the present occupant of the White House, Mr. Hearst, is our Modern Cleon."

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Empathizing with the desperate need to surge the party forward, former Secretary of War and President of the Pullman Company Robert Todd Lincoln solemnly accepted the nomination as vice president. Per the recommendation of Butler, a united front of Republicanism effectively persuaded the typically disinterested Lincoln to accept the role. His name alone, Butler and the Republican National Committee believed, would tempt plenty of otherwise apathetic voters to voice preference to the Republican Party and assist the ticket in carrying the Midwestern swing states. Butler and Lincoln thus started down the treacherous path to the election, hoping to renew their brand of politics and remove Hearst from power at all costs.
 
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Empathizing with the desperate need to surge the party forward, former Secretary of War and President of the Pullman Company Robert Todd Lincoln solemnly accepted the nomination as vice president.
Oh god, Todd's gonna be near another POTUS. Which, given how many of the guys he was near when they died, well....
 
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