The Debs Pamphlets of 1905
One of the most annoying things about Debs: His Life, Writings, and Speeches — the 1908 campaign-related collection of Debs articles, public addresses, and biographical testimonials from whence all previous Debs selected works collections prior to ours have sprung — is its inclusion, back-to-back-to-back-to-back of four virtually identical speeches with essentially indistinguishable names.
Debs did a series of speeches for the new Industrial Workers of the World late in the fall of 1905. They had a stenographer present for three Chicago dates, those of November 23, 24, and 25. This is great, so far as it goes — most surviving Debs speeches are newspaper stenograms by reporters with varying levels of precision and thoroughness. Debs generally spoke for about two hours at a time and there just weren’t many newspaper reporters willing to keep up with him in shorthand for that long, nor newspapers willing to commit 10,000 words to print when a few hundred words of piquant epigrams are what the people really want.
The result? Three greatly similar pamphlets: Class Unionism, Craft Unionism, and Revolutionary Unionism.
Not only that. Immediately after Debs made his big nightly presentations in Chicago, he made his way to New York City, where once again a stenographer was employed and a verbatim pamphlet published, this one with another nearly indistinguishable title, Industrial Unionism.
Early on in Debs Works project, David and I determined that we were going to replicate everything in the 1908 Debs Life, Writings, and Speeches… PLUS PLUS PLUS PLUS.
And lately we’ve committed to really placing attention on Debs’s relationship to the IWW; his role in its foundation, his place as a core supporter, and his disaffection over its anti-political action stance and the real distance between him and them which ultimately resulted.
Moreover, I’ve tried not to change names of published speeches and articles, whenever possible. The titles of Debs fare which has never been republished in a collection? That’s fair game for retitling, particularly if the original title was written by a newspaper editor rather than Debs himself. But when something has been published as a pamphlet, and then republished in a book, and then reissued as a pamphlet, then republished in a book half a dozen more times? That title is locked down, my friends…
So what to do with four speeches, each issued as individual pamphlets, with these non-compelling and virtually indistinguishable titles: Class Unionism (Chicago, Nov. 23, 1905), Craft Unionism (Chicago, Nov. 24, 1905), Revolutionary Unionism (Chicago, Nov. 25, 1905), Industrial Unionism (New York, Dec. 10, 1905)?
I know my own feeling about nearly 40,000 words of back-to-back-to-back-to-back speeches with cloned names and similar content. Excruciating.
Are we really gonna spend 15% of an entire volume on such stuff, just because everybody else has always done that, when there are another couple hundred articles that are gonna necessarily be squeezed out for reasons of space?
It’s pretty hard to imagine actually doing that…
• • • • •
The New Jersey Socialist Unity Conference of 1905-06
With Gene Debs and Daniel DeLeon joining forces under the banner of the IWW in 1905 — and the two sharing a similar orientation towards the efficacy and necessity of political action — an opening presented itself for unification of the bitter rival Socialist and Socialist Labor parties. A series of formal negotiating sessions took place in New Jersey, attempting to find common ground to broker a deal bringing together the 3,000 or so hardcore Marxist members of the SLP and the approximately 21,000 duespayers of the more amorphous Socialist Party of America.
The drive for unification of the two rival political organizations actually slightly predated formal establishment of the IWW itself. On May 30, 1905, 142 delegates representing the locals and branches of the Socialist Party of New Jersey assembled for their annual state convention at Lyceum Hall in Newark. After electing a left wing slate of officers, the convention determined to begin a process of negotiations with the SLP in accord with a resolution of the 1904 Amsterdam Convention of the International calling for a single socialist party in each country to avoid destructive fracturing of the workers’ movement.
A negotiating team consisting of 12 representatives was appointed, three from Hudson, Essex, Passaic, and Union counties — all located in close proximity to metropolitan New York City, the seat of the SLP. A like delegation was established by the SLP, with similar county apportionment among its members.
A total of six “unity conferences” were held between these unity delegations, with the first meeting held at SPA headquarters in Newark.
New Jersey State Secretary W.B. Killingbeck of the SPA was in the chair for the first meeting, held Sunday, Dec. 17, 1905, with both parties electing their own secretaries to keep an official record of the discussions. One notable member of the SLP negotiating team was Patrick Quinlan of Essex County, later a prominent figure in IWW textile strikes. A three hour time limit was agreed upon for these negotiating sessions, with speeches limited to ten minutes.
Killingbeck stated the basic SPA position on trade unions, as established by national convention, in which the party was defined as a political organization with sympathy and support given to the autonomous trade union movement, regardless of whether affiliated with the AF of L, the new IWW, or any other organization.
Julius Eck of the SLP countered that an socialist party failing to take part in working class economics was a contradiction. Both James M. Reilly of the SPA and Quinlan of the SLP agreed that without a common trade union movement uniting the working class, it would be impossible for true political unification to be achieved.
Representatives of both parties agreed that craft unionism was a stumbling block for the workers’ movement and supported industrial unionism as a general principle. The non-political affiliation clause of the IWW Preamble was called into question by Killingbeck of the SPA, with the SLP delegation unable to provide complete clarity on the point. The SPA delegates noted that there was no unanimity of opinion inside the party as to whether boring within the AF of L or the new dual industrial union was tactically correct, although general support of the IWW was voiced.
Additional matters for discussion were identified, including the party press and party discipline. A second meeting was scheduled for the same location two weeks hence, December 31, 1905.(fn “Unity Conference,” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 41 (Jan. 6, 1906), p. 1).
The second unity session returned to the earlier theme of the trade union question, debating the question of whether neutrality towards the union movement was a possible option for a united party. Jersey City Machinist George H. Headley of the SPA was in the chair. Delegates James Reilly, William Glanz, and Walker of the SPA reaffirmed a strong preference for industrial unionism, emphasizing the position taken by Gene Debs that the plethora of craft unions was perfectly suitable to the capitalist class, with Walker observing that 23 years in an AF of L union had taught him that a craft union looks out for itself alone and “doesn’t give a tinker’s damn for the rest of the working class.”
However, Walker added, the SLP’s direct intervention in the labor movement with its Socialist Trade & Labor Alliance (ST&LA) had been troublesome, disruptive, and counterproductive. How the IWW would turn out, time would tell, he said, emphasizing the necessity for creation of a single, unified socialist party for the IWW to promote to its members, as “two socialist parties make the movement a laughingstock to the capitalists.”
Gallo of the SLP defended the ST&LA tactic as correct, albeit premature — the sort of mistake which helped by paving the way for the launch of the class-conscious IWW. He noted that the SPA had not been neutral during a recent coal strike and that the party’s own slogan of “Join the union of your craft, join the party of your class” implied a direct interest and position of non-neutrality on the labor question.
A resolution was passed by a vote of 22 to 2 declaring that the socialist political movement could not remain neutral to the “organized effort of the working class to better their conditions on class-conscious, revolutionary lines.” While not constituting an official endorsement of the IWW, support of industrial unionism in that form was intimated. A second resolution, declaring the AF of L’s present form of organization to be detrimental to the working class, was passed unanimously.
Outright endorsement of the IWW proved a sticking point, with the SP delegation expressing fear of an organizational split if too much distance was traveled in this direction, and the SLP delegates feeling in a poor position to make demands since the SLP had not itself officially recognized the IWW. With time expired, the meeting adjourned, after scheduling another session for January 21, 1906. (fn. “Unity Conference,” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 44 (Jan. 27, 1906), pp. 1, 3.)
Back at SPA headquarters in Newark for a third session, with Headley of the SPA once again in the chair. The 24 delegates attempted to finesse a resolution that would break the endorsement impasse, with various positions crossing party lines. At issue was whether the IWW should be endorsed as an institution, or its form of organization endorsed. A number of substitute amendments attempting to finesse the issue were put forward and discussed at length.
An effort by some of the Socialist delegates to eliminate all mention of the organization was defeated and a resolution approved 22-2 recognizing “the usefulness of the Industrial Workers of the World to the true proletarian movement.” Much good feeling and comradeship ensued as time for the session expired. (fn. “Unity Conference,” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 46 (Feb. 10, 1906), pp. 1, 3.)
The fourth meeting of the SPA and SLP New Jersey unity committees took place on an unspecified Sunday in February 1906, probably Feb. 4, with the SPA’s Headley again in the chair.
After spending three sessions on the trade union question, the negotiators moved to the next potentially fundamental item of disagreement, the question of whether the party press should be privately owned (as was the Socialist Party press) or owned outright by the party itself (as was the case with the Socialist Labor Party). Implications followed: decentralization and democracy but chaos on the one hand; centralization, consistency, and discipline on the other, but at the risk of dictatorial degeneration.
William Glantz of the Socialist Party conceded the question as to party ownership, which Jacob H. Schmitter of the SLP argued that this was the “real cause” of the 1899 split and declared that “thorough discussion was necessary so that in the future no such split can take place again.”
Wilson Killingbeck of the SPA made the case against a party-owned press:
I first joined the SDP and under the party constitution every member got the Social Democratic Herald free. We thought we had a party-owned press, yet the result was disastrous to the party. In a year’s time we found that the press owned us. The editor [A.S. Edwards], or a bunch of editors, through reaching the party each week practically controlled the SDP and what doctrines they chose to promulgate the majority swore to as gospel according to Marx, Engels, etc….
Today, a [Victor] Berger may promulgate his views in the Herald, but we have an antidote in [William] Mailly’s Toledo Socialist…. Imagine what it would mean today, if the SD Herald was a party-owned paper, with Berger as editor, and that paper was going to every member of the party! The result would be that we would be following in the footsteps of Hearst, Colby & Co., for that is where Berger is going today.
I want to refer to the so-called party-owned press of the SLP side. I know from personal contact with good socialists that they are frequently misled by the party-owned press of the SLP. They accept what [Daniel] DeLeon says as gospel truth — that things in The People are absolute gospel. We know, and the SLP knows, that there have been communications put in The People that were not really the truth, they were exaggerated or distorted, but because the paper represents the SLP, whatever appeared in the paper is taken with the authority of gospel truth, and there is the danger of a party-owned press.
As the Socialist Party of New Jersey had already declared itself in favor of a party-owned press, there was little room for Killingbeck’s perspective. DeLeon’s stability was defended in comparison to the opportunistic positions of Berger and Gaylord Wilshire. A motion was put forward by Julius Eck of the SLP putting the conference on record as being “opposed to all privately-owned papers espousing the cause of labor…” — a motion which carried unanimously.
Eck attempted to explain what “party-owned” meant to the SLP:
All papers whose property is not vested in the national party are private papers. In the SLP no member, committee, or section of the party can publish a paper without the sanction of the NEC [National Executive Committee], and then all the property of such a paper as far as practicable must be vested in the NEC free from any financial or legal liability, the election of the editor being subject to the approval of the NEC.
The importance of this structure was emphasized by Frederick Koettgen of the SLP, with the party’s painful history with private ownership made evident:
It was always impressed upon us that the Volkszeitung was the party press, but the time came when we found out that it was not. It was the party press when it needed funds; it was not the party press when the party called on it. The party at all hazards must own its press and we can’t be too careful how we place its control. We have had some experience with the Daily People. It was first placed in the hands of three trustees and when their management was found unsatisfactory we found our hands tied and it took a general vote of the party to dislodge the trustees. There is a warning for us in that. The national organization must be in control.
The SLP position — banning individual party members from owning and publishing papers without NEC approval — implied a split or multiple splits of the organization over the question. New Jersey State Secretary W.B. Killingbeck of the SPA attempted to temper this extreme outcome with an alternative proposal which stated “no paper or magazine shall be considered an official organ, unless it has the endorsement of the national organization and shall be owned by members of the party or national organization.” This was lost 20-4. An original motion declaring all papers not directly vested in the national organization to be privately owned was then passed 23-1.
At this point, with time running out, Eck of the SLP read a “distorted summary” of the first meeting of the unity committees that had been recently published in the Volkszeitung and also questioning omission of a few key words from the official minutes by the New York Worker (formerly the dissident edition of The People) tension began to flare.
Walker of the SPA charged,
It is a mistake to be dragging the Volkszeitung Corporation into this conference. At the last meeting I protested against an editorial from The People [by DeLeon] being read, yet nearly all our time today has been taken up fighting 184 William Street [the location used to publish both the Volkszeitung and the dissident People/Worker], and in doing this you are making a grave mistake. I came into this conference to unite the socialist movement on the political field. Of course the Volkszeitung exercises an influence on its readers, all papers do. We are handicapped at the start; we are trying to overcome obstacles that are almost insurmountable. Don’t keep dragging in the Volkszeitung….
The final resolution, recognizing that “the socialist movement can not control a private press” was adopted unanimously, and the declaration made that “party ownership and control of the press are essential to party safety.” (fn. “Unity Conference,” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 48 (Feb. 24, 1906), pp. 1, 3.)
Papered over by the conference delegates, a deep and probably irreconcilable fissure within the rank and file of the Socialist Party remained on this question. It was this which proved to be the issue which ultimately sunk the 1905-06 unity effort.
• • • • •
A Digression: Unity from Below
While the New Jersey party organizations were conducting official unity negotiations, there were similar efforts “from below” to bolster the SPA/SLP unity campaign. On February 15, the state convention of the Socialist Party of Maine unanimously passed a resolution which did “endorse and commend the action of our New Jersey comrades in initiating the move for unity with the Socialist Labor Party.” (fn. “Maine Socialist Party Endorses New Jersey Unity Conference…” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 48 (Feb. 24, 1906), p. 1.) A unity conference was held in Gloversville, New York the next day attempting to build a unified organization there at the local level. (fn. “Unity in Gloversville,” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 48 (Feb. 24, 1906), p. 1.)
Also on February 16, a unity conference was held in Hartford, Connecticut between members of the SLP and SPA, with the meeting discussing at length the relative merits of the strategy of “boring from within” versus the establishment of a dual revolutionary socialist industrial union to attempt to supplant the American Federation of Labor. (fn. “Unity in Connecticut,” Weekly People, vol. 15, no. 49 (March 3, 1906), p. 1.)
This “unity from below” pressure echoed the widespread sentiment which grew in the Social Democratic Party which pushed hesitant leaderships from Springfield and Chicago together in a unified new organization, the Socialist Party of America, in the summer of 1901.
• • • • •
A fifth unity conference was held February 18, 1906. This time the venue was moved to Liberty Hall in West Hoboken, New Jersey. Some substitutes were in attendance.
James Reilly of the Socialist Party of America made a resolution defining party ownership of the press as a vesting of all property in the national organization, and over which no one not a member of the party could exert control. Taking aim at the SPA’s doctrine of state autonomy, he explained
We want the press to be a national exponent of the movement, by this I mean that what is taught as socialism in New Jersey must be the same as what is taught in Pennsylvania or any other state…. The Social Democratic Herald, for instance, has one brand of socialism; the Toledo Socialist has a different brand. We want just one brand all over the country…. We should stand for the principle that all the party channels for the dissemination of socialist knowledge and information should be owned and controlled by the party.
Eck of the SLP called the doctrine of state autonomy “a reflex in the SP of craft unionism,” akin to the divisive states rights movement which culminated in civil war. “I don’t know what can be said in favor of state autonomy, what do you mean by it, anyway?” To which the waggish Killingbeck replied amidst a round of laughter, “State autonomy is the price we paid to Berger for the privilege of having him remain in the SP.”
This opened up the final topic of discussion for the confreres, that of party discipline. Eck of the SLP proposed a resolution deeming it “self-evident that workingmen organized in either economic or political organizations must also bow down to a rigid self-imposed discipline with eyes forever fixed upon … the complete emancipation of the working class by the overthrow of all the master classes.”
New Jersey State Secretary John Hossack of the SLP explained:
Party discipline means the power of the party’s organization to hold its membership to strict obedience to the party’s laws. You have heard that the SLP is intolerant. Well its intolerance consists in this, that the party says to its members: you are here voluntarily and if you cannot accept the party’s rules — why the world is wide. you may say that’s it, it is submit or get out! Not at all. We have discussion within the party. We are not a lot of fossils, we recognize that discussion is natural and needful…. We are sticklers for one thing though and that is that no party member can go it alone and pretend to speak for the party.
Discipline is a matter that really cannot be legislated upon; it consists in the spirit of an organization, and it is only possible in a body that is clear upon what it wants, and clear upon how to go ab out getting it. The SLP has for its principle: Down with capitalism; for its slogan: no compromise….
Discipline is really a reflex of whether the party’s principles are loose or firm. If the principles are loose you will have all kinds of interpretations of them so that discipline will be impossible — unity of purpose and methods are essential to discipline.
The discipline issue was similarly decided by a unanimous vote.
In short on the three main objects of contention — position towards the trade union movement, ownership of the party press, and inner-party discipline, the 12 Socialist Party negotiators fully accepted the established positions of the Socialist Labor Party on these questions.
Three members of each party were elected a committee to draw up a manifesto in an attempt to win over the rank and file of the Socialist Party particularly to the cause of unity — Glanz, James, and Reilly for the SPA and Eck, Gallo, and Hossack for the SLP. Proceedings of the conference were to be published in pamphlet form, with the body adjourned until a scheduled meeting of March 4, back in Socialist Party headquarters in Newark.
Session 6 and Epilogue
A sixth and final meeting was held March 4, at which time the manifesto of the unity conference was read and approved. The publication of the manifesto and complete minutes of the unity conferences was approved, with each organization pledged to pay half the cost of printing.
The Socialist Party of New Jersey met May 30, 1906 in state convention and voted not to pursue further unity with the Socialist Labor Party.
Following rejection of the unity initiative, William Glantz of the SPA unity committee dramatically resigned from Local Passaic County and the SPA, accusing the party of ignoring the resolution of the International’s Amsterdam Congress of 1904 calling for a single socialist party in each country, for which representatives of both the SLP and SPA had cast votes in favor. He later returned to the SPA’s banner, running as its candidate for US Senate in 1912 and for mayor of Paterson, NJ in 1915 and 1935.
The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 21 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.
- “Municipal Ownership, Capitalist vs. Socialist: A Statement to the Press” (June 7, 1905) — 807 words
- “I Would Share the Prison Cell With You: Letter to Moses Harman” (July 20, 1905) — 363 words
- “The New Working Class Union” (Aug. 5, 1905) — 625 words
- “Labor is the Great Power: Speech in Dixon, Illinois” [excerpt] (Aug. 8, 1905) — 2,227 words
- “Revolutionary Unionism: Speech in Chicago” (Nov. 25, 1905) — 6,630 words
Word count: 48,059 in the can + 10,652 this week +/- amendments = 58,269 words total.
David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.
To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive
Here’s a list of the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. There is a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA.
- The Weekly People — 1905 (June-December), 1906
- The Worker — 1905
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