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Nicholas J. Berejan

A Thesis Submitted to the University of North Carolina Wilmington in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts

Department of History

University of North Carolina Wilmington


Approved by

Advisory Committee

Candice Bredbenner

Jarrod Tanny

Susan McCaffray



Accepted by


Dean, Graduate School




























Historians have studied the American Communist movement in depth over the last sixty

years. The generation of historians that emerged from the New Left of the 1960s delved into

the history of specific subgroups, such as women, African Americans, and specific industrial and

labor unions, within the larger party. However, historians have largely failed to adequately

document the role of Russian immigrants within the early Communist Party of America.

Russian immigrants in the United States contributed greatly to the American

Communist movement. Russian-born Socialists and Communists residing in the United States

commanded considerable authority in the early years of the American Communist Party. Their

pretensions to leadership of the entire movement have been remembered as arrogance due to

their shared heritage with the Russian Bolsheviks who orchestrated the November, 1917

Revolution. Their unwillingness to cooperate fully with American-born leaders within the

movement has similarly been ascribed to their desire to control and dominate the development

of an American Communist movement.

This understanding of the role of Russian Americans in the early days of the Communist

Party of America leaves much to be desired. This thesis will demonstrate that Russian

immigrants in the Socialist and Communist movements did indeed contribute greatly to the

fractious and disunited character of the early Communist Party of America. However, were it

not for their contributions to organizing the Left Wing of the Socialist Party of America from

which the Communist movement developed, there would likely have been no Communist Party

of America such as historically existed.



My thanks go to Drs. Susan McCaffray, William Fain, Robert Spaulding, and Michael

Seidman for the accumulated courses, independent studies, and term paper assignments which

led me to this thesis topic and encouraged me to explore a topic in history that I had little

knowledge of. Were it not for their guidance and input I would have never come to understand

the joy of researching the confusing, chaotic, and profoundly interesting history of the early

American Communist movement.

I would further like to thank Tim Davenport. His tireless work transcribing and digitizing

Communist Party documents, newspapers, and literature, and making these files easily

accessible and available online, greatly facilitated my research process.

Special thanks go to my parents, particularly my father for fostering my curiosity in

history; my mother, for putting up with regular detours to museums, historic sites, and

monuments during ostensibly relaxing vacations; and my sister, for her continual support and

encouragement through this process. I would also like to acknowledge all of the friends I have

made in this program, who were always supportive, provided insight and constructive criticism,

and regularly reminded me that there was a light at the end of the Graduate School tunnel.

I would also like to thank the History Department, the Graduate School, all of the

Professors who taught me and all of the support staff who facilitated my learning.

Finally, I would like to thank my committee specifically for their guidance and assistance

throughout this process.



I would like to dedicate this thesis to my grandmothers, Anna Trojan and Olga Berejan,

who left everything they’d ever known in Europe in search of a better life in the United States.



The writings on American Communism are many. As a historian of the subject once said,

“never have so many studied so much about so few.” 1 Indeed, many historians have written

about the American Communist movement. However, owing to its historically contentious

nature in American political discourse, and the relatively recent addition of previously

unavailable sources and documents in the Russian archives, the field of American Communist

history is still a fertile ground for scholarship and enquiry.

Although extensive research has been conducted on the roles of specific populations

within the American Communist movement, one often neglected subgroup remains to be

examined in-depth. Russian immigrants in the United States contributed greatly to the

American Communist movement. Indeed, Russian-born Socialists and Communists residing in

the United States commanded considerable authority in the early years of the American

Communist Party. Their pretensions to leadership of the entire movement have been

remembered as arrogance owing to their shared heritage with the Russian Bolsheviks who

orchestrated the November, 1917 Revolution. Their unwillingness to cooperate fully with

American-born leaders within the movement has similarly been ascribed to their desire to

control and dominate the development of an American Communist movement. This

understanding of the role of Russian Americans in the early days of the Communist Party of

America (CPA) is faulty. It will be demonstrated here that Russian immigrants in the Socialist

and Communist movements did indeed contribute greatly to the fractious and disunited

character of the early Communist Party of America. However, were it not for their contributions

1 Harvey Klehr, The American Communist Movement: Storming Heaven Itself (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992),

to organizing the Left Wing of the Socialist Party of America from which the Communist

movement developed, there would likely have been no Communist Party of America such as

historically existed.

Russian immigrant claims to leadership of the early Communist movement rested upon

more than a simple shared nationality or ethnicity to the Bolsheviks in Moscow. A shared

language granted them access to Leninist theory and principles which were not easily

accessible, or understood, by their American-born comrades. Russian immigrants and émigrés

in the United States translated and disseminated these ideas through the Left Wing of the

Socialist Party of America, and provided the impetus for the formation of a Communist Party in

the United States. Their rigid, inflexible adherence to these same ideas, however, led to their

preference to keep the Communist movement divided. This same unyielding dedication to the

Bolshevik program of 1917, in the face of changing international circumstances and shifting

policies of the Third International in Moscow, ultimately resulted in their marginalization within

the movement they helped to forge.

The historiography of American Communism, like the historiography of any topic, has

undergone shifts in popular scholarly opinions and leading paradigms over the past ninety

years. In his book The End of Ideology Daniel Bell characterized these shifts in terms of

generations, which he labeled the “once-born,” “twice-born,” and “after-born.” The once-

bornhistorians of American Communism were contemporaries of and actively involved in the

early years of that movement. The “second-bornconsisted of historians active within the

movement but who reevaluated their beliefs and the history of the Party following their own

disillusionment of the movement after the political events of the late 1930s, particularly the


Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. The “after-born” was the term used by Bell to describe the new

generation of historians active in the 1960s and 1970s, who were not involved in the old

Communist Party, and sought to reexamine American Communist History through the lens of

the New Left paradigm. The earliest histories of the American Communist movement were

written by the “first-born,” members of that movement and contemporaries associated with it.

These come from a variety of sources: Party functionaries, disgraced or repentant former Party

members, United States Government reports and enquiries, and witnesses from outside the

Party but on the periphery of the radical Left. The first truly scholarly works emerged in the

1950s and 1960s, most notably the influential series of studies commissioned by the Fund for

the Republic, entitled “Communism in American Life.” The “Communism in American Life”

series, which more than any other represented the “twice-born” perspective, established the

dominant narrative of American Communist history for several decades, and was not

challenged until a new generation of scholars emerged from the New Left and Student

Movement of the 1960s. The new generation argued for a reevaluation of American Communist

history focusing on grass-roots and local political efforts of the Communist Party membership.

Beginning in the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a new shift occurred in which

scholars once more returned to the old dynamic established in the 1950s and 1960s, which

focuses the history of the Party as one completely interwoven with the political history of the

Soviet Union.

The earliest attempt to establish a timeline of events of the American Communist

movement came from political opponents of that movement during a period of labor unrest

that was perceived to be influenced by Russian Bolshevism and its proponents in the United


States. The Lusk Committee, a New York State Senate investigative committee headed by New

York State Senator Clayton Lusk, was established in 1920 in the midst of the first red scare to

investigate seditious activities in New York State, due to the large number “radicalsresiding in

New York City. A 4,000 page report entitled Revolutionary Radicalism: Its History, Purpose and

Tactics with an Exposition and Discussion of the Steps being Taken and Required to Curb It was

the result of this enquiry. The massive report included brief summations of the Socialist

movements in nearly every European nation, the role of the corresponding Socialist parties

during the War and the Berne conference, the formation of the Third (Communist)

International, and an analysis of the Soviet government and Soviet foreign relations. The report

also included a surprisingly detailed account of the 1919 split in the American Socialist

movement and the formation of the American Communist parties, including entire documents

from the founding of those parties. The investigative committee made little distinction between

the Communists and Socialists in the United States despite the manifestos and constitutions of

those parties being printed verbatim. 2

James Oneal chronicled the early history of the American Communist movement in his

1927 book American Communism: A Critical Analysis of its Origin, Development, and Programs.

Although an outsider in that he was not a member of either Communist Party, Oneal did have

firsthand knowledge of the early American Communist period by virtue of his role in the

Socialist Party of America (SPA). Oneal witnessed the growing divide between the revolutionary

Left Wing of the SPA and the conservative Center and Right Wing of the Party. This divide

2 New York (State), Revolutionary Radicalism: Its History, Purpose, and Tactics, with an Exposition and Discussion of the Steps Being Taken To Curb It, Report of the Joint Legislative Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Filed April 24, 1920, in the Senate of the State of New York, Part I: Revolutionary Subversive Movements Abroad and at Home, Volume I (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1920), 634. Available in its entirety at


widened after American entrance into the First World War and quickly accelerated after the

Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, resulting in a divide that he regarded as irreparable. As a result,

Oneal favored the expulsion of the Left Wing in 1919. Oneal was far from a neutral or unbiased

witness as he was not a member of either Communist Party and a staunch supporter of the

Socialist Party. He ultimately concluded that the factionalism and in-fighting between the two

parties, and between the Communists and the remnants of the SPA, undermined both the

revolutionary and reformist aims of the Communists and Socialists, respectively. He further

argued that the Communist Party’s largely foreign-born membership’s preoccupation with the

Bolsheviks and the situation in Soviet Russia divorced the early movement from the large

majority of the American working class. Written in 1927, Oneal’s work regarded the Communist

movement as a failed exercise in revolutionary agitation, and one that was in the process of

decline into total obscurity, a correct analysis of the movement at the time, although the

movement achieved its largest membership in the following decade.

Strangely, the Communist Party of America published no official history of the Party

until the 1930s. Even then, the first histories published were primarily autobiographies of the

leadership. The often changing nature of Communist doctrine and policy issuing forth from

Moscow in the 1920s may have made it difficult to publish an accurate account of the early

years of the Party without highlighting sudden and dramatic reversals of tactics and theory

inconsistent with contemporary dogma. 3 Eventually two major works emerged, both written by

high ranking members of the Party. Benjamin Gitlow’s I Confess: The Truth About American

3 This opinion is shared by noted scholar of American Communism Maurice Isserman, who suggested that constant shifts in Party line in the 1920s made any study of the Party’s early history “embarrassing.” See Maurice Isserman, “Three Generations: Historians View American Communism,” Labor History 26, no. 4 (Fall, 1985), 517.


Communism, published in 1940, was a Party history from a once-powerful Party leader. Gitlow,

who along with John Reed was one of the most influential founders of the Communist Labor

Party, fell out of favor with both the American Communist membership and the Soviet

leadership in Moscow. Although Gitlow ran on the ticket of the Workers Party for Governor of

New York in 1926, and was William Z. Fosters running mate as vice presidential candidate in

1928, he was ejected from the Party in 1929 following the Cominterns purge of “Right

Oppositionists.By the late 1930s Gitlow had renounced all radicalism and become an

outspoken critic of Communism. His account of the Party history was one that painted him in a

favorable light as a champion of the working class who endeavored to create an American

Communist Party for the native-born American workers, but who was opposed at every

juncture by the foreign-born Party leadership in the CPA and by the Soviet leadership after

Lenin’s death. Gitlow’s account was thus far from unbiased; however at the time of its

publication it was by far the most detailed history of the American Communist movement in


William Z. Foster’s 1952 insider account of Party history was a work equally biased,

although written by an influential Party member whose fortunes were decidedly greater.

Entitled History of the Communist Party of the United States, Foster’s work was as equally

detailed as Gitlows but perhaps less concerned with historical accuracy. History of the

Communist Party of the United States was in many ways a revisionist work. Foster attempted to

downplay the role of foreign-born leadership and emphasized the contributions of native-born

American workers, such as Foster himself, to the establishment and development of American

Communism. Foster further sought to establish American Communism as a movement largely


American in origin, rooted in American radical tradition, as opposed to an alien ideology

imported by foreign radicals and controlled by Moscow. Published in the 1950s, Foster’s work

was thus an attempt to create a legacy of the American Communist Party that was in contrast

to allegations by political opponents that the American Communist movement was something

imported to and controlled by a foreign state, and not a legitimate creation of American


Daniel Bell’s Marxian Socialism in the United States was also published in 1952. Bell’s

work was the first lengthy history of American Communism to emerge from academia. His work

was primarily an attempt to understand why Marxism largely failed to take root amongst the

American working class. In it, the author argued that the conservative elements that remained

in the Socialist Party in 1919 were as caught up in the glory of the Bolshevik successes as the

revolutionary Left Wing which created the American Communist Parties. As evidence, Bell cited

the SPA’s application to the Third International, and reapplications that followed until 1921

when the Party all but “turned its back on communism.” 4 Bell maintained that the fundamental

differences between the SPA and the CPs were not all that great; rather, the dividing issue was

the amount of faith placed by the parties in when revolution in the United States would be

realistic, and the whole-cloth adoption of Bolshevism to American realities. He concluded that

the SPA, like the American Communist parties, alienated itself from the American working class

by embarking in revolutionary “adventurism.The foreign-born leadership within the

Communist Party of America, by claiming to be the representatives of Bolshevism in the United

States and the only people capable of replicating Bolshevik success in very different political

4 Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 115.


circumstances, similarly led the Party away from mainstream American politics and thus from

the majority of the American working class.

Bell’s work was the first in a line of Communist Party histories written by serious

academics. In 1953, Robert Hutchins, the former president of the University of Chicago and

head of the liberal group The Fund for the Republic, financed and organized a new series titled

Communism in American Life. The group published ten volumes written by several academics in

the ensuing years. The first two volumes, written by former Communist Party member

Theodore Draper, entitled The Roots of American Communism (1957) and American

Communism and Soviet Russia: The Formative Period (1960) were the most detailed and well-

researched. Draper drew on a variety of Communist Party archival sources, interviews with

former Communists, and published Communist Party documents and newspapers to detail the

genesis of American Communism. The Roots of American Communism addressed the rise of the

Left Wing of the SPA from the beginning of the First World War through the factional disputes

that culminated in two Communist Parties, ending in the final unification of American

Communists into one cohesive organization in 1923. Draper’s narrative was a history from the

top down; he focused almost entirely on the most influential persons in the Party and their

quest to foster revolution in the United States along the Bolshevik model. He further chronicled

the ensuing internal debates over questions such as the underground versus legal Party, the

Party’s stance on parliamentary politics, trade union policy, and autonomy of Party units within

the larger organization. Draper argued that the American Communist Party was born of

revolutionary American Socialists and Syndicalists, both native-born and foreign-born, who

became disillusioned with the international Socialist movement and instead looked to the


Soviets for inspiration and guidance. By doing so, any chance at creating a truly American

revolutionary movement was lost in favor of a willing subordination to Moscow and the Third

International. In his own words, the American Communist Party “was transformed from a new

expression of American radicalism to the American appendage of a Russian revolutionary

power. Nothing else so important ever happened to it again.” 5 His second volume, American

Communism and Soviet Russia: The Formative Period traced the twists and turns of Communist

Party doctrine and tactics according to corresponding shifts in Soviet policy, through the end of

the 1920s. Draper returned to focusing on key figures in the American Party, and their changing

fortunes as they were forced to adapt quickly to shifts in Soviet ideological theory and strategy

during the post-Lenin and Stalinist years, and to curry favor with the ruling cadre in Moscow,

lest they face political irrelevance or expulsion.

Through the course of these two volumes, the only such to delve into the early Party

history at length, Draper established the leading paradigm of American Communist history,

which portrayed the American movement as wholly submissive to the Communist Party of the

Soviet Union and its instrument, the Communist International. This narrative of the American

Communist experience remained dominant for over a decade, and was echoed by the other

historians of the Communism in American Life series. Later volumes carried the same

framework through different periods. David A. Shannon’s The Decline of American Communism:

A History of the Communist Party of the United States since 1945 (1959) focused on the early

Cold War period. Others in the series focused on specific aspects of Communist activity in the

United States, such as Daniel Aaron’s Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary

5 Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (New York: Octagon Books, 1957), 395.


Communism (1959), Ralph Roy’s Communism and the Churches (1960), and Frank Meyer’s The

Molding of Communists: The Training of the Communist Cadre (1961), while others like Nathan

Glazer’s The Social Basis of American Communism (1961) analyzed changes in Communist Party

membership along class and ethnic lines over the course of the 1920s and 1930s. However, all

ultimately maintained that the American Communist Party was totalitarian in nature,

subordinate to the Soviet Union, and thus effectively outside of mainstream American politics

of the time.

Irving Howe and Lewis Coser’s 1962 study The American Communist Party: A Critical

History was the first to attempt a total history of the Party from its inception in 1919 to its

“virtual demise” in 1957. 6 Coser and Howe, anti-Stalinist but not anti-Communist, were as the

title suggests critical of the American Communist movement. They supported but did not

wholly agree with the views of Draper and the other Fund for the Republic historians. Howe

and Coser utilized “public” sources almost exclusively; they eschewed eyewitness accounts and

internal Party memos (although scarcely available until the opening of the Soviet archives,

Draper had access to a few) and instead drew primarily from published materials such as

leaflets and fliers, Party newspapers and magazines, and the published memoirs and

biographical histories of Party leaders. The authors began with a history of the Communist split

with the Socialist Party in 1919, through the factionalism of the early years and eventual unity

of the Party, to the “Stalinization” of the Party in the later 1920s, the vacillations of the 1930s

from hard-line Leftism to the united front period and support of New Deal initiatives, the

Party’s efforts during the Second World War, and finally its repression and further

6 Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party: A Critical History (New York: Da Capo Press, 1974),



marginalization in the post-war and early Cold War eras. For Howe and Coser, the defining shift

in American Communism, that which ultimately led to its irrelevancy in American politics, was

the transition into a totalitarian, Stalinist Party in the late 1920s, essentially terminating any

factionalism or deviation from Party line, forcing members to recant previous ideological

positions and adopt radically different ones, and cementing the American Communist Party as

an appendage of Soviet foreign policy.

A reassessment of American Communist history developed in the late 1960s and 1970s,

emerging from the New Left and by members of Students for a Democratic Society, several of

whom founded the journal Radical America in 1967. The historians of Radical America initially

ignored Communist Party history, preferring to fill their pages with historical studies on the

Industrial Workers of the World, and largely dismissed the academic works of Draper, Howe

and Coser, Bell, and the rest as biased and unreliable sources. Gradually, however, the new

generation of academics began to reexamine American Communism. Looking upon their own

experiences in the 1960s, many sought to understand the experiences of the non-elite Party

membership, and how they came to become Communists or radicals. The new generation of

historians also revisited the existing historiography. Draper and others received their due for

situating the American Communist Party within the context of Soviet foreign policy needs, and

the new historians remained critical of the old Party structure. But, increasingly the new

generation of historians sought to determine and identify the positive contributions made by

the Party in the decades past, regardless of the “totalitarian” Party structure. The focus shifted


to grass roots efforts, the experiences of the common or rank and file member, and the role of

the Communists within specific industries or unions. 7

The new “revisionist” historical paradigm dominated the historiography of the 1970s

and 1980s. Many of the studies focused on Communist Party policies towards African

Americans, working class women, unions, and subgroups within the larger Party. 8 New works

paid particular attention to the 1930s and 1940s, when the Communist Party had achieved its

zenith of influence and relevance within American politics, and reached its largest membership.

The revisionist historians paid little attention to the upper echelons of the Party and what they

thought about the work taking place at the lower levels. The new generation of historians

turned the historiography of American Communism completely on its head, and so scholars

such as James Weinstein in Ambiguous Legacy: The Left in American Politics (1975) and Maurice

Isserman in Which Side Were You On? The American Communist Party during the Second World

War (1982) sought to understand how the working class membership acted within the confines

of Party policy, and how the Party elite could be so far removed from those they were

ostensibly representing.

The historians of the older generation were not content to let the revisionist history of

the American Communist Party become the dominant model. In the 1980s historians Harvey

7 Isserman, “Three Generations,” 539. 8 See for example: Paul Buhle, “Jews and American Communism: The Cultural Question,” Radical History Review, 23 (Dec. 1980): 9-33; Mark Naison, “Historical Notes on Blacks and American Communism: The Harlem Experience,” Science and Society, 42 (Fall 1978): 324-343, and “Harlem Communists and the Politics of Black Protest,” Marxist Perspectives 1 (Fall 1978): 20-50; Robert Schaffer, ”Women and the Communist Party, USA, 1930- 1940,” Socialist Review 9 (May-June 1979): 73-118; Bruce Nelson, “’Pentecost’ on the Pacific: Maritime Workers and Working-Class Consciousness in the 1930s,” in Zeitlin and Kimeldorf, eds., Political Power and Social Theory, 141-182; Ron Schatz, “The End of Corporate Liberalism: Class Struggle in the Electrical Manufacturing Industry,” Radical America 9 (July-August 1975): 197-201; Harvey Levenstein, Communism, Anticommunism, and the CIO (London: Greenwood Press, 1981).


Klehr and John Earl Haynes revisited the traditionalist school of American Communist history.

For over two decades the two historians published works separately and have collaborated on

others. Klehr and Haynes’ accounts of the history of American Communism resemble those

published in the 1950s and 1960s by the authors of the Communism in American Life series.

Klehr and Haynes placed emphasis on the top-down history of the Party, Party hierarchy,

important and influential figures within the Party leadership, and ties between the American

movement and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. “To understand Communist actions in

America it is not enough to study the CPUSA…it was abroad, in Moscow, that the decisive

formulations were made,” contended Klehr in the introduction to his 1984 study The Heyday of

American Communism: The Depression Decade. 9 The Heyday of American Communism traced

the Party history through the 1930s, and according to Klehr was intended to be the

continuation of Draper’s work for the “Communism in American Life” series. Indeed, Draper

had begun work on a third volume covering the same period of time, but abandoned the

project after several years. Utilizing Draper’s accumulated notes and research materials for his

own study, Klehr’s resulting work was far removed from the social history which had dominated

scholarly discourse on American Communism since the late 1970s. However, by ignoring the

social historical contributions of scholars in the 1970s, Klehr imposed Draper’s model, which

perhaps was better suited to an understanding of the small and marginal American Communist

movement of the 1920s, onto the 1930s Party, which was a major and influential political

movement. Klehr and Haynes’ subsequent work The American Communist Movement: Storming

Heaven Itself (1992) covered the entirety of American Communist Party history from its birth

9 Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade (New York: Basic Books, 1984), pg.



through the 1950s. The authors reached the conclusion that the Party was inextricably linked

with the Soviet government and should be examined through the lens of Soviet foreign policy


New material became accessible to historians of American Communism for the first time

after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Soviet archives in the 1990s.

The new wealth of evidence resulted in several more works from the “traditionalist” historians

Klehr and Haynes. In The Secret World of American Communism (1995) and The Soviet World of

American Communism (1998), the authors utilized the files of the Communist Party of the

United States in the Comintern archives, available in the Soviet Archives in Moscow and

containing both English and Russian language documents, to illuminate the clandestine and

espionage activities of the CPUSA (The Secret World) and to support the argument established

in preceding works that the Party was never an independent actor in American politics (The

Soviet World). More recently, the two authors collaborated on In Denial: Historians,

Communism, & Espionage (2005), a largely polemical work that argued that the revisionist

history of the Party popularized in the 1970s and 1980s, which they believe remains the

dominant paradigm of American Communist history, has largely failed to reassess Party history

in light of the new materials available after the opening of the Soviet archives.

Before his passing in 2006, Draper returned to the debate surrounding the history of the

American Communist Party. Draper championed the work of Klehr and Haynes and chastised

the revisionist historians, whom he erroneously identified as almost anyone who had criticized

Klehr and Haynes’ traditionalist history. In a series of essays for the New York Review of Books,

Draper attacked the “left-wing intellectual yuppies” who had established the revisionist history


of the Party, arguing that the historians who emerged from the New Left undertook (and

subsequently politicized) the study of American Communism to find what he called “a usable

past.” 10 Draper asserted that the new historiography reflected a trend in historical research

that was hostile to political history and instead focused on “mushy and sentimental social

history.” 11 However, revisionist historians such as Maurice Isserman and James Weinstein

acknowledged that the contributions of authors such as Draper, Howe, Coser, and even Klehr

and Haynes have indeed demonstrated the importance of the interconnectedness of the

American Communist Party and that of the Soviet Union. However, they have advanced beyond

the political or structural narrative and continue to study other facets of American Communism,

in an effort to understand how and why many Americans decided to join the Party, and their

contributions to the movement in the United States.

The history of American Communism, as we have seen, remains a contentious topic.

Although the field has been tilled many times, there is still much to be said about the history of

the American Communist Party. Historians of the old persuasion addressed subgroups within

the Party at times, however they largely focused on the more influential members and the

relationship of the Party to the Soviet Union. The revisionist historians such as Paul Buhle, Mark

Naison, Robert Schaffer, and Bruce Nelson that emerged from the New Left of the 1960s have

done much to contribute to the understanding of how American Communism reflected

uniquely American conditions, and the work done within the Party to appeal to various

marginalized groups in American society, particularly in the 1930s and the decade following the

Second World War.

10 Theodore Draper, “American Communism Revisited.” New York Review of Books, May 9, 1985, 32-37.

11 Isserman, “Three Generations,” 543.


In spite of all this work, there has been relatively little research in regards to the

American Communist Party during its first decade of existence. The present work is situated

within the traditionalist historiographical approach described above. This work examines the

role of influential individuals within the Language Federations affiliated with the Socialist Party

of America and the Communist Party of America, and their contributions to the shaping of the

American Communist movement. As has been documented above, traditionalist works detailing

the political and personal lives of influential figures within the American Communist Party are

many. However, to date no historian has properly addressed the contributions of the lesser

known but highly influential figures who led the non-English speaking Socialist immigrants

within the Foreign Language Federations of the American Socialist movement.

The total membership of the Socialist Party of America was 80,379 members at the time

of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. Dramatic increases in the enrollment of foreign-

born Socialists in the Foreign Language Federations after the Bolshevik Revolution grew the

total Party membership to 108,504 in 1919. 12 Foreign-born immigrant Socialists residing in

major urban centers in the north east and Midwest, many of whom had relatively recently

relocated to the United States from the lands of the former Russian Empire made up the

majority of the new members. The organized Left Wing of the Party emerged largely from these

Language Federations, and shortly thereafter split from the SPA to found the first American

Communist parties. They would remain dominant within the new parties for several years and

do much to shape the early American Communist movement, for better or worse.

12 Klehr, The American Communist Movement, 18.


Although the history books are full of references to influential native-born Communists

like Charles Ruthenberg, Benjamin Gitlow, John Reed, Jay Lovestone, William Foster, James

Cannon, and Earl Browder, the contributions of Russian-American and Eastern European

immigrants to the development of American Communism remains to be examined. Names like

Nicholas Hourwich, Alexander Stoklitsky, Oscar Tyverovsky, and George Ashkenuzi appear less

often than their influence merits; the contributions of prominent Russian political exiles on the

American Socialist scene are also largely ignored. What few references are made to Russian

Americans in the histories of the Left Wing of the American Socialist movement and the

American Communist movement are typically negative. These figures are remembered as the

wreckers of the early movement responsible for the split in the Left Wing which resulted in two

Communist parties, and their role in the inability of these two Communist entities to unite and

remain cohesive. In this thesis, it will be demonstrated that Russian Americans were

instrumental in the splits of the Communist movement. Although Russian-born Socialists

greatly contributed to the divisive character of the Communist Party of America, owing to their

understanding of Bolshevism that they retained through a period of International Communist

reform and restructuring, without their presence in the American Socialist movement and

contributions to that movement’s understanding of Bolshevism, there would have been no

coherent, organized Left Wing in the United States such as developed and from which was born

the American Communist movement.

Through an analysis of the intersection of Russian-born leadership and foreign-born

rank-and-file membership situated within the Foreign Language Federations of the Socialist and

Communist parties, this thesis will contribute to a greater understanding of American


Communist history often neglected in the historiography detailed above. Little is known about

the contributions of influential Russians, both infamous and largely forgotten, such as

Alexandra Kollontai, Nikolai Bukharin, Leon Trotsky, Nicholas Hourwich, Alexander Stoklitsky,

Oscar Tyverovsky, and George Ashkenuzi, to the development of American Communism. Their

respective roles in the dissemination of Bolshevik theory and ideology in the American Socialist

movement and the applications of these ideas to the American Socialist and Communist

political scene, and the challenges posed by native-born Americans who sought to build an

American Communist organization led by native-born American Socialists will be assessed here.

In doing so, it is the authors hope that this largely unexplored area of early American

Communist history will be properly understood and integrated into the larger historical

narrative of the Communist Party of America.



Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, the Socialist Party of America was

composed primarily of native-born Americans. Founded in 1900, the SPA reflected American

working class attitudes. Although tied to the great Socialist parties of Europe through its

membership in the Second International, the SPA differed in many respects from European

social-democracy. The SPA, like the German or Russian Social Democrats, encompassed both

reformist social democrats and revolutionary Marxist Socialists. Unlike the European parties,

however, the SPA also included a variety of elements more uniquely American. The members of

the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the Agrarian Utopianists, the DeLeonites of the

Socialist Labor Party, and the Syndicalists represented by the Industrial Workers of the World

were all under the umbrella of or otherwise affiliated with the SPA. From its founding until the

First World War, the SPA was a reflection of the multitude of American Leftist currents, foreign-

born and native-born, and what one author referred to as “a surprising native interlude” of

American Leftism between the foreign-born led parties that preceded and succeeded it. 13

This is not to say there was no recent immigrant presence in the pre-war SPA. However,

the leadership of the Party, from its founding until the eve of the U.S. entrance into the war,

was overwhelmingly composed of native-born Americans. Outside of the leadership, within the

general membership and particularly within the working class segment of the Party

13 Nathan Glazer, The Social Basis of American Communism (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1961), 14. Glazer here is referring to the Socialist Labor Party and the American Communist Party. The Socialist Labor Party was established in 1876 as the Workingmen’s Party. It was largely composed of German immigrants in the United States, and conducted work almost entirely in the German language. Daniel DeLeon joined the organization in 1890. Multilingual and fluent in English, as well as a devout Marxist, DeLeon was instrumental in incorporating more native-born American workers into the Party. A following-out between DeLeon and the German-born leadership led to a split of the Party in 1899. The dissenting German group merged with Victor Berger and Eugene Debs’ Social Democratic Party to form the Socialist Party of America in 1901.


membership, foreign-born and recent immigrants made up a large part of the Party by 1914

and definitely were in the majority by war’s end. 14 However, their integration into the SPA was

not easy. A census by the U.S. Immigration Commission in 1909 found that 60 percent of men

and 47 percent of women in the nations mining and manufacturing industries were immigrants

from throughout Europe. 15 In this same year, SPA membership numbered approximately

40,000, of whom 71 percent were native-born Americans and an additional 17 percent were

“old” (and thus relatively acculturated) immigrants from Northern and Western Europe. 16 At a

time when the majority of the industrial proletariat of the United States was composed of

recent immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, the SPA represented relatively few.

The absence of Southern and Eastern European immigrants in the pre-war SPA can be

attributed to several factors. One such factor was increasing nativism within American politics

at the turn of the century. The American Federation of Labor favored restrictions on

immigration from Eastern and Southern European states, arguing that immigrants from these

regions were willing to work for less pay than native-born American workers, were accustomed

to a lower standard of living, were resistant to unionization and more likely to scab for capital

during strikes, and thus driving native-born Americans out of jobs and undercutting the labor

movement. 17 AFL leaders also objected to increasing immigration for racist reasons. Samuel

Gompers argued that “the maintenance of the nation depended upon the maintenance of

racial purity” and viewed the new immigrants as stereotypically anarchists prone to militancy

14 Glazer, The Social Basis, 14.

15 William M. Leiserson, Adjusting Immigrant and Industry (New York, 1924), 12-13, as cited in Charles Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party and ‘New’ Immigrants,” Science & Society 32, no. 1 (Winter, 1968): 1.

16 Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 1.

17 Ibid., 3.


and radicalism. 18 The SPA, although not fearing the radicalism of newly arrived immigrants, was

less than accepting none the less. Elements within the SPA echoed the AFL objections to

Southern and Eastern European immigration along nativist and racist lines. These were

countered by others within the Party who argued for international working class solidarity.

Barney Berlyn, an internationalist, took the position that to append disclaimers upon the slogan

“Workingmen of all countries, unite” would necessitate appending a similar disclaimer to the

end of the Party name- Socialist Party of America, A Damn Lie.” 19 Ernest Untermann, a nativist

and racist, responded “I believe in the international solidarity of the working class…but I do not

believe in international solidarity to the point of cutting my own throat,an expression of his

concern that an influx of immigrant workers would undermine the labor movement in the

United States. 20

At a 1910 meeting of the SPAs Committee on Immigration, Morris Hillquit, founding

member, International Delegate and leader of the SPA, submitted a resolution stating the SPA

would support all legislation preventing the importation of large numbers of immigrants by

capital for the purposes of weakening organized labor in the United States, but that the Party

was also opposed to exclusion of immigrants based on race or nationality, and that the United

States should “be at all times maintained as a free asylum for all persecuted…for their politics,

religion, or race.” 21 This resolution confused the committee members, but drew support from

18 Samuel Gompers, as quoted in Marc Karson, American Labor Unions and Politics 1900-1918 (Carbondale, IL:

Southern Illinois University Press, 1958), 136, cited in Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 3.

19 Barney Berlyn, Proceedings of the National Congress of the Socialist Party 1908 (Chicago: Socialist Party, 1908), 114, as quoted in Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 7.

20 Ernest Untermann, Proceedings of the National Congress of the Socialist Party 1908 (Chicago: Socialist Party, 1908), 110, as quoted in Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 7.

21 Morris Hillquit, as quoted in David A. Shannon, The Socialist Party of America: A History (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1955), 50.


the nativists and racists in regards to the first portion as well as support from the

internationalists for the second. However, the Party was no closer to resolving the debate. For

the leaders of the AFL, almost all immigration was fostered for the purposes of weakening

organized labor. Hillquit’s resolution, when seen through the lens of the AFL, was thus in favor

of supporting legislation aimed at restricting immigration. Eugene V. Debs was outraged with

the results, labeling the resolution and its acceptance reactionary and not at all in line with

orthodox Marxism. The Party thus faced a divisive issue: adhere to the orthodox Marxist tenet

that held class lines were stronger than national lines, or protect the organized and established

American proletariat from the troubles that new sources of cheap labor would provide.

Ultimately, neither side triumphed, and the Party adopted Hillquit’s compromising resolution.

Although contradictory and pleasing no one fully, the resolution remained the official position

of the Party on immigration for decades to come. 22

Historian Charles Leinenweber argues the divide between nativist and racist Party

members and internationalist Party members was a reflection of the growing split between the

Left, or revolutionary Marxist, wing of the SPA and the Right, reformist social democratic wing

of the SPA. The reformist element, allied with the craft union AFL and municipal in scope, was

interested in limiting immigration and retaining the support of the skilled workers of the

American “labor aristocracy.” The Left, international in scope, and more sympathetic to the

Industrial Workers of the World, which itself was more accepting of new immigrants and having

greater success organizing them, sought to break down barriers and unite the whole of the

22 Shannon, The Socialist Party of America, 50.


American working class. 23 This championing of the disorganized new immigrant masses, as we

shall see, greatly increased the strength of the Left Wing of the SPA in the years to come.

The systemic objection to Eastern and Southern European immigrants within the SPA

was but one obstacle to their integration into the Party. The language barrier was a more

tangible impediment to immigrant integration. Many immigrants arrived on American shores

with little to no knowledge of the English language. Residing within ethnic enclaves in major

urban centers, immigrants could continue to live by speaking their mother tongues. What

English was learned was often insufficient to participate in SPA meetings or comprehend Party

sponsored lectures and speeches. The Party leadership, too, was hindered by the language

barrier in its inability to reach out to and make contact with the large numbers of sympathetic

progressive immigrants that arrived daily in the United States due to the language barrier.

Moreover, many immigrants arrived in the United States with little or no understanding

of Marxist theory. This was particularly true of the immigrants, mostly from Western or

Northern Europe, who arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, and who were more typically

from agrarian and rural backgrounds and largely influenced by tradition and religion. However,

as European states became increasingly industrialized in the latter part of the nineteenth

century, larger numbers of immigrants from European urban centers came to the United States.

These people were more likely to have come from industrial backgrounds and came seeking

work in U.S. industry, and were also more likely to have been knowledgeable of, or members

of, radical working-class movements in Europe. 24 Unable to engage fully in American Socialist

politics, non-English speaking immigrants often turned their attention to Socialist activities in

23 Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 13-14. 24 Glazer, The Social Basis, 20-21.


the countries of their origin. The result was the creation of unaffiliated Socialist language

groups, often accompanied by corresponding foreign language Socialist newspapers, in many

major cities throughout the Midwest and Northeast.

Newly arrived immigrants found an outlet for political expression in their own language,

encouraging Socialist meetings where debates and lectures were held, and Marxist theory

could be studied within these Socialist language groups. The newspapers published by such

groups kept immigrant communities abreast of political and social developments in their

homelands, as well as in the United States as it pertained to them. They also served a more

basic social function, where immigrants with a shared history and culture could congregate for

recreation. Some federations established club rooms and community social centers, accepting

of Socialists and non-Socialists, which generated revenue for the federation and served as a

fertile ground for federation recruitment. In the first decade of the 1900s, the language groups

scattered throughout the industrial centers of the Northeast and Midwest grew and came to

affiliate with one another into national Language Federations. However, they remained outside

the SPA, and so largely outside of American politics.

One of the largest Language Federations in the pre-war United States was the

Organization of Finnish Socialists. The federation of previously independent Finnish language

groups, which represented Finnish immigrants largely concentrated in Boston and the upper

Midwest, was established at an organizational convention in August, 1906. The delegates at the

convention agreed that the Organization of Finnish Socialists would affiliate with the SPA. The

National Executive Committee of the SPA accepted the organization into the ranks of the Party

under conditions that the federation would collect membership dues owed to the SPA, a


portion of which was sent to the SPA central offices, and would in turn receive no voting rights

at Party affairs. The Finnish Federation shrewdly instructed the leadership of the locals to

affiliate with their respective state Socialist parties to gain the voting rights indirectly, a plan

which would be emulated by affiliating language groups in the years to follow. 25

The Lettish Federation affiliated with the SPA in 1910. The next year, the South Slavic,

Scandinavian, and Italian Federations followed the path to affiliation established by the Finns.

The Hungarian and Bohemian Federations affiliated in 1912, the German, Polish, Jewish, and

Slovak in 1913, and finally the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Russian Federations affiliated in

1915. 26 The process was not painless, however. Immigrant members of the SPA, who had joined

the Party independently of their Language Federation, found it difficult to integrate into the

Party. Many immigrants were unable to participate in local Party votes, due to the issuing of

referenda ballots being printed exclusively in English. Some, such as a Polish immigrant and

Party member at the 1910 SPA convention, argued that the only means of integrating Socialist

immigrants into the SPA was to encourage the affiliation of language groups and federations:

“*the federations+ don’t want to be separate…they want to join the Party. When you go to one

of the Italians or Poles and talk to him in English about the Party, he does not understand. The

privilege we ask is to conduct our work in our own tongue.” 27 To this the Party leadership

responded that the immigrants were in America now, and should join the American movement,

presumably becoming fluent in English as a prerequisite to participation. “There are foreigners

who come to this country and are here thirty to fifty years and never learn to speak the English

25 Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 17.

26 Glazer, The Social Basis, 24-25. The Jewish Federation conducted work in Yiddish but was referred to as the “Jewish Federation” within Party records and literature.

27 Unidentified Polish representative, as quoted in Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 18.


language,” countered delegate Novak, a Bohemian immigrant. “That man will never be a

member of an English speaking branch…the only thing to do is to organize *the immigrants+ in

affiliation with the Socialist Party in their own language,he concluded. 28

The Language Federations represented large numbers of working class immigrants, and

were recognized by the National Executive Committee of the SPA as a potential source of

growth for the Party as a whole. “The foreign-speaking Socialists want to see the Socialist Party

of America grow and get into power…we ought to reach these foreigners as soon as they come

to this country and keep them in our organizations,” argued delegate Skala. 29 Another delegate

argued that something must be done to support the Language Federations, in order to aid the

Socialist movement in the United States: “if you want to reach the foreign-speaking

workingmen of this country, to reach the eleven million workers toiling in industry, you must

give them some official standing…a right to organize on National lines.” 30 As a result of the

debate at the 1910 SPA convention, the Party resolved that all state organizations of the SPA

grant charters to all locals and branches of foreign speaking organizations that wished to

affiliate, under several conditions. In order to affiliate, a language group had to possess at least

500 members, all accepting of the SPA Party platform and constitution; collect dues from the

membership and send five cents per capita to the National Office (equal to those paid by the

English speaking branches); and have all political activity subject to the supervision and

approval of the state SPA organization. Finally, no federation would receive a vote in Party

28 Delegate Novak, Proceedings of the National Congress of the Socialist Party, May 15 to May 21, 1910 (Chicago:

Socialist Party, 1910), 262. Available online at 777/1910s ocialist2a#page/n45/mode/2up/search/language (accessed February 23, 2012).

29 Delegate Skala, Proceedings 1910, 265.

30 Delegate Valimakli, Proceedings 1910, 261.


national referendums or in the elections of national officers. They would be allowed to send

one fraternal delegate to national conventions or congresses of the Party, who would “have a

voice but no vote,” and would be permitted to vote in local and state organization affairs. 31

In order to overcome the language barrier, a Translator-Secretary was to be elected by

the federation and based at the national office of the SPA, whose duty it was to translate Party

documents, acts, minutes of meetings, memos, and literature for the non-English speaking

membership, and to serve as a medium between the federation and the national organization.

However, this attempt to counteract the language barrier had unforeseen consequences.

Although the national office was able to utilize the federation secretaries to reach non-English

speaking immigrant populations, they were often left in the dark as to the activities of these

federations. As a result, the affiliated Language Federations, granted charters to bring

immigrant communities closer to the Party as a whole, were effectively as independent from

the national organization as federation leadership, or individual Translator-Secretaries, wished

them to be. As the only intermediary between federation and Party, the Translator-Secretaries

wielded considerably more power than was anticipated. Indeed, they often took on roles in

addition to translation of Party documents, becoming responsible for issuing dues stamps to

federation locals, going on organizing tours, and handling federation correspondence and

postage. 32

The Foreign Language Federations rapidly grew in membership following the decision to

allow affiliation to the SPA. Two new foreign-language daily newspapers and 16 new foreign-

language weeklies were established between the 1910 Party congress and the 1912 Party

31 Proceedings 1910, 259-260. 32 Shannon, The Socialist Party of America, 45.


convention. 33 In that same period, the Finnish Federation grew from 7,767 dues paying

members to 11,483; the Italian Federation nearly doubled from 660 to 1,200. The Polish

Federation grew from 1,450 to 2,130 during 1911 alone; the Scandinavian Federation grew

from 216 to over 1,000 between the beginning of 1911 and May, 1912; and the South Slavic

Federation grew from 1,320 to 1,800, an addition of nearly 500 members, from January 1, 1912

to December 31 of the same year. 34 By the end of 1912, the Foreign Language Federations

collectively accounted for 16,000 of the approximately 118,000 total members of the SPA, or

about fourteen percent.

The 1912 Party convention report noted the “substantial progress in carrying on

Socialist propaganda” among immigrant communities done by the seven Foreign Language

Federations affiliated with the Party. 35 The 16,000 new Socialist Party members, largely

concentrated in bigger cities, were nothing to scoff at, and the increase in membership was

surely welcomed by the SPA leadership. However, there were signs that members of the native-

born majority of the Party were unenthusiastic about the progress of the federations, arguing

that although the ranks of the federations were swelling, there was little indication that the

immigrants now being organized were integrating into the Party. Rather, the federations overly

33 Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 19.

34 Figures can be found in John Spargo, ed., Proceedings of the National Convention of the Socialist Party, 1912 (Chicago: The Socialist Party, 1912), Appendix O, 237-245. Available online at:

e/n5/mode/2up (accessed February 24, 2012).

35 Spargo, Proceedings 1912, 221.

e/n53/mode/1up/search/foreign (accessed February 24, 2012).


focused attention on events in their respective homelands, to the detriment of American

movement. 36

Several Language Federations demonstrated this preoccupation with events in the old

country in their reports to the 1912 Party convention. The Bohemian Federation voted to

establish closer ties with the Social Democratic Party in Bohemia. The Federation further

appropriated funds for the establishment of an information bureau in Prague, whose purpose

was to dissuade potential Czech immigrants from coming to the United States by American

steamship companies, which, it was alleged, lied about the conditions and quality of life in the

United States to increase their own profits. 37 The Lettish Federation collected $1,093 from its

membership in subscriptions to a publication entitled “Lettish Social Democracy in Russia,” held

large annual meetings in memoriam of the 1905 Revolution in Russia, and sponsored lecture

tours that specifically addressed Russian politics in addition to American political

developments. 38 The South Slavic Federation report was largely concerned with the effects of

the First Balkan War, which was expected to disrupt the Federation, composed of Serbs, Croats,

Slovenes, and Bulgarians. It is understandable that much of the attention of the Federation

membership would be focused on their homelands; the First Balkan War was being fought to

“abolish the rotten rule of feudalism and open the road for capitalism,” necessary steps in the

transition to Socialism for orthodox Marxists. 39 Finally, the Finnish Federation addressed the

36 Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 20.

37 Joseph Novak, “Report of the Bohemian Section to the Socialist Party National Convention,” published in Spargo, Proceedings 1912, 242.

38 C. Karklin, “Report by the Executive Committee, National Lettish Organization, S.P.” to the Socialist Party National Convention,” published in Spargo, Proceedings 1912, 244-246.

39 Alex Susnar, “Report of South Slavic Socialist Federation to the National Committee of the Socialist Party of America,” in Tim Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism: A Repository of Source Material, 1864-1946, (accessed


issue head on. Tactfully articulating its defense of energy directed toward Finnish politics, the

Federation representative stated that the emphasis on events in Finland had nothing to do

with “love of the ‘fatherland’” or for otherwise nationalistic reasons, but because so many

Finnish-American Socialists retained an intense interest in Social-Democratic developments in

their homeland, and further aimed to help Socialists in an area under one of the most

autocratic governments in the world: “only in the victory of the Socialists of Russia lies the

victory of the Socialists in Finland.” 40 The interests of internationalism, it argued, trumped any

sense of nationalism within the membership.

It is apparent, then, that the Language Federations directed at least some energy away

from domestic American political activity and toward Socialist activity in European states. This

situation suggests that the federations acted rather autonomously within the larger Party, and

often undertook initiatives completely unknown to the National Office of the SPA. Although the

1910 Party congress established that Language Federations were to act in concert with state

SPA branches, the language barrier and role of Translator-Secretaries prevented this close

cooperation. Furthermore, the establishment of Language Federations drew some foreign-

speaking members out of integrated English-speaking branches and into the federations,

furthering the gulf between immigrant Socialists and native-born Socialists. Although the

federations contributed to the growth of total Party membership prior to the war, the newly

acquired members stood largely outside of mainstream SPA activity.

February 24, 2012). First published as a typeset leaflet by the Socialist Party, undated. Specimen in Tim Davenport collection. 40 J.W. Sarlund, “Report of the Finnish Translator-Secretary to the Socialist Party National Convention, 1912,” published in Spargo, Proceedings 1912, 238-239.


Another factor contributing to this isolation was the rights granted to the federation

membership at the 1910 Party congress. Allowed to vote in local and state Party affairs, but

barred from voting in national referenda as members of federations, it is little wonder that

federation members were less concerned with American Socialist Party politics. This suited the

largely Right Wing, reformist leadership of the Party. The Language Federationsmembership,

many of whom arrived with experience in European Socialist movements, stood to the left of

the Party leadership. The Right, which had argued for restrictions on immigration and found its

base of support among native-born workingmen and the “aristocracy of labor,” were weary of

the rapidly growing numbers of immigrants in the Language Federations, which Morris Hillquit,

writing years later, would remember as “Bolshevik to the core.” 41 The influence of the Left

Wing of the Party was held in check, for a time, through restricting the rights of federations.

Several more federations applied for affiliation following the 1912 Party convention. By

1915 the Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Russian, Slovak, German, and Hungarian Federations joined the

Finnish, Lettish, Italian, Scandinavian, South Slavic, Jewish, and Polish Federations represented

at the 1912 convention. Meanwhile, total Party membership had dropped from 118,045 at the

time of the 1912 Party convention to approximately 80,000 total in 1915, perhaps due to the

exodus of IWW members following Bill Haywood’s removal from the National Executive

Committee (NEC) of the SPA in February, 1913, as well as Eugene Deb’s decision not to run for

the presidency in 1916. Of these, between 25,000 and 30,000 were members of Foreign

Language Federations, up from a mere 16,000 in 1912. The SPA thus lost nearly 40,000

members, almost entirely from the native-born, English-speaking membership. The Foreign

41 Morris Hillquit, quoted in Leinenweber, “The American Socialist Party,” 22.


Language Federations, in contrast, were increasing in size, although still constitutionally

prevented from wielding the power their numbers would suggest.

The Language Federations within the SPA were both a blessing and a problem for the

Party. The federations were supposed to act as organizing bodies for the recruitment of

foreign-born immigrants in the U.S. to the SPA. Their task was to organize and propagandize

among immigrant communities to this end. In that regard, they were quite successful, bringing

in almost 30,000 sympathetic non-English speaking Socialists into the Party by 1916, at a time

when English-speaking membership rates were dropping. Although they faced hostility from

some nativists within the SPA, the federations were able to join the larger Party and commence

Party work among foreign-born workers in the U.S. However, their organizational structure and

the language barrier that separated the membership from the English-speaking portion of the

Party meant that the federations became autonomous units within the Party. This autonomy

and separation allowed the federations to focus their energies and attention to Socialist

movements in their respective homelands, to the detriment of work in the U.S. For these

reasons, it is difficult to say categorically whether the development of the Foreign Language

Federations was a positive or a negative for the American Socialist movement. Their existence

was a positive in that they brought many immigrants into the Party who otherwise would not

have joined due to the language barrier. However, although ostensibly advocates of the SPA

and for Socialism in the United States, the federation members remained largely outside of the

larger Party, isolated and independent from the English-speaking contingent of the SPA.

Although a large number of immigrants now identified with the SPA through the federation


system, their inability to directly contribute to the mainstream discourse of the Party resulted

in a weaker, more fractured organization.




The United States’ policy of neutrality during the first years of the war, and the

geographic distance of the nation from the belligerent nations of Europe, provided American

Socialists with the luxury of time, a luxury the European Social Democratic parties lacked. As

European states mobilized for war in the last days of summer, 1914, European Social Democrats

were all faced with a question that precipitated splits within their parties: to support the war

effort or to oppose it in total. The Second International’s 1912 conference in Basel concluded

that in the event of war among the European nations it was the duty of the European working

class, and its representatives in the various Socialist parties, to mobilize economically and

politically, to prevent the war by general strike or any other means necessary. 42 Instead, in the

Western nations where Socialists had achieved some margin of power within representational

governments, Socialists abandoned the doctrine of the Second International. The French

Socialists backed the war effort after conceiving of it as a struggle against imperialism, making

distinction between the imperialism of the Central Powers and that of the French Republic. 43

The Socialists of Britain split on the issue like all others, however ultimately rallying behind

Henry Hyndman and the “defencists,” who believed it was necessary for British workers to

support the war effort in defense of the nation. The Social Democratic Party of Germany, by far

the most influential of European Socialist parties, fearing repression by the German state and

the destruction of the Socialist movement, resolved “not to leave the Fatherland in the lurch” in

42 Manifesto of the Second International Socialist Congress at Basel, in Marxists Internet Archive, (accessed February 27, 2012). Originally published in Extraordinary International Socialist Congress at Basel, November 24-25, 1912. (Berlin: Vorwärts Publishers), 23-27. 43 Robert Wohl, French Communism in the Making, 1914-1924 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966), 54.


the moment of crisis. 44 When the moment finally came in the weeks following the Austrian

ultimatum to Serbia, the Social Democratic representatives in the parliaments of Europe voted

for war credits to the states, allowing for funding of the war effort and tacitly choosing

nationalism over internationalism as the policy of the Social Democratic Party.

The SPA published a proclamation following the outbreak of hostilities in Europe,

reiterating its opposition to all war in accordance with the declarations of international

Socialism, and reminding their working class brethren in Europe that they have “no quarrel with

each other,” since their suffering is not the cause of workers of other nationalities but of their

own ruling classes. The SPA encouraged foreign-born workers in the United States to rally for

peace and hold mass meetings “for the purpose of emphasizing the fraternity and solidarity of

all working people.” Finally, the SPA pledged support to the European Socialist parties in any

measures necessary to maintain peace among nations and advance goodwill among men. 45

“Workingmen of the world, the land of your birth has done nothing for you…you have no

country! There is only one flag worth fighting for…the red flag” proclaimed American Socialist

Mary Marcy. The war was brought about for the profit of the ruling classes of Europe; American

Socialists had faith that the internationalism of the proletariat would bring it to a swift end.

The SPA was officially against the war in Europe, issuing statements that denounced the

European governments and blaming capitalism and imperialism for its outbreak. However,

some American Socialists took sides in the European conflict. Alan Benson, 1916 SPA

44 Carl Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905-1917: The Development of the Great Schism (Cambridge, MA:

Harvard University Press, 1955), 285. 45 Walter Lanferseik, “Proclamation of the Socialist Party of America on the Outbreak of War in Europe, August 8, 1914,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed February 28, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 1, no. 4, whole no. 92 (Aug. 8, 1914), 1.


presidential candidate was publicly anti-German, and wished for a German defeat “to give the

German people an opportunity to throw off the medieval institutions under which they live.” 46

John Spargo hoped for a Russian victory, as did George Herron. Max Eastman supported the

French against German occupation. Jack London, William English Walling, and Edward Russell

all expressed pro-Allied sentiments. Charles Steinmetz, Robert Loqie, Victor Berger, and at

times Hillquit all sympathized with Germany and the Central Powers. 47 Support for belligerents

does not appear to be linked to Left-Right political alignment; Eastman, London, and Walling

were, at the time, all members of the pre-war American Left Wing of the SPA, while the others

cited above represented the reformist or Right Wing SPA lines. What is interesting to note,

however, is the nation of origin of these Socialists sampled and where their sympathies lay.

Benson, Eastman, Herron, London, Walling, and Russell all were native-born and backed the

Allied nations of Britain, France, and Russia. Spargo, born in Britain, also was sympathetic to the

Allied cause. Steinmetz, Lowie, and Berger, all of whom demonstrated at least some measure of

support for the Central Powers, were all foreign-born immigrants to the United States. 48

Despite the faith placed in internationalism by the SPA, it is clear that some of the leading

membership were unable or unwilling to suppress sympathies to certain belligerent states

along nationalistic or ethnic lines.

Regardless of the personal opinions of these few prominent American Socialists, the

vast majority of the membership and top echelon of Party leaders remained staunchly anti-war.

Eugene V. Debs exhorted American Socialists to “let us show the people the true cause of war.

46 Allen L. Benson, as quoted in Nathan Fine, Labor and Farmer Parties in the United States, 1828-1928 (New York:

Russell & Russell, 1961), 303.

47 Draper, The Roots, 56.

48 Charles Steinmetz was born and raised in Germany, Robert Lowie in Austria, Victor Berger to German-Jewish parentage in the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, and Morris Hillquit to German-Jewish parentage in Latvia.


Let us arouse a sentiment against war. Let us teach the children to abhor war.” 49 Hillquit,

responded to Allied sympathizers within the Party: “The ghastly carnage in Europe has no

redeeming features. It is not a war for democracy, culture, or progress…it is cold-blooded

butchery for advantages and power for the ruling classes of the warring nations.” 50 In an article

published in The American Socialist, Hillquit articulated his rationale for Socialist neutrality. The

Allied nations, he maintained, were not fighting to free the German people from Prussian

militarism; such a development could only come from the German people themselves. Likewise,

support for the Western democracies against reactionary Germany would lend tacit support to

the most reactionary and oppressive government in Europe, the autocratic Russian Empire.

Support for the German war effort was equally improper, as any notion that Germany fought to

protect and spread her “culture” to the nations of Europe was, to him, but more “hollow

patriotic German pretenses.” No, argued Hillquit, the correct stance of the American Socialists

was absolute and complete neutrality, in the hopes that the war would end in a draw due to

the exhaustion of the warring states. “Only then,” he concluded, “will this war remain forever

accursed in the memory of men, only then will it lead the people of all nations…to revolt

against the capitalist system which leads to such paroxysms of human madness.” 51

But what could American Socialists actually do to contribute to a cessation of hostilities

in Europe? Walter Lanferseik, national executive secretary of the SPA, went over the head of

SPA leader Morris Hillquit in September, 1914 and cabled the leaders of ten Socialist parties in

49 Eugene V. Debs, “Peace on Earth,” in Marxists Internet Archive, (accessed February 29, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 1, no. 26, whole no. 114 (Jan. 9, 1915), 1.

50 Morris Hillquit, as quoted in Shannon, The Socialist Party of America, 85.

51 Morris Hillquit, “Socialist Neutrality,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed February 29, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 1, no. 26, whole no. 114 (Jan. 9, 1915),. 1.


Europe to encourage their support for a proposed mediation by the United States. Although

Hillquit and Victor Berger were dismayed by Lanferseik’s unilateral action, they joined the

National Executive Committee of the SPA in drafting an official proposal to the Socialists of

Europe for an international conference held in the U.S., the purpose of which was the discuss

possibilities for ending the war. Alexander Trachtenberg and the N.E.C of the SPA drafted a

program for consideration by the International Bureau which proposed lofty measures to end

the conflict and prevent future wars. Cessation of hostilities was to be predicated upon a peace

plan without indemnities or annexations of territory. The program also proposed a post-war

restructuring of governance: an international congress, an international court of mediation, and

an international police force. Peace would be maintained through mass disarmament of states,

the internationalization of “strategic waterways” such as the Dardanelles, the Suez and Panama

canals, and the Straight of Gibraltar, and the neutralization of the seas. 52 Finally, the program

encouraged an “extension of democracy,” political and economic, towards the dismantling of

the Capitalist state. The authors encouraged Socialists around the world to make efforts to

“secure the official adoption the program by the governing bodies at the earliest date,” an

unrealistic goal given the political circumstances in the warring states of the time. 53 The

Socialist parties of the belligerent nations rejected the proposal for the international

conference, and so never seriously considered the peace program. The conference was well-

received by Socialists in neutral European states, however, under the condition that the

conference be held in Europe. Unfortunately American Socialists lost enthusiasm for the

52 Fine, Labor and Farmer Parties, 303-304. 53 NEC of the SPA, “Disarmament and World Peace: Proposed Manifesto and Program of the Socialist Party of America, December 26, 1914,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed March 5, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 1, no. 24, whole no. 112 (Dec. 26, 1914), 1.


proposed conference when it became clear that the Socialists of the warring states would not

participate. Irritated by the disinterest of SPA members, and the contention of International

Bureau secretary Camille Huysmans that mediation was “a hopeless cause,” Hillquit, the only

delegate from the SPA, did not depart for the January 15 th , 1915 conference in Copenhagen and

the Party abandoned the proposal altogether. 54

European Socialists were not unified in their support of their respective countries’ war

efforts. The differing opinions reflected the split between the Right and Left Wings in the

parties, with the Right or reformist Social Democrats favoring defense of the homeland and the

revolutionaries of the Left favoring international working class cooperation in opposition to the

war. Anti-war Center and Left Wing members of the European Social Democratic parties

continued to appeal to internationalism to bring the war to an end. These elements met from

September 5 through September 8, 1915, at the International Socialist Conference at

Zimmerwald, Switzerland. The conference majority condemned the Socialist representatives

who backed the War, who asked the proletariat to put aside the class struggle, voted for war

credits, and in some instances entered government ministerial positions. These men, argued

the Zimmerwald manifesto, were responsible for the War and the deaths of working people on

the battlefields of Europe. The Zimmerwaldians called for international solidarity of the working

class, which should rally behind the Left and Center Socialists to oppose the war by economic

54 Shannon, The Socialist Party of America, 85-86.


and political action, and support the Zimmerwald Manifesto’s call for a peace without

annexations. 55

However, the more radical attendees of the conference, chiefly the Russian Bolsheviks

Vladimir Lenin and Grigorii Zinoviev, found the proposed manifesto to be unsatisfactory, due to

the lack of any real program to oppose the war and any mention of the “opportunism” of

reformist Social Democrats, which Lenin believed was the deciding factor in the collapse of the

Second International at the outbreak of war. 56 The Left Wing delegates submitted a resolution,

heavily influenced by Lenin, that was voted down nineteen to twelve. Within it, the Left Wing

bloc at Zimmerwald offered a definite program of resistance: refusal of war credits, resignation

of appointments in government cabinets by Socialists, public denunciation of the war by

elected representatives, street demonstrations, propaganda of international working class

solidarity amongst soldiers in the trenches, and the use of economic weapons such as the

general strike. “Civil war, not civil peace,” was to be the aim of revolutionary Socialists. An end

to the war was not enough; rather, the war should be transformed into a civil war across

Europe between proletariat and bourgeoisie. The Left Wing resolution further indicted the

“social patriots,” or Right Wings of the European Social Democratic parties, as a greater threat

to the proletariat than the imperialist bourgeoisie, and stated that the fight against social-

patriotism was the first step in the “revolutionary mobilization of the proletariat and the

55 International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald: Manifesto, in Marxists Internet Archive, (accessed February 27, 2012). 56 International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald: Two Declarations, in Marxists Internet Archive, (accessed February 28, 2012).


reconstruction of the international.” 57 The Left claimed that to rouse the working class and

transform the world war into a Europe-wide revolution, the Socialist parties would have to split.

The Centrist majority argued this was unacceptable. The conference adopted the more Centrist

Manifesto instead. It called for international solidarity of Socialists to oppose the war and

support peace without annexations or indemnities, and the right to self-determination for all

states. Any mention of the parliamentary tactics such as refusing approval of war credits and

resigning governmental posts was excised from the final draft. Beaten, the Left bloc signed the

Manifesto, considering even a tempered call for struggle, and a proposal for peace without

annexations or reparations, preferable to isolation from the international Socialist movement.

The Zimmerwald Manifesto was published by the Socialist press in Italy, Britain, and the

neutral countries, and clandestinely distributed amongst Socialists in Germany, France and

Russia. The majorities of the Socialist parties and the Bureau of the International rejected the

manifesto. Party leaders across Europe regarded the conference as illegitimate, a gathering of

Party sharpshooters without troops,” in the words of secretary of the Second International

Camille Huysmans. 58 The Zimmerwald committee reconvened from April 24 to the 30, 1916, in

Kienthal, Switzerland. Again Lenin attempted to gain the support of the Left Wing delegates and

called for a program of revolutionary propaganda with the aim of transforming the War, and for

the Center and Left Socialists of Europe to break with the Second International and form the

nucleus of a Third. Again, his proposals were defeated. The Centrists again carried the day. The

new Manifesto again called for peace without annexations, and took one step further in calling

57 International Socialist Conference at Zimmerwald: Draft Resolution of the Leftwing Delegates, in Marxists Internet Archive, (accessed February 28, 2012). 58 Camille Huysmans, as quoted by Julius Braunthal, History of the International Volume II: 1914-1943, trans. John Clark (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1967), 49.


upon Socialists in the European parliaments to refuse support for war policies and war credits.

The new Manifesto further condemned the “social-chauvinists” whom Lenin and the

Zimmerwald Left had indicted at the 1915 conference. 59 A shift to the left was evident, and

tensions between the Left and Center-Right Wings of the European Socialist parties were

growing over the Socialist response to the War, yet the Second International remained intact,

and inert. However, first at Zimmerwald, and then at Kienthal, Lenin had made public his visions

for a new International, a radical end to the war, and the ruptures of Socialist parties the world


The Zimmerwald Manifesto, which articulated a position unmistakably to the Left of the

European Socialist and Social-Democratic parties, did not prove divisive to the American

Socialist movement. American Socialists had time to consider the SPA position in the context of

the larger world conflict. Not facing the threat of invasion by foreign armies, and thus not

pressed to decide for national interests over international solidarity, American Socialists were

able to remain antiwar without opposing the government, and to stand resolutely by the

decisions of the Second International laid out in the Basel manifesto. However, American

Socialists were dismayed by the actions of their comrades in Europe at the outbreak of war.

How could the resolutions of the Second International have been so quickly discarded by

Socialists in the belligerent countries? Why did European Socialists vote in large numbers for

war credits? U.S. Socialist Mary Marcy could see no justification: “We do not imagine for a

moment that a single German Socialist wanted war…any more than the English, French, and

Belgian comrades did…in spite of the anti-military sentiment of the French Socialists, the anti-

59 Merle Fainsod, International Socialism and the World War (New York: Octagon Books, 1973), 95.


war propaganda of the English movement…the 4,500,000 voting Social Democrats in Germany,

we find the working classes of Europe flying at each other’s throats.” 60 Irrespective of Left-Right

orientation, some American Socialists did find means to justify supporting the war efforts of

belligerent nations, often justifying the war effort of their own nationalist or ethnic homeland;

even amongst outspoken internationalists, nationalist sympathies were difficult to renounce

completely. However, the vast majority of the membership and top echelon of Party leaders

remained staunchly anti-war. Eugene V. Debs exhorted American Socialists “let us show the

people the true cause of war. Let us arouse a sentiment against war. Let us teach the children

to abhor war.” 61 Hillquit responded to Allied sympathizers within the Party: “The ghastly

carnage in Europe has no redeeming features. It is not a war for democracy, culture, or

progress…it is cold-blooded butchery for advantages and power for the ruling classes of the

warring nations.” 62 Only complete neutrality, he concluded, was the correct stance of American


In the first months of 1915, the Second International asked the SPA to pay its back dues

for 1914 and current dues for 1915. The NEC of the SPA, having witnessed the ineffectuality of

the International as a peacekeeping institution after the outbreak of war in Europe, was less

than enthusiastic about paying the money owed. The NEC voted unanimously to pay no dues to

the International Bureau for 1915, effectively severing ties with the Second International and

reneging on efforts to mediate peace between the warring states. American Socialists instead

60 Mary Marcy, as quoted by Shannon, The Socialist Party of America, 83.

61 Eugene V. Debs, “Peace on Earth,” in Marxist Internet Archive, (accessed May 23, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 1, no. 26, whole no. 114 (January 9, 1915), 1.

62 Morris Hillquit, “Socialist Neutrality,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed May 23, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 1, no. 26, whole no. 114 (January. 9, 1915), 1.


turned their attention towards ensuring the neutrality of the United States in the larger war. In

November, 1915, the NEC of the SPA endorsed the Manifesto of the Zimmerwald conference,

which one executive council member argued reasonably articulated a definite plan of action to

guide Socialists in the current crisis, and thus deserved the support of any who sincerely

ascribed to the theory of class struggle and international solidarity of labor. 63 Clearly, then,

when the Party withdrew from the Second International internationalist sentiment did not


The moderate program of the Zimmerwald conference appealed to the moderate

leadership of the SPA. The more extreme position of the Zimmerwald Left was equally as

influential, but found proponents not in the top echelon of the Party leadership but among Left

Wing Socialists and the Party membership base, particularly within the Language Federations.

Lenin, himself, attempted to contact elements within the American Left Wing directly. In

November, 1915, he obtained a copy of the manifesto of the Boston-based Socialist

Propaganda League (SPL), home to several prominent Left Wingers within the Party and heavily

populated by Lettish émigrés residing in New England. 64 The SPL was comprised primarily of

Latvian-American immigrants residing in Massachusetts. According to Theodore Draper, many

were former members of the Lettish Social Democratic Labor Party, a national branch of the

Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The SPL was founded in November, 1916 by C.W.

Fitzgerald, who was not of Latvian origin. The organization was composed of Left Wing SPA

63 Arthur LeSueur, “The Zimmerwald Conference and its Endorsement by the Party NEC,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed March 5, 2012). Published in The American Socialist [Chicago], v. 2, no. 20, whole no. 160 (November 27, 1915), 3. 64 See Draper, The Roots, 73-74. It is speculated by Draper that it is through this connection that Lenin was able to obtain the manifesto.


members. The SPL thus was an independent group existing within the SPA but not officially

recognized by the larger Party. The SPL was small and isolated; most of its members resided in

Massachusetts with a few residing in New York City. The SPL published its own organ, the Left

Wing journal The Internationalist. Although small in number, the SPL represented the first semi-

organized Left Wing faction dedicated to Revolutionary Marxist Socialism in the SPA.

In the manifesto, the SPL argued for industrial unionism, recognition of parliamentary

action as an adjunct to the mass action of the working class, the advancement of revolutionary

principles through education and organization, opposition to militarism, and the use of mass

action by the working class on both the economic and political fields. 65 The SPL also endorsed

the position of the “Left Wing Socialists of Europe” and so called for the SPA to endeavor in the

creation of a new international based entirely on revolutionary Marxist theory and tactics. 66

Lenin approved of the SPL position, stating it “corresponds fully with the position of our Party

(Social-Democratic Labor Party of Russia, Central Committee).” 67 Lenin proceeded to clarify

some points on the position of the SDLP of Russia, Central Committee, stating that the Party

was not wholly opposed to immediate demands of the working class, so long as it was made

clear that such reforms amounted to little if not “seconded by revolutionary methods of

struggle.” 68 Additionally, Lenin noted that his Party was for democratic centralism, as the

German Social Democratic Party was organized, stating that in moments of crisis a small group

65 “Manifesto of the Socialist Propaganda League of America, Adopted at a Meeting Held in the City of Boston, Nov. 26, 1916,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed May 23, 2012). Published in The Internationalist: Weekly of the Left Wing Socialists [Boston], v. 1, no. 1, Second Edition (January 6, 1917), 2.

66 Ibid.

67 V.I. Lenin, “Letter to the Secretary of the Socialist Propaganda League,” August 1914-December 1915, Vol. 21 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 423.

68 Ibid., 424.


can direct the masses in “a revolutionary direction.” 69 Most importantly, Lenin articulated his

Party’s position on the European Social Democratic parties, arguing for secession of the Left

Wing from these parties dominated by opportunistic agents of the middle class and capitalists.

Lenin additionally sent a German language copy of the Left Wing manifesto drafted at the

Zimmerwald conference, and implored SPL secretary C.W. Fitzgerald to seek out a German-

speaking comrade to translate and distribute the document throughout the American Left Wing


Had fate not intervened, perhaps the American Left Wing would have connected with

Lenin more directly during the war. There is no evidence that the SPL ever took note of Lenin’s

letter. One possible explanation is that Lenin was so little known in American circles that his

letter was disregarded and simply thrown away, although Theodore Draper speculates that the

Latvian immigrants, no strangers to Russian Social Democracy, would have had to be aware of

Lenin’s position within the Russian movement. It is more likely that French authorities

confiscated the letter and it never reached American shores, a common occurrence throughout

Lenin’s attempts to correspond with friends and comrades abroad during the war. 70 Although

Lenin’s attempt at contact with more radical elements of the American Left came to nothing,

the SPL manifesto nonetheless demonstrated that there were elements within the American

Socialist movement sympathetic to the Zimmerwald Left position. The Left Wing of the

American Party would come into contact with Lenin and his Bolshevik Party soon after,

69 Ibid. 70 Draper, The Roots, 74. Benjamin Gitlow contends that the Latvians “threw *Lenin’s+ letter into the waste basket” in his autobiographical history of the CPA, I Confess: The Truth About American Communism (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1940), 23.


however. Shortly after the letter was sent, several prominent Russian political exiles familiar

with Lenin journeyed to the United States.



In early August, 1915, Alexandra Kollontai received an invitation from Ludwig Lore,

Translator-Secretary of the German Federation of the SPA, to travel across the United States on

a three month speaking tour, sponsored by the German Federation. Kollontai was working for

Lenin, helping to agitate on behalf of the Zimmerwald Left in the Scandinavian countries, when

she received the invitation. Kollontai was born in St. Petersburg to a family of some means. Her

father was a military officer, and a liberal who wished to see Russia transformed into a

constitutional monarchy. She inherited a curiosity of the world around her, and a passion for

studying history and politics, from her father. Her mother, the daughter of a Finnish peasant

who struck it rich in lumber sales, bestowed upon her a respect for people of lesser wealth and

privilege. She spoke fluent Russian, learned Finnish from the peasants of her grandfather’s

estate in Finland, spoke French with her mother, learned English from her English nanny, and

studied German in school. Kollontai took to Socialism, and studied in Zurich under Professor

Heinrich Herkner, who, she later recalled, increasingly took to the revisionist positions of

Eduard Bernstein.

In 1899, after returning to Russia, she joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party,

where she met Vladimir Lenin for the first time. When the RSDLP split between the Mensheviks

and Bolsheviks in 1903, she opted to stay neutral, although contemporaries remembered her as

a Menshevik prior to the First World War. Kollontai was an eye witness to the January 22, 1905

massacre in St. Petersburg remembered as “Bloody Sunday.” She was sent into exile in 1908

after publishing revolutionary propaganda. She traveled to Germany, where she came to know

and be influenced by German Marxists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. After the outbreak


of war and the voting of war credits by German Social Democrats, Kollontai departed for

Scandinavia. Dismayed by both the German Social Democrats and the Mensheviks for

supporting their respective nations’ war efforts, she finally threw her lot in with Lenin, and

officially joined the Bolshevik Party. 71

Prior to the war she disagreed with Lenin on several issues; she doubted the validity of

his vanguard theory, disagreed with his dismissal of the spontaneous revolution, his belief in

the necessity of a highly centralized Party structure, and his theory of imperialism. When the

War began, she publicly supported Lenin and his call to transform the conflict into a civil war

between classes; in private, she held to her pacifist beliefs, which Lenin regarded as silly and

misguided. 72 In their personal communications, Lenin made it known that her positions were

incorrect; he chastised Kollontai for her use of “the watchword of peace” which was “pacifist,

petty-bourgeois, helping the governments and obstructing the revolutionary struggle.” 73 In

another Lenin derided her for espousing disarmament, asking “how can an oppressed class in

general be against the armament of the people? To reject this means to fall into a semi-

anarchist attitude to imperialism.” 74 In still another, Lenin again attacked Kollontai’s pacifist

agitation amongst the Scandinavians, stating “I think it mistaken in theory and harmful in

practice not to distinguish between types of wars…repudiating “war” in general, that is not

Marxist.” 75 Clearly, Kollontai was not completely in line with the Bolsheviks; what she desired

most was peace. Despite her earlier doubts about Lenin’s theories, when war broke out, she

71 Isabel De Palencia, Alexandra Kollontai: Ambassadress from Russia (New York: Van Rees Press, 1947), 69.

72 Barbara Evans Clements, Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1979), 91-92.

73 V.I. Lenin, Letter to Alexandra Kollontai, Letters: February 1912-December 1922, Vol. 35 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 193.

74 Ibid., 198.

75 Ibid., 200-201.


placed her reservations aside, and decided his program held merit. 76 Kollontai embraced the

Bolshevik program entirely, and publicly agitated for the Zimmerwald Left and Bolshevik

program in first Sweden, and then Norway. Kollontai’s fluency in English, Russian, German,

French, and Finnish and her reputation as a first class public speaker and lecturer made her an

invaluable asset to Lenin. She served Lenin well in the Scandinavian countries. When she was

invited to tour the United States, Lenin realized she could serve him there, as well.

Alexandra Kollontai received the invitation from Ludwig Lore, Translator-Secretary of

the German Federation of the SPA and Left Wing Socialist, on August 10, 1915. Lore had heard

of her reputation as a public speaker and anti-war activist, and arranged for the German

Federation to sponsor a speaking tour of the United States. After reading the letter, Kollontai

recorded in her diary “this is so incredibly good that I am gasping with joy and am afraid to

believe it.” 77 She accepted the invitation by return mail, and sent a letter to Lenin informing him

of this development. Lenin responded enthusiastically, saying he pinned “many hopes on this

visit.” 78 Lenin requested that Kollontai attempt to find an American publisher who would print

the booklet Socialism and War in English, and suggested Charles Kerr, Chicago publisher and

editor of the International Socialist Review, one of the primary organs of the SPA’s Left Wing.

Finally, he asked that she “mobilize the internationalists,” although he did not indicate who

exactly they were. 79 The two corresponded by mail for the duration of Kollontai’s stay in the

U.S., although several letters did not reach her, perhaps again due to the diligence of the

76 Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 91.

77 Quoted in Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 94.

78 V.I. Lenin, Letter to Alexandra Kollontai, Letters: February 1912-December 1922, Vol. 35 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 201.

79 V.I. Lenin, Letter to Alexandra Kollontai, 1900-1923, Vol. 36 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 346.


French post office. Lenin provided Kollontai with a copy of Socialism and War to translate,

which she began as she set out across the Atlantic on September 26, 1915.

Her friends worried about her crossing the Atlantic during the period of unrestricted

submarine warfare. Her passage was safe, although by her own accounts rather uncomfortable.

She shared a third class cabin with several other Russians, and the accommodations of the

cramped cabin made her translation work difficult. She was able to complete the task,

however, by the time the ship docked in New York City on October 8.

Upon disembarking Kollontai was greeted by Lore and several other German Federation

members, as well as several Russian editors and contributors to the Russian Federation journal

Novy Mir. She was taken to her hotel on Union Square where her itinerary for the next three

months was made known to her: she would be speaking at events in New York City for several

weeks, then travel by train to Racine, Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, San

Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Philadelphia before returning to New York. At each stop she

was to address crowds at several meetings, speaking in English, German, French, and Russian as

the situation demanded. Her American sponsors asked her to speak on European

developments, the War, and Zimmerwald; she suggested talks on national defense and

international solidarity of the working class, and war and women’s tasks in addition, all with an

eye to, as she wrote to Lenin, “spread as widely as possible the ideas you’ve so clearly

formulated, the basis of revolutionary internationalism.” 80 She spoke that very night to a small

group of German Federation members. The topic was the Zimmerwald convention, and by the

end of her talk and ensuing debate, all came out in favor of the Zimmerwald Left program. A

80 Alexandra Kollontai, as quoted in Cathy Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle of the Woman Who Defied Lenin (New York: The Dial Press, 1980), 227.


lecture to Russian Americans several days later ended with similar results; Nokolai Nakoryakov,

an editor of Novy Mir and Bolshevik himself, recalled the meeting was “unfailingly

successful…even the Menshevik leaders, who initially greeted her agitation coolly, had to

confess that that she destroyed a great deal of their influence, like magic.” 81 She spent several

more busy days in New York, then departed on her tour of the U.S. She spoke to Russians and

Germans in Milwaukee, then traveled to Chicago where she addressed ten crowds in half as

many days. There she connected with Charles Kerr, whom Lenin had suggested as a publisher

for Socialism and War. He showed little interest in publishing the work. 82

She went then to St. Louis, and from there west through the great plains and Rocky

Mountains, to California, Washington, and back. The pace of her journey took a great toll;

Kollontai was often exhausted, tired of the repetitiveness of her lectures, and had few

moments to herself. She wrote letters in what little spare time she had. She wrote to Lenin “the

German comrades have enlisted my services for a very good reason…someone from Europe has

immense authority here.” 83 Lenin replied “if there are people in America who are afraid even of

the Zimmerwald Manifesto, you can brush them aside…bring in only those who are more Left

than the Zimmerwald Manifesto” and in a post-script “Try everywhere to see (if only for five

minutes) the local Bolsheviks, to ‘refresh’ them and get them in touch with us.” 84 Although she

grew weary, Kollontai fought not to lose sight of her mission in America. This was difficult,

however. Although she fell in love with the natural beauty of the United States, the west of

which reminded her of the Russian steppes, she found the people she encountered out west

81 Nikolai Nakoryakov, as quoted in Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle, 228.

82 Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle, 229.

83 Alexandra Kollontai, as quoted in Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle, 229.

84 V.I. Lenin, Letter to Alexandra Kollontai, Letters: February 1912-December 1922, Vol. 35 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 221.


complacent, insular, and ignorant of the war in Europe. She returned east through Minneapolis,

Chicago again, then Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Finally, on December 22, she arrived back

in New York City. She rested for twelve days, before embarking on a more leisurely speaking

tour that took her to Boston, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey. In Boston she made contact with the

Socialist Propaganda League, at Lenin’s behest: “I hope you will make every effort to find out

everything you can about them, and will try to build up out of them one of the rallying-points

for the Zimmerwald Left in America.” 85 In Philadelphia she connected with two young

Bolsheviks, V. Volodarsky, a Russian political exile who had fled to the U.S. in 1913 and worked

in a Philadelphia garment factory, and another named Gurvich, perhaps Nicholas Gurvich, who

later adopted the Anglicized last name Hourwich, and was soon to come into prominence

within the Russian Federation of the SPA. 86 In a little over four months, Kollontai had traveled

the length of the U.S. and back, and addressed 123 meetings in four different languages. She

agitated on behalf of the Zimmerwald Left, spoke to foreign and native-born American

Socialists, endeavored, but failed, to get Lenin’s Socialism and War published, and made

contact with Bolsheviks residing in the United States. She departed New York City at the end of

December, to return to Norway. Personal matters would bring her back to the United States

only half a year later.

In the late summer of 1916, Alexandra Kollontai again Left Norway for the United States.

This time, her trip was not centered around political agitation for the Zimmerwald Left or

Bolshevik Party. Although she did intend to reconnect with American Left Wing Socialists and

Russian émigrés in New York City, she ventured to the United States at the request of her son,

85 V.I. Lenin, Letter to Alexandra Kollontai, 1900-1923, Vol. 36 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 360. 86 Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle, 233.


who had himself recently emigrated to Paterson, New Jersey, perhaps to avoid being drafted

into the Russian army. In New Jersey he continued his engineering studies, but found that he

needed the support of his mother in this strange new land. Alexandra wrote to Lenin that she

was suspending her work in Sweden and Norway, asked that he send a replacement, and

crossed the Atlantic a second time. She stayed in New Jersey for several months. Kollontai

found herself very unhappy in Paterson. “We’re living in the latitude of Naples, but it doesn’t

feel at all like the South,” she complained to a friend. She found the town a dreary place, where

“monotonously dull rows of little wooden houses” were occupied by equally monotonously dull

American housewives who would spend the evenings sitting on porches and gossiping about

trivialities. 87 To alleviate her boredom, Kollontai read American literature and works and what

she termed “psychological studies.” Her time was not spent completely free of Socialist activity;

she contributed the occasional article to American Socialist newspapers, however these were

few and far between. Towards the end of her stay, in October, 1916, she reconnected with the

New York Left Wing. She began to venture into the city for meetings of the Society for the

Protection of Child and Mother, and contacted the Bolsheviks Chudnovsky and Nakoryakov at

Novy Mir. 88 It was here, in November, that Kollontai discovered that the Russian émigré

community in New York was now host to another notorious Bolshevik: Nikolai Bukharin.

Like Kollontai, Bukharin came to the United States from Scandinavia, where he had

wound up after a series of exiles and deportations for radical activity. In September, 1916, he

decided to leave Copenhagen for the United States. His reasons for doing so remain a mystery;

Bukharin may have relished the opportunity to agitate for revolutionary Socialism in the

87 Alexandra Kollontai, quoted in Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 99. 88 Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle, 237.


stronghold of Capitalism that was the United States in the early twentieth century. 89 Perhaps he

left for the United States because his ego was wounded; in another similarity to Kollontai,

Bukharin had found himself on the wrong side of Lenin’s pen. He had endured months of

criticism in Russian Left Wing publications and speeches. Lenin derided Bukharin for his “very

large error,” that of “semi-anarchism,” of wishing to “explode” the old state machinery and

forego a post-revolutionary state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. 90 The two made some

effort at rapprochement shortly before Bukharin boarded his vessel to America. Lenin, upon

hearing that Bukharin was leaving for the United States, wrote to Aleksandr Shliapnikov, the

head Bolshevik organizer in the Scandinavian countries: “write frankly, in what mood is

Bukharin leaving? Will he write to us or not? Will he fulfill requests?” 91 Shortly thereafter Lenin

received a letter from Bukharin himself. Bukharin’s letter was intended as a goodbye to his old

Bolshevik comrade, although it was not entirely conciliatory. Bukharin rejected Lenin’s

accusations, and defended his own views on the nature of the post-revolutionary state as

“correct and Marxist.” 92 He ended, however, with a touching reaffirmation of his commitment

to Lenin and the Party: “I ask one thing of you: if you must polemicize, preserve such a tone

that it will not lead to a split. It would be very painful for me, painful beyond endurance, if joint

work, even in the future, should become impossible.” Bukharin’s last sentence left little doubt

that although he was wounded by the differences between the two men, he felt no lingering

hostility: “I have the greatest respect for you; I look upon you as my revolutionary teacher and I

89 Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), 40.

90 V.I. Lenin, quoted in Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 40.

91 V.I. Lenin, quoted in Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 40.

92 Nikolai Bukharin, quoted in Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 40.


love you.” 93 Lenin responded with a softer tone. Although he remained firm in his insistence

that his charges against Bukharin were valid and the disagreement “fully” the fault of Bukharin,

he nonetheless sought a mending of relations when he stated “we all value you highly.” 94

Thus Bukharin was prepared to depart for America having mended the bridge with

Lenin, ready and willing to propagandize the Bolshevik position amongst the American Left.

Before Bukharin sailed, Lenin sent a list of requests he wished him to fulfill in the United States.

Lenin instructed Bukharin to have the manifesto of the Zimmerwald Left as well as the

Bolshevik “pamphlet on the war” published in English in the American Left Wing press, and that

copies of American Left Wing newspapers and journals be sent to the Central Committee of the

Bolshevik Party. Lenin also asked that Bukharin orchestrate “a small group of Russian and

Lettish Bolsheviks capable of following interesting literature, sending it, writing about it,

translating and printing what we send from here” and otherwise foster interest in a Third

International and the program of the Left international Socialist movement among the

American Socialists. “If a couple of Bolsheviks were actively linked with a couple of Letts

possessing a good knowledge of English, then the thing might work,” he suggested, and to this

end Lenin suggested that Bukharin track down a Lett named Berzin, residing in the U.S. Finally,

Lenin recounted the program of the Socialist Propaganda League he had received and the

response letter he had sent, and asked Bukharin to establish contact with the group. 95 With this

list of tasks, Bukharin departed for the United States, ready to bring revolutionary international

Socialism to American Socialists.

93 Nikolai Bukharin, quoted in Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 40.

94 V.I. Lenin, quoted in Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 41.

95 V.I. Lenin, Letter to N.I. Bukharin, December 1893-October 1917, Vol. 43 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 578.


Bukharin arrived in the United States in early November, 1916. He quickly made his way

into the ranks of Novy Mir, perhaps through a connection to Nakoryakov. For two months he

split his time between writing for the paper and undertaking his own research in the New York

Public Library, and mingled with and ingratiated himself into the Russian immigrant community

of New York City. In early January, 1917, he became Novy Mir’s de facto chief editor, a position

he achieved after some struggle with the then-Menshevik editorial board. 96 Under his tutelage,

Novy Mir turned quickly to the Left, as Bukharin wrote and promoted articles espousing the

Bolshevik-Zimmerwald Left attitude toward the war, and endeavored to transform the paper

into one of the leading anti-war publications in the U.S. 97 Novy Mir, as official organ of the

Russian Federation of the Socialist Party, undoubtedly brought Lenin’s position to many Russian

immigrants within the American Socialist movement. Novy MIr, however, was published only in

Russian and so its audience was limited. However, Bukharins position at the paper gained him

some measure of fame amongst the American Left, and he occasionally left New York City to

undertake speaking tours similar to those of Kollontai. 98 His place in the sun as perhaps the

leading figure of the American Left was usurped, however, by the arrival of a Socialist of greater

notoriety: Leon Trotsky. Although he was only present in the American scene for a brief two

months, his contributions to American Socialist developments cannot be overstated.

96 In a letter to Kollontai dated February 17, 1917 Lenin writes that he is pleased of the “victory” of N. Iv., Bukharin’s initials, in Novy Mir. In a letter two days later sent to Inessa Armand, he again writes that “N. Iv. and Pavlov (the Lett who was in Brussels: Pavel Vasilyevich) have won Novy Mir.” These statements suggest that prior to Bukharin’s editorship, the paper was run by Menshevik Russian émigrés. Lenin notes that he received copies of the paper but “devilishly irregularly.” See V.I. Lenin, Letter to Alexandra Kollontai, Letters: February 1912- December 1922, Vol. 35 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 285; V.I. Lenin, Letter to Inessa Armand, Letters: February 1912-December 1922, Vol. 35 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 288. 97 Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, 43.

98 Ibid.


Historians and biographers have made much about Trotsky’s brief stay in the United

States. By his own account, Trotsky’s time in America had little impact on his own life. Trotsky

came to the United States out of necessity; deported from France in September, 1916 for anti-

war activities, he was refused reentrance to Switzerland, and so he sought refuge in Spain, only

to be told on November 9, 1916 that he could not remain in that nation. Spanish authorities

attempted to ship him to Havana. Trotsky protested as he felt that location to be too remote

from events in Europe owing to the slow rate of communication via post. 99 He appealed to the

United States, which granted him asylum. On Christmas day, 1916, Trotsky and his family

departed Barcelona for New York City aboard the steamer Montserrat. At 3:00 in the morning

of January 13, 1917, Trotsky disembarked in New York City. American journalists, not just of the

Socialist publications, who wished the interview this famous revolutionary greeted him at the

docks. “Never under the strictest interrogation by gendarmes did I sweat as now under the

cross-fire of these professional specialists,” Trotsky later recalled of these interviewers. 100 In

addition to the journalists was a large crowd of immigrant Socialists, mostly hailing from the

lands of the Russian Empire.

Grigory Chudnovsky and Nikolai Bukharin were among them. They whisked Trotsky

away, and Chudnovsky set him up with an apartment in the Bronx, for which Trotsky paid

eighteen dollars a month and which included novel conveniences unfamiliar to the Trotsky

family: electric lights, a gas stove, telephone, bathtub, service elevator and garbage chute.

American journalists variously reported that the renowned radical Leon Trotsky worked as a

dishwasher, a tailor, even a film extra for Brooklyn studios, all out of necessity, as he struggled

99 Robert Service, Trotsky: A Biography (Cambridge: The Belknap Press, 2009), 152. 100 Leon Trotsky, as quoted in Service, Trotsky, 154.


to make ends meet and provide for his family while in exile. 101 In reality, as Trotsky recalled,

while in the United States his only profession was that of revolutionary Socialist. 102 Ludwig Lore

paid Trotsky for speaking engagements and lectures to Socialists and labor meetings; his English

was very poor, and he stuck to lecturing amongst Russian and German émigrés. 103 Although he

ventured out of New York City, he stuck to lecturing in the cities of the Northeast. Trotsky

supplemented his income through writing and editing, first for the Jewish Socialist daily

Forverts, which he found too moderate, and then for Novy Mir, where he joined the Bolsheviks

Chudnovsky and Bukharin on the editorial board. 104

At Novy Mir, Trotsky found a platform to reach German, Russian, and Jewish

immigrants. Here, he proselytized Left Wing immigrants, joining Bukharin in arguing for an

organized Left Wing adhering to the Zimmerwald Left position on the war. He railed against the

reformist SPA leadership, with their material wealth, haughty sense of superiority over

European Socialists, and smug indifference to Marxist ideas; “immigrants who had played some

role in Europe in their youth, they very quickly lost the theoretical premise they had brought

with them in the confusion of their struggle for success,” he later wrote. 105 He attacked the

pacifists in the United States, who, in the period of the American preparedness campaign gave

“vulgar speeches about the advantages of peace as opposed to war” which “invariably ended in

a promise to support war if it became ‘necessary.’” 106 When the U.S. government broke

diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3, 1917, he warned the readers of Novy Mir

101 Ronald Segal, Leon Trotsky: A Biography (New York: Pantheon Books, 1979), 118.

102 Leon Trotsky, My Life (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1970), 270.

103 Trotsky, My Life, 271.

104 Service, Trotsky, 154-155.

105 Trotsky, My Life, 274.

106 Ibid., 272.


that the rapidly growing “chauvinistic music…the tenor of the pacifists and the falsetto of the

Socialists” was a tune he had heard before in Europe, in the summer of 1914. “The mobilization

of the American patriotism was simply a repetition of what I had seen before. I noted the stages

of the process in my Russian paper, and meditated on the stupidity of men who were so slow to

learn their lessons,” he recalled. 107 In the pages of that newspaper, Trotsky reproduced his

work in Europe, and gave the American immigrant communities the Left Zimmerwaldian

program: revolutionary transformation of the war as the only genuine solution to the current

and future conflict. According to Trotsky, it was through this organ, and the Russian-speakers

within “all of the national federations of the Socialist Party,” including those for whom Russian

was not their primary language, that the ideas espoused in Novy Mir found their way into the

larger American Socialist movement. 108

Everything was not entirely agreeable at the offices of Novy Mir, however. The

conflicting personalities and ideologies of the leading Russian émigrés, Trotsky on the one hand

and Bukharin and Kollontai on the other, disturbed the harmony within the budding organized

Left Wing centered in New York City. Trotsky recalled Bukharin welcoming him to New York

with “the childish exuberance characteristic of him” which was “the beginning of a close

association that warmed- on Bukharin’s part- into an attachment for me that grew steadily

more intense.” 109 This was, for Trotsky, not a desirable quality, for as Trotsky later wrote

“Bukharin’s nature is such that he must always attach himself to someone. He

becomes…nothing more than a medium for someone else’s actions and speeches…I never took

107 Trotsky, My Life, 272.

108 Ibid., 275. “National Federations” refers to the Foreign Language Federations of the SPA.

109 Ibid., 273.


Bukharin too seriously, and I left him to himself, which really means, to others.” 110 Alexandra

Kollontai, at this time reintegrating into the New York Russian community after her stay in

Paterson, left little impression on Trotsky: “her knowledge of foreign languages and her

temperament made her a valuable agitator. Her theoretical views have always been somewhat

confused, however…She was in correspondence with Lenin and kept him informed of what was

happening in America, my own activities included.” 111 Kollontai did keep tabs on Trotsky; in one

letter to Lenin she reported his arrival, and expressed her amazement that Trotsky, ostensibly a

Menshevik, had not obstructed Bukharin in cleansing Novy Mir of remaining Menshevik

contributors: “Trotsky clearly disassociated himself from them and probably will carry on his

own line, which is by no means clear,” she wrote. 112 The message may have been confused,

however, for Lenin records in a letter to Inessa Armand that “Trotsky arrived, and this scoundrel

at once ganged up with the Right Wing of Novy Mir against the Left Zimmerwaldists! That’s it!

That’s Trotsky for you! Always true to himself.” 113

Trotsky helped to oust the Mensheviks from Novy Mir, and his contributions to the

paper were certainly in line with the Zimmerwald Left position. However, he and the Bolshevik

Bukharin took opposing sides on one very important question facing the American Left Wing: to

split immediately from the SPA, as Bukharin advocated, or to remain within the larger Party and

“capture” it for revolutionary Socialism, as Trotsky advised. This key difference was illuminated

to American Socialists just a day after Trotsky’s arrival in New York. Ludwig Lore invited

Bukharin and Kollontai, who had been agitating for an organized Left Wing of the SPA capable

110 Trotsky, My Life, 273.

111 Ibid., 273.

112 Alexandra Kollontai, as quoted in Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 100.

113 V.I. Lenin, Letter to Inessa Armand, Letters: February 1912-December 1922, Vol. 35 of V.I. Lenin: Collected Works, 288.


of mounting a campaign of opposition to preparedness and American entry into the war, to a

“unity meeting” of Left Wing elements at his Brooklyn home. Lore also invited Trotsky, despite

his very recent arrival. According to Lore, the meeting was called to “discuss a program of

action for Socialists of the Left, for the purpose of organizing the radical forces in the American

Socialist movement.” 114 On the evening of January 14, the Russians Bukharin, Kollontai, Trotsky,

Chudnovsky, and Volodarsky joined American Left Wingers Louis Boudin, Louis Fraina, S.J.

Rutgers, Sen Katayama, and Lore at a meeting ostensibly called to organize the Left Wing of the

SPA; the Russians were invited as advisors. 115 John D. Williams, editor of The Internationalist,

official publication of the Socialist Propaganda League, was perhaps the only native-born

American Socialist at the meeting. 116 Trotsky and Bukharin, the two greatest theoreticians

present, dominated the meeting. Despite Trotsky’s unfamiliarity with American Socialism, he

nevertheless weighed in passionately, arguing against the position taken by Kollontai, Bukharin,

and the other Bolsheviks. Bukharin advocated an immediate split of the American Left from the

larger Socialist Party, citing Lenin’s tactic of refusing to work with reformist “compromisers.117

Trotsky, meanwhile, took the position that he himself had taken with regards to the Russian

Social Democratic Party: avoid a clean break with the Right Wing of the Party for now, and

establish an independent Left Wing organ for propaganda purposes to win over the masses of

the Party to the Left. The Americans began the meeting amid an air of pessimism and the belief

that the Left was too weak and disorganized to effect any real change. “At first it seemed that

114 Ludwig Lore, quoted in Draper, The Roots, 81.

115 It should be noted that all of the attendees of this “unity meeting” were, in fact, immigrants; Boudin from Russia, Fraina from Italy, Lore from Germany, Rutgers from the Netherlands, and Katayama from Japan. However, these figures had spent some time within the U.S. radical political milieu, better understood American political conditions and the SPA, and were regarded as the leading figures of the Left Wing, such as it was, at the time.

116 Draper, The Roots, 80.

117 Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 100.


this conference which was rapidly followed by a number of others would achieve no tangible

result. The Russians were in their element and long drawn-out but intensely interesting

theoretical discussions were always in order. We others felt that for the time being it was

hopeless to think of organizing the Left within the Party for anything like effective action,”

recalled Ludwig Lore a year later. 118 Believing their chances of uniting the Left under a coherent

program a remote possibility, and perhaps under the spell of Trotsky’s notoriety (“Had Trotsky

remained a year in the United States, our movement would have found in him a great and

splendid leader,” lamented Lore), the Americans backed Trotsky’s position. Doing as the

Bolsheviks suggested, and splitting from the SPA and establishing an independent organization,

they felt, would doom the Left Wing to complete irrelevancy within the American Socialist

movement. An elected subcommittee, which included Trotsky, proposed a bimonthly periodical

issued by the Left Wing. John D. William’s The Internationalist was chosen as the official organ

of the Left Wing. However, the Socialists present ousted him as the editor and chose Fraina as

his successor. The title was changed to The New International, and the offices of the paper

moved from Boston to New York; so, too, did the gravitational center of Left Wing activism.

Trotsky carried the day, but the Bolsheviks present, Kollontai, Chudnovsky, and

Volodarsky, led by Bukharin, did not relent, and called a different conference a month later.

“The International Conference of Socialist Organizations and Groups,” as the February 17, 1917

conference was titled, was an attempt to organize Left Wing Socialist groups and elicit a

commitment to the Zimmerwald movement as “the embryo of the Third International.” Present

118 Ludwig Lore, “Leon Trotsky,” in Davenport, ed., Early American Marxism, (accessed April 24, 2012). Originally published in One Year of Revolution: Celebrating the First Anniversary of the Founding of the Russian Soviet Republic: November 7, 1918 (Brooklyn, NY: The Class Struggle, 1918), 7-10.


were representatives of Novy Mir, the Russian Branch of the Socialist Party, Lettish branch no. 1

of the SPA, the Ukrainian Branch of the Socialist Party, the Manhattan Lithuanian branch, the

Brooklyn Lithuanian branch, the Bolshevik section of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’

Party (represented by Bukharin), the Socialist Propaganda League, and a group of Social

Revolutionaries. 119 Émigrés from regions within the Russian Empire comprised eight of the nine

groups in attendance. Only one, the Socialist Propaganda League, contained any native-born

Americans at all. The attending groups pledged support to the Zimmerwald Left and a proposed

Third International. Here, in the Foreign Language Federations, was a nucleus through which

Bukharin could position himself for a leading role in the American Left, while Trotsky did

likewise through the non-Federationist Left Wing which had backed his plan to propagandize

within the SPA. However, the Russian Revolution intervened, and the Bolsheviks in America

made hasty plans to return to Russia.

The Left suddenly lost two potential leaders. However, their relatively short stays had

made a significant impact. During their time in the United States, Trotsky and Bukharin

gathered the scattered elements of the Left Wing and impressed upon them the importance of

organizing and unifying. Through their work at Novy Mir, and Alexandra Kollontai’s lengthy and

rigorous speaking tours, the Russian exiles brought to the American Left Wing the

Zimmerwaldian and Bolshevik views of the war, and proposed these programs as the means by

which American Socialists might oppose American entrance into the greater conflict, a

development Trotsky considered an inevitability, or utilize such a conflict to bring about

dramatic changes in the American political and economic systems. The Russians imbued their

119 Draper, The Roots, 83.


countrymen and fellow Language Federationists with a revolutionary spirit. They proposed, and

helped organize, an independent publication of the Left Wing, which could be used to sway

American radicals to revolutionary Socialism. Perhaps most importantly, the two factions,

represented by Trotsky on the one hand and Bukharin, Kollontai, and the Bolsheviks on the

other, had proposed two conflicting plans of action for the American Left Wing. The established

Left Wing leaders adopted Trotsky’s plan to remain in the SPA and take control of the Party for

revolutionary Socialism. Meanwhile, the Language Federation membership, particularly those

representing the nationalities of Eastern Europe, disseminated Bukharin’s proposal to split as

soon as possible and establish an independent organization. These two strains of thought

would reemerge in 1919, following the first Comintern Congress. In the meantime, the Left

remained united, not only among its own factions but with the Center and Right of the SPA, in

opposition to the crisis of American entrance into the War.




The March, 1917 Russian Revolution shocked the world. American Socialists rejoiced at

the fall of the repressive, autocratic regime. On the evening of March 20, 15,000 Socialists,

many of them Russian émigrés, flooded Madison Square Garden to demonstrate support for

the Russian Revolution and the new Provisional Government. 120 Socialist Joseph