Communist Labor Party of America

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This article is about the US party that existed from 1919-1920. For other uses, see Communist Labor Party (disambiguation).
Original logo of the Communist Labor Party of America.

The Communist Labor Party of America (CLP) was one of the organizational predecessors of the Communist Party USA. The group was established at the end of August 1919 following a three-way split of the Socialist Party of America. Although a legal political party at the time of its formation, the group was forced underground by the Palmer Raids of January 1920 and thereafter was forced to conduct its activities in secret. The CLP merged with a dissident faction of the Communist Party of America in May 1920 to form the United Communist Party of America.

Organizational history[edit]


Revised logo of the CLP, in use from about December 1919 onwards.

The Communist Labor Party traces its roots to the organized Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party, which emerged early in 1919. Through organized bloc voting in branches affiliated with the party's Foreign Language Federations, the favored candidates of the Left Wing Section won a majority of the 15 seats on the party's governing National Executive Committee in the election of 1919.

Facing domination by an aggressive Communist NEC, the outgoing NEC (dominated by the "Regular" faction of the party and guided by James Oneal and Executive Secretary Adolph Germer) cited voting irregularities by branches of the party's Foreign Language Federations and invalidated the result. Suspensions and expulsions of a major part of the SPA's membership immediately followed, including suspensions of the Russian Socialist Federation, Lithuanian Socialist Federation, Polish Federation, Lettish (Latvian) Federation, South Slavic Socialist Federation, and Ukrainian Federation of the Socialist Party in addition to the entire state socialist parties of Michigan, Massachusetts, and Ohio. In New York state the State Executive Committee suspended and "reorganized" Left Wing locals and branches representing nearly half the state's membership.

In the interim, the suspended Foreign Language Federations and idiosyncratic Socialist Party of Michigan determined to move immediately to the formation of a Communist Party of America and issued a call for a founding convention to be held in Chicago on September 1, 1919.


CLP Executive Secretary Alfred Wagenknecht as he appeared in 1918.

Most of the English-speaking Left Wingers, headed by NEC members Alfred Wagenknecht and L.E. Katterfeld and including prominent New York journalist John "Jack" Reed determined to fight on in an attempt to win control of the Socialist Party for the Left Wing. However, with many Left Wingers already abandoning this approach and the "Regular" faction firmly in control of a majority of the states electing delegates to the Emergency National Convention in Chicago scheduled for Aug. 30, 1919, the fight was essentially over before it began.

The Credentials Committee of this convention was easily won by adherents of the Oneal-Germer "Regulars," who froze out Left Wing-oriented delegations from California, Oregon, and Minnesota. Roughly two dozen delegates pledging allegiance to the Left Wing Section bolted the convention to meet downstairs in a previously rented room, along with about 50 other Left Wingers from around the country. These latter delegates constituted themselves as the Communist Labor Party of America on August 31, 1919.

Executive Secretary of the CLP was Alfred Wagenknecht of Ohio. The five member National Executive Committee consisted of Max Bedacht, Alexander Bilan, L.E. Katterfeld, Jack Carney, and Edward Lindgren. Initial headquarters were maintained in Cleveland, before being moved to New York City in December of 1919.

Underground period[edit]

The party moved to the underground in response to mass arrests and deportations conducted by the US Justice Department and its Bureau of Investigation, guided by Special Assistant to the Attorney General J. Edgar Hoover. These raids and the move to the underground virtually destroyed the organization, which only existed in skeletal form in the first half of 1920, although publication of its legal newspaper, The Toiler, was maintained. The CLP also published an "illegal" underground monthly paper called Communist Labor Party News and issued the final issue of Ludwig Lore's theoretical magazine, The Class Struggle under its auspices.

Dissolution through merger[edit]

On April 18, 1920, Executive Secretary C. E. Ruthenberg exited the Communist Party of America and along with his factional supporters (such as Jay Lovestone and Isaac Edward Ferguson) constituted themselves as the "real" CPA with a view to merger with the CLP. This organizational marriage took place at a secret "Joint Unity Convention" held at Bridgman, Michigan from May 26-31. The resulting organization, also organized along underground lines to avoid arrest, was known as the United Communist Party of America (UCP).

The Communist International to which the UCP and CPA both pledged their allegiance sought to end duplication, competition, and hostility between the two communist parties and insisted on a merger into a single organization. This was eventually effected in May 1921 at a secret gathering held at the Overlook Mountain House hotel near Woodstock, New York. The resulting unified group was also known as the Communist Party of America, which morphed into the Workers Party of America (December 1921), which changed its name in 1925 to Workers (Communist) Party and to Communist Party USA in 1929.

Party press[edit]

During the CLPs brief life five English-language periodicals were affiliated with it, some inherited from organizations that had merged into the party, and some new.

  • The Toiler (Cleveland) - This paper was formerly the official publication of the Socialist Party of Ohio under the name The Ohio Socialist. The paper changed its name to The Toiler upon establishment of the CLP as the official party paper. Due to police pressure the official publisher was changed to the "Toiler Publishing Association" late in 1919, thereby allowing the paper to continue as a "legal" publication under the pretext of independence.[1]
  • Voice of Labor (Chicago) this was the serial began by John Reed and Ben Gitlow after they became disaffected with the majority of the National Left Wing Council. It continued as the labor organ of the CLP until it merged into the UCP. It remained as a UCP paper until it folded in July. It ran from Vol. I #1 August 15, 1919 to Vol. II #2 July 10, 1920.[2]
  • Communist Labor News (Cleveland) One or two issues of a four page broadsheet bearing this name were produced immediately after the party's formation, with content substantially similar to material also printed in the Ohio Socialist.
  • Communist Labor (New York) - Six issues of this irregularly-issued tabloid newspaper were produced between December 6, 1919 and May 15, 1920[3] This was the "illegal" underground organ of the CLP.
  • The Class Struggle (New York) - The final issue of this theoretical journal, dated November 1919, bore the imprint of the Communist Labor Party on the cover. It was terminated for financial reasons.


  1. ^ Goldwater, Walter Radical periodicals in America 1890-1950 New Haven, Yale University Library 1964 p.42
  2. ^ Goldwater, Walter Radical periodicals in America 1890-1950 New Haven, Yale University Library 1964 p.44
  3. ^ Goldwater, Walter Radical periodicals in America 1890-1950 New Haven, Yale University Library 1964 p.9

Other sources consulted[edit]

CLP publications[edit]