Socialist Propaganda League of America
The Socialist Propaganda League of America was established in 1915, apparently by C.W. Fitzgerald of Beverly, Massachusetts. The group was a membership organization established within the ranks of the Socialist Party of America and is best remembered as direct lineal antecedent of the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party and its governing National Council — the forerunner of the American Communist movement.
In the fall of 1915, C.W. Fitzgerald wrote and sent a leaflet to Vladimir Lenin of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party. Lenin replied, outlining his views on the situation faced by the revolutionary socialist movement.
It was not until November 1916 that any sort of broad-based organization was established. A November 26, 1916, meeting in Boston approved a first manifesto for the organization and established an official journal, The Internationalist. The paper was launched in Boston at the start of January 1917 and continued under that name through April of that year. The initial editor of The Internationalist was John D. Williams.
According to the group's constitutional objectives, "The SPLA declares emphatically and will work uncompromisingly in the economic and political fields for industrial revolution to establish industrial democracy by the mass action of the working class."
In January 1917, editor Williams traveled to New York City in order to raise money for the Socialist Propaganda League and its newly launched paper. Williams made the acquaintance of a young Italian-American radical named Louis C. Fraina, until recently a key editor at the now-defunct magazine The New Review. Williams sought an experienced editor to take over the publication and a compact was made.
Beginning with an issue dated April 21, 1917, The Internationalist was moved to New York City and published by the Socialist Propaganda League as The New International.Louis Fraina became the publication's editor at that date. The publication was financed through donations made by Dutch engineer and left wing socialist S.J. Rutgers. Circulation was small, estimated by historian Theodore Draper at "no more than a thousand copies of each issue," which served to limit the paper's influence. Nevertheless, Draper and other historians of the American left regard The Internationalist and its successor as the first propaganda organs of the movement which congealed as the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party in 1919 — forerunner of the American communist movement.
A total of 12 issues of The New International are known to have been produced through October 1918. The New International was directly succeeded by The Revolutionary Age, also edited by Fraina, with the first issue of that paper appearing in the middle of November. "The League is still in existence, but its paper is no longer published, since The Revolutionary Age expresses its policy," Fraina noted in March 1919.
In January 1918, in the aftermath of the Bolshevik victory in Russia and the establishment of a Revolutionary Socialist regime there, the SPLA issue a second manifesto of the organization. The manifesto denounced "bourgeois democracy" as a "fraud" by means of which "Imperialism promotes the most brutal interests," advocated for "the unity of industrial action and Socialist politics," argued that "the revolution of the proletariat annihilates the parliamentary regime and its state" and instead establishes a new form of government based upon workers' councils that combine legislative and executive authority. The SPLA stated in this manifesto that "the organization is formed to work in the Socialist Party as well as independently of the party" and for "the revolutionary reorganization of the American Socialist movement" both from within and without the SPA.
Invitation to join the Communist International
The Socialist Propaganda League called for a new revolutionary socialist International and was invited by name to attend the founding Congress of the Communist International in 1919. The organization, however, was unable to send a representative in time to attend the gathering.
Dissolution and legacy
Prominent members of the SPL joined the new Communist Party of America, which eventually merged with the Communist Labor Party to form first the Workers Party of America and eventually the Communist Party USA.
- Walter Goldwater, Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950. New Haven, CT: Yale University Library, 1964; pg. 18.
- Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism. New York: Viking Press, 1957; pg. 86.
- Goldwater, Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950, pg. 27.
- Draper, The Roots of American Communism, pg. 87.
- Walter Goldwater in his bibliography of the radical press in America indicated some confusion about the date of termination, stating that 11 issues were known, with Stanford University Library stating that publication continued through October. See: Goldwater, Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950, pg. 27. The discovery of a "September-October 1918" issue number 12 in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society has definitively ended this debate, however.
- Goldwater, Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950, pg. 35.
- "Letter to C.W. Fitzgerald in Beverly, Massachusetts, from N. Lenin (V.I. Ul'ianov) in Berne, Switzerland, November 1915," Lenin Collected Works, Fourth Edition. Moscow: Progress Publishers, vol. 21, pp. 423-428.
- "Manifesto of the Socialist Propaganda League of America (Adopted at a Meeting Held in the City of Boston, November 26, 1916)," International Socialist Review, vol. 17, no. 7 (January 1917), pp. 483-485.
- "Manifesto of the Socialist Propaganda League of America (January 1919)" Revolutionary Age, vol. 1, no. 21 (March 8, 1919), pg. 8.
- "Constitution of the Socialist Propaganda League of America," The Internationalist, vol. 1, no. 1 (January 6, 1918), pg. 2.
- Paul Buhle, A Dreamer's Paradise Lost: Louis Fraina/Lewis Corey, 1892-1953. Atlantic Highlands. NJ: Humanities Press, 1995.
- Paul Buhle, Louis C. Fraina/Lewis Corey and The Crisis of the Middle Class. New Politics, vol. 5, no. 1 (new series), whole no. 17, Summer 1994.
- Christopher Phelps, "Out of the Fraina and into the Fire," American Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 2 (June 1998), pp. 424-431.
- Tim Davenport, "The Socialist Propaganda League of America (1915 - 1919): Organizational History," Early American Marxism website, www.marxisthistory.org/