John Reed Clubs

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Not to be confused with the band, The John Reed Club, of Ivy League Records
John Reed Club (JRC)
Reed-john-1917.jpg
John Reed c. 1917 namesake of the John Reed Club
MottoArt is a weapon in the class struggle
SuccessorAmerican Artists' Congress
FormationOctober 1929
Extinction1935
Headquarters102 West Fourteenth Street, NYC
Official language
English
Key people
Founders Mike Gold, Walt Carmon, William Gropper, Keene Wallis, Hugo Gellert, Morris Pass, Joseph Pass
Main organ
Left Front, Partisan Review
Parent organization
Workers Cultural Federation
Subsidiarieschapters in Boston, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Chapel Hill, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Los Angeles (Hollywood), Carmel, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle

The John Reed Clubs (1929-1935), often referred to as John Reed Club or JRC, were an American federation of local organizations targeted towards Marxist writers, artists, and intellectuals, named after the American journalist and activist John Reed. Established in the fall of 1929, the John Reed Clubs were a mass organization of the Communist Party USA which sought to expand its influence among radical and liberal intellectuals. The organization was terminated in 1935.[1][2][3][4]

History[edit]

1929[edit]

New Masses cover by Hugo Gellert (May 1926)

In October 1929, the John Reed Club was founded by eight staff members of the New Masses magazine to support leftist and Marxist artists and writers. They included: Mike Gold, Walt Carmon, William Gropper, Keene Wallis, Hugo Gellert, Morris Pass, and Joseph Pass.[1]

According to Alan M. Wald, The John Reed Clubs were not founded by the Communist Party. New Masses managing editor Walt Carmon became frustrated with a group of young writers who were hanging out in the office and getting in his way.[5] He told them to "go out and form a club" and "call it the John Reed Club."[5] The John Reed Clubs would be a constant source of drama within the New Masses family, and members of the Clubs would eventually found the Partisan Review, which became a main competitor to the New Masses.

Mike Gold (here, 1930s before crowd in New York City) was a prominent JRC co-founder

The New Masses announced the new club in its November 1929 issue:

The radical artists and writers of New York have organized the John Reed Club. The group includes all creative workers in art, literature, sculpture, music, theater, and the movies...
The purpose of the Club is to bring closer all creative workers; to maintain contact with the American revolutionary labor movement.
In cooperation with workers groups and cultural organizations, discussion, literary evenings, and exhibits will be organized. Hopefully, the organization will be national in scope...
For the first time, a group of socially conscious creative workers has been organized in America to compare with existing groups in Europe. Steps have been taken to make immediate contact with writers, artists, and all creative workers in France, Germany, Russia, and Japan.[6]

1930[edit]

In January 1930, Mike Gold described the JRC in the New Masses as a "small group" comprising writers, artists, sculptors, musicians, and dancers "of revolutionary tendencies." They were already building a clubhouse. Harold Hickerson had a music school with 100 pupils. Gropper and Lozowick taught graphic arts to 30. Edith Siegel led a "worker's ballet" for a Lenin memorial. Em Jo Basshe directed a Jewish Workers' theatre. Others taught at the New York Workers School. They cooperated with Workers International Relief. Gold recommended that every writer-member work in industry. He cited as example Ed Falkowski (miner), Martin Russak (textile worker), H. H. Lewis (farmer), and Joe Kalar (lumberman).[7]

On May 19, 1930, the New York Times published "A protest against the imprisonment of men and women for expressing their political opinions, coupled with a warning that "Red-baiting" is rapidly becoming a permanent condition, was voiced in a statement issued yesterday by the John Reed Club.[8]

The headlines of the article ran:
'RED SCARE' PROTEST ISSUED BY LIBERALS
100 Writers, Educators and Artists Warn of Dangers in 'Hysteria' and 'Persecution'
SEE CIVIL RIGHTS AT STAKE
Statement Says 1,600 Have Been Wrongfully Arrested In 2 Months-Aid of Press Asked

Signatories included:

In July 1930, Harry Alan Potemkin, JRC secretary, reported in the New Masses that the JRC had supported May Day as well as signed a petition for the International Labor Defense for prisoners of war. The club also collaborated with "Proletpen," a Jewish proletarian writing group. It also supported the "United Front Conference Against Lynching," created by the New York district of the Communist Party USA. Books published by member writers included: Charles Yale Harrison's General Die in Bed and Mike Gold's children's story Charlie Chaplin's Parde.[9]

By November 1930, although originally politically independent, the JRC and the New Masses officially affiliated with the Communist Party. This turn coincided with the JRC's participation in the Kharkov Conference of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers (IURW), November 6-15, 1930. The joint JRC-New Masses delegation included: Mike Gold, A.B. Magil, Fred Ellis, William Gropper, Harry Potamkin, Josephine Herbst, and John Herrmann. The conference led to a ten-point "Program of Action" to promote proletarian literature as an important part of promoting Marxism.[1]

1932[edit]

John Dos Passos was a prominent writer and JRC member

On January 1, 1932, Diego Rivera spoke before the John Reed Club's New York chapter. Later, when the JRC heard of Rivera's support for Leon Trotsky, they disavowed him and returned a $100 contribution he made.[1]

The JRCs held a national conference on May 29-30, 1932, in Chicago.[1] During the conference, the JRCs announced they were "an integral part of the "Workers Cultural Federation."[10]

Conference ("presidium") members elected included: Joseph Freeman, Jan Wittenber, Conrad Kmorowiski, Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Natterstad, Harry Carlisle, George Gay, Carl Carlsen, and Jack Walters. Honorary members included Maxim Gorki, Romain Rolland, John Dos Passos, Fujimori, Lo Hsun, Johannes Becher, Vallant-Couturier, and Langston Hughes, with Maurice Sugar as chairman and Oakley C. Johnson as secretary.[1]

Chapter reports consistently criticized the original New York City chapter of ignoring the others. Harry Carlisle of JRC Hollywood opposed Mike Gold of JRC NYC for falling down on principle when opening the JRC to non-Marxist writers and artists. Instead, Carlisle urged, the JRC should focus on "artists and writers of distinctly working class origin."[1][10]

The July 1932 issue of the New Masses included the "John Reed Club Resolution Against War," stating its stance against "imminent imperial war," noting that the Soviet Union "stands for peace," and calling on all writers, artists, and professionals to unite "in defense of the first workers' republic, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."[11]


In November 1932, JRC members who publicly endorsed the Communist Party's US presidential slate (William Z. Foster and James W. Ford) included: EmJo Basshe, Robert Cantwell, Orrik Johns, Grace Lumpkin, Langston Hughes, Mike Gold, and Louis Lozowick.[1]

1933[edit]

In early 1933, the JRCs took a strong stance against Hitler and the rising tide of Fascism in Europe.[1]

In mid-1933, the JRCs held a second national conference. Attendees include: Jack Conroy, Meridel Le Sueur, Alan Calmer, Orrick Johns, Joe Jones, Nelsen Algren, William Phillips, Philip Rahv, Alfred Hayes, Gilbert Rocke, Jan Wittenber, Mike Gold, Richard Wright, Alexander Trachtenberg, A.B. Magil, Jack S. Balch, Joseph North.[1]

Dissolution[edit]

In 1936, the John Reed Clubs dissolved into the American Artists' Congress by order of the Communist Party USA.[12]

Organization[edit]

The John Reed Club's slogan was "Art is a weapon in the class struggle."[1]

Headquarters[edit]

In May 1930, the headquarters for the John Reed Club was 102 West Fourteenth Street, New York City.[8] In 1932, its location was 63 West Fifteenth Street, New York City.[1][10]

Chapters[edit]

New York City and Los Angeles were the two centers of writer-members.[1]

In 1931, there were 13 JRC chapters.[1] Chapters peaked at thirty. From New York, it spread to Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Boston, and other cities. The Boston chapter was cofounded by writer Eugene Gordon.[13]

John Reed Club School of Art[edit]

During the 1932 national convention, the JRCs announced the opening of a "John Reed Club School of Art" in New York City at 450 Sixth Avenue. Classes were to start on November 14, 1932, for Monday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Instruction was open beyond JRC members. Instructors included Hugo Gellert, William Gropper, Louis Lozowick, and William Siegel.[1]

People[edit]

By 1933, the New York chapter had 380 members, of whom some 200 were artists and the rest writers. The only paid job was secretary-treasurer at $15 per week.[1]

Officers[edit]

Whittaker Chambers (here in 1948) was a member of the JRC's 1932 National Executive Board

The 1932 national convention elected the following JRC officers from various chapters to a "National Executive Board":

Members[edit]

Meridel Le Sueur (between writers Audre Lorde left and Adrienne Rich right in Austin, Texas, in 1980) was a JRC member

The John Reed Club had a somewhat prestigious membership in its early days among leftist circles. Later, it was sometimes used in reference as badge of shame by anti-communists.

Prominent women writers who were JRC members include: Jan Wittenber, Grace Lumpkin, Tillie Lerner, Meridel Le Sueur, Josephine Herbst, and Clara Weatherwax.[1]

Prominent African-American writers who were JRC members include: Eugene Gordon, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Joe Jones.[1]

Assessment[edit]

In her 1977 work The John Reed Clubs, Laurie Ann Alexandre stated:

It would be inaccurate to call the John Reed Club a Marxist organization. Its charter simply stated that any member who recognized class struggle and wished to give it support would be welcomed. It cannot be said that the JRC was committed. beyond that general point. Many of its members were not Marxists, and the Clubs spent little time educating its members in the theoretical underpinnings of Engels, Marx, or Lenin.[1]

Works[edit]

Books by the JRCs[edit]

  • Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields (1932)[15]

Books by JRC members[edit]

Between 1929 and 1936, some 46 proletarian novels were published, in no small part supported by the John Reed Club.[1]

Books published by JRC members during JRC years include (novels unless otherwise noted):

Magazines[edit]

Catalogs[edit]

  • John Reed Club Art School Catalogue, 1934-1935 (1934)[1]

Art exhibitions[edit]

Eitaro Ishigaki (~1940 from Archives of American Art) was a JRC co-founder

Artistic members of the John Reed Club of New York began holding art exhibitions in late 1929, shortly after the club's formation:

The last known exhibition occurred at the ACA Gallery: its theme was "The Capitalist Crisis" and gained little notice outside of Communist press organs.

The site of the John Reed Club in New York held exhibitions of member work from the summer of 1930; it established a gallery there in 1932. Records are scarce for 1932-1935.[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Alexandre, Laurie Ann (1977). The John Reed Clubs: A Historical Reclamation of the Role of Revolutionary Writers in the Depression. California State University, Northridge. pp. xvi (catalog), 56–111 (history), 59 (assessment), 60 (founding), 67 (IURW), 74 (new location), 75-77 (chapters), 76-90 (national convention), 80 (periodicals), 90-91 (school), 91-92 (Foster-Ford), 92 (publications), 93 (women members), 93-94 (African-Americans), 94 (size), 95 (slogan), 96-97 (Rivera), 101 (chapters), 101-103 (Hitler), 103-105 (2nd conference), 112–150 (proletarian literature), 127 (novels), 130 (anthologies), 133 (publications). Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  2. ^ Hemingway, Andrew (July–August 2015). "John Reed Clubs, Part I". Solidarity. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  3. ^ Hemingway, Andrew (September–October 2015). "Rise and Fall of "Proletarian Art," Part II". Solidarity. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  4. ^ a b Hartman, Andrew (1 December 2012). "John Reed Clubs". Society for U.S. Intellectual History. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b Wald, Alan (2002). Exiles from a Future Time: The Forging of the Mid-Twentieth Century Literary Left. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8078-5349-8.
  6. ^ "Workers Art" (PDF). New Masses: 21. November 1929. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  7. ^ a b Gold, Mike (January 1930). "Workers Art" (PDF). New Masses: 21. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  8. ^ a b c "'Red Scare' Protest Issued by Liberals: 100 Writers, Educators and Artists Warn of Dangers in 'Hysteria' and 'Persecution'". New York Times. 19 May 1930. p. 18. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  9. ^ Potamkin, Harry Alan (July 1930). "The John Reed Club" (PDF). New Masses: 20. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Johnson, Oakley (July 1932). "The John Reed Club Convention" (PDF). New Masses: 14–15. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  11. ^ "John Reed Club Resolution Against War" (PDF). New Masses: 14. July 1932. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  12. ^ Marquardt, Virginia Hagelstein (1989). ""New Masses" and John Reed Club Artists, 1926-1936: Evolution of Ideology, Subject Matter, and Style". The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts. 12 (Spring 1989): 56–75. doi:10.2307/1504057. JSTOR 1504057.
  13. ^ Elizee, Andre. "Eugene Gordon Papers". New York Public Library website, April 2006.
  14. ^ Seyersted, Per (2004). Robert Cantwell: An American 1930s Radical Writer and His Apostasy. Oslo: Novus Press. pp. 49–50 (members NYC). ISBN 978-82-7099-397-0.
  15. ^ Harlan Miners Speak: Report on Terrorism in the Kentucky Coal Fields. National Committee for the Defense. 1932. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Richard Wright: John Reed Club". George Washington University. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  17. ^ Wright, Richard (1940). Native Son. Harper & Brothers. p. 468.
  18. ^ "Richard Wright: Chronology 1931–1935". George Washington University. Retrieved May 31, 2010.
  19. ^ John Logie (2005). "We Write for the Workers: Authorship and Communism in Kenneth Burke and Richard Wright". K. B. Journal. 1 (2).
  20. ^ "Richard Wright". University of North Carolina: All American encyclopedia. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  21. ^ "Richard Wright: Chronology". University of Illinois at Champlain: Modern American Poetry. Retrieved May 30, 2010.
  22. ^ Rubin Jr., Louis D. (Spring 1965). "Several Literary Magazines". Sewanee Review. 73 (2). JSTOR 27541124.
  23. ^ Gilbert, James B. (1974). "Partisan Review: New York, 1934—,". In Conlins, Joseph R. The American Radical Press, 1880-1960. Greenwood Press. p. 548.
  24. ^ Eitaro Ishigaki, from the Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection - Image Gallery | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  25. ^ a b c d e Hemingway, Andrew (2002). Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement, 1926-1956. Yale University Press. pp. 47–48, 63, 67. ISBN 978-0-300-09220-2. JSTOR 1504057.
  26. ^ "About the ACA Galleries". ACA Galleries. Retrieved 2010-05-27.

External sources[edit]