William F. Dunne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
William F. Dunne as he appeared in the middle 1920s.

William Francis "Bill" Dunne (1887–1953) was an American Marxist political activist and trade unionist. He is best remembered as the editor of the radical Butte Bulletin around the turn of the 1920s and as an editor of the daily newspaper of the Communist Party USA from the middle-1920s through the 1930s. Dunne was founding member of the Communist Labor Party of America, but was removed from the national leadership of the party in 1934 and expelled in 1946 on charges of factionalism.


Early years[edit]

William F. Dunne, known to his friends as "Bill," was born October 15, 1887, in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of an Irish immigrant father and a French-Canadian mother.[1] His father was a railroad worker. According to American communist writer Myra Page, he had two brothers, Vincent Dunne and Miles Dunne, who sided with James P. Cannon (as "Cannonites") during the factionalism preceding formation of the Communist Party of the USA in 1928-1929, while Bill "stayed loyal" with William Z. Foster as a center, loyal "Fosterite" (the winning faction in 1929).[2]

Dunne grew up in Minnesota and attended the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, a private, Roman Catholic institution.[3] Dunne was forced to leave school in 1907 due to a financial panic, however. Dunne went to work on the Northern Pacific Railroad as an electrician, making a home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.[1]

During World War I, Dunne returned to the United States from Canada, settling in Butte, Montana.[1]

Dunne later joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.[4]

Dunne was married to a woman named Marguerite. The couple had one son, killed by an automobile in 1925.

Political career[edit]

Bill Dunne joined the Socialist Party of America in 1910.[5]

Dunne was elected Vice-President of the Montana Federation of Labor during World War I.[5] Dunne also edited the Butte Bulletin, a paper established in December 1917 by the Montana Federation of Labor.[3] Dunne stood down from this position in 1918 to run for political office and resumed the position following the end of his term of office in 1920, remaining at the post until 1921.

In 1918, Dunne was arrested on charges of sedition for an anti-militarist editorial in the Bulletin.[6] His trial finally began on February 20, 1919, in Helena, with his defense team led by Burton K. Wheeler.[7] Following a three-day trial, during which Dunne was blasted as a "Bolshevist and an agitator," Dunn was convicted and fined $5,000.[8] This conviction was overturned by the Montana Supreme Court in May 1920, however, on the grounds of judicial error. The judge in the case had not allowed the defense to ask prospective jurors whether they could vote for acquittal if they should entertain a reasonable doubt that Dunne's editorial was "calculated to incite or inflame resistance" to the Montana state council of defense.[9]

In the fall of 1918, Dunne was elected as a Democrat to the Montana State Legislature in 1918, serving in that capacity through 1920.[4]

In the fall 1919, with the split of the Socialist Party into socialist and communist factions, Dunne made his exit to become a founding member of the Communist Labor Party of America, bringing the Butte Local with him into the new organization.[10]

In 1920, Dunne ran for mayor of Butte, but was the victim of electoral chicanery which denied him the seat.

Despite his long tenure in the movement, Dunne was always regarded as a bit of a loose cannon in the Communist movement, as historian Theodore Draper recounts:

"Unlike most of the other former Socialists, Dunne was never completely housebroken in the Communist movement. It seems that he tried to get to Moscow in 1921 by working his way across on a boat bound for Stettin, Germany [now part of Poland]. There he went on a spree with some shipmates, invited the attention of the German police, and never reached his destination. He returned to New York to add one more radical trade-unionist to the new Communist leadership."[10]

Dunne was a delegate to the ill-fated August 1922 convention of the Communist Party of America (CPA), held in Bridgman, Michigan.[11] He was arrested when the gathering was raided by state and federal authorities for alleged violation of the Michigan state Criminal Syndicalism law. Released on bail, Dunne was never brought to trial on these charges. During the underground period of American communism, Dunne used the pseudonyms "Driscoll" and "Donovan."[12]

At the end of 1922, when the underground CPA established its overground sibling, the Workers Party of America (WPA), Bill Dunne was elected one of three editors of the organization's weekly newspaper, The Worker.[13] Dunne served as the "Labor Editor" of that paper.

Dunne was elected to the Central Executive Committee of the WPA and its Executive Council in 1923 and was re-elected by the convention for 1924.[13] During the bitter factional struggles which swept the organization during the 1920s, Dunne was a supporter of the faction headed by William Z. Foster, Alexander Bittelman and James P. Cannon against that of John Pepper and C.E. Ruthenberg.[13] Later in the 1920s, when Foster parted company with Cannon, Dunne allied himself with the latter.[14]

In 1923, Dunne was expelled from the American Federation of Labor for his communist political views and activity in organizing the so-called "left wing" of the labor movement through the Communist Party's trade union affiliate, the Trade Union Educational League.[5]

Dunne was a delegate to the 5th World Congress of the Communist International in 1924. He presented a report to the congress on the American racial situation and was elected as an alternate member to the Executive Committee of the Communist International.[5]

Dunne remained in Moscow during 1924 and 1925 as the representative of the Workers (Communist) Party of America to the Comintern.[5] He was elected a member of the Comintern's Organization Bureau at the 5th Enlarged Plenum of the Communist International, held in March 1925.[5]

Later in 1925, Dunne returned to the United States to become an editor of the Communist Party's daily newspaper, The Daily Worker.[5]

Dunne was an occasional candidate for political office, running for U.S. Senator from New York at the 1926 New York state election, and for Governor of New York at the 1928 New York state election, both times on the Workers ticket.

In 1928 he returned to Moscow as a delegate to the 4th World Congress of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern), as well as the 6th World Congress of the Communist International.[5]

Dunne was elected a member of the Politiburo of the CPUSA in 1929.

In the early 1930s, Dunne returned to the Soviet Union, where he worked as a personnel specialist in charge of the 500 or 600 Americans working at the tractor plant in Stalingrad in 1931 and 1932.

With the rise to power of Earl Browder in the American Communist Party from the middle-1930s, Dunne's position and authority in the party were reduced.[5] He was removed from the national leadership in 1934, but he remained as an editor at The Daily Worker until 1936.

Although Bill Dunne's brothers, Vincent, Miles, and Grant, were active in the American Trotskyist movement, participating in the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934, Bill Dunne was never part of that dissident communist movement.[15] In 1934 he went so far as to author a polemic pamphlet for the Communist Party against his brothers and their comrades entitled Permanent Counter-Revolution: The Role of the Trotzkyites in the Minneapolis Strikes.

During World War II, Dunne worked in the Navy shipyards.

In 1946, Dunne was accused of having promoted a leftist faction in the Communist Party and was expelled.[5]

Death and legacy[edit]

Bill Dunne died on September 23, 1953. He was 65 years old at the time of his death.


  1. ^ a b c Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism. New York: Viking Press, 1957; pg. 316.
  2. ^ Page, Myra; Baker, Christina Looper (1996). In a Generous Spirit: A First-Person Biography of Myra Page. University of Illinois Press. p. 99. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b Clemens P. Work, Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005; pg. 213.
  4. ^ a b Solon DeLeon with Irma C. Hayssen and Grace Poole. The American Labor Who's Who. New York: Hanford Press, 1925; pg. 64.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Branko Lazitch with Milorad M. Drachkovitch, Biographical Dictionary of the Comintern: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1986; pp. 104-105.
  6. ^ Work, Darkest Before Dawn, pg. 212.
  7. ^ Work, Darkest Before Dawn, pg. 220.
  8. ^ Work, Darkest Before Dawn, pp. 221-222.
  9. ^ Work, Darkest Before Dawn, pg. 223.
  10. ^ a b Draper, The Roots of American Communism, pg. 317.
  11. ^ Benjamin Gitlow, I Confess: The Truth About American Communism. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1940; pg. 143.
  12. ^ Jeffrey B. Perry, "Pseudonyms: A Reference Aid for Studying American Communist History," American Communist History, vol. 3, no. 1 (June 2004), pg. 71.
  13. ^ a b c Tim Davenport (ed.), "The Communist Party of America (1919-1946): Party Officials," Early American Marxism website. Retrieved November 11, 2009.
  14. ^ Bryan D. Palmer, James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007; pg. 328.
  15. ^ For more on the other three Dunne brothers, see Constance Ashton Myers, The Prophet's Army: Trotskyists in America, 1928-1941. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977; passim.


External links[edit]