Providence Journal-bulletin
April 26, 1906
 

GROWTH AND PRESENT STATUS OF SOCIALISM

IN RHODE ISLAND


Twelve Years of Party Politics and Its Results.

 

While the term “Socialist” as been familiar to Rhode Island people for a score of years and socialistic organizations have existed in the community for a somewhat longer period, it is only 12 yea
rs ago that Socialists engaged in local politics under their own party banner. Previous to that time organizations had existed in Olneyville, Wanskuck and other factory centres. They were originally started by Germans who had imbibed to some extent the teachings of Karl Marx.

 

The Germans combined the propaganda of Socialism with a large amount of good fellowship, and the original socialistic sections, as the local organizations were called, were carried on after the German Turnvereins, where families assembled, beer drinking was indulged in moderately, musical and dramatic entertainments were given and conversation and sociability prevailed. The two best examples of this early form of socialistic organization were the German section with a hall on Eiswald st
reet, in “Shoo Fly” village, Olneyville, and a somewhat similar institution in the village of Wanskuck.

 

Edward Bellamy's book “Looking Backward” gave a great boost to the socialistic movement throughout the country, but many of the people who were in sympathy with the ideas it advocated were afraid of the term “Socialism”. Accordingly the so-called “Nationalist movement” was started by people who had been influenced by Bellamy's book, and Rhode Island was included within the scope of that influence.

 

Nationalist clubs were formed here chiefly among people of native birth and English-speaking people of foreign birth. In 1891 this movement had attained sufficient strength to be organized politically, and in that year Franklin E. Burton was a candidate for Governor on the Nationalist ticket and polled 384 votes. The following year Mr. Burton was again a candidate, but on a “People's party” ticket and secured 187 votes.

 

Mr. Burton was an earnest, conscientious man. He subsequently became an out-and-out Socialist, and was a candidate for various offices on the Socialist Labor party ticket on different occasions. By occupation he was an engineer. He died June 16, 1900. 


Socialists Go Into Politics.

 

Meanwhile the socialistic propaganda was being carried on in the factory districts, and new sections were one by one organized. The hard times of 1893, which brought about strikes in the textile mills, gave an impetus to the movement, so that in 1894 there were six sections of the Socialist Labor party in Providence and its environs, with an enrolled membership of over 500 men. In that year a state ticket was nominated with Col. Charles G. Baylor as the candidate for Governor, and he received 592 votes. Mr. Baylor was thus the first Socialist Labor candidate for Governor in Rhode Island; he is still a conspicuous character on our streets and his letters to the editor of the Sunday Journal have covered a number of years. At present Mr. Baylor would probably not be considered by either faction of the local Socialists as a representative of their views.

 

The following year the Socialist Labor party nominated for Governor George E. Boomer, at that time the editor of a weekly labor paper named Justice. Mr. Boomer was a printer, who had obtained some notoriety in the labor movement by assisting the branch of the Coxey army which passed through Providence and by speaking at many meetings of strikers and Socialists. He was a ready writer and developed into a fairly good speaker. He received 1730 votes, and this result greatly encouraged the Socialists as it was nearly three times the vote of the previous year.

 

In 1896 Edward W. Theinert, a German Socialist, who had been a weaver in the Wanskuck Mills, but was at that time a farmer, was a candidate for Governor and he received 1272 votes. Franklin E. Burton, who had been the Nationalist candidate in 1891, was the Socialist Labor candidate for Governor in 1897, and polled 1386 votes. James P. Reid, a young man, then a factory worker, afterward a student, and now a practicing dentist, was the candidate for Governor in 1898, 1900, and 1901, and polled respectively, 2877, 2858, and 1120 votes. Mr. Reid was a good speaker and carried on energetic canvasses when he was a candidate.

 

The largest vote polled by any candidate for Governor on the Socialist Labor party ticket was by Thomas F. Herrick in 1899 when 2941 votes were cast. Mr. Herrick was a machinist.

 

There was a falling off in the Socialist vote the third year Mr. Reid was a candidate. He received 600 fewer votes than Mr. Boomer had obtained six years before. The following year, 1902, when Gov. Garvin was first elected by the Democrats, and when the largest vote ever cast up to that time in the State was polled, the Socialists only cast 1283 for Peter McDermott, their candidate for Governor. Since that time they have failed to cast enough votes to entitle them to nominate candidates in convention -2 per cent of the entire vote- and now consequently have to make their nominations by means of nomination papers.

 

From this analysis it appears that the growth and decadence of the Socialist Labor party in Rhode Island politics was comprised within a period of eight years from 1894 to 1902. Their vote increased from nearly 600 in 1894 to close to 3000 in 1899, since which time there has been a constant, and at some times rapid, decrease.


Causes of its Decadence.

 

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the Socialist movement here has suffered an eclipse because of this falling off in the votes cast at elections. In reality it is very much alive, but it has reformed and realigned itself. These results have largely come about as consequences of factional quarrels. The disruption of the Socialist Labor party here and throughout the United States was due to a spirit of intolerance and prescription which prevailed in its own ranks. Many of the ablest advocates of the theory developed a spirit of fanaticism which prevented them from allowing that anyone held correct views on “Scientific Socialism” but themselves and their intimate associates.

 

A great deal of intellectual superciliousness and intolerance were quickly developed, and some of the best speakers in the movement developed into scolds and “jawsmiths”, more intent on setting people right and finding fault with their own associates, than concerned with the propagation of such ideas as they actually possessed. To go to some of their meetings and hear these fanatical speakers rail at the trade unionists and their own brethren in the economic faith, who were not wholly and absolutely right, was very amusing in many cases.

 

To say they were aggressive hardly states the truth. They attempted by the force and persistency of their arguments to drive unbelievers into their fold, and to make their own associates walk a rigid line and conform to prescribed dogma. Many of these speakers displayed overweening conceit in their own powers of argument, manifested great fanaticism, and expressed unbounded contempt for what they considered the mistaken views of those who did not agree with them.

 

For years the Socialist Labor party maintained a newspaper in New York known as the People, which was
at first published weekly, then as a daily, and it still exists, both as weekly and daily. Its editor, Daniel DeLeon, an educated man, at one time a college professor, spoke occasionally in Providence, and was one of the most virulent of the fanatical Socialists. Those nearest to them in ideas or ultimate aims were the most roundly denounced. Thus, in an address in Blackstone Hall, a dozen years ago, Mr. DeLeon spent most of his time denouncing the “pure and simple” trade unionists, the Populists, the Single Taxers, and even sneered at the Prohibitionists, while the conservatives in the Socialist ranks, or those who were suspected of being opportunists, were abused worse than the rankest outsiders.

 

In this connection it is interesting to note that Carl Shurz, in his biography now being published in McClure's Magazine, tells how Karl Marx, the father of modern Socialism, displayed in his intercourse with his contemporaries in Germany, when a young man, this same spirit of intellectual intolerance and pride of opinion, which have characterized his followers. Mr. Shurz also says that because of these characteristics Marx was not popular among the young men with whom he was thrown in contact and much influence he otherwise would have had was rendered ineffective.


Early Growth-The “Orators”.

 

The local growth of Socialism from 1894 to 1899 was due very largely to the propaganda carried on in the factory districts by frequent meetings. Occasionally outside speakers addressed these gatherings, but usually they were local men, factory workers, mechanics and others. Some of them developed a surprising gift of logic and eloquence. Debates were held with the Single Taxers, the Prohibitionists, the Nationalists, the Populists and any other group or individual who was willing to debate or would talk at their meetings. Such men as Rathbone Gardner, Profs. Dealy, Wilson, Dellabarre and Gardner of Brown University, Dr. Garvin and others occasionally spoke at their meetings in Olneyville, at which time there would be animated discussion from the floor, and the speakers would be roundly criticized.

 

Probably the best speaker developed by the Rhode Island Socialists was Charles Kroll, a young man employed in one of the dry goods stores and an interior decorator. He had a fine gift of language, and was a very effective speaker, although, like outside speakers, his tendency was to denunciation and fault-finding.

 

James P. Reid, several times candidate for Governor, was a speaker of about equal ability to Mr. Kroll. Patrick Gallagher, a weaver , became a rattling and vociferous speaker, very popular with the audiences. George E. Boomer also became a fairly good speaker, but he dropped out and went away to other fields before the movement here reached its zenith. Thomas Powers, now secretary of the Textile Union, became an effective speaker, and preserved his poise much better than so
me of the other men. There were others who for a time were conspicuous, but these were the chief “orators” of the movement in its best days.

 

An interesting episode of the period when the agitation was at its height in Olneyville was the attempt to establish a “labor church” in that locality. This was undertaken by Rev. Herbert N. Casson, who had been a Methodist clergyman, but who had become a Socialist.

 

He had established a “labor church” in Lynn, Mass., and conceived the idea that a similar institution would be an effective means of propaganda here. Many fell in with this plan, and the organization held a number of meetings, with Mr. Casson as the principal speaker. He was a good speaker, a man of liberal ideas and tolerant spirit, and, largely because of those qualities, failed to make himself acceptable to the fanatical element, so that eventually he was practically read out of the party. Since then Mr. Casson has made somewhat of a reputation as a writer. At present he is a staff writer on Munsey's Magazine.

 

During the same period a number of bright and gifted women of education and refinement occasionally took part in the Socialist agitation. Among these were Martha Moore Avery of Boston, Charlotte Perkins Stetson, a native of Providence, who has since her departure from her native city , acquired fame as a writer and poet, and others less well known, some of whom had excellent ability as speakers and writers. To the credit of these women it should be said that they were less affected by the fanatical virus than many of the men, and most of them to-day are found in the ranks of the moderates.

 

Another element which contributed to the growth of the Socialist-Labor party from 1894 to 1899 was the fact that the labor unions of the textile workers became practically socialistic organizations. About 1897 the various unions were consolidated into the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, with headquarters in Olneyville, and in turn this body was affiliated with similar organizations elsewhere.

 

This was considered the “economic branch” of the movement, the Socialist-Labor party being the political branch. With the disintegration which occurred generally the unions went back to their old basis, and the Olneyville organization is now known simply as the Textile Union. Recently, however, it became affiliated with the International Workers of the World, a world-wide workingmen's socialistic union organized by Mr. Debs about a year ago on a plan similar to the Knights of Labor, but affiliated with the Socialists.


The Expectations Aroused.

 

The people who were reached by these meetings and speakers were the hard working and poorly paid operatives in the cotton and woolen mills. The “Co-operative Commonwealth” pictured by the speakers held out to them as a promise of happiness and comfort, which appealed to them in the same way as the promise of the millennium did to the early Christians. The denunciations of the capitalists, the analysis of the economic conditions of society showing how the working people were oppressed, the elucidation of the Marxian theory of “surplus value”, the appeal to “class consciousness”, and finally its presentation of the way out through the public ownership of the means of production and distribution- all this taken as a whole, and presented attractively, made a very cogent appeal to the minds and hearts of the hard-circumstanced mill people and laborers.

 

While the main propaganda was addressed to these matters the number of converts increased. Dull times and strikes also aided in the growth by creating dissatisfaction and unrest. The most ardent accepted the view enunciated by some of the speakers that the “Co-operative Commonwealth” was to be realized very soon, or, at least, in the not remote future by means of “the revolution”, which, it was understood, was to be a peaceful one, accomplished by the ballot. The fact that as the years went on, and times improved a little, this great change for the better showed no sign of a speedy approach, was at least one of the causes of the decadence of the movement.

 

Another cause of the falling away in the membership of the sections and the decrease of the vote was the increasing rancor of the speakers, which seemed to grow upon them as time advanced. The audiences, to the credit of human nature, ultimately had no liking for this sort of thing. It did not satisfy either their minds or their hearts. They were not intellectual hair splitters. Most of the people influenced had been reached through their feelings -by the pictures presented to them of a better, happier, more comfortable world, with less hard work and more brotherliness. So, unconsciously, they drifted away when the “Scientific Socialists” began their rancorous quarrel over economic dogma and creed. From that point the decadence of the Socialist-Labor party in this community began, and went on until only the skeleton of an organization was left.


The Seceders

 

There were many men who called themselves Socialists who never had any sympathy with the denunciation of those who differed with them, and did not believe in drawing fine spun distinctions. The persistent antagonism in the trade unions was likewise the cause of many defections. Many did not wish to spend their time in fighting within their own ranks, but preferred to fight, as they said, the enemy. They preferred to engage in positive agitation, rather than in settling hair-splitting intellectual differences. Such men withdrew from the organization, or stayed away. In time there were a sufficient number of them in every large centre- for this dissolution and reforming has gone on everywhere throughout the country- to form a new organization. In other words, a new Socialism has arisen on the ruins of the old movement. Like the fabled Phoenix it has arisen from the ashes of its expiring predecessor.

 

It was not, however, until very recently, that these dissenters from the exclusive and censorious cult of the Socialist-Labor party had sufficient numbers or strength to organize separately. In the fall of 1903 these “comer-outers” first entered local politics and nominated James E. Furlong for Governor, under the name of the “Socialist Party”.

 

The old organization, the Socialist-Labor party, had the right to nominate in convention, as it had cast over 2 per cent of the total vote for its candidate for Governor, Peter McDermott, in 1902.

 

At the election of 1903 the Socialist-Labor candidate for Governor, William O. Angilly, had 943 votes, and the Socialist candidate had 303 votes. Neither faction, consequently, had the necessary 2 per cent of the total vote, but in the two elections since then they have failed to secure even that.

 

The new faction, the Socialists, nominated John Edward Carey for Governor in 1904, and he received 743 votes, more than double the number cast for Mr. Furlong on the same ticket the previous year. Peter McDermott was again the Socialist-Labor candidate for Governor in 1904 and polled 487 votes.

 

In 1906 the candidates were: Socialist-Labor- Thomas F. Herrick of Pawtucket, who polled 367 votes; Socialist- Warren A. Carpenter of Woonsocket, who polled 364 votes. The total polled by both factions for their two candidates for Governor was thus only 731, a gain of only 39 votes over the vote cast for Col. Baylor in 1894. Thus in a cycle of 11 years the Socialist-Labor party had run itself out evidently, and the causes are undoubtedly those here outlined.

 

When the hew faction, the “Socialists”, nominated their candidate by signatures to nomination papers for the first time in 1908, the old organization, the Socialist-Labor party, endeavored to prevent the use of the word “Socialist”, except as applied to the Socialist-Labor party. Secretary of State Bennett refused to agree with this interpretation of the law.

 

It is explicitly provided that the words “Republican” or “Democrat” shall not be used on the ballot in combination with any other word or words, but none of the minor parties are protected in any such manner. Governor Garvin was likewise appealed to and requested to submit the question to the Supreme Court, but he refused to interfere. The two factions consequently went before the voters without any tactical advantage on either side, with the results as above described.


Status of the Socialist Party

 

The new organization, the Socialists, is certainly the most alive. It is increasing in numbers and bids fair to supplant its rival. Its official name is “The Socialist Party of Rhode Island”.

 

It was organized in the fall of 1903, and now has nine subordinate organizations known as “locals” in various parts of the State. There are two locals in Providence, two in Pawtucket, and one each in Arlington, East Providence, Warren, Westerly, and Woonsocket. Some of the locals meet once a month, some twice a month, and some every week. In these organizations there are at present 240 members in good standing, although when the movement was started a little more than two years ago, there were only seven members. Three members from each local are elected to a central body which is known as the State Convention. This meets at least once a month, and usually about 20 times yearly.

 

The Socialist Party of Rhode Island is affiliated with the Socialist Party of the United States, J. Mahlon Barnes, Secretary, with headquarters at 289 Dearborn street, Chicago. This is the organization which ran Eugene V. Debs for President in 1904, and polled nearly 1000 votes for him in Rhode Island. Every member of the party in good standing is required to pay to the national organization 5 cents monthly.

 

The method of managing the collection of dues is unique. The national organization sells to the State organizations due stamps for 5 cents each; the State organization sells them to the Secretaries of the locals for 10 cents each; the Secretary sells them to the members for from 10 to 25 cents each, in accordance with the scale of dues each local establishes. By this means the national organization gets 5 cents, the State organization gets 5 cents, and the remainder goes to the support of the local. When the member gets his stamp he sticks it on his membership card opposite the date, and this constitutes the evidence of his good standing. Without this he cannot vote at any of the meetings.

 

While each state organization has a platform of its own there is a national platform of principles to which all subscribe. The name generally used is “Socialist Party”, but in two states in order to conform to the local law the name “”Social Democratic Party” is used. In general this body of Socialists claim to have much in c
ommon with the Independent Labor party and the Social Democratic Party of Great Britain, and with the Social Democrats of Germany and France. They claim kinship on the ground of similarity of aims and principles, and also from the fact that those great bodies of Socialists in other countries are now and have been ready to take advantage of circumstances, or in other words, to become opportunists to achieve their ends, and they have not antagonized affiliated movements on factional and narrow minded differences.

 

The fundamental principles of the Socialist and the Socialist Labor parties are substantially alike. They are collectivists, that is, believe in the public ownership of all the means of production and distribution, with the consequent elimination of competition. At present the Socialists are active in propagating their theories. For 20 days during the month of February last one of their national organizers and lecturers, M. W. Williams, was here, and spoke every night somewhere in the State.

 

The Socialist Labor party will not admit an officer in a trade union as a member of one of its sections, and has always kept up a fight against the unions. On the other hand the Socialists are friendly to the unions, do not interfere in labor union affairs, and recognize that “labor unions are the natural outgrowth of the present system, and necessary to resist the encroachments of capital”.


State Platform.

 

A few extracts will indicate the spirit and tenor of the Socialist Party in this state:

 

“The Socialist Party of Rhode Island affirms its allegiance to international socialism and the Socialist Party of the United States.”

 

We seek to abolish the competitive system, which exploits the workers, and to inaugurate the co-operative commonwealth in which the workers receive the full value of their labor.

 

“No fusion or compromise. Aid and encouragement for all workers in their struggles for justice. We point out the class struggle, its cause, and how to remove it.”

 

“We demand popular government, the initiative, the referendum and imperative mandate, equal political rights for all adults, no child labor. We demand compulsory education, old age pensions and no Government work let out under contract. We try to further any principle which will aid the people and tend toward the co-operative commonwealth.”

 

The leading spirit in the Socialist party at present is Fred Hurst, a shoe dealer in Olneyville. To his earnestness and ability is mainly due the revival of Socialism in this form. Mr. Hurst is a native of Rhode Island, born in Pontiac, of English descent. He was originally a factory operative, subsequently a salesman and clerk in the West, and for some years he has had a shoe store on the “square” at Olneyville. He is not as good a speaker as some of the “orators” of a decade ago, but he is a far better business man, has more tact, and is genial, progressive and “possible”. Mr. Hurst is State Secretary; Henry F. Thomas, an interior decorator, is State Treasurer; John W. Floyd, a cigar maker, is national committee man. These three men are the official heads of the Socialist party in Rhode Island. Mr. Thomas is a German; he joined the Social Democratic party in Cologne in 1887, and was one of the first Socialists here.

 

In addition to its affiliation with the national organization in Chicago, the Rhode Island Socialists are connected with the International Socialist Bureau, with headquarters in Belgium. This bureau is a clearing house for information among the Socialists, aids in disseminating news, and provides a means for unity of action in the general movement.

 

While the Socialists disclaim the fact that they have any newspaper organ they yet say that there are a number of publications which they accept because they represent their views. Among these is a weekly paper published in Girard, Ka. Known as the “Appeal to Reason”, which sells for 50 cents a year and has a circulation at present of 200,000 weekly, although it has had a circulation of over 300,000.


The Present Standing.

 

While the old organization, the Socialist Labor party, for 10 years polled at least 2 per cent of the total vote in the State, and at one time cast nearly 3000 ballots in an election, it has now dwindled down to a corporal's guard so far as its organization is concerned. The Socialist say that at present it has only 16 members in good and regular standing in Providence; but one of the chief exponents of its theories and representative of its spirit claims that it has about 50 members in this city. Not withstanding this lapse of membership, it, however, continues to hold some strength as a political force, as is evidenced from the fact that at the last election it polled three more votes than the “Socialist Party”. This was part due, no doubt, to the fact that its candidate was Thomas F. Herrick, the man who received in 1899 the highest vote ever cast for a Socialist in the State.

 

In some matters the two wings act together. Thus a recent meeting held in Infantry Hall, Providence, on behalf of the Russian revolutionists, was under the joint auspices of parties. When a settlement on the accounts of the affair came to be made, the old feud broke out in a wordy warfare, as usual.

 

One of the most active of the remaining members of the Socialist Labor party is James McGuigan, who conducts a small store on Manton avenue. James has a fine gift of invective, and he is dead sure that he has the correct solution of the whole industrial and economic problem. While willing to acknowledge that the members of the other party may have some good points, he says bluntly that the “Socialist party” is a counterfeit, and that the old organization is the only true blue.

 

He does not hesitate to give you his opinion of men who have been members of the Socialist Labor party but have ceased to be such; and his opinions are not usually complimentary. He also hands out caustic and unfavorable opinions as to the characters and motives of public men, both in the State and nation. He makes no apology for these candid opinions of his, but claims that his knowledge of the principles of Socialism gives him such an outlook on affairs and such a knowledge of the springs of human action, that he, like any similarly well informed Socialist, is able to judge accurately and finally. James is an interesting man to meet if you are studying types, but to have to listen to his conversation for any length of time might possibly be wearing and at the same time give one the impression that if James were right, the world was chock full of hypocrites and double dealers. He probably is the best incarnation of the spirit of intellectual intolerance and pride of opinion to be found in Rhode Island. After talking with him a while it is easy to understand why the Socialist Labor party in Rhode Island is on its last legs.

 

The Socialist Labor party maintains a national organization. It has headquarters at 26 New Reade street, New York city, and its Secretary-Treasurer is A.C. Kihn.

 

The only existing organization of the Socialist Labor party is in the Providence section, which has a regular meeting place at 77 Dyer street, room 8. It also holds Sunday evening meetings in Arnold Post Hall, 84 Westminster street, where lectures are delivered and literature passed out. Among the men prominent in the organization are Bernard J. Murray, an Olneyville grocer, and Thomas Powers, Secretary of the Textile Union, both of whom are conciliatory, sensible men, who deplore the fanaticism of some of their former and present comrades, but prefer to stand by the old organization. J.W. Leach, a machinist, is an active member and teacher of the social sciences class.

 

Future of Socialism Locally.

 

Undoubtedly in many places throughout the United States the Socialists have made a greater impression than they have in Rhode Island. In other New England States they have in some places elected Mayors and members of the city government. Under our system of property qualification they can hardly hope to do anything of that nature here, especially if they pursue such tactics as they have in the past. The new organization, the “Socialist party”, is composed of much saner, and more level-headed men than the “Socialist Labor party”, and they have now got together the nucleus of an organization which may possibly grow and accomplish much more in the propagation of their ideas than anything which has been accomplished in the past. That, at least, is the belief and hope of Mr. Hurst and his friends.

 

The effect of the socialistic agitation is not to be measured, however, by the numerical strength of the respective organizations. The local agitation which has been going on actively for the past dozen years has had a wide and far reaching influence, with the result that there is a large amount of latent socialistic sentiment which only needs a suitable occasion and leaders of character and ability to make itself felt.

 

                                                                                                                       ROBERT GRIEVE 

 

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