New England reformers intent upon abolishing sin in all its forms were for the most part responsible for driving the South to seek independence. Despite their dislike for foreigners they needed immigrants for factory labor, western settlers, and to become dependable Republican voters. With those immigrants came revolutionary European socialism, future labor strife and a sea-change in American political traditions.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
American Reformers and Communists:
“From the colonists hoping to establish a Biblical commonwealth in New England, to nineteenth century reformers planning the abolition of sin, the Americans have always exhibited a strain of millennial thinking. During the [First] World War, dreamers who were busy reconstructing the social and economic order and the architecture of the Versailles Treaty aspired to inaugurate a “permanent and just peace.”
But during the decade that followed the Armistice the torch of idealism that had kindled the revolt of the American conscience at the dawn of our own century seemed to have pretty well burned itself. The returning soldiers were disillusioned about the crusade they had been sent off on.
The newly-formed American Legion became one of the chief exponents of the identification of patriotism with opposition to social, political, or economic reform of any kind. In some cases its members were even used against [labor] strikers. Foreigners began to seem a dubious lot anyhow; those from east and southeastern Europe were almost completely barred in 1924; American enthusiasm for the League of Nations petered out.
In the United States, there was neither a revolutionary movement nor a political party representing labor. The Socialist party, whose influence had been growing for years, notwithstanding the fact that it seemed foreign to the nature of Americans, suffered considerable defections when it decided not to support the war. The split with the Communists further weakened it. Eugene V. Debs, who was re-nominated for the presidency in 1912, gathered a vote of 897,000 and found himself jailed.
In 1919 the first serious strike in many years was launched to organize labor in the steel industry, which was traditionally anti-union….the [American Federation of Labor, the AFL] was poorly prepared [financially] to challenge this industrial giant whose treasury was filled to overflowing from far war contracts.
In order to cope with this situation, the Federation’s convention in 1918 passed a resolution introduced by William Z. Foster to form a steel workers organizing committee…One of the central body’s potent influences, [Foster], then posing as a regular trade unionist….went ahead with his plans [for a strike and] effectively shutting down the steel districts.
Ironically enough, management regarded the Federation as dangerously radical, along with the Communists and the “Wobblies” who were closely akin to the Russian Bolsheviks. They associated all unionism with collectivism. The object of all three, the Communists, the International Workers of the World, and the American Federation of Labor, was the over-turn of free enterprise. They believed the unions had no business in their plants.
As for William Z. Foster, he emerged shortly as a militant Communist leader, whose ultimate revolutionary objective tended to undermine the American labor movement as well as to discredit its leaders.
The steel and coal strikes….frayed the nerves of the industrial leaders, to whom the spectacle of the Bolshevist overturn of capitalism in Russia was frightening. Lenin and his fellow revolutionists were a far distance from American shores, but the basic theory of Marxism was one of world revolution and already there were stirrings of unrest on labor on this continent.
While communist Russia was relatively weak in 1919 and offered no threat to the United States, it succeeded in establishing a Fifth Column in the American trade unions and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters was not wholly immune from it.”
(Portrait of an American Labor Leader, William L. Hutcheson, Maxwell C. Raddock, American Institute of Social Science, 1955, pp. 118-123)