Squabbling Socialists in Washington State

A Guide to Factions and Newspapers 1900-1917

by Gary Siebel

Washington State was still young in 1900 and thought to be fertile ground by many Americans for a society built from scratch upon principles of socialism. At the 1897 convention of the Brotherhood of the Co-operative Commonwealth in Ruskin, Tennessee, it was suggested that socialists should move en masse to capture 1901 Washington State elections.(1) Thus, colonies such as Home, and Equality, Washington, were carved out of thick forests by socialists eager for a fresh start.

Titus and Company

Many "colonists" later became members of the Socialist Party of Washington. D. Burgess’ name appears as the editor of Industrial Freedom, the newspaper for Equality, in 1899, and also in the thick of the socialist battles in Seattle in later years. Erwin Ault, future managing editor of The Socialist (1908/09), and executive editor of the Seattle Union Record (1912-1928), and another prominent battler, moved to Equality with his family from back east at age 14. A main character in the conflict, Hermon Titus, was apparently a frequent visitor to Equality. (2)

Dr. Hermon F. Titus arrived in Seattle in the early 1890's, just as the city was about to be transformed by the Klondike Gold Rush. From 1900 to late 1904, Titus promulgated and basically sustained the Socialist Party (S. P.) of Washington through the production and editing of The Socialist, a weekly newspaper he launched in Seattle on August 13, 1900.

For several years, party headquarters was the newspaper office. The fine print reveals Titus was paid as a party organizer but not as editor. Founders of the party were trustees of the paper, e.g., J. D. Curtis, ( secretary), Ida Mudgett (treasurer), David Phipps (chairman), and Hermon Titus (party organizer).(3) But Titus, with his wife, Hattie, retained majority control (which allowed him to later move the paper to Toledo and back). That may be why, even though the party and the paper were virtually synonymous for the first few years of the operation, The Socialist was made the official party organ. (In May 1903 Titus claimed that he had made up any deficits of the paper to that point.(4))

Sept. 5, 1900, an anarchist paper, Discontent: Mother of Progress (published at Home, Wa., near Tacoma -- via boat), noted the socialists across the Sound were "making headway" in organizing themselves into a party, adding an unintentional harbinger: "They are active, aggressive, fanatical..." (ital added) (5) The "aggressive, fanatical" remark referred to Titus and company. They could have added extremely contentious to the list, too. The next month, below the headline, "Impossible Unity," the paper further noted that , "...the internal strife in the socialist camp is interesting...." (6). That "strife" was between "orthodox" and "opportunistic" socialists, later referred to as "reds," and "yellows," or "regulars" and "seceders," or even "impossibilists" and "constructivists," respectively, and it was to continue at least to the American entry into WWI, 17 years later.

Of course, the battle among socialist factions was not limited to Washington State, but the conflicts were so intense and so protracted that on more than one occasion the National Executive Committee intervened to try to resolve disputes. Many blamed Dr. Titus for the atmosphere of conflict. A 1914 investigation commissioned by the NEC cited as one of the key problems " the philosophy so long, ably and persistently inculcated into the minds of the laborers and socialists of this commonwealth by Herman Titus.... His former disciples are still here and among the strongest of those now in the movement of this state...." (7)

Titus, who had attacked Daniel DeLeon, the notoriously sectarian head of the Socialist Labor Party, for "tyranny," was himself eventually accused of being a "DeLeon." (8) They both were argumentative and refused to make political compromises. By the time Titus left Seattle, he had been personally repudiated by many other reds, his former disciples, much as DeLeon had been repudiated by many of his followers in 1900.

But it wasn’t just Titus. Former Titus disciple and party secretary Franz Bostrom concluded in another 1914 report "That personal dislikes, slander, cupidity, and trickery have aggravated the fight and in many instances were the real cause for lining up on one side or the other is undeniable...." (9) Titus didn’t cause all the trouble, he just stood out in all those categories.

From Social Democrats to Socialists

Following the national "Unity" convention at Indianapolis in 1901, which produced the S. P. from the wedding of the Social Democratic Party (S. D. P.), of Eugene Debs with a breakaway section of DeLeon's Socialist Labor Party (S. L. P.), the Social Democratic Party of Washington became the Socialist Party of Washington, initiating a referendum on the proposed party constitution, a copy of which was printed in The Socialist  Oct. 13, 1901 (10)

1900-1905

The first year, from Aug. 1900 to the middle of 1901, though already fractious, was the nearest socialists in Washington ever got to "Unity." That was because "socialist" was not yet officially defined by party constitution and pledge. Once defined, expulsions followed.

Titus resigned as party organizer in November 1900, explaining, on the front page (11), that he did not have time to both organize and edit. He would remain as editor.

"scientific socialism"

By the middle of 1902, Wa. St. reds had warmed to their cause, which was Marx’s unadulterated, "scientific socialism." Because Marx had supposedly proved scientifically that socialism was inevitable, it was presumed to be a settled question. How could it be wrong? It was scientific ! (Science had considerably more respect in those days. The Titanic had not yet sunk and nuclear bombs had yet to be invented!) Unfortunately, the idea that it was inevitable undercut the desire to compromise, which, in people like Titus, was not strong anyway.

"All hail to socialism... It is coming just as certain as the rivers find their way to the sea." Co-operator , July 6, 1901 (12)

Few claims were pushed as much by Titus et al, as "scientific socialism." Dozens of column inches were devoted to that claim over the years. In the third issue of The Socialist (13), in a headline across the back page, we find: "Socialism Scientific. The Socialism of today is distinguished from the utopian theories of the past by the fact it is scientific...."(14) Titus claimed he was an, "...uncompromising but fair exponent of Scientific Socialism." (15) As time went on, the emphasis was increasingly on the "uncompromising" part: "COMPROMISE EMPHATICALLY REPUDIATED," was the page 2 banner across all seven columns of The Socialist May 27, 1905 (16) .

The no compromise theme was maintained by the reds to the end. In an editorial in the red party organ, in Seattle, Socialist World, Mar. 16. 1917 (17). lamenting the decline of the socialist vote in Washington state in 1916 from 1912, the decline was attributed to the reds compromising too much rather than too little, the writer adding, "I am convinced, from scientific and historic data, that the social revolution is coming soon." (The writer, Henry Slobodin, first appeared 15 years previously as a member of "The Century Club," whose members attempted to sell at least 100 subscriptions to The Socialist , in 1902. (18)

"fusion"

Reds and yellows disagreed over the tactic of "fusion" or cooperation with nonsocialist parties or organizations in electoral campaigns. Yellows wanted to win elections. The reds opposed what they saw as dangerous opportunism (and a violation of the Party constitution). Judge Richardson, of Spokane, was a target for "fusion" charges in 1902 for accepting a position on the bench to which he had been elected. In rebuttal Richardson pointed out his election was due to more than socialist votes and refused to resign from either the party or bench. Furious, reds insisted the Spokane local expel him, and when it refused, the reds conducted a statewide referendum, resulting in expulsion of the local. But the expelled members spread into other Spokane locals and made trouble for the state party so that the problem repeated eventually, in 1911, when D.C. Coates and his local were expelled for the same reason, and by the same method. (19)

Art. III, sec. 4, 1901 Washington State Socialist Party Constitution

The Pledge

"I, the undersigned, recognizing the class struggle, and the necessity of the working class constituting themselves into a political party, distinct from and opposed to all parties formed by the propertied classes, hereby declare that I have severed my relations with all other parties; that I endorse the platform and constitution of the Socialist party, and hereby apply for admission in said party."20)

The, "severed my relations," and the endorsement of "platform and constitution" clauses were the favored ammunition reds aimed at people as part of "fusion" charges. Reds were mostly wage workers (with key exceptions such as, Dr. Titus, and lawyers Hulet Wells, and Nicholas Schmitt), while many yellows were doctors, lawyers, business men, and as such, considered by reds to be automatically members of the "propertied classes." Yellows were castigated by reds, on the one hand for "fusion" tendencies, and on the other, attacked by conservatives for even associating with the reds in the first place.

The reds had the two strongest newspapers and managed to control state conventions and statewide leadership during the early years. After the July, 1903 S.P. State Convention, Titus applauded that "...workingmen controlled everything,"(21). But the moderates were not without resources. The Co-operator based in Burley, WA and published by The Cooperative Brotherhood, of the Social Democracy Colony, spoke out against the radicals like Titus(23):

" ... the Seattle Socialist and the Social Democratic Herald, ... are using every means to engender hate of one class toward another...." (p.1)

And, "The intolerance of socialism is one of the most startling manifestations of the time." (p.8)

And again, "So far as Washington is concerned, henceforth the socialist party is a class-conscious party and wants none but class-conscious socialists to belong to it. Plain notice is served on the great number of men and women... of the Cooperative Commonwealth that, unless they are class-conscious, the socialist party of Washington has no use for them."(p. 23) (22)

The reds had things firmly under control in Wa. St. through the end of 1904, which may be why Titus attempted to move to a larger stage. Last available issue of The Socialist in Seattle until it’s return in 1907 was August 28, 1904. From Toledo, Titus continued the attack, trying to do for America what he did for Washington. (24)

1906 - 1909

Conflicts between revolutionaries who followed Titus and moderates who emphasized electoral campaigns and educational organizing increased after Walter Thomas Mills, a socialist writer and lecturer of national note, arrived from Chicago in 1906. It is, however, difficult to sort out the players and the issues. For one, our information comes primarily from The Socialist the red side. For another, it appears there were two separate organizations calling themselves the Socialist Party of Washington from perhaps as early as late 1905, and neither of them was willing to yield an inch, or, in some instances, to even acknowledge the other side’s existence. Also, since so many of the yellows were formerly considered reds, it is a bit confusing trying to keep track of who was on which team, and when they changed sides. For example, D. Burgess, featured as a frequent front page contributor to The Socialist and a long time Titus ally, is later abruptly referred to as if he had been a long time enemy instead, with no hint he formerly embraced the red cause. (25) Also, socialists were apparently expelled and repeatedly readmitted, as a suggestion for an amendment requiring a six month waiting period for those reapplying for admission after their second expulsion for "fusion," implied. In some instances, members of the "rival organization" opposed to the "regulars" (reds), were implied to be simultaneously within, and outside of, the party (26) .

Walter Thomas Mills stepped into that ongoing battle in 1906, and it exploded in 1907. Mills’ Seattle local refused to try him for "fusion," the same as the Spokane local when they were told to kick out Judge Richardson, and the matter festered for a few years because the State Executive Committee (S. E. C.) had slipped from firm red control. It never actually came to a complete resolution because even after the state party ejected Mills, and he left the state, the national still accepted him, and ignored the remonstrance from the reds in Wa. St. protesting Debs and Mills appearing on the same stage.

The battle of 1907 spilled over into the state and national convention of 1908. Both sides importuned the national convention to recognize their faction as representing the one, true, Socialist Party of Washington. The national tried to hold a middle ground by calling for a referendum in any state where two organizations claim to be the Socialist Party. But it made no difference. Washington socialists had irreconcilable differences and although they were technically still married, they maintained separate bedrooms.

The 1909 state law establishing direct primary elections rather than party committee and convention selections exacerbated the party’s two-headed beast problem. Yellows, by then the majority, naturally enough favored the law, while the reds opposed it. Then yellows managed to hijack the July, 1909 Everett, so-called "Gag" Convention, silencing the reds via questionable means that the reds later had overturned. As a political dirty trick, Dr. Edwin. J. Brown, leader of the yellows, warned The Socialist  linotype man to force the paper into receivership immediately or he wouldn’t get paid, which shut the paper down for a few weeks right around the time of that state convention. (27)

Reds regained control of the party in September 1909. The chairman elected by the yellows at the July convention had snatched the records and played "dodge the subpoena" for a while, but he eventually gave up. However, Titus bolted the party two months later, because, as he said: "...September 7, 1909, the Party in the Nation, by a vote of two to one, decided to withdraw that part of the Platform declaring for the Collective Ownership of Land, as well as all other means of production and distribution...." (28) He then went on to claim, " There is no Socialist Party in this state now," which was naked hyperbole, his usual style. He then tried to have his own "workingman’s party" but few would come. Titus's long influential newspaper, the The Socialist ceased publication in 1910. He eventually left Seattle.

1910-1914

Revolutionaries and reform socialists continued to battle after Herman Titus left the party. In 1911 a new Seattle paper appeared, apparently controlled by the moderates. The Socialist Voice was owned by the Central Committee of the Socialist Party of Seattle which may mean that the yellows dominated the local party machinery for a time. During its two years of publication the newspaper was staffed by people close to E.J. Brown, leader of the reform wing. Much of the editorial responsibility fell to Brown and M. J. Kennedy, both of whom the reds would soon expel, evidently for the second time. In addition the radicals in time managed to take over the newspaper and put it out of business. The Socialist Voice lasted only a little more than a year.

The other S. P. paper available at the time, the Commonwealth, (published in Everett) offered news from both factions. Many of the contributors for both Voice and Commonwealthhad been with  The Socialist. But in early 1914, Commonwealth, by then the official organ of the party, was put into receivership. There is no telling if it was brought down by a technique similar to Brown’s against The Socialist . Yet it had more ads than any of the other socialist papers in the region ever did, so perhaps the state office was using it as a cash cow. One of the continual complaints about the reds by the yellows was that the party, particularly HQ, always supported layabouts. (31)

The continuing factionalism hurt the party. Electoral successes that Socialists recorded in other states were less common in Washington thanks to the red faction that usually disparaged electoral strategies. Eugene Debs did gain over 40,000 votes in 1912 and socialists won some contests, electing school board and city council members in Everett, mayors in Edmonds and Pasco, and sending William H. Kingery to the legislature representing Mason County in 1913. But in Seattle and Tacoma where the movement should have been strongest, the reds were not interested in electoral socialism. The chance to join Milwaukee, Butte, Berkeley, and other cities that elected socialist administrations disappeared in the squabbling that had become so natural to Washington socialists.

What the factionalism did to membership figures is hard to say. At its height in 1913, the party claimed 202 locals and 3,335 members. This was respectable if no where near the 12,000 members that Oklahoma claimed that year. But the party was not living up to the expectations of those who had once seen Washington as such fertile ground. As The Syndicalist, (of Chicago) formerly known as The Agitator (of Home, Wa.), but with the same editor, J. Fox, pointed out after the 1913 Washington convention, "The theory of capturing the state is getting thinner with each recurring party split...." (April, 1913) (33)

The expulsions of 1912/13 allowed the reds to completely exclude yellows at the 1913 convention, which led to a weakening of the party, and the 1914 national party investigation into the trouble in Wa. St. At that 1913 convention, Alfred Wageneckt (very red team) prevented the popular Anna Maley from being nominated as state secretary, and Franz Bostrom and George Boomer gave rabble rousing speeches in favor of breaking any and all laws if necessary to establish socialism. Yellows were appalled The S. P. had peaked at 5.6% of the vote in the 1912 Debs campaign in Washington. They were already in decline by 1913, but they did not yet know it. It was probably because they kicked out enough people to start their own party.

1913 Potlatch Riots

1913 also saw the occurrence of two events that had an impact on both factions: 1) the so-called "Potlatch Riots," and 2) the free speech battles with Judge Humphries. The former was a one day event resulting in damage to both faction’s offices, while the latter continued for months and had the unusual effect of briefly uniting socialists and "normal" people in their support for free speech, and contempt for Judge Humphries.

In the former, on July 18, 1913, a combination of the Secretary of the Navy giving a speech in town, a number of sailors on leave, some of whom bore resentment for a thrashing received from loggers the night before, and the encouragement to riot provided by the hated The Seattle Times, led to what was called the "Potlatch Riots," during which soldiers and sailors sacked the offices of both the red and yellow factions of the S.P., a newsstand, and some I. W. W. offices. It was quite sensational, drawing a huge crowd, marching back and forth from Pioneer Square to 7th and Union, and 5th and Stewart, to watch the sailors tossing out the furniture, harangue the crowd, and set fire to the pile. Police apparently made no attempt to stop the festivities. Accusations were made later that, during the riot, members of the different factions had tried to direct the rioter’s attention to the offices of the opposing faction, away from their own.(34)

1913 Judge Humphries

Free speech battles had erupted in many places in America when the authorities attempted to silence the "radicals" by arresting them for blocking traffic. It happened at least twice in Seattle, in 1906-08, and 1912, when trouble seriously escalated into 1913. In that theater of the absurd, Judge Humphries managed to make such a complete ass of himself that his fellow judges sought to have him removed. Each time Humphries threw socialists in jail for delivering a political speech, it resulted in bigger crowds and more speakers. Eventually, in a rare act of solidarity, some non-socialists decided they should go down and get arrested too. Over 500 people had been arrested for obstruction, or contempt, as well as two qualified lawyers being peremptorily "disbarred" by the judge in the process of the trial, for attempting to provide a defense to the socialists, when the governor decided he had better get involved. Thereupon Judge Humphries, learning that the governor was coming, simply let everyone go.

1914 -1917

Some attempts at reconciliation were made in 1914. There were committee meetings and reports, but few in Seattle were really inclined to negotiate: "... it is a miracle that the real socialists have had the patience to negotiate with them for a united party." (35) (Commonwealth 29 Jan., 1914 ) Summertime brought the national investigation and more conventions, but the socialists weren’t any closer. It is possible they simply acquired fresh players and continued to battle, because new names appear, and old ones disappear, from their newspapers.

A fresh socialist newspaper, Socialist Herald, was launched sometime after the demise of the  The Socialist, but volumes one and two are missing, so we cannot be sure exactly which team controlled it to start. Perhaps both factions were involved for a time but in early 1916 fusionist-minded reformers were in control. Renaming the paper the Herald, (dropping "Socialist"), they steered editiorial policy toward the Non-Partisan League, the fusionist organization which was gaining strength in North Dakota. The reds wanted none of it. A meeting of angry stockholders in early 1916 forced the newspaper to close.

After the Herald, was deliberately brought down, two Seattle papers emerged in it’s wake, one, the Commonwealth, edited by the Non-Partisan League yellows, and the other, Socialist World, published by reds. Neither lasted long. As American involvement in World War I approached, attitudes hardened all around. The Socialist World ended a few weeks before the American declaration of war, it’s advertisers having abandoned it. Washington’s. main political battleground for socialists shifted to the domain of unions thereafter.

Conclusion

The socialists could not get along partly because, unlike the unions, it was not necessary for them to do so. Socialism was a labor of love, meaning it attracted like-minded people. Labor, on the other hand, was exactly that; work. And not many people love work.

Union members with radically different ideas worked side by side because they had to make a living. Unions recognized that to make themselves political first was to invite disunity At political party meetings, on the other hand, one could throw a tantrum and stalk out at no cost. Fiery speeches did not necessarily lead to, or really mean, anything. If unions had been politicized they could have ended up like the reds and yellows, in Washington.

 

 END NOTES

(1) Industrial Freedom 18 June, 1898

(2) Bushue, Paul B. "Dr. Hermon F. Titus and socialism in Washington State 1900-1909" Thesis (M.A.) University of Washington, 1967. p.21

(6)(3) (6) The Socialist 21 Oct., 1900

Titus added a premature claim: "The affairs of The Socialist have at last been put on a solid business basis...."

(7) (4) Titus, Hermon F. The Socialist 24 May, 1903

Titus wrote: "I have given my services freely for three years, besides meeting all deficits...." Then, he adds almost threateningly, "If you want this paper to continue you must lend a hand and increase the circulation to twenty five thousand before Aug. 12...."

(2)(5) Labadie, Joseph. "Cranky Notions." Discontent: Mother of Progress 5, Sept., 1900 :p. 1

(3)(6) Discontent: Mother of Progress 31 Oct., 1900

(14)(7) Richardson, N. A., and Motley, S. W. "Report of Committee on Investigation of Party Differences in the State of Washington... To the National Committee of the Socialist Party in Session May 10th, 1914"

This committee arrived April 15 and heard testimony, etc. The report then offers a point by point examination of the conflict in Washington by out-of-state party members. The reports states the "formal segregation of the party" into separate organizations started as result of a meeting May 5, 1912. The Seattle factions were fighting over the "Sadler Affair, " which led to after midnight meetings and delegate recalls. When Kate Sadler, fervent red team member, filed for public office as part of the S. P. ticket in Seattle in 1912, it was discovered she had not used her correct name, which, in turn led to the discovery she was a married woman living with a man who was not her husband, which led in turn to the delegate recall. As evidence of a cultural as well as political divide, the reds were generally unconcerned, while the yellows tried to use it to drive her from party office. Instead, when the dust finally settled, it was the yellows who were squeezed out.

(8) The Socialist 18 Jan., 1903: p.2

Titus began a long dispute with John Wayland, editor of the Appeal to Reason, allegedly because Wayland "favored public ownership of monopolies instead of Socialism." After Wayland finally fired back, Titus complained, "PERSONAL ATTACK ON THE EDITOR OF THE SOCIALIST," The Socialist Jan. 18, 1903: p.2 Wayland had called Titus a DeLeon. Titus demanded that Wayland "make good or retract." No retraction was ever forthcoming.

Titus began a long dispute with John Wayland, editor of the Appeal to Reason, allegedly because Wayland "favored public ownership of monopolies instead of Socialism." After Wayland finally fired back, Titus complained, "PERSONAL ATTACK ON THE EDITOR OF THE SOCIALIST," The Socialist Jan. 18, 1903: p.2 Wayland had called Titus a DeLeon. Titus demanded that Wayland "make good or retract." No retraction was ever forthcoming.

(5)(9) Bostrom, Franz. "The History of the 1913 Session in the Socialist Party of Washington." March 16, 1914 "Ordered printed by the State Convention at Seattle, March 16, 1914," a from "Data on File in the Office of the State Secretary at this Date. January 18, 1914."

(4)(10) The Socialist Oct. 13, 1901

(11) The Socialist, 15 Nov., 1900

(12) Co-operator 6 July, 1901

(22)(13) The Socialist 26 Aug., 1900

(23)(14) Ibid

(23)(15) Ibid

(16) The Socialist 27 May, 1905; p. 2.

(17) Socialist World, 16 Mar., 1917: p. 4

(18) The Socialist 21 Dec., 1902: p. 4

(29)(19) Bostrom ibid 16 Mar., 1914

(27)(20) The Socialist. 13 Oct. 1901, p3

(18)(21) The Socialist 12 July, 1903

(19)(22) Co-operator Aug., 1903

(23) Schwantes, Carlos. Radical Heritage Labor, Socialism, and Reform in Washington and British Columbia, 1885-1917 Seattle, University of Washington Press. 1979, p.169

(12) (24) The Socialist 25 Mar., 1905: p.2

(25) Bostrom ibid 16 Mar, 1914

(26) R. Krueger, "Some Local History" The Socialist 15 June, 1907: p. 2

(13) (27) The Socialist 21 Aug., 1909

(28) The Socialist Dec. 4, 1909

(29) Bostrom, ibid

(30) Tressler, R. "Regular Socialist Party of Seattle Needs Assistance of Membership."Commonwealth. 15 Jan. 1914: p. 1

(31) "Reasons for Division in Socialist Party in Washington." 1914 (Anonymous)

A pamphlet put out by the yellows, it includes a litany of the yellow complaints regarding reds, in statements from three expelled locals in Bellingham, Spokane, and Seattle. The 13th ward Seattle points out Wageneckt’s actions to prevent Anna M Maley from gaining a position in the state party at the 1913 convention. Another report, from the Lewis County Clarion (Anna Maley. "Convention Echoes" Lewis County Clarion 9 April, 1913: p. 3) claims that the reason Maley did not get the nomination was because she had been nominated by the Brown faction, and "even Debs himself" could not have got elected if he had been nominated by Brown.

(32) Geo. Boomer The Socialist Mar. 21, 1908: p. 4

(33) Fox, J. The Syndicalist April, 1913

(34) "Reasons for Division in Socialist Party in Washington." 1914 ibid

(35) Johnson, William F. "Organization News." Commonwealth 29 Jan., 1914

Copyright © 2003 by Gary Siebel