Report by Scott Livingston
Abstract: An internal newsletter for the Socialist Party of Washington State. Contains listings of monthly dues, financial statements for the state party, and minutes from the state party’s executive committee meetings. Also contains limited local and international news and commentary regarding Socialist Party issues.
Dates Published: (Estimated) November 1914 – November 1919 (+?) Published monthly First issue available: March 20, 1916 Last issue available: November 20, 1919
Business Address: 314 Commerce Bldg., Everett, Wash.
Editors Cited: L.E. Ketterfeld, State Secretary (? – March 20, 1916+?); Emil Herman (Feb. 20, 1917-Feb. 20, 1919+?; Ruby Herman (official: Oct. 20, 1919-?) (unofficial: Aug. 20, 1918-)
Collection location: University of Washington Libraries, Microform and Newspaper Collections: A7240 (Incomplete – 10 of 61+ issues available)
The Party Builder was less of an issue oriented labor paper than it was a internal newsletter dealing with the day to day management of the Washington State Socialist Party and the locals affiliated with it. From the limited issues available – out of at least 61 monthly issues only 10 are available for viewing – the paper seems to have been put out, virtually single handedly by the State Secretary of the Washington State Socialist Party. This became an issue in the later years of the paper, when the then editor, Emil Herman, was jailed for an extended period under sedition charges.
The first issue in the microfilm collection (March 20, 1916) shows two ads, one for Socialist Party literature and another directed to the "Revolutionary Farmers, Poultrymen, [and] Dairymen" for "Giant Marrow Cabbage" (p. 1,4), but this is the only point throughout the available issues where external advertising appears. The paper does promote speeches and information tours by local and national personalities, e.g., H.H. Stallard and Eugene V. Debs, and later issues include a list of books and pamphlets that can be purchased at the state office.
Early issues of the paper consist of minutes for state and national meetings, including resolutions passed or presented; listings of tickets (monthly dues) purchased by the locals, including a breakdown of how many tickets were sent to the locals and whether or not the local had remitted their payment for them; and motivational and instructional articles aimed at the leadership of the Socialist Party locals. For example, the March 20, 1917 issue included an article entitled "The Efficient Secretary," credited to R. W. Thompson, which detailed the proper way to keep records, handle dues, and other technical aspects of the position (p. 3)
Dues – who paid, who did not pay, admonitions and exhortations to pay – and financial information regarding the Socialist Party are the most consistently prominent topics found in the paper. Each paper contains a brief Party Directory, a financial statement of the state party for the previous month, and a "Roll Call" listing the number of members and the amount of stamps paid for (monthly dues paid) for each local. Funds look to have been fairly tight, especially as shown in the later issues. In the October 20, 1919 issue the party listed $214.01 in total receipts and $196.83. The "General Fund Deficit" was listed at $1,184.32 (p. 3).
The March 23, 1918 edition of the Party Builder seems to have acted as a ballot for the Socialist Party of Washington State Convention. Minutes of the proceedings were included and a large format ballot asking for votes for or against changes and additions to the Socialist Party platform was attached. Local leaders were asked to return the ballots to the Party Builder. Unfortunately, no other edition of the Party Builder on file shows the bulletin being similarly utilized, convention minutes are often listed, and the first issue on file does list preliminary election results for a state referendum, but no other ballot is included The impression from the March 1916 and March 1918 editions, however, is that the Party Builder was used to disseminate state Socialist Party ballots to the Locals.
Ten Ways to Kill a Local
-Party Builder. August 20, 1918. p. 3
Sedition and Change
In the very next edition of the paper, things really begin to get interesting. In April of 1918, Emil Herman, editor of the Party Builder and the Socialist Party’s State Secretary was arrested on charges that he violated the Espionage Act. The April 20th edition of the paper carried a small account of his arrest on the front page ("Office Raided,"). Emil was eventually sentenced to serve ten years in federal prison (Schwantes, Radical Heritage, p. 215). His wife, Ruby Herman, seems to have stepped immediately into the editor’s role. It is likely that Ruby had already been involved with her husband in the production of the paper prior to Emil’s arrest, but her first official credit comes in this edition under an article entitled "That Party-Owned Press Proposition." (p. 1). This article will have further implications that will be discussed later.
While Emil Herman’s case and imprisonment are followed sporadically – if prominently - throughout the remaining issues of the paper, his release is never indicated. Ruby seems to have taken well to the job of editing the paper. By the August issue, Ruby is listed as the "Acting State Secretary" and, by inference, the acting editor of the paper since it appears that the State Secretary was, by default, also the editor and manager of the Party Builder. Her husband never loses his official title of State Secretary, but, over a year later, Ruby Herman is officially listed as the Editor and Manager of the Party Builder and retains the unofficial title of Acting State Secretary.
The paper under Ruby’s control changes dramatically. The Party Builder under Emil, at least in the issues available, had been fairly staid. It gave the statistics of the state party with a few notices of upcoming events and one or two articles on bureaucratic matters, but that was all. Ruby seems to have attempted to create a true party newspaper. More news articles and commentary appear by both local and national personalities, including an article entitled "We Must Now Organize," by Eugene V. Debs (12/20/19, p. 4). Several articles of local concern are printed with a credit to a John McSlarrow. The bureaucratic business of the Party is still present, but as of the December 20, 1918 edition it begins to appear as an independent section of the paper entitled "Official Business." A couple of editions later an ongoing section appears entitled "For the Local’s Study Class," the purpose of which, according to the paper was a "systemic study of the Communist Manifesto, believing that a thorough understanding of this work is imperative if one would be qualified as a Socialist in the full meaning of the word" (2/20/19, p. 4). Inspirational material also begins to make a regular appearance in the paper. Poems, some of them authored by Ruby herself, and excerpts from Socialist literature and other Socialist publications.
Along with a change of content, the style and layout of the paper undergoes a highly visible change. Keeping with Emil’s straightforward approach, there had been few type changes or any real attempt to layout the paper in any aesthetic way. Ruby’s Party Builder is in constant change. The paper briefly flirts with a revised name, The Party Builder; and masthead, two logos and a different typeset; and becomes much more organized and sectional during her tenure. The actual size and length of the paper never changes, however, all Ruby’s experimentation still occurs on the large, single-fold, four page sheet.
Infighting: A Party Press?
"About every so often some person or Local introduces a resolution or a motion favoring the establishment of a "Party Owned Press." Because we are all agreed that t Party owned Press is a very desirable thing we all heartily endorse, or enthusiastically vote for its establishment – and there the matter rests. It is like taking a referendum of the membership to see if the organization is in favor of the establishment of a Co-operative Commonwealth; I hardly think there would be one dissenting vote, but – having taken the referendum, how much nearer to the Co-operative Commonwealth would we have progressed thereby?
"The Party-Owned press must be also, Party controlled if it is to remain a valuable factor in carrying on the work of the Socialist Organization. The Organization must keep within its own hands the management of this Press – must "\’hire and fire’ all who are employed thereon.
"Comrades, we already possess such a ‘press’ – it only needs sufficient financial support to be able to function in as large a capacity as you desire. I refer to the ‘Party Builder.’
"…Quit dissipating your energies: Concentrate your efforts and money upon the upbuilding and improvement of that which you already possess to the end that you may thereby so perfect the machinery of our Organization that we shall be able to take advantage of our opportunities as they arise."
- "That Party-Owned Press Proposition," Ruby Herman
Party Builder, December 20, 1918, p. 1
Credited to her, the article above is the first time Ruby Herman’s name appears in the Party Builder and it appears in the same issue that announces the arrest of her husband, then editor, Emil Herman. Much of the change that occurs under Ruby Herman’s official and unofficial stint as editor of the Party Builder likely reflects the attempt to turn the little party bulletin into a real, functioning "Party-Press." Emil Herman must have been involved in the planning of such a move, but how much of the later changes that the paper adopted were his idea and how much reflects Ruby’s hand can’t be known from a reading of the paper itself.
The attempt to turn the Party Builder into a full-fledged party newspaper was not without controversy. Months later, in the December 20, 1918 edition, Joe Strand, identified as "Chairman of the Press Board," ran an article in the Party Builder denouncing the "strife and factional fights within the party" stemming from Ruby’s April article. The article had been part of a proposal, by the Hermans and Strand, to enlarge the Party Builder into a "sixteen page propaganda paper" (p. 2). Two party members, identified as Fishermen and Cassidy, had an idea for a weekly Socialist paper of their own. They issued pamphlets attacking Strand and Mrs. Herman. In an apparent attempted coupe, a weekly paper was set up, the "International Weekly," but is unclear from the coverage whether or not the paper became officially sanctioned by the Socialist Party. It is clear, however, that Ruby Herman and Joe Strong did not succeed in turning the Party Builder into the weekly Socialist "Party-Press" that they envisioned.
The last issue on file for the Party Builder was printed almost a year later, November 20, 1919, and is printed during the breakup of the Socialist Party. Ruby is on the masthead as "Editor & Manager," but the paper almost looks like a throwback to the days before Emil was imprisoned. The entire first two pages, and a large portion of the third, are taken up with minutes from the Special-Emergency Convention of the Washington Socialist Party. The key issue seems to have been the financial straights to which the Party had fallen – "monthly dues have never been adequate for the support of the organization, either State or National" (p. 1). The blame for the situation is placed upon the "reign of terror" by authorities from the outside and "agitation" by "left wing" dissidents internally. This left faction had apparently split off entirely on the national level and formed a new organization under the same name, "Socialist Party of America," which was eliciting some confusion. A letter from Emil Herman is quoted in the paper saying, "Tell them that I am for affiliation with the communist Labor Party. But I strongly urge that the convention go on record as favoring unity of all Socialist organizations" (p. 1).
While there is plenty of indications that the Socialist Party was not having the best of times, there is no mention that the paper might be shutting down or that there were any unresolveable issues at hand. In general the tone of the final edition and the quoted minutes from the Convention is upbeat and hopeful, while at the same time acknowledging that there are difficult issues that must be dealt with. We know, however, that such optimism was ill founded. The post-war atmosphere in 1919 was to become increasingly hostile to reformist and radical elements – associating all labor and reform movements with the IWW and the Russian revolution. Events such as the Seattle General Strike, occurring in early February of 1919, and a wave of labor strikes following the close of WWI only fed middle class fears, turning public opinion against radical groups. Dark days were ahead for labor in Washington State during the 1920s. The Party Builder appears to have been one the casualties.
Issues of Interest, Covered in the Party Builder But Not Mentioned Above
Trial of Tom Mooney:
- "If You Are Not For Mooney You Are Against Him" (April 20, 1918)
Click to enlarge
As more of a newsletter than a newspaper, The Party Builder often served as a vehicle for conducting party business. Here, the editors used the paper to distribute the ballot for the party's election.
Like many leftist organizations in the early 20th century, the Socialist Party of Washington State suffered persecution at the hands of the law. In 1918, the party's offices were raided, and members arrested on sedition charges. Additionally, the paper concerned itself with the unjust persecution of other progressive leaders, like Tom Mooney who was unfairly incarcerated after being accused of setting off a bomb in San Francisco.
Copyright (c) 2001 by Scott Livingston