Reds in America - Richard M. Whitney

The Labor Defense Council

The now historic Bridgman raid,—the spectacular capture by the authorities of the State of Michigan of a group of Communists, with a mass of incriminating documents, who had met in the woods in annual secret, illegal convention to further the plans of the Communist party of America, under the direction of Lenin, Trotsky, et al., to overthrow by violence the Government of the United States and destroy the American concept of home and church,—had a galvanic effect upon the ring of arch-conspirators in Moscow. It was immediately suspected that someone, on one side or the other of the factional fight within the party, had been guilty of divulging secrets and revealing the fact of the illegal meeting to the authorities as a move to defeat the rival faction. This factional fight had been almost entirely settled before the Bridgman convention met and one of the reports at the convention dealt with this feature of the situation in the United States. Some delay in the carrying out of the destructive program of the party in this country had been caused by this division in the organization.

Immediately upon receipt of information regarding the raid and the consequent breaking up of the convention before its work had been accomplished, Moscow started a courier post haste to the United States bearing with him peremptory orders from the Executive Committee of the Communist International to both factions in the American party to unite at once. The minority faction was ordered to submit without further delay to the will of the majority; and the majority was ordered to admit the minority without prejudice. Both factions were reminded of the "iron discipline" clause in the regulations of conduct and membership in the Communist organization. Expulsion from the party and from the entire Communist movement was the penalty of any individual who refused to obey this command to unite.

The courier by whom these orders were dispatched reached the United States late in September, 1922, and on October 1 representatives of the majority and minority factions were called into secret conference in New York to hear the orders from headquarters. There was nothing left to do, for expulsion from the Communist party and the world-wide organization left no place for such radicals to make their bed. They could not join the anarchists, socialists or any other radical organization, because of the bitter fight that had been made on all these bodies by the Communists. Certainly they could not become conservatives of any stripe. They were branded with Communism, and if this brand were erased it would leave a scar by which they could always be recognized as "traitors" to Communism. And the records of millions slain without trial, by arbitrary dicta, in Russia tell the whole tale of the "traitor" to Communism.

This party division having been healed, the organization immediately turned its united attention to the needs of those arrested at the Bridgman raid. Through the energetic efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union, whose radical activities have been noted in another chapter, some of the prisoners had been released on bond, but others still languished in the Michigan jail, awaiting trial. Money was most urgently needed to get these men out of jail, and to prepare for the defense of the Communists, when they came to trial. It was then reported that Frank P. Walsh, just returned from Moscow, was to be the chief attorney for the defense. The engagement of these men cost money, real money, and it is safe to say that they would not be satisfied with contingent fees. It was common report in Communist circles in New York that Walsh insisted upon a fee of $50,000 for his services; one fourth to be paid at once, one fourth before the trial opened and the remaining $25,000 before the first case went to the jury.

Numerous conferences were held by the leaders of the Communists as to how these funds were to be raised. Moscow could be counted upon for certain amounts, but Moscow has been a bit wary of sending back to the United States much of the money it goes to such pains to collect here unless it is shown that it is absolutely necessary to make such expenditure. William Z. Foster, one of the delegates at Bridgman; Roger N. Baldwin, draft dodger, of the American Civil Liberties Union; Eugene V. Debs, now out of jail after being pardoned for his anti-American activities during the war; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the active woman radical, of the Workers' Defense Union; and others were concerned in these conferences.

For several weeks these conferences went on, committees were named in all parts of the country, and plans were matured for establishing all the connections possible to present a "united front" of "labor" in defending these men accused of conspiracy. One interesting phase was the way the American Federation of Labor was "hooked" in the plan. On Oct. 7, 1922, William Z. Foster was in New York, working on the plan of the Labor Defense Council. It was suggested to him by a fellow Communist that it would be possible to get the endorsement of from six to ten organizations which were members of the American Federation of Labor; these endorsements could be sent to other member organizations; and when a sufficient number had been obtained all the endorsements could be printed in circular form and sent broadcast until the entire Federation could be said to have joined in the Labor Defence Council. This plan was adopted and worked like a charm.

[Imprimateur] from Reds in America by Richard M. Whitney

Circular letter sent out by the Labor Defense Council, organized to raise funds for the defense of the communists arrested at Bridgman, Mich. Facsimile signatures of John Nevin Sayre, Freda Kirchwey, Roger Baldwin. Capt. Paxton Hibben, Mary Heaton Vorse, Rev. Norman Thomas, Rev. Percy Stickney Grant and Rev. John Haynes Holmes appear at the bottom. The name of Father John A. Ryan of Washington appears conspicuously in the organization along with that of William Z. Foster.

Dear Friend;

The press has brought you information of the progress of the trial of the first of the so-called Michigan cases at St. Joseph. Every day it is becoming clearer that the issue in this trial is the right of free speech and free assemblage in America, as well as such due processes of law, as constitute the just basis of any democratic society, Mr. Frank P. Walsh, attorney for the defense, has stated clearly that the provisions of the Criminal Syndicalist Acts, under which Foster and his associates have been brought to trial, violate the Constitution of the state of Michigan and the Constitution of the United States. Evidence for this contention is fast becoming abundant.

A group of men and women met together peacefully to consider the business of their party organization, contemplating no acts of violence and cherishing no intent to promote or induce acts of violence, was itself treated with utmost violence by the officers of the law. If ever there was a trial involving persecution and tyranny, it is this one. It comes as the last echo of the disgraceful mania of governmental terrorism, which was one of the plagues of the war.

The defense of these men and women, now on trial, is an expensive one. Large sums of money must be raised to guarantee them justice. This money can come only from those who believe in the vindication of basic democratic rights in this country. We appeal to you to help us in this cause. Read the inclosed pamphlet giving the story of the case and then send your contribution in the inclosed envelope.

Sincerely yours,

National Secretary
William Z. Foster


The work of national organization was begun early in September while a number of the Bridgman prisoners were still in jail unable to secure the bonds necessary for their release. By this time it had been agreed that inasmuch as the Communist party of America, which is an illegal and underground organization, could not direct the fight to aid the Bridgman prisoners, the Workers' Party of America, as a legal organization of the Communists, should assume the leadership. This was particularly fitting because William F. Dunne, the party candidate for the governorship of New York, was one of those arrested at Bridgman as a delegate to the Communist convention. This, of course, established the immediate connection between the Communist party and the Labor Defence Council, for the Workers' Party is not allowed to take any steps on any matter without having the approval of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist party. Accordingly, on Sept. 24th, C. E. Ruthenberg, a Communist and a delegate to the Bridgman convention, who was secretary of the Workers' party, sent out an official order to "To All Party Branches, District Organizers and Federation Secretaries," which read in part as follows:

"The Central Executive Committee of the party has decided that the party must take the initiative in bringing into existence an organization which will unite the workers in the defence struggle.

"For this purpose the Labor Defence Council will be organized.

"The Labor Defence Council will be a delegated body which will include representatives of the Trade Unions, the Trade Union Educational League (William Z. Foster's Communist organization within the trade union movement of the United States and so recognized by the Soviet Government of Russia) the Workers' party, the Socialist party, the Farmer-Labor party, the Socialist-Labor party, the I.W.W., the Proletarian party, the United Toilers, liberal organizations and workers' social, relief and cooperative organizations.

"The purpose of the Labor Defence Council will be:

  • "To conduct the defence of the victims of the Michigan raids and those arrested in connection with the Michigan case in other parts of the country and to defend other similar cases arising out of the present attack upon the working class movement.
  • "To broaden this defence so as to develop in connection with a mass movement of the workers to re-establish the right to strike, the right to picket, the right of assemblage and freedom of press and speech. To make part of the defence campaign an attack upon criminal syndicalism laws and similar laws directed against the working class movement and to secure their repeal.
  • "To raise the funds necessary for the legal defence as well as for the agitation and propaganda against infringements on the rights of the workers.

"The immediate steps to be taken is for each city central committee where such exists and for each branch where there is no city central committee to:

  • "Elect a committee to initiate the work of organizing a Labor Defence Council.
  • "This committee should send an invitation to other local working class organizations to send delegates to the Labor Defence Council. This invitation should not be sent in the name of the Workers' party but by the provisional committee as a provisional committee of the Labor Defence Council. If possible, some well-known trade unionist should be included in this committee.
  • "The Local Defence Council should at once begin a campaign of agitation and money raising. It should hold public meetings, have resolutions introduced in the unions and in every way possible stir the workers to the need of a united stand against the capitalist attack."

The headquarters of the Labor Defence Council was established at 166 West Washington street, Chicago, and the "Provisional National Committee" was made up of the following members: Roger N. Baldwin, American Civil Liberties Union; Dennis M. Bait, Proletarian party, Detroit; Robert M. Buck, editor New Majority, Farmer-Labor party; Eugene V. Debs. Socialist party of America; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Workers' Defence Union of New York; Moritz J. Loeb, formerly of the Civil Liberties Union of Chicago, now with the Workers' party of America.

The "Cooperating Committee of Defendants" of the Council included Earl R. Browder, assistant secretary of Foster's Trade Union Educational League; William F. Dunne, labor editor of The Worker, official English organ of the Workers' party, and candidate for governorship of New York; William Z. Foster himself, as secretary-treasurer of the Trade Union Educational League; and Charles E. Ruthenberg, national executive secretary of the Workers' party, who sent out the orders quoted above. Foster was national secretary of the Council and Loeb, assistant secretary. The purposes of the organization were set forth by it in a secret report in a single paragraph as follows:

"To unite all radical, liberal and conservative organizations to form the Labor Defence Council. The purpose of this council is to defend the Reds arrested in Michigan, to raise bail money, to hold defence meetings and to carry on agitation in their behalf."

One of the first things done by the organization was the appointment of a publicity department to flood the daily newspapers of the country with propaganda for the movement. "Press releases" were issued and spread broadcast. Much of the material thus furnished was printed in reputable newspapers ignorant of the fact that they were printing appeals for a movement aimed at the overthrow of the country. One such release, one of the first sent out, was entitled, "Defence Is the Need of the Hour!" It was marked for "immediate release," and read as follows:

"Immediately upon the publication of the dastardly Daugherty injunction and the arrest of the so-called agitators at Bridgman, Mich., the progressive section of the labor movement united in a strong protest against these intolerable attacks upon our fundamental constitutional rights. Labor bodies all over the country condemned the proceedings in no uncertain terms. Special mass meetings were called for Sunday, Oct. 1. The Chicago Federation of Labor denounced 'the unlawful invasion of a meeting,' and 'the indiscriminate arrest, without warrants or due process of law, of men and women.' The Minneapolis Trades and Labor Council denounces the attack 'of certain labor-hating, labor-baiting detectives' as 'the ever-present methods and tactics of tyranny, and of financial tyrants and exploiters in control of Government.'

"New York will take its first decisive action against these attacks upon the rights of labor at the huge protest meeting, arranged by the Labor Defence Council, for Friday evening, Oct. 6, at the Central Opera House, 67th Street and Third Avenue. The speakers will include two of the arrested men, William Z. Foster, the noted secretary of the Trade Union Educational League, and C. Ruthenberg, secretary of the Worker's party of America; Roger Baldwin, secretary of the Civil Liberties Union, and J. Louis Engdahl, editor of The Worker."

The hand of William Z. Foster can be seen in this publicity. It was made to appear that this was a spontaneous movement of the labor anions and the citations from the Chicago and Minneapolis federations were purposely designed as a trap, for both of these organizations are extremely radical and have indorsed much of the work of Soviet Russia, especially in this country. The fact, however, that the Workers' party was back of the whole movement showed its connection with the Communist party of America.

Trusted Communists were in charge of the organizing work of the Labor Defence Council in the chief cities of the country. For example, in Philadelphia the work was in the hands of Morris Kushinsky, whose party name is Hoffman and who was district organizer of the third district of the Communist party. Immediately upon receipt of the instructions from Ruthenberg, Kushinsky, alias Hoffman, called a meeting, on Sept. 19, of the City Central Committee of the Workers' party to begin the work of organizing the Labor Defence Council of Philadelphia. One of the first things done was to urge the foreign-born Communist members of the party to become citizens of the United States to save themselves from prosecution under laws which affect only alien agitators.

The famous Philadelphia "sucker list" was brought out and checked off with a view to seeing how much cash could be raised from this source This is the list of the Workers' party and contains names of Philadelphians who, they say, may be called upon for aid. In the list are the names of Mrs. Gifford Pinchot, wife of the governor of Pennsylvania; David Wallerstein, prominent lawyer and member of the Civil Liberties Bureau; Francis Fisher Kane, former United States district attorney; T. Henry Walnut, former assistant United States district attorney; Dr. Helen Murphy, a well-known woman physician; Mrs. Walter Cope, a sister of Francis Fisher Kane; Miss Margaret Cope, niece of Mr. Kane; Mrs. George Burnham, of the family which owns part of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; six members of the wealthy Biddle family, which is connected with the Drexel interests; and Asa S. Wing, who was in charge of the local work of relief for the Near East. There are several hundred names on this list.

Foster and Ruthenberg, both defendants in the Bridgman cases, were particularly active in organizing the local Labor Defence Councils as branches of the national body, and travelled over a great part of the East speaking at meetings in various cities. Practically all of these meetings were used to spread Communist propaganda as well as to raise money for the defence of Foster, Ruthenberg and the others.

The question of financing the defence on as large a scale as was planned, presented a considerable problem. With lawyers' fees of unusual size to be paid, bail money to be furnished, anticipated fines and support of the families of the prisoners, as well as the providing of a kind of sinking fund for the future contests with the authorities, the Communists were in difficulties to raise the money required. Large sums in the aggregate were raised in the meetings held as often and in as many places as possible.

The American Civil Liberties Union also contributed largely both with funds and legal advice—the services of 800 lawyers were offered by this organization—but in addition to this a call went forth to Moscow for additional financial aid. Moscow may be counted upon to provide money when necessary. But in the end the American people provide the funds. This is the result of the carefully kept "sucker lists," collections taken at the meetings, and the funds which Moscow gets directly from the American public, including sums collected by Russian actors, dancers and artists in this country, which were referred to in a previous chapter.

There are many means by which the Communists have planned to secure cash from citizens of the United States, this money to be used either in full or in part for the overthrow of this Government by violence. Various industrial organizations are disguises for raising such funds. The connection of the Friends of Soviet Russia with the Moscow Government is too well known to need repeating. This organization issued a circular which indicated that Sydney Hillman's organization, the Russian-American Industrial Corporation, was in very close touch with the Friends of Soviet Russia, and an interesting part of the scheme was to use the old plea of saving "starving" children. The circular reads:

"Friends of Soviet Russia starts big campaign for Russian-American Industrial Corporation and children's homes in Soviet Russia.

"The Friends of Soviet Russia, Local New York, has just opened a joint campaign for the Russian-American Industrial Corporation and the Children's Homes in Soviet Russia.

"The corporation, formed recently in the Amalgamated, has for its purpose the promotion of industrial activity in Russia by raising sufficient capital to start large factories. A million dollars is needed for the initial capital, and thousands have already purchased stock, which sells at $10 a share. Every worker who wishes to see Soviet Russia prosper must lend his financial assistance to this project. Further details with regard to the corporation and the campaign to be conducted will be published later.

"The second big item on the program of the Friends of Soviet Russia" is the drive to raise enough money to support ten thousand starving children in Soviet Russia. As a result of the terrible famine millions of little children have lost their parents and are now helpless. To save them from starvation, and death from the freezing blasts of winter, an international drive is being conducted to rescue these millions of children. The quota allotted to the Friends of Soviet Russia to support is ten thousand. The method of raising money is as follows:

"Organizations interested in saving these children can do so by adopting one or more of them. Five dollars down and two dollars a month for twelve months will support one child for a whole year- This means $290 for ten children per year. Those interested in adopting children should at once communicate with the local office, 208 East Twelfth Street. To carry both of these drives over the top the Friends of Soviet Russia will call a general conference of lahor organizations interested in Russian Relief and Reconstruction."

The "Amalgamated" referred to in this communication is the Amalgamated Clothing Workers' Union of America, which is closely associated with the Communists in the Russian regime. That fact, and the fact that the Friends of Soviet Russia is a Moscow-controlled organization show plainly enough the destination of funds raised in this way. In addition to these facts, however, is the fact stated by Litvinov, among other Russian officials, that there is no longer any danger of famine in Russia.