Antiwar efforts and repression in 1917 U.S.

A news roundup of anti-World War I activities in the United States during the first half of 1917.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 15, 2015

Side by side with the sweep of our incomparable patriotism across the country, comes the news of Socialist and I. W. W. anti-war demonstrations in many cities.

We feel sure all REVIEW readers, not only in this country but in South Africa, Australia and the prison camps of Europe, will be interested in what is happening in America today.

Cleveland, Ohio

The members of Local Cleveland determined at the beginning of the war that so far as it lay within their power they would continue their activities just as if there had been no declaration of war. They determined that in reference to the war and attempts to abridge the rights of the workers, there would be no faltering, no hesitancy, no yielding of rights previously exercised, but open, bold and unafraid opposition.

The first step was to organize a May day parade which would be a demonstration of internationalism and against war. This parade, which was the biggest ever held on May Day in Cleveland, was referred to by the capitalist papers as "a streak of revolutionary red across the heart of the city." Scores of signs were carried in the parade denouncing the war,' conscription and the capitalist class— carried thru the downtown streets at the hour when tens of thousands of workers were leaving their work for their homes.

Since the May Day demonstration five great peace demonstrations have been held on the Public Square and Market Square. These have been attended by from three to six thousand people. Three distributions of fifty thousand leaflets each have been made. Among these has been the party war. manifesto and an anti-conscription leaflet. Street meetings attended by audiences ranging from 'five hundred to a thousand people are being held nightly.

Altho the police are always in evidence at the meetings, as shown by the accompanying picture, and a court stenographer takes down the speeches for the federal authorities, the only trouble thus far has been the arrest of Alfred Wagenknecht, state secretary of the party, at a meeting held May 27th, and of Charles Baker, state organizer of Ohio, at one of the street meetings. Both comrades are charged with disorderly conduct. Comrade Wagenknecht was in the midst of an anti-conscription argument when stopped and Comrade Baker was arrested on the trumped up charge of a war patriot who tried to break up his meeting, that he had made disrespectful remarks about the flag. The "Socialist News," local weekly of the party, has been withheld from the mails for two weeks, but hundreds of Reviews have been sold.

The result of the campaign which the party is making, has been three hundred new members added to the party in six weeks' time. Collections ranging from $125 to $350 have been taken up at the big mass meetings and a thousand new readers have been added to the mailing list of the "Socialist News," and interest and enthusiasm among party members such as has never been developed locally before.-—By C. E. Ruthenberg.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Almost all active members of the Socialist Party have been arrested and indicted by a Federal Grand Jury. Principal charge is that the accused, by the circulation of literature and "thru demonstrations, mass petitions and by other means," conspired to "prevent, hinder and delay" the execution of the conscription law. There were six counts in the indictment.

National Secretary Adolph Germer, of the Socialist Party, was also indicted by the same jury and charged with conspiracy. On learning the "news," Comrade Germer went to Grand Rapids, submitted to arrest, plead "not guilty" and was liberated on bonds. If necessary, these cases will be carried to the highest courts.

Grand Rapids has a population around 130,000—mostly wage slaves. Scab labor runs its factories. It is a typical American Billy Sunday burg. Therefore all the fury of the pulpit and the press was directed against the socialists.

Among the indicted comrades are Ben A. Falkner, financial secretary of the Local. For years he has been employed in the city water works department. He has been fired and blacklisted by the political patriots. Comrade G. G. Fleser, corresponding secretary of the Local, who had worked eight years for the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad as a stenographer, was discharged by the patriotic rail-plutes. Viva L. Flaherty, social worker and writer; Charles G. Taylor, member of Board of Education; James W. Clement, manufacturer; Charles J. Callaghan, postal clerk (discharged); Dr. Martin E. Elzinga; G. H. Pangborn; Vernon Kilpatrick; Rev. Klaas Osterhuis, and our wellknown, active old-time Comrade, Ben Blumenberg.

In spite of the fact that the minutes of socialist meetings were confiscated by the city sleuths, t h e comrades are holding well attended local meetings and are now busy looking for new headquarters . —L. H. M.

Rock Island, Illinois

Anti-military propaganda has been carried on here by the comrades of Rock Island and Moline for the past two years, and during the past three months we have held many overflow anti-conscription meetings.

Last Saturday night we packed the Turner Hall and sold all our literature, including the last 149 copies of the REVIEW. At the open air street meeting we had to compete with a recruiting outfit of five auto trucks, two of which had cannon on them, the others carrying the drum and fife corps, We had the largest crowd as the workers are with us.—Edgar Owens.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Two comrades, Arthur Tiala and C. Mattson, Treasurer Hennepin County Central Committee, have been jailed and held under $5,000 bail for failing to register.

Over in St. Paul, Comrades C. and H. Holm have been bound over to the October court charged with distributing seditious literature. Otto Wangerin, Walter Wangerin, Alfred Grahl, Joe Arver, all Socialist Party members, are out on bail after having refused to register. A defense committee is on the job and doing effective work. It is practically admitted that 9,000 failed to register in St. Paul and more than that number in Minneapolis.

As a result of newspaper statements, we are holding big meetings in different parts of the state. At one point we organized a Socialist Local of sixty out of a crowd of five hundred and sold $40.00 worth of literature. This is being duplicated in other places.—A. L. Sugarman:

Kansas City, Mo.—The following printed in the Kansas City Star gives a historic example of how the organization of the working class are illegally attacked, beaten and their headquarters destroyed and then the organizers thrown into jail on a charge of "breaking the peace":

"Under the law, the powers of military forces in the United States do not extend to the civilian population unless a city is under martial rule. Consequently, all three of the raids on I. W. W. headquarters have been made in defiance of both military and civil law, and without the sanction of those higher in command. "In the first two raids only slight disturbances occurred, but the one yesterday came near to bloodshed.

"Since the last previous raid, I. W. W. headquarters had been abandoned most of the time. Yesterday afternoon, however, word reached the Battery B recruiting station at 901 Main street, that the headquarters had again been opened, and that a dozen men were talking pacifism inside.

"Accordingly a squad under Sergt. H. C. Davis promptly descended upon 722 Main, threw its occupants, outside and wrecked the place.

"Among the men who were thrown out was W. Francik, an ardent I. W. W. from Wisconsin. Francik went to his rooms, got a large revolver, filled his pockets with cartridges and returned.

"J. M. Blankenship of Merriam, Kas., and Sergeant Davis followed Francik up the stairs. Near the top the man drew his revolver and ordered Blankenship to halt. That was Sergeant Davis' signal to get into his action, which he did with such abruptness that the revolver was lying on the floor and Francik half way down the stairs before any damage could be done.

"At the bottom Francik was beaten by other men in army uniforms—a fate which bystanders said was also shared by a boy who tried to interfere. The police finally came up, stopped the riot, and rescued Francik by taking him to police headquarters, where he was held on a charge of disturbing the peace. None of the militiamen who had started the disturbance was taken."

And yet some people have the nerve to call the members of the I. W. W. rowdies and law-breaking destroyers of property ! This is "the place to laugh; But don't say we did not warn you that the story in the Star expresses exactly what the working class may expect of militarism. Militarism means no law save brute force against the workers.—R. T.

Seattle, Washington

Four active socialists are facing long terms of imprisonment and heavy fines for their "crime," which consisted in the alleged drawing up and circulation of a leaflet similar in contents to that issued by the Conscientious Objectors of Great Britain. Among the "seditious" utterances in the suppressed leaflet were quotations from the Constitution of the United States and from Daniel Webster.

Hulet M. Wells is one of the best known members of the Socialist and Labor movement in the Northwest. He has been twice candidate.for Mayor of Seattle in the interests of the Socialist Party; he was president of the Seattle Central Labor Council during a most successful term; and he has for long been an active member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Comrade Sam Sadler has been for years identified with the activities of the Socialist Party of Washington and is esteemed one of the most trustworthy and vigorous 'revolutionary propagandists on the Pacific Coast. He was for some time President of the Seattle Local of the International Longshoremen's Association and served on the Central Labor Council as delegate. Aaron Fislerman is secretary of the King County Socialist Party and is also known as a capable writer on Marxian economics. R. E. Rice, the fourth and last defendant, is a member of the Laundry Drivers' Union, an obscure but earnest soldier of the Social Revolution.

The cases are to come up for trial shortly. The four comrades who are under charges are all workers. They have not the means to put up a strong legal fight and the best talent must be secured. The International Workers' Defense League of Seattle, an organisation to which are affiliated some fifty bodies, including the American Federation of Labor unions, the I. W. W. and the Socialist Party, has taken charge of the defense. Send all funds to Paul S. Parker, secretary- treasurer, International Workers' Defense League, Box 86.

As we go to press a telegram comes in from Seattle, stating that a crowd of sailors and soldiers attempted to raid the I. W. W. hall. One sailor was shot and the rest were thrown out of the hall. A later attack was made but by that time the hall had been barricaded and the police arrested six sailors and forty members of the I. W. W. All of the latter have been released with the exception of fourteen, who are being held for nonregistration.

Detroit, Mich.—To understand the present situation here we must refer back to Monday, May 21st, when Local Detroit passed a resolution calling upon the workers to oppose conscription.

The Michigan Socialist of May 26th, contained the resolution as well as articles strongly condemning the draft law. Together with the paper, circulars headed "Kill the Draft" were distributed thruout the city. On Sunday morning, May 27th, the first arrests in this connection were made. Six of the comrades were arrested and held by the Federal authorities, bail being fixed at $5,000.

The following day Comrade Paul Michelson of New York, who was acting as speaker and organizer for Local Detroit was arrested and is still being held. Later the editor of the Michigan Socialist Nathan Welch, and the members of the board of management of the paper, Maurice Sugar, Samuel Diamond and Ludwig Boltz were placed under arrest, the charge against them is conspiracy to defeat the draft. Bail in all cases being fixed at .$5,000 each. Most of the comrades are still in jail.

On Tuesday the 12th, they were brought into the Federal Court for a hearing when the case was postponed till Thursday, the 14th. Several others have been arrested on the charge of distributing the anti-draft literature and failing to register. On Monday, the llth, six more arrests were made, five of the bunch were released on registering. Milton V. Breitmeyer, a member of the Socialist Party, refused to register and is held for the grand jury.

A mass meeting which was to be held here on Sunday, June 3rd, at Arcadia (the largest hall in the city) had to be abandoned on account of the federal authorities ordering the hall closed against the Socialists. Crowds gathered at the hall but were driven away by the police. No arrests were made there. In spite of the pressure brought against the movement by the police, the plute-press and the pulpit pounders, the increase of members is the greatest the Local has ever experienced.

At Jackson four have been arrested. Two, Harvey A. Hedden and Wm. Kidwell, for the circulation of literature.

At Ann Arbor two university students, members of the Socialist Local there, Ellwood Moore and Max Frocht, were arrested for failing to register. The other places in this state where arrests have been made are Grand Rapids, Negaunee and Marquette.—John Keracher,

Rockford, 111.—On June 6th .one hundred and thirty-eight socialists and I. W. W. marched to the sheriff's office and demanded to be arrested, as they refused to register. The proceedings passed off peacefully until the officers attempted to divide the men. A rough and tumble battle then ensued and several of the men were badly beaten up. The prisoners were divided into three groups, one remaining in Rockford and the other two groups being railroaded to nearby towns.

At this writing ten are held for conspiracy under $10,000 bonds, eight of whom are members of the I. W. W.

A defense committee was immediately organized, composed of three members each of the I. W. W., the Swedish Socialist Party, the American Socialist Party and the Knights of Good Templar.

Attorney Hall of Rockford and Seymour Stedrnan of Chicago have been retained.

The socialists have five city councilmen, and at the last branch meetings the English local took in twelve new members and the Swedish branch took in sixty-five new members. Peace meetings are being held every Sunday with an average attendance of from three to five thousand.

Cincinnati, Ohio—We have re.ceived no word direct from comrades, but according to the Cincinnati Post, eleven Socialists have been "accused of the crime of giving aid and comfort to their country's enemies. Bail has been fixed at $1,500." It seems they are charged with "circulating handbills against the military registration." Attorney Nicholas Klein will defend the accused. The trials will take place during July, and we will arrange to give to our readers a concise account of what takes place.

Chicago, 111.—Five members of the Young People's Socialist League were arrested and held several days in police stations, where they were thre_atened with deportation and otherwise intimidated. The record books and minutes of the League were taken. The League has one thousand members and fourteen branches.

New York City—Many successful protest meetings have been held. At the last central committee meeting of Local Bronx, it was decided to issue 25-cent assessment stamps, provided to form a defense fund for the protection of those arrested duing the campaign.

It was further decided that delegates to the state committee be instructed to move that the state committee instruct Meyer London to introduce a bill for the repeal of the conscription law, failing of which should result in preferring charges against him, with expulsion from the party.- This motion was carried.

Originally appeared with the title 'Propaganda News' in the International Socialist Review (July 1917)