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Crimson Banners Fly: The Rise of the American Left

A bit disappointed that they didn't choose Big Bill Haywood, but it looks like a fine ticket.

Also, what exactly was the divergence/different circumstance which led to the old NEC's plot to expel the Left failing? I couldn't quite make it out in that chapter.

Adolph Germer and a few others on the NEC, knowing they were doomed in the committee leadership elections, were plotting to invalidate the already-completed vote. If accomplished, this would have ran counter to the party's democratic tenants - it basically would have been a coup. ITTL Debs is not in prison since the federal Espionage and Sedition Acts never came to be. As such, NEC member John Work leaked the nefarious plot to Debs, who in turn orchestrated a counter-offensive by the more vigilant and unified center and left-wing. The Socialists ITTL are about of equal caliber to the major political parties by 1919/1920, not an unorganized, fledgling mess ripe for takeover or dismantling. Perhaps invalidating the vote would have been plausible in the case of a disunited left and a broken down, discredited Socialist Party, but in this TL, with Debs around and the org in stellar shape, it was impossible to implement. It backfired and cost Germer everything. Hopefully it's clear though that it's certainly not as if Fraina's OTL Left Wing Manifesto governs the SP (as shown in the Comintern debate, the Socialists are somewhat of a big tent labor party with some fervently opposed to Lenin's Soviet system).
ITTL Debs is not in prison since the federal Espionage and Sedition Acts never came to be. As such, NEC member John Work leaked the nefarious plot to Debs
Thanks, I suspected it had something to do with Debs and his legal status.
And yeah, I've read Theodore Draper's book and so I'm familiar with the "shenanigans" of that period.
Part 7: Chapter XXVII - Page 180

The Second Vorwärtsaufstand in Berlin, April 1920 - Source: Wiki Commons

News of Debs' demise spread like wildfire. As a celebrated hero of labor justice and the very manifestation of unionization, millions throughout the country knew of Debs and his work. Whether loved or despised, nearly every American had some notion American Socialist and his momentous influence on the political spectrum over the years. Eugene Debs' funeral train departed at the close of the Socialist Convention and transported the activist's body from Chicago, Illinois, to Terre Haute, Indiana. Tens of thousands of onlookers paid their respects as the mournful carriage traveled the Midwest. Once the train reached its destination, a massive crowd, one matching that of Debs' famed 1913 Madison Square Garden address, stood by at the ready. Stedman, Seidel, Thomas and scores more were present to eulogize their friend, as were Theodore Debs and widow Katherine Metzel Debs.

Debs' role in revitalizing the United States Labor Movement was not unknown elsewhere in the world. Russian Bolsheviks and French Socialists relayed messages of condolence for the fallen radical, as did active revolutionaries from Dublin to Budapest. Out in the plains of Ireland, consistent and violent rebellion boiled over as London showed no inclination to submit to the Vienna Treaty and its unenforceable call for Irish independence. As the Irish drive for autonomy neared its third year, pro-independence advocates exhibited scant signs of a slowdown. Rebels targeted British soldiers and vehicles with bombs and gunfire, and in retaliation the Irish population was greeted with brutal repression liberally employed by the British Army. "It is a crime against all of humanity," declared Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith, that the world did nothing as British troops trampled international law. The Central Powers of Europe had also discovered, to the resentment of their respective heads-of-state, that the Great War had unambiguously failed to settle a wide array of ethnic, political, and religious disputes throughout the continent. Despite their unmatched control over the region, these ruling empires found their supremacy challenged in Poland with Commander Rydz-Śmigły's revolution, in Macedonia as Communist revolts raged against the Bulgarian state and Tsar Ferdinand, and within the very borders of the Austro-Hungarian and German empires.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Hungarians, made up of former soldiers, unemployed workers, and students, began enacting belligerent demonstrations in protest of the emperor's hostile, conservative government. Their movement began with spontaneous, disorganized bursts of rebellion, but by 1920 Communist Party leader Béla Kun helped orchestrate a series of disciplined marches in and around Budapest. Communist militias and their social democratic allies put up a genuine fight for control of the city, and whilst doing so galvanized left-wing revolutionaries elsewhere in the empire to do the same. This placed extraordinary pressure on Emperor Charles to reciprocate. Rather than counter with a military response, however, he acted first in the spirit of diplomacy. In order to quell some of the ethnic tensions that had long plagued the multinational state, the autocrat and his advisers hurried an ongoing effort at systematic change. His plan formally dissolved the old Austria-Hungary and plotted the course for a Greater Austrian Federation: A bicameral government governed by Charles alongside an Imperial Parliament. Ten self-governing states would be endowed with the right to hold free and fair elections both locally and to the federal parliament. Béla Kun and his supporters were far from nourished and remained intent on toppling Charles altogether, though his revolutionary philosophy (which counted on Charles' immovability on reform and aid from the Bolsheviks) was irreparably damaged by the emperor's declaration. For now, the idea of state parliaments pumped the brakes on an erupting ethnic crisis in Austria, but time would tell if the strategy rendered the revolutionists disarmed.

A short-lived economic boom in Germany faded from existence by 1919, leading to the slashing of wages on a broad scale and a surge in factorial unemployment. The industrial centers of Munich and Berlin were the hardest hit. Kaiser Wilhelm alone was blamed for the troubling time, and like Johnson in America, he too faced a mountainous rebellion. A mass movement made up of radicals of all stripes coalesced twice in the joint pursuit to democratize the German government. It was named Vorwärtsaufstand, or the Forward Uprising(s). First in October of 1919, then again in April of 1920, the uprisings brought together workers, reform activists, and a smattering of public officials who all opposed the monarchical state and desired a massive restructuring of the German economy. The initial wave petered out on its own, but the second proved a bit more stubborn. A small group of Social Democratic and Socialist revolutionaries, commanded in part by Richard Müller, Rosa Luxembourg, and Paul Levi, led the charge. They threatened to bring down the entire German economy, starting with a citywide general strike in Berlin supported by virtually all trade unions. Wilhelm, high-strung as always, considered Vorwärtsaufstand a personal slight. In brief, he was not interested in relinquishing an ounce of power to the mob of revolutionists. Blatantly inspired by the reprehensible tactics liberally utilized by authorities in the United States, the Kaiser saw fit to unleash his very own "Bloody September," unleashing a recalled portion of Falkenhayn's Bundeswehr onto the uprising. The Berlin General Strike was crushed in no uncertain terms and the uprising failed spectacularly. Its leaders were thereafter arrested, imprisoned, and either forced to death, exiled, or locked-up indefinitely. Revolts in Germany and Austria demonstrated two very different strategies for mass reform and two equally diverse responses, but both events signified to the American Left that they were far from alone.

In the U.S., the economy did manage to somewhat recover since the postwar crunch. International trade was on the rise and consumer demand ticked up slightly from 1919. And yet, none of the underlying issues that spurred the historic strike wave two years prior were remedied. American workers were literally beaten to the point of submission, forced to either work for a pittance in dangerous conditions or face homelessness and death. Food prices fell only by a quarter of a percent since the postwar inflation highs. Wages once raised during the war were nigh universally reduced to prewar rates. Unless bound by state law or an unbreakable union contract, workplace improvements had all but disappeared entirely. Many workers traumatized by familial losses and crushed morale were reluctant to reignite the spark of labor rebellion as encouraged by the IWW. Those who voted on the Socialist line counted on the 93-seat congressional delegation to flex its legislative muscles and achieve significant reform through coalition-building. Indeed, the leftmost representatives in Congress worked diligently to craft meaningful, progressive legislation, and consistently warned their right-wing opponents of the dangers of ignoring escalating inequalities. Receptive Progressives and Democrats fought on the side of the Socialists in drafting proposals seeking to improve living standards, but their voices were vastly overpowered by an inflexible majority.

Amid a lagging job market, chaos overseas, and starving populace, the Johnson Administration insistently urged Congress to fixate its attention on a stalled immigration bill. President Roosevelt had vetoed a 1917 immigration proposal, which in its own terms, limited admittance of undesirables including "homosexuals", "idiots", and "anarchists." To update the Chinese Exclusion Act, it also disallowed any immigrants from Southeast Asia, India, and the entirety of China. An override attempt narrowly failed that same year, but in 1920 a reinvigorated effort to go ahead with the original plan was thoroughly applauded by the new president. The revived iteration imposed even tougher immigration restrictions than its predecessor. The bill played right into the hands of nativists and anti-socialists, setting tight quotas which deliberately favored Anglo-Saxons and forbade certain groups based on skin color, country of origin, religion, and political ideals. It allocated high entry limits from Germany, Austria (for ethnic Austrians and Germans only), and Great Britain, substantially fewer from France and Ireland, even less from Italy and Eastern Europe, and a hard limit on Africans, Asians, Slavs and Jews. Time was running short in the second congressional session, and debate on the immigration bill was shaping up to fill all remaining days on the calendar. As thus, not one lone economic reform bill made its way to the floor.

Hiram Johnson, the stalwart of Progress, was not himself exempt from the allure of reaction. It was on his watch that the Executive Branch wrapped itself tight in Red Scare propagandism and empty-headed xenophobia. "They were blind drunk from ignorance," said a former ally to the Progressives. "Their recurrent lies and prejudices about the makeup of the American workforce were blasted so often that it seemed even the administration now believed them. Disdain for the common folk led us to the point that all unrest would be met with the barrel of a gun." Of all the choices in the coming election, Johnson, far and above, had the worst record on worker's rights and collective bargaining. He was commended for but a single achievement in that field. Citing an investigation by the Justice Department into interstate commerce violations by the railroad companies, the president in early 1919 instructed Congress to extend the expiration deadline of the Locomotives Act. That achievement fell by the wayside one year later when Palmer abandoned the ICC prosecution and Secretary of the Treasury George B. Cortelyou confirmed suspicions that the administration would not seek to advance an additional extension through Congress.
The Locomotives Act passed under the stewardship of President Theodore Roosevelt. During the war, his government now-freely commandeered railyards and trains for the use of delivering war materiel to the front. Other industries like coal mining and steel refinement lowered wages and rolled-back conditions as demand plummeted following the ceasefire. Railroad workers, protected as federal employees, enjoyed an eight-hour working day and limited union recognition by the Labor Department directly. If privatized and returned to the Rockefeller interests, the railroad industry would be indecipherable from the rest. Cortelyou and Johnson were confident that no one dared speak up in protest of their decision to allow the Locomotive Act to expire, but this move was the straw that broke the camel's back. Beginning in Chicago, hundreds of switchmen, conductors, and engineers walked out in protest. Hundreds became thousands, and by the end of the week railyard workers of all creeds belonging to a hodgepodge of trade unions engaged in an industry-wide labor strike. New York, San Francisco, Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. All over, rail workers struck in part inspired by the sacrifice of Eugene Debs and an endless supply of uplifting headlines concerning labor battles in Europe. Palmer leapt on the opportunity. He denounced strikers as criminals, charged their leaders of fomenting Bolshevism, and called for mass arrests, and yet lacking evidence began to raise doubts whether Palmer's accusations were at all justified.
Beatrice Rohan, The Turbulent Twenties, Released 2004
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Wonder how many more people will become angry that as the economy grows worse, the government cares more about passive pointless immigration interests than anything else? Things are gonna boil over as Debs achieve martyrdom and the conditions means when things hit the fan in a few years, it will be a crimson megatsunami
So here's my prediction for the presidential race. If Johnson isn't knocked off the ticket at the convention (And I doubt he is), at the very least the Socialists will make decent gains in Congress. Kennedy has got a not inconsiderable skeleton in his closet in his run for the office, and the Republicans....are currently in fourth place in general. Right now, the Socialists could win the Presidency, but in the long run Johnson is going to poison the well even if he wins.

Good to see chaos elsewhere across the world, and honestly reading Johnson's immigration bill made me feel a little sick. I'm going to be interested in how future politicians will turn out at the current rate.
Get to read the reaction of Debs's death. Really hoping Johnson losing what with all the fear mongering he's doing. Man I miss Teddy Roosevelt. Kennedy seems good at the moment but who knows that could change


I was going to say that this was a "dynamite" update, but then stopped short.

The way things are shaping up, it seems like the next episode might be considerably more dynamite-filled.
Part 7: Chapter XXVII - Page 181

Matewan, West Virginia, 1920 - Source: EWV Encyclopedia

Just as the specter of 1918 arose once more to greet the Johnson Administration, further news broke of labor agitation out in the mountains of West Virginia. In the small town of Matewan, disgruntled coal miners, whipped into a rage by the UMWA, unleashed a labor strike of their own in the spring of 1920. The feudalistic Stone Mountain Coal Company dismissed the notion of altering its 'coal scrip' faux-dollar payment system, strong-arming its employees into purchasing tools and commodities exclusively from their own establishments. Such a system virtually ensured the workers' inability to afford (purposefully) overpriced rent costs, thereby trapping them into lifelong debt. Almost thirty years passed since the Pullman Strike, and yet American workers were still burdened with the agony of living in a company town. The UMWA, knowing the inevitability of revolt, offered its support to the Matewan miners and granted them the confidence needed to throw their shovels to the ground. Stone Mountain Co. was none too pleased.

Private enforcers hired by the mine owners responded to the strike by firing its workers, evicting the families from their company-owned housing, and hiring strikebreakers to fill the vacancies (who, ironically, joined with the UMWA in turn). A season-long tension eventually culminated in a shootout known and serialized afterwards as the Battle of Matewan. Gun violence resulted in the loss of ten lives, the occupation of the town by state officers, and the universal recognition of pro-UMWA Police Chief Sid Hatfield as a staunch union ally. Sans any recorded coordination, just as Governor Cornwell (D-WV) claimed to settle matters in Mingo County, agricultural harvesters in Iowa and dock workers in the Tidewater region of Virginia also began newfound work stoppages starting around the first of June; The latter commanded by Randolph's NBWA, the largest union of organized black workers in the country. As one union coordinator wrote, longshoremen were remarkably receptive to the intertwined relations between economic and racial justice. "It was automatic," he said, "to associate liberation of all sorts with fighting the capitalists. The capitalist class could no longer use us to defeat organized labor."

Militancy had returned to the menu. Despite fear of a state-sponsored crackdown, demonstrations against poor working conditions erupted from coast to coast. Due in part to relaxed Serbian Flu restrictions, revolution and rebellion in Europe, excitement surrounding the Seymour Stedman candidacy, and the prevailing sentiment that reactionaries in Congress refused to accommodate for reform, pockets of labor unrest popped up time and time again for the duration of 1920. None aside from the railroads were cross-industry and few fancied the concept of a general strike. Therefore, state police were scattered, disunified, and had far more trouble putting down strikes and walkouts than was the case two years prior. Furthermore, even more so than in 1918, war veterans played a tremendous role. They were, by and large, furious over the government's lack of postwar aid to them and their families. Judging by the biographical accounts of famed ex-soldiers Hubert Jacobson and Jack Parkman, many veterans felt a shared sense of betrayal after risking their lives for some nebulous cause. Tens of thousands, having been radicalized by their experiences on the Northern Front and back at home during the events of Bloody September, were prepared to protect the strikers in a show of solidarity. Veterans routinely stationed themselves near picket lines to ward off police intimidation, effectively dissuading overwhelming state repression.

Looking at the picture as a whole, the overall number of labor strikes and work stoppages was fewer than in the 1918 wave, but those strikes appeared better rehearsed and were conducted without direct instigation by the IWW. Public sympathy also seemed to side squarely with the workers, especially in the case of the rail slowdown. According to public polling taken at the height of the railroad strike, though a majority were dismayed at the disruption and eagerly awaited reconciliation, the poll found staggeringly high support for a permanent nationalization of the industry. Among those in support of retaining the Locomotives Act indefinitely, over 60% opposed the re-election of President Johnson. This Chicago Daily News poll specifically asked self-aligned Progressives and 1916 Roosevelt voters whether they planned to support the re-nomination of Hiram Johnson by the Progressive Party. Fewer than half responded in the affirmative. A separate survey found an identical result, compounded by two-thirds expressing an aversion to the administration's hypothesis that the Labor Movement was infiltrated by foreigners and Bolsheviks. These results greatly concerned the heads of the Progressive National Committee who feared a repeat of the midterm elections in the approaching November race. Yet, the incumbent downplayed polling and urged the PNC to do the same.

As Socialists in Congress pleaded for an extension of the Locomotives Act and Sid Hatfield traveled to Virginia to discuss future arrangements with UMWA President John L. Lewis, Hiram Johnson focused on another matter entirely. Railyard troubles were indeed disconcerting and gunfire out in Appalachia foreshadowed danger ahead, but none of that meant a damn to Johnson if electoral issues were to cut his reign short. Newspaper polls and editorials were perhaps the only true metric of measuring the peoples' will, and whether off-base or spot-on in their findings, the president was not foolish enough to allow egoism to overshadow the political reality. Hearst fell into that trap long ago, and as punishment walked away with a mere nine percent of the Popular Vote. Johnson was willing to prepare for any eventuality, and that included the breakup of the Roosevelt Coalition. He beseeched MacDonald to take command in curbing the latest labor headaches and allowed Palmer the freedom to charge strike leaders at will, but as for the president himself, his time was preoccupied by the campaign. As elucidated by Jay Morgan, the incumbent and his campaign manager opted to explore a mutually beneficial relationship with the second-most powerful Republican in Pennsylvania.

[RNC Chair Brumbaugh] was inclined to accept any solution. Desperation and a hint of madness drove the leader to act in flagrant disregard of the traditionalists and the growing conservative element, all but outright petitioning Johnson to seek the nomination. Conservative critics of today view Brumbaugh's decision making as one of duplicity; a coup devised to overthrow the Republican orthodoxy and the very image of Lincoln itself, for the benefit of a splintered faction of extremists. Others see it not quite as opportunism, but a final try at reviving the party from irrelevance. Only a tenth of the population voted for John Weeks. Brumbaugh himself knew it, writing, "We cannot stand if our legs are cut beneath us." Their best odds of survival counted on recruiting the president and his patriotic legion. [...] Stephens confirmed the deal as legitimate. Johnson supporters, on cue, entered his name into consideration for all twenty presidential primary contests, inspiriting undecided state delegates to cast their lot with the president.
Jay R. Morgan, The American Elephant: A Study of the Republican Party, 1980

Albeit a standpat member of Roosevelt's Progressive Party from its outset, Johnson believed it was never his predecessor's intention to immutably split the Republican Party. He was utterly convinced that Roosevelt, if offered the opportunity at any juncture, would have gladly accepted the Republican nomination for president. Johnson, ever determined to set his own path, sought in the late 1910s an end to the quarreling betwixt the two factions, and on that quest he discovered an opening in the form of Martin Brumbaugh. William Stephens, the former California governor and newly appointed manager of the Johnson Campaign, brought the two together and recommended an alliance. With few policy differences standing between these men, and each fearing the risks posed to the country by the rise of the Socialists and the IWW in fomenting domestic unruliness, the RNC chairman quietly placed his finger on the scale to assist the president. Brumbaugh, especially in the aftermath of the Chicago mayoral race, did not hesitate for a moment. In late spring, he confirmed the wary suspicions of GOP stalwarts in a statement welcoming amenable Columbians to their national convention.
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Well....now, I wrote that I had no idea what the Republicans were up to. Fuck, that explains it. I think this, more than anything, might be the thing that does Johnson's reign in. On either side of the aisle, the two parties may dislike each other enough to throw votes to the other side or, more worryingly, run their own ticket. The future's starting to look a little better for the Socialists now.
I can see this being another contingent election: I don't think Johnson will get the required EC votes (270 at the moment is it?) even with a Republican nomination; I don't know who the Democrats will nominate, but I'm assuming a nativist/segregationist; and Stedman will probably come second in vote share but do poorly in EC votes.
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Hey all! Quick irl update.
I'll be away on a short trip next week through the weekend, so I may only have the chance to write-up one page between now and July 4th.
After that we'll return to the weekly updates.

Hope everyone is having a great summer so far :)