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CHAPTER EIGHT The Workingman's Burden American declaration of war against Germany on 6 April 1917 nearly destroyed the surviving peace organizations. The leaders of the Woman's Peace Party and the American Union Against Militarism had come to the peace movement through their initial and dominant concerns with various domestic re­ forms. After the spring of 1917, they found that energetic work for peace severely jeopardized their influence and public ac­ ceptability, and thus their ability to defend or push forward their domestic reform programs. Gradually they drew back from the struggle to reverse or substantially alter the government's ap­ parently irreversiblecourse of action. As the reformers and social workers withdrew, however, a few of their more radical and "unattached" colleagues carried for­ ward the peace movement to a new and culminating phase of its early twentieth century development. Drawing into temporary alliance a group of single-taxers, antiwar Socialists, deeply alien­ ated intellectuals, and leaders of radical, immigrant-dominated unions, these leaders created a new focal peace organization and carried the American peace movement to the most extreme ex­ pression of its newly discovered revolutionary potential. The new vehicle of the peace movement was the People's Coun­ cil of America for Democracy and Peace, first publicly proposed and tentatively organized on 30 May 1917 and finally and official­ ly established over three months later amid turmoil, public de­ nunciation, and armed repression. In seeking to establish a kind of popular front, the People's Council brought together indige­ nous and immigrant radicals, labor leaders, and intellectuals in a manner reminiscent of the coalition that formed behind Henry George in the New York mayorality campaign of 1886. By 1917 such a coalition could look to the added strength of a vastly ex­ panded body of newly arrived, radically oriented immigrant laborers at the center of organizational activity, New York City, and a potential ally in the rising organization of disgruntled farmers in the Nonpartisan League. Perceptions of the poten- The Workingman's Burden—267 tiality of the war for major social disruption and the example of the Russian Revolution gave leaders of the People's Council en­ couragement to think in terms of imminent, though hopefully peaceful, revolution. Supported actively by leading Socialists and by the heads of the largest New York City unions, the new organization not only promised a radical potential; it also ap­ peared finally to have tapped a source of support long discussed within the peace movement but rarely drawn upon—the workingman . The notion of the workingman as the particular victim of war —in military service, in taxes, and in depressed living standards —was hardly new in 1917. Those who presumed to speak for the workingman, whether trade union leaders, Socialists, re­ formers, or single-taxers, had long insisted that the workingman despised war, recognized it as a conspiracy against his interests, and from the very nature of his economic position, sought broth­ erhood and cooperation with all other workingmen. But while those who sought to articulate the feelings of labor could be counted upon to proclaim the abstract interest of workingmen in international peace on ceremonial occasions, labor spokesmen had not, on that account, become major integral forces within the various peace organizations. On the contrary, both trade union leaders and Socialists in America gave no more than formal and infrequent lip service to the peace societies and gave relatively little attention to the whole subject of foreign relations. In practice, their commitment to peace was qualified by tactical considerations and by a conviction that the advance of their own parties or unions, rather than the success of the peace organizations, was the true key to improved international relations. Thus some account of the nature of the commitment of labor spokesmen to peace, in ideology and in practice, during the two decades prior to 1917 is necessary to an understanding of how portions of labor came at last to involve themselves significantly in a major peace organization. Such a backward glance also helps to explain how the People's Council came to reflect and deepen the divisions already present among labor spokesmen on other than international issues. Of all those who presumed to speak for American workingmen the Socialists were traditionally the most uncompromising in their antiwar declarations and the least interested in peace societies. During the prewar decade the Socialists, European and Ameri­ can, had adopted antiwar resolutions, debated the use of the 268—The American Peace Movement & Social Reform...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781400870257
MARC Record
OCLC
933516392
Pages
462
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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