Organizing the Unemployed: The Early Years of the Great Depression, 1929–1933*
by Roy Rosenzweig
The reemergence of economic hard times in the 1970s raises forcefully the issue of how the left can best respond to attacks on working-class living standards. The best historical model we have for such a response is the organizing that radicals did among the unemployed in the early years of the Great Depression. Although the two historical situations are obviously not exactly the same, there is a great deal that we can learn from the experience of the activists of the early thirties. The fact that almost nothing has been written about the unemployed groups of that period makes it worthwhile to piece together the general sketch of their activity and how it evolved.
On March 7, 1930, President Herbert Hoover made his most detailed economic statement of the four months following the Wall Street Crash. “All the evidences,” Hoover declared, “indicate that the worst effects of the crash upon unemployment will have passed during the next sixty days.”1 Although Hoover’s veneer of optimism remained untarnished during his next three years in office, unemployment mounted steadily. At the time of this very speech, even according to moderately conservative government estimates, joblessness had already increased almost ten-fold from 492,000 to 4,644,000. By the following March it had almost doubled again, and before peaking in March 1933 it had practically doubled once more to 15,071,000.2
Although virtually no industry or community escaped the scourge of unemployment, the impact was not uniform. Autos, textiles, and other durable-goods industries were particularly hard hit in the early years of the Depression. Between March 1929 and August 1931 the payroll of the Ford Motor Company dropped from 128,142 to 37,000 persons. Even within industries and communities, unemployment was selective. The poor, the unskilled, the young, and the foreign-born suffered disproportionately. Managerial employees suffered least, and whites did much better than blacks. The unemployment rate for Harlem blacks, for example, was between one and a half and three times that of the whites in New York City. Yet, for all these variations, what was truly remarkable about thirties joblessness was its pervasiveness—one third of a nation was out of work.3
How did these unprecedented millions of unemployed respond to their plight in the early years of the Great Depression? Although many observers on both the right and the left expected them to turn to radicalism, the jobless, of course, never composed the shock troops of revolution. Still, it is a serious mistake to conclude on this basis, as did one historian, that “most of the unemployed meekly accepted their lot.”4 The jobless employed a number of spontaneous survival strategies such as informal and formal cooperative movements, family and neighborhood networks of assistance, individual and group looting of supermarkets, coal bootlegging, determined searches for work, and innovative stretching of income.5 At the same time, radical organizers helped stimulate more formal and political jobless actions such as sit-ins at relief stations, national and state hunger marches, demonstrations at City Halls, and direct resistance to evictions. Organized into a variety of groups under the leadership of several left-wing organizations, the unemployed compiled an impressive record in the early thirties. Not only did these radical organizations of the unemployed stop evictions and raise relief payments, they also helped to intensify the class consciousness of many of their members.
But we must be wary of exaggerating or romanticizing the past. While no one would deny the heroism, energy, and imagination of the radical leaders and rank-and-file militants active in the unemployed movement, we must realize that their organizations constituted neither a revolutionary force nor even a truly mass movement. The core active membership of the unemployed movement—perhaps 100,000 in 1933—never included even 1 percent of that third of a nation that was out of work at the height of the Depression. While the radical unemployed movement often succeeded in winning immediate concrete gains for the jobless on the local level, it was much less successful in its efforts to create a revolutionary movement based on the unemployed.
What were the barriers to the development of such a mass-based, revolutionary unemployed movement? Were the radicals themselves responsible, as many commentators of both the right and the left have argued? Or was the problem in external social, economic, and political conditions that made a jobless-based revolutionary movement an impossibility in the early thirties?
Passing judgment on the record of 1930s radicals is a difficult and painful process for the present-day Left.6 The dismal record of the American Left in the last few years should make us distressingly aware of our own failures and limitations as radical organizers and strategists. Consequently, while judgments are inevitable, they must be made with a consciousness of both the difficult conditions faced by thirties organizers and the limited range of options open to them. This article, then, explores the experience of Communists, Socialists, and Musteites in organizing the unemployed within the context of the external barriers that limited their successes. It focuses primarily, however, on the Communist Party’s efforts, since in the Hoover years of the Depression it was both the first to act and the strongest radical group. Moreover, the problems faced by the Communists were typical of those faced by other groups trying to do the same kind of organizing.
COMMUNISTS AND THE UNEMPLOYED: THE UNEMPLOYED COUNCILS
Organizationally, the Communist Party (CP) faced the Depression in a weakened state. The post-World War I Red Scare, the political lethargy of the twenties, and the expulsions of the Cannon and Lovestone factions had reduced the Party to a mere 7,500 members at the start of the thirties. Moreover, the CP of 1930 did not represent a cross-section of the American working class; rather, it was dominated by foreign-born and urban workers.7 Ideologically and strategically, on the other hand, the Communists were uniquely well prepared for the Depression. The Tenth Plenum of the Comintern Executive Committee, meeting in Moscow in the summer of 1929, had proclaimed the “Third Period” of capitalist crisis and revolutionary offensive.8 In August 1929, while most Americans were still celebrating Republican prosperity, the Communists were in Cleveland organizing a new labor federation, the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL), which included as one of its objectives, “to set up Councils of Unemployed Workers.”9
The Communists’ new Third Period line directed them to take an aggressive approach to decaying American capitalism. As a result, even before the Wall Street Crash, energetic young Communist activists sought out the jobless on breadlines, at flop houses, outside factory gates, in relief offices, and, most often, in their neighborhoods. With the coming of mass unemployment in 1930, organizational activity accelerated and organization of the unemployed became a top priority for Communist activists. In March 1930 the Party’s theoretical journal declared that “the tactical key to the present state of class struggle is the fight against unemployment.”10 Organizational activities took very concrete and visible forms. In Chicago, for example, Communists led, organized, or participated in 2,088 mass demonstrations in the first five years of the Depression.11 Not just mass demonstrations, but also leafleting, personal contacts, and eviction protests were used to build a core of local activists around whom to organize a local unemployed council. Any issue of immediate concern to the jobless was seen as a potential organizing tool. “The Councils,” writes one historian, “did not consider any issue too small or unimportant to fight for: brooms for housewives in Seattle, milk for a baby in Detroit, breaking down barriers against Negro relief in St. Louis, coffee instead of cocoa for welfare recipients in New York, . . . an anti-spaghetti crusade at a Minneapolis relief commissary.”12
The early successes of the Communist unemployed movement grew directly out of the spontaneous discontent that was sweeping through the urban unemployed. “So desperate were the unemployed,” wrote two Chicago observers, “that protest was seething through the disadvantaged neighborhoods of the city.” The Chicago CP was unable to fulfill all the requests for organizational assistance from protesting groups.13 The Communist unemployed associations, usually known as Unemployed Councils, built on a cooperative neighborhood solidarity that emerged in response to the disorganization and inadequacy of local relief. Consequently, the Communist Unemployed Councils were most effective when they seized upon potent neighborhood issues.14 Because of the unemployed movement’s initial connection to the Trade Union Unity League, Communist organizers were told to form unemployed groups on a shop or factory basis. But, as unemployed leader Herbert Benjamin has recalled, “down below people weren’t concerned with” these directives. They were “just concerned with finding any means they could of acting.”15 Most often this meant local, ad hoc neighborhood councils mobilized around specific grievances.
Out of this combination of aggressive organizing and spontaneous discontent emerged a vital Communist-led unemployed movement beginning in January and February 1930. These months saw demonstrations of the unemployed in such places as New Britain, Connecticut; Passaic, New Jersey; Buffalo, New York; Pontiac, Michigan; Detroit; Boston; Philadelphia; and New York City.16 These early stirrings climaxed dramatically on March 6, 1930. The Party mobilized all its resources behind nationally coordinated demonstrations on March 6, which it called International Unemployment Day. Within the first month of the campaign the Party distributed over one million leaflets. Chicago Communists distributed 200,000 leaflets, 50,000 stickers, and 50,000 shop papers in the last few days before the demonstration.17 These energetic efforts paid off. Throughout the United States huge numbers of unemployed workers, many of whom had never before taken part in radical demonstrations, took to the streets. Although precise figures are impossible to arrive at now, the Communist Party at the time claimed a nationwide mobilization of one and one-quarter million people.18
The March 6 demonstrations awakened many to the existence of mass unemployment and large-scale unrest in America. In Detroit, where over 35,000 jobless workers had been mobilized by the Unemployed Council, business leaders “were shocked by the emergence of truly radical agitation, and by the support it received.” Even local Communists were surprised by the size of the crowd.19 In many cases, government repression—a problem that was to bedevil the unemployed movement throughout its history—came immediately. The scene of carnage at the bloody Union Square Demonstration in New York prompted even the New York Times to strong description:
Hundreds of policemen and detectives, swinging nightsticks, blackjacks and bare fists, rushed into the crowd, hitting . . . all with whom they came in contact, chasing many across the street and adjacent thoroughfares. . . . A score of men with bloody heads and faces sprawled over the square with policemen pummeling them.
The blood spilled on March 6 was only the beginning. In the next five months over 4,000 people were arrested at radical demonstrations. The battle lines were drawn.20
Despite these repressive measures, the Unemployed Councils blossomed in the period immediately following the March 6 demonstrations. Unemployed workers around the country began constituting themselves as loosely organized, neighborhood-oriented councils of the unemployed. By mid-summer Chicago had twelve locals and Philadelphia seven. Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis also had strong groups.21
Of particular significance was the emergence at this time of interracial unemployed councils. As early as December 1929 Party leader Earl Browder had stressed that the organization of black workers had to be a top priority of the unemployed councils. The March 6 demonstrations provided an opportunity to implement this call, and throughout the country they attracted large numbers of black participants. Black Communist leader Cyril Briggs felt that March 6 revealed “the successful breaking down of the wall of prejudice between white and Negro workers fostered by the employers and the substitution of working-class solidarity and fraternization.” Not all unemployed groups cut across racial lines, but many, especially those in Southern cities like Chattanooga and Atlanta, were the first interracial organizations in their areas. Even in the North black and white solidarity threatened public officials. “Here was something new,” black sociologists St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton have commented about the frightened reaction in Chicago: “Negroes and whites together rioting against the forces of law and order.” “The beginnings of a breaking down of barriers between whites and Negroes,” unemployed leader Aurelia Johnson has recalled, were among the central achievements of the unemployed movement.22
In the spring of 1930 the CP made its first efforts at national coordination of the unemployed movement. Out of a Preliminary National Conference on Unemployment in New York at the end of March and a Chicago Convention in early July emerged a new national organization—The Unemployed Councils of the U. S. A. Although officially under Trade Union Unity League control, the Unemployed Councils, in practice, remained a largely autonomous neighborhood movement based on the anger and confusion of the jobless.23
This local, ad hoc quality was a strength, but also an important weakness of the unemployed movement. Particularly in the early years of the movement, large numbers of unemployed mobilized around specific grievances or demonstrations, but rarely maintained a regular organizational connection. One Party official complained in the fall of 1930 that “despite millions of leaflets and hundreds of meetings, not to speak of the half-dozen demonstrations in every city, organized unemployed councils are almost nonexistent.” Where there was a regular membership it was usually dominated by CP members.24 The problem of impermanence plagued the unemployed movement throughout its history. Many people drifted in and out of jobs in the thirties; they were not continuously available for membership in an unemployed group, and this led to a continual churning of membership. This churning had a particularly severe effect on rank-and-file leadership, since it was often the most talented and aggressive among the unemployed who first secured reemployment.25 (The Party itself also suffered from this problem of membership instability. In 1930, 6,000 new members joined the CP, but actual membership rose only about one thousand.)26
The Communist Party’s Third Period line, although it had helped the Party anticipate the economic crisis, created additional problems for the unemployed movement. Its revolutionary anticipations were too sanguine for the period, and thus inspired slogans and demonstrations which either frightened or confused the rank-and-file unemployed worker. Few unemployed saw the connection between their immediate need for relief and demonstrations against the “Imperialist war danger,” slogans about Defense of the Chinese Soviets, or even electoral campaigns for CP candidates. Nor was it clear why Norman Thomas was being denounced as an “undercover” agent at the same time that he was speaking out against repression of the unemployed movement, or why Socialists and Musteites were regularly labeled “social fascists” and “tools of the bosses.”27 Such revolutionary posturing inevitably alienated unemployed workers, especially outside of the big cities. Moreover, it seriously handicapped efforts to recruit the jobless into the radical movement. The use of terms like “rightist deviation,” “agitprop,” and “theoretical levels” “invariably frightened . . . off” the average worker, observed Mauritz Hallgren, a Nation editor sympathetic to the Left. “These Communists,” a worker complained to Louis Adamic, “thought Shamokin, Mount Carmel, and Shenandoah were just like Union Square.”28
The Communist Party itself soon reached a similar conclusion. In September 1930, CP leader Clarence Hathaway complained of the Party’s tendency to raise issues of no immediate concern to the jobless: “Crises, war, contradictions, colonial revolts, defense of the Soviet Union, etc. too often become merely a string of phrases having no connection with the class struggle in a given locality.” And two months later the Party’s Central Committee called for a reorientation of the Unemployed Councils toward more direct work among the unemployed and away from revolutionary sloganeering. It also directed that the Councils should operate on two levels: nationally, they would work for direct federal aid for relief and unemployment insurance; locally, they would represent the unemployed in their relations with relief authorities.29
This new “bread and butter” focus dominated the Councils on the local level through 1933, and with some modifications for the rest of the thirties. Although they never again reached the level of nationwide visibility achieved on March 6, 1930, the Councils successfully won limited concrete gains for the local unemployed. Particularly in the period 1931–1933, when local relief efforts were disorganized and woefully inadequate, the Councils were able to force important concessions from the relief authorities through demonstrations at relief offices, city halls, and state capitals. In Chicago, for example, the Unemployed Councils on several occasions blocked citywide relief cuts.30
Yet the real effectiveness of the Councils rested not on their ability to occasionally force increased relief appropriations, but on their capacity to resolve individual relief grievances. By 1932 the Chicago Unemployed Councils had already handled several thousand individual cases, and in the process had helped establish important precedents on adequacy and quality of relief. Moreover, in many localities the Unemployed Councils successfully fought relief discrimination and liberalized administrative thinking regarding the right of clients to complain. It was this function of the Unemployed Councils as grievance representatives for the jobless that constituted their greatest attraction to the rank-and-file unemployed worker. A study of Cleveland Unemployed Council members confirmed that individual relief grievances were most often the “precipitating factor” in creating Unemployed Council members.31
The prevention of evictions was another concrete service that the Unemployed Councils performed for the jobless in the early thirties. A variety of techniques came into play: blocking the sheriff’s entrance; returning the furniture; packing the courts to pressure judges to stop evictions. As the Depression deepened in 1931 and 1932, eviction struggles occurred with increasing frequency. In March 1931 Edmund Wilson reported that the Unemployed Councils had “practically stopped evictions” in Detroit, and that one landlady had actually called the Unemployed Council to ask whether she could evict her tenant yet.32
This new “bread and butter” focus implemented in the fall of 1930 proved particularly effective in black communities. Mark Naison, in his recent study of Communists in Harlem, notes a shift at that time from agitational work into practical organizational activity. According to Naison, this policy, combined with the aggressive leadership of a committed, interracial group of organizers, helped the Harlem Unemployed Council “develop into a mass movement with solid roots in the community, one of the major sources of Communist influence among the least privileged sectors of Harlem’s population.” The two major tactics employed by the Harlem Council were the relief-bureau sit-in and eviction resistance. Unemployed Council sit-ins, demonstrations, and disruptions at the home-relief bureaus sought—and sometimes won—immediate relief for hard-hit Harlem residents. The eviction struggles brought concrete results, not only in Harlem, but in other urban black communities as well. When Chicago blacks received eviction notices, “it was not unusual,” according to Cayton and Drake, “for a mother to shout to the children, ‘Run quick and find the Reds!’” These struggles persisted despite vicious police attacks which led, for example, to the killing of three black eviction protesters in August 1931.33
The Unemployed Councils aimed for direct approaches to the immediate needs of the jobless. But how direct? Soliciting food donations for the hungry or, alternatively, seizing food from the grocery store? The Councils briefly flirted with both of these tactics, but ultimately rejected them. In early 1931 directives from both the Comintern and the Trade Union Unity League urged that the Councils set up relief kitchens and undertake direct food collections. By July, however, the Party had reconsidered, and Browder had denounced communal charity schemes as an “open right-wing opportunist deviation.” But this new policy sometimes caused problems on the local level. In Harlem, according to Naison’s study, Council leaders concluded that the rejection of “spontaneous efforts of rank-and-file Council members to collect food, money, and clothing for starving neighbors, or to cook communal meals for the unemployed . . . had isolated the Harlem Council from many sincere workers who saw no contradiction between taking a collection for their neighbors and resisting an eviction or marching on City Hall.” Consequently, by the fall of 1931 the Harlem Council began to take up food collections, although such collections never became a central focus of the Council’s work.34
Unemployed Council participation in food seizures similarly reflected both an ambivalence at the top and a tendency of some local unemployed groups to set their own course in accordance with local conditions. In the early thirties individual and group looting of supermarkets was not an isolated phenomenon. “Grown men, usually in two’s and three’s, enter chain stores, order all the food they can possibly carry, and then walk out without paying,” the Nation reported from Detroit in the summer of 1932. Although most such incidents took place outside of the organized unemployed movement, Unemployed Councils in Toledo and Oklahoma City joined in the food looting in early 1931. Such actions, however, frightened not only authorities, but also some top Communist leaders. In the summer of 1931 Browder condemned food seizures as “an effort to substitute an idealistic, ‘heroic’ action to ‘inspire’ the masses, in the place of the necessary Bolshevist organization and leadership.” Unemployed Council leader Herbert Benjamin recalls that “those of us who were politically more responsible” continually advised against food riots, and he believes that more such rioting would have occurred without the Unemployed Councils. “It seems probable,” conclude two academic writers unsympathetic to the Left, “that the Communist Party exercised an important influence in restricting the amount of violence against persons and property during the depression.”35
While the CP helped to restrain the violence of the out-of-work, it could do little to restrain police violence directed against the jobless. As an examination of the dispatches of the Federated Press or even the New York Times shows, police violence against unemployed demonstrators was almost a daily occurrence. One of the most dramatic incidents came on March 7, 1932, when the Detroit Unemployed Councils led 3,000 in a march on Henry Ford’s River Rouge Plant in Dearborn to demand jobs, fuel, and food. The Dearborn police responded with bullets. By the end of the day four marchers lay dead and over fifty had been seriously wounded.36 Such incidents were all too common in the thirties.
The successes of the Unemployed Councils as a local pressure organization between 1930 and 1933 were not equaled on the national level. The Unemployed Councils did not receive effective national leadership until the fall of 1931, when Herbert Benjamin was assigned by the CP to direct this work. Even then the national office remained a “nominal sort of thing,” as Benjamin has recalled. In fact Benjamin himself was the national organization—he initially had no supporting staff.37
In the early thirties national Unemployed Council activity revolved around petition drives for the CP’s unemployment-insurance bill and two national hunger marches in December 1931 and December 1932. The marches did much to publicize the unemployed cause, although neither was a dramatic success. The Communists limited participation in the marches to elected representatives of local Unemployed Councils, and as a result only 1,600 marched in the first and 3,200 in the second. More importantly, the marches failed to mobilize many jobless outside of those already in the Communist Party; over 70 percent of the 1932 hunger marchers, for example, belonged to the Communist Party or the Young Communist League.38
The national organization of the Unemployed Councils strengthened and solidified in the years after 1933. Yet these same years saw the loss of much of the vitality and spontaneity of the unemployed movement, particularly on the local level. The local Councils settled down as a more orderly movement that sought to represent the unemployed in their dealings with relief authorities; they became in many areas the bargaining agent for both relief recipients and WPA workers. Large demonstrations or eviction resistance occasionally flared up, but more often the unemployed organizations quietly carried out their trade-union functions. In 1940 Irene Oppenheimer, a sociologist, noted that each year the unemployed organizations tended to have fewer sit-ins, strikes, and picket lines; she concluded that unemployed activity “has been characterized by a gradual evolution from the position of a purely conflict group to an organized and responsible relationship with the authorities.”39
Along with this decreasing activism on the local level came the nationalization and unification of the unemployed movement. By 1936 the Workers’ Alliance of America, originally a federation of Socialist unemployed groups, encompassed most of the Communist, Musteite, and independent jobless leagues as well. Increasingly, the Workers’ Alliance focused its attention on Washington (where it had its headquarters), and it developed into a relatively effective lobbying organization for national-relief and unemployment-insurance measures. Basically, the Workers’ Alliance accepted the terms of the New Deal; it adopted the politics of the popular front—a left-wing New Deal liberalism—and developed a close symbiotic relationship with New Deal relief officials. In 1938, for example, Workers’ Alliance locals campaigned actively for New Deal candidates. Both nationally and locally the unemployed movement after 1933 moved from insurgency to respectability. “The organized unemployed,” wrote a Saturday Evening Post reporter in 1938, “are no longer merely an undecorative and troublesome fringe on the body politic.”40
It was not just the Communists with their popular-front politics who shifted their unemployed organizing into more “respectable” channels in the late thirties. Other unemployed groups led by Socialists and Musteites also made that transition. An examination of the organizing efforts of these groups before the New Deal shows how their tactics evolved in a way similar to those of the CP.
SOCIALISTS AND THE UNEMPLOYED
That the Socialists formulated their basic approach to the problem of unemployment six months before the Wall Street Crash, and retained that approach unaltered for three more years, testifies to the unimaginative way many Socialists initially confronted the gravest crisis of twentieth-century capitalism. In May 1929 the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party (SP) urged local Party branches to form “Emergency Conferences on Unemployment,” not as mass pressure organizations of the unemployed, but rather as lobbying agencies for three traditional Socialist demands: unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, and abolition of child labor. Throughout the early thirties most Socialist activity on behalf of the jobless continued to emphasize traditional Socialist propagandizing and disdained direct organization of the unemployed.41
Why this inertia on the part of the party of Debs? Whereas the Third Period line of the CP predisposed it to respond aggressively to the Great Depression, the political conditions within the SP led it initially to offer traditional Socialist panaceas rather than aggressive organizing. The American Socialist Party had declined precipitously in the 1920s, with membership plummeting from 105,000 in 1919 to less than 8,000 in 1928. Those who had stuck it out during the lean years of the twenties no longer had any immediate expectations of a Socialist victory. These so-called Old Guard Socialists—often over 60, foreign-born, and closely tied to the trade unions—believed that Socialist propaganda and educational activities would lead inevitably and gradually to Socialism—but only in the long run.42 In the meantime, campaigns to organize the unemployed were perceived as unnecessary diversions which would “take time away from Socialist propaganda.” Anyway, the Old Guard felt that the unemployed were too unstable and heterogeneous to make good Party members. They condemned, as one critic observed, “any ‘backdoor’ entrance into Party membership by way of ‘mass struggle’ rather than rigorous intellectual education.”43
Only with the entrance into the Socialist Party of a newer generation of young, college-educated, and native-born members did the SP begin to abandon its passive approach to the unemployed question. Starting with the 1928 Norman Thomas presidential campaign, and accelerating after the onset of the Depression, the SP benefited from a rapid influx of young, activist Socialists, who clamored impatiently for “Socialism in Our Time.” Many also belonged to the League for Industrial Democracy (LID), a Socialist Party offshoot which appealed largely to college students, professionals, and white-collar workers. Prior to the Depression the LID had devoted most of its energies to educational activities, but from 1931 on its members often took a leading role in helping to organize the jobless.44 By far the LID’s most impressive achievement was the Chicago Workers’ Committee on Unemployment, which by mid-1932 had organized 25,000 jobless into over 60 locals.45 Inspired by the Chicago success, LID members in Baltimore initiated the People’s Unemployment League, which had about 20 locals and 7,000 to 12,000 members.46
While many LID members were out aggressively organizing the unemployed, the Socialist Party was just beginning to stir out of the bog of lethargy. A combination of factors—the growing power of the younger activists with the Party, the fear of Communist domination of the unemployed, and the increasingly grave economic situation—pushed the SP’s National Executive Committee, in February 1932, to finally endorse the idea of direct organization of the jobless.47 Yet, while the National Office of the SP provided some programmatic and organizational guidance to local Party branches interested in organizing the jobless, the success or failure of most efforts rested largely on the local initiative of both Socialists and the unemployed. The real growth of Socialist influence among the unemployed did not come until the beginning of the New Deal, and in some ways was tied to that development. In the mid-1930s the Socialist unemployed groups provided the impetus for the nationalization and centralization of the unemployed movement under the Workers’ Alliance.48
Both the LID and Socialist unemployed groups tended to employ the same techniques as the Communist Unemployed Councils—acting as grievance represenatives at relief stations, fighting evictions, and holding demonstrations and parades to urge higher relief appropriations. On the whole, however, Socialists tended to use confrontations and disruptions less than the Communists. They often tried to intercede with relief authorities to get money for a family threatened with eviction rather than trying to block it bodily. This moderation often gave the Socialist organizations a certain respectability the Communists lacked. “We were not a pariah organization,” one leader of the Baltimore People’s Unemployment League (PUL) recently recalled. To a much greater degree than the Communists, the Socialist unemployed groups subordinated Socialist ideology to the quest for fulfillment of the immediate economic needs of the jobless. “We were so busy with local problems,” remembers another organizer of the PUL, that “indoctrination” of members in “Socialist principles” was often neglected.49
MUSTEITES AND THE UNEMPLOYED: THE UNEMPLOYED LEAGUES
When Socialist organizing of the unemployed finally got underway in the early years of the New Deal, it tended to mirror both the organizing approach and constituency of the Communist Unemployed Councils. But the third major radical movement of unemployed workers, that led by the followers of A. J. Muste, the Dutch Reformed Minister turned labor educator and organizer, differed in organizing methods and support.50
Beginning around 1932, the Musteites sought to transform their propaganda and educational organization—the Conference on Progressive Labor Action—into an independent working-class center competitive with the AFL, CP, and SP. The unemployed offered a possible power base for this transformation, and in 1932 the Musteites began organizing Unemployed Leagues. The Musteites, like the Communists and Socialists, met with their greatest success when they pitched their efforts toward the bread-and-butter needs of the unemployed. But to this immediate-needs focus they added their own unique “American Approach”—an effort to identify their Unemployed Leagues with popular patriotic symbols such as the Rattlesnake Flag and the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me.” This approach made the Musteites somewhat more tolerant and flexible in dealing with existing non-political unemployed groups than the Communists or Socialists. They worked closely and successfully with jobless self-help groups—organizations devised by the unemployed to meet their needs through barter and exchange of labor for produce and fuel. While other unemployed groups stigmatized self help as “collective picking in garbage cans,” the Musteites initially condoned this approach, calling it “a cement . . . to keep the organization together . . . that would push the members into further action.”51
This flexibility and Americanism paid off: The Musteites were able to attract more native-born and less politicized members, and to build a following in areas that the Communists and Socialists were unable to penetrate. From the small industrial and mining towns of Ohio, the steel mills of Pittsburgh, the coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the textile mills of North Carolina, thousands of unemployed enlisted under their banners. While the CP Unemployed Councils in Ohio were confined to the cities and towns with large immigrant populations, like Youngstown, the Musteite Leagues found support in much smaller and more rural towns.52
The attractiveness of patriotic rhetoric for many Depression unemployed is further evidenced by the success of the Washington marches of Father James Cox and the Bonus Expeditionary Force. In January 1932 Father Cox, a round-faced, spectacled Pittsburgh radio priest active in the labor movement, led 15,000 unemployed from the Pittsburgh area to Washington to present their demands for immediate relief.53 The following summer the famous Bonus March gathered over 20,000 jobless World War I veterans in the capital.54
Why were these marches able to attract many who were immune to the appeals of radical unemployed groups? One important reason was that the radicals had to recruit the jobless in the face of well-ingrained cultural assumptions that identified radical activity with anti-Americanism, alienism, and deviance. E. Wight Bakke, a Yale economist who made an extremely careful and sensitive study of the New Haven unemployed, found that “the identification of all radical ideas with Russia is all but universal.” In New Haven, at least, these patriotic and anti-Communist cultural assumptions militated against the success of radical groups.55 Father Cox and the Bonus Marchers, like the Musteites to a lesser degree, played effectively on this patriotism and anti-Communism. Cox’s March was, in part, a reaction against the Communist Hunger March of 1931. In explaining his march, Cox said:
Some weeks ago I read of the invasion of Washington by a Communistic group of marchers waving the red flag, singing the Internationale and demanding all sorts of fantastic things. This is repugnant to me, and I so stated casually over the radio. I remarked that, while I condemned these demonstrations, I believed a body of real American citizens should go to Washington and protest against unemployment conditions which exist in the United States today.
This Americanist rhetoric carried through Cox’s entire march. His followers arrived in Washington singing the Star Spangled Banner and waving American flags; they concluded their visit at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.56 The Bonus Marchers also manipulated patriotic symbols to cultivate an image of respectability.57
This patriotic posturing apparently enabled Cox and the Bonus Army to attract followers who disdained the radical unemployed movements. Most workers were used to frequent periods of joblessness, but small entrepreneurs and white-collar workers were not. In the thirties, for the first time, unemployment was an experience shared by both the middle and working classes; but, it was the middle-class unemployed who experienced the greatest shock and attitude changes as a result of the Depression.58 Hence, although these middle-class jobless were important potential supporters for thirties protests, they were unlikely to join avowedly radical groups like the Unemployed Councils. The Bonus Army and Father Cox, with their patriotic rhetoric, could and did mobilize the middle-class unemployed. According to one recent historian, the “vast majority” of the Bonus Marchers were “middle-aged and middle-class—small businessmen, skilled tradesmen, white-collar workers, with a sprinkling of professionals, such as teachers, lawyers, and dentists.”59 Although little is known about Father Cox’s marchers, his financial backing came from the small store owners of the Allegheny County Retail Merchants Association.60
Although to a lesser degree, the Musteites shared with Cox and the Bonus Army the ability to attract more middle-class, native-born, and “Middle American” unemployed. Yet, the Musteites’ Americanist rhetoric also brought its problems. At the Unemployed League’s first national convention, held in Columbus, Ohio, on July 4, 1933, the Musteites had to quell a revolt led by a “Stars and Stripes” faction over the Musteites’ failure to open the Convention with a prayer and the National Anthem. In the long run, much of this native-American and small-town support evaporated as the Musteites became more and more revolutionary in their gradual movement toward Trotskyism, and as the New Deal liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt competed for the allegiance of the out-of-work.61
We see, then, that between 1929 and 1933 the three main radical unemployed movements varied in ideological assumptions, organizing personnel, geographic bases, and organizing strategies. Yet they shared some common achievements. First, they resolved the immediate individual grievances of their members with particular success: They won relief adjustments, blocked evictions, and reconnected the gas and electric for thousands of unemployed. Second, on a collective level, the unemployed organizations helped create pressure not only for higher levels of relief and larger relief appropriations, but also for more equitable and less degrading administrative procedures at relief stations. And, third, they were the first groups in the thirties to propagandize and agitate openly and actively for unemployment insurance. Although there were a number of elements involved, such as the pressure on FDR from Huey Long, their agitation did help to pave the way for the Social Security Act of 1935, which included provisions for unemployment insurance. The battle for unemployment insurance had a long history going back to the early twentieth century, but the radical unemployed movement can be credited with helping to revive it as a serious issue in the Great Depression.62 The psychological impact of the unemployed movement should, similarly, not be minimized. Jobless workers became convinced that their condition was not their own fault, that larger economic forces had thrown them out of work.
Perhaps most importantly, the unemployed movement helped raise the political and social consciousness of the thousands of workers who passed through its ranks. For many the unemployed movement was their first experience in any sort of mass pressure organization, and through this affiliation many learned the power of organization as a weapon. Sam Brugos, a leader of a Cleveland Unemployed Council, had no contact with radicalism or trade unionism prior to the Depression. Yet, he told an interviewer of his determination to “join a union and organize a strike” as soon as he found a job.63 Obviously many jobless workers did just that in the late thirties. Many leaders of the CIO came directly out of the unemployed movement, and it appears that many in the rank and file had similar training. “It was a period of great schooling,” black Communist leader William Patterson recalled.64 Schooling was available in organizational techniques as well as in interracial cooperation. The greatest educational achievement of the Baltimore People’s Unemployment League, according to one of its founders, was “getting white men and women to work with and under Negro men and women.”65
These were substantial and significant achievements, particularly from the perspective of the rank-and-file jobless worker. To the extent that the unemployed movement fostered trade-union consciousness and helped break down barriers between black and white workers, it contributed importantly to the strength of the American working class. Yet, to state the obvious, neither this gain nor the more tangible improvements in living conditions won by the unemployed movement were accompanied by the creation of a mass revolutionary movement of the unemployed. To return, then, to the question raised at the outset: Was this limitation the product of mistakes internal to the radical movement, or was it determined by broader external forces?
The comparative experience of Communists, Socialists, and Musteites in organizing the unemployed suggests that the basic limitations on the thirties unemployed movement lay outside the Left. The Socialists and Musteites, in their efforts among the jobless, offered variations on the basic Communist theme, but neither achieved markedly better results. Being less prone to the use of confrontation politics, the Socialists could sometimes attract less politicized workers or win a more respectful hearing from authorities. But there was a political price to this approach. As one top leader of the People’s Unemployment League wrote to Norman Thomas: the “loyalty of the members . . . is to the league and its leaders and not in any sense to the SP.”66 The aggressive grassroots organizing and the “American Approach” of the Musteites offers a contrasting strategy to that of both Communists and Socialists. Yet there were problems here as well. The Musteites’ Americanist rhetoric attracted many workers who were indifferent to the Communists and Socialists, but some of these workers soon lost interest in the Musteites when they realized that the radicals’ patriotism did not run very deep. Moreover, as a relatively small left-wing sect built around one man, the Musteites were never able to expand their movement beyond Ohio and Pennsylvania.
All of the radical unemployed groups suffered at one time or another from opportunism, sectarianism, factionalism, dogmatism, and mechanical party control of a mass movement. In particular, one could easily criticize some of the programs and practices of the Stalinized Communist Party of the thirties. Yet Stalinism did not permeate the unemployed movement. And, rank-and-file organizers often ignored Party directives that were irrelevant to their concrete and practical organizing efforts. Indeed, in general, the organizers of the radical unemployed movement evidenced creative and aggressive leadership on both the local and national levels. While others merely talked about the “forgotten man,” these organizers actually did something.
In the end, the similar levels of success achieved by the varying organizing approaches of the Communists, Socialists, and Musteites suggest that no slight shift in the party line would have made any fundamental difference. Hence, although an awareness of the errors of the Left organizers in the thirties may help to prevent their repetition, to understand fully the limitations of the unemployed movement it is necessary to examine the basic external factors that shaped its history: the repressive response of the government and the upper classes; the dominant ideological and cultural currents in 1930s America; and the composition and condition of the jobless themselves.
The American upper classes were not about to passively accept a jobless-led revolution. Virtually any signs of incipient rebellion were met by swift and often violent repression. An American Civil Liberties Union pamphlet, “What Rights for the Unemployed?,” summarized the grim situation: “Bans against assembly, refusal of permits to speak, the stationing of squads of police at relief stations, attacks by the police on peaceful meetings, clubbings, arrests, abuse of prisoners, infliction of maximum sentences, prosecution for criminal syndicalism or conspiracy—these have become in relation to the activities of the unemployed monotonously familiar.” Yet it was fear of repression, not repression itself, that deterred many jobless from supporting the radical unemployed groups in the first place. Yale economist E. Wight Bakke learned in talking to New Haven jobless that they had discovered in their working days that radicalism was a “surefire demoter,” and they “cannot forget it now.”67
But the organizers of the radical unemployed movement confronted more than just police batons and tear gas. They sought to win the allegiance of the unemployed in the face of powerful ideological and cultural assumptions that militated against their success. Although the Depression did much to erode working-class faith in American capitalism, this breakdown had not led to a new consciousness, at least by the early thirties. As the Lynds found in Muncie, Indiana, during the Depression, “fear, resentment, insecurity, and disillusionment were largely an individual experience for each worker, and not a thing generalized by him into a ‘class’ experience.”68 Workers had a culture of their own, of course, which rejected many of the values of middle-class American society. But many of the values of that very working-class culture—patriotism, distrust of politics, and a frequent anti-radicalism—also discouraged membership in radical unemployed groups. “In the face of Communism,” Bakke found in talking to the New Haven jobless, “the most insecure American workman becomes a hero by defending American conditions.”69
Moreover, unemployed organizers had to try to mobilize an American working class that was divided within itself along ethnic, racial, religious, and geographic lines. Although occasionally the shock of unemployment did break down racial and ethnic barriers, the basic divisions remained. Homer Morris, an American Friends Service Committee worker, described the persistence of racial, national, religious, and family feuds in the impoverished coal-mining camps of West Virginia and Kentucky. Similarly, one New Haven worker blamed his unemployment on the “Jews in control who had no use for Italians.”70 Among the Depression unemployed the problems in developing class consciousness were exacerbated by the presence of large numbers of jobless men and women from middle-class backgrounds. Given this context, most unemployed people in the early thirties did not come to see themselves as part of a common group united by their lack of work.
Finally, the jobless, as a group, were particularly difficult to organize for a number of reasons. As one thirties radical leader has commented: “I don’t know of any task in the revolutionary movement more discouraging and disheartening than the task of trying to keep an unemployed organization . . . together.”71 One problem was the continual churning of leadership and membership caused by the impermanence of unemployment. Another was the debilitating effects of unemployment: Joblessness, for some, often led to despair, apathy, and listlessness, rather than rebellion.72 Because of the persistence of the work ethic throughout the Depression,73 many of those without work began to see themselves as worthless. Such men and women were more likely to withdraw from society than to actively protest against it; the last thing they wanted was to publicly identify themselves as “reliefers” by participating in jobless associations. Finally, there was the battle for survival itself: Unemployed workers often were too absorbed in their own personal struggles for food and housing to concern themselves with political action. Not only individualist efforts, but also collective sharing and cooperation among kinship networks, neighbors, and ethnic groups absorbed the full energies of many unemployed workers.
Given these formidable barriers—persistent and often violent repression by government and business, the strength of cultural values which inhibited jobless political activity especially of the radical variety, and the inherent problems involved in basing a revolutionary movement on the unemployed—it becomes clear that the accomplishments of the thirties unemployed movement are more notable than its failures. It remains a significant example of a locally based, grassroots organization under radical leadership that worked creatively and militantly to meet the concrete, immediate needs of the unemployed.
*Reprinted from Vol. 10, No. 4 (July–August 1976).
I would like to sincerely thank the following people for their helpful comments and suggestions on this article: Herbert Benjamin, Elizabeth Blackmar, Ellen Malino James, Jim O’Brien, Frances Fox Piven, Marion Shapiro, and Ann Withorn. None of these people is responsible for my interpretations, and Mr. Benjamin, in particular, is critical of some of my formulations.
1. The New York Times, March 8, 1930.
2. Robert R. Nathan, “Estimates of Unemployment in the United States, 1929–1935,” International Labour Review 33 (Jan. 1936): 49–73.
3. Irving Bernstein, The Lean Years (Baltimore, Md., 1966), pp. 255–257; John A. Garraty, “Unemployment During the Great Depression,” Labor History 17 (Spring 1976): 134; Mark Naison, “The Communist Party in Harlem: 1928–1936,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1975, p. 49.
4. William Leuchtenberg, FDR and the New Deal (New York, 1963), p. 26.
5. The definitive work on cooperative self-help is Clark Kerr, “Productive Self-Help Enterprises of the Unemployed,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, 1939. See also “Cooperative Self-Help Activities Among the Unemployed,” Monthly Labor Review 36 (March, April, May, and June 1933); Daniel J. Leab, “Barter and Self-Help Groups, 1932–33,” Midcontinent American Studies Journal 3 (Spring 1966): 15–24. On stealing and coal bootlegging see Federated Press, Dec. 10, 1933, and Oct. 4, 1932; Louis Adamic, My America (New York, 1938), pp. 316–324; Bernstein, Lean Years, pp. 422–425. E. Wight Bakke discusses the unemployed worker’s struggle to maintain his self-reliance in The Unemployed Worker (New Haven, 1940), pp. 363–385.
6. For a discussion of some of the issues involved in radical historiography of radicalism see Aileen Kraditor, “American Radical Historians on Their Heritage,” Past and Present, No. 56 (Aug. 1972), pp. 136–153, and James R. Green, “American Radical Historians on Their Heritage,” Past and Present, no. 69 (Nov. 1975), pp. 123–130.
7. Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party (Boston, 1957), p. 225; Nathan Glazer, The Social Basis of American Communism (New York, 1961), pp. 38–89.
8. Howe, Communist Party, p. 178.
9. Labor Unity, Sept. 14, 1929.
10. “Notes of the Month,” The Communist 9 (March 1930): 198.
11. Harold D. Lasswell and Dorothy Blumenstock, World Revolutionary Propaganda—A Chicago Study (New York, 1939), p. 44.
12. Daniel J. Leab, “United We Eat: The Out-of-Work, the Unemployed Councils, and the Communists, 1930–1933,” unpublished M.A. thesis, Columbia University, 1961, p. 72.
13. Lasswell, Propaganda, pp. 43–44.
14. Labor Unity, July 16, 1930.
15. Interview with Herbert Benjamin, Washington, D.C., Feb. 7, 1973.
16. The Daily Worker, Jan. 16, 21, 22, 27, 31, and Feb. 4, 5, 6, 1930; The New York Times, Feb. 12, 15, 22, 28, 1930.
17. “Notes of the Month,” The Communist 9 (March 1930): 198; Lasswell, Propaganda, pp. 191–193. See also Labor Unity, Feb. 1, 22, 1930.
18. While The Daily Worker claimed that 110,000 gathered in New York’s Union Square, The New York Times reported that only 35,000 demonstrated. The Daily Worker, March 7, 1930; The New York Times, March 7, 1930. See also Labor Unity, March 15, 1930; M. J. Olgin, “From March Sixth to May First,” The Communist 9 (May 1930): 417–422; S. Mingulin, “The Crisis in the U.S. and the Problems of the CP,” The Communist 9 (June 1930): 500–518.
19. Martin E. Sullivan, “On the Dole: The Relief Issue in Detroit, 1929–1939,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Notre Dame University, 1974, p. 45.
20. The New York Times, March 7, 1930; John Dos Passos, “Back to Red Hysteria!,” The New Republic 63 (July 2, 1930): 168.
21. Daniel J. Leab, “‘United We Eat’: The Creation and Organization of the Unemployed Councils in 1930,” Labor History 8 (Fall 1967): 313. See also for example Labor Unity, March 29, May 10, June 18, and Sept. 10, 1930.
22. Naison, “Harlem,” pp. 54, 57; The Daily Worker, Jan. 31, 1930; St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton, Black Metropolis (New York, 1945), p. 87; Johnson quoted in Leab, “United,” M.A. thesis, p. 71.
23. Labor Unity, April 5 and July 16, 1930. The Program of Action adopted at the July Convention declared: “The local TUUL Council shall lead and direct the activity of the unemployed movement.”
24. Clarence A. Hathaway, “An Examination of Our Failure to Organize the Unemployed,” The Communist 9 (Sept. 1930): 789; A. Allen, “Unemployed Work—Our Weak Point,” The Communist 11 (Aug. 1932): 684. Both The Party Organizer and The Communist are filled with complaints about the “organizational weakness” of the Unemployed Councils. See for example Earl Browder, “Report of the Political Committee to the 12th Central Committee,” The Communist 10 (Jan. 1931): 7–31; Jack Johnstone, “Overcome Looseness in Our Mass Work,” The Communist 10 (March 1931): 324–329; Clarence A. Hathaway, “On the Use of ‘Transmission Belts’ in Our Struggle for the Masses,” The Communist 10 (May 1931): 409–423.
25. Robert E. Asher, “The Influence of the Chicago Workers’ Committee on Unemployment Upon the Administration of Relief, 1931–1934,” unpublished M. A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1934, p. 72.
26. Glazer, Social Basis, p. 101.
27. Labor Unity, Aug. 1, 1930; Leab, “United,” Labor History, p. 310; The New York Times, March 15, 17, 1930; “Notes of the Month,” The Communist 9 (April 1930): 294; Israel Amter, “The Revolutionary Upsurge and the Struggles of the Unemployed,” The Communist 12 (Feb. 1933): 115.
28. Mauritz Hallgren, Seeds of Revolt (New York, 1933), p. 336; Adamic quoted in Leab, “United,” M. A. thesis, p. 75. For a similar assessment see Edmund Wilson, The American Jitters (New York, 1932), p. 12.
29. Hathaway, “Failure to Organize,” p. 791; The Daily Worker, Nov. 8, 1930; Leab, “United,” Labor History, pp. 314–315.
30. Lasswell, Propaganda, p. 343. Probably the most dramatic and effective of the Chicago demonstrations was that of October 31, 1932, which mobilized 25,000 jobless. Asher, “Chicago,” pp. 21–22; Chicago Tribune, Nov. 1, 1932; Chicago Defender, Nov. 15, 1932.
31. Charles R. Walker, “Relief and Revolution,” The Forum 88 (Sept. 1932): 115; Helen Seymour, “The Organized Unemployed,” unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Chicago, 1937, p. 108; Virginia C. Searls, “Cuyahoga County Relief Administration Clients as Members of the Unemployment Council,” unpublished M.S. thesis, Western Reserve University, 1935, pp. 34–35.
32. Edmund Wilson, “Detroit Motors,” The New Republic 66 (March 25, 1931): 145. Ellen James, who is studying relief in New York City in the Depression, aruges that pressure from City Hall was the major force in stopping evictions in New York, at least. Ellen Malino James, “Reform in NYC Welfare Before the New Deal,” paper read at American Historical Association Convention, Atlanta, 1975.
33. Naison, “Harlem,” pp. 71, 122, 138, 140; Drake and Cayton, Black Metropolis, p. 87; The New York Times, Aug. 4, 5, 1931; Lasswell, Propaganda, pp. 196–201. See also Horace R. Cayton, “The Black Bugs,” Nation 133 (Sept. 9, 1931): 225–256.
34. “Directives of the Political Secretariat of the ECCI to the CP of the U. S.A. Relative to the Decisions of the 12th Plenum of the C.P.U.S.A.,” The Communist 10 (May 1931): 403; Labor Unity, March 28, 1931; Earl Browder, “Faith in the Masses—Organization of the Masses,” The Communist 10 (July 1931): 609; Naison, “Harlem,” pp. 120–121.
35. Bernstein, Lean Years, p. 422; Mauritz Hallgren, “Grave Danger in Detroit,” Nation 135 (Aug. 3, 1932): 99; Leab, “United,” M.A. thesis, p. 68; The New York Times, Jan. 21, 1931; Browder, “Faith,” p. 609; interview with Benjamin; Lasswell, Propaganda, p. 346.
36. Alex Baskin, “The Ford Hunger March,” Labor History 13 (Summer 1972): 331–360.
37. Interview with Benjamin.
38. Labor Unity, Sept. 5, Oct. 17, and Dec. 5, 1931, and Jan. 1932; New York Times, Dec. 7–9, 1931, and Dec. 3–7, 1932; John Dos Passos, “Red Day on Capitol Hill,” New Republic 69 (Dec. 23, 1931): 153–155; Edward Dahlberg, “Hunger on the March,” Nation 135 (Dec. 28, 1932): 642–644; Edward L. Israel, “Hunger and Clubs,” The World Tomorrow, Dec. 21, 1932, pp. 587–589; Labor Research Associates, “Analysis of the Questionnaires Filled Out by Certain Hunger Marchers Who Participated in the National Hunger March to Washington, December 6, 1932,” in Unemployed Council Folder in University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor. The hunger marches deserve a fuller treatment than space permits here, or than they have received from most historians.
39. Irene Oppenheimer, “The Organizations of the Unemployed, 1930–1940,” unpublished M.A. thesis, Columbia University, 1940, p. 36. Frances Fox Piven, “The Depression Movement of the Unemployed,” unpublished paper, discusses the post–1933 history of the unemployed movement.
40. Stanley High, “Who Organized the Unemployed?,” Saturday Evening Post, Dec. 16, 1938, p. 35.
41. Minutes of the National Executive Committee (NEC), Feb. 28-March 1, 1931, Socialist Party mss., Duke University; Labor and Socialist Press Service (hereafter cited as LSPS), March 15, Nov. 22, and Dec. 13, 1930, and Jan. 3, March 7, and March 14, 1931; “Suggested Program for Unemployment Councils, July 1, 1931,” SP mss.
42. Membership Report, 1935, Thomas mss., New York Public Library. On the SP in the twenties and thirties, see Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Princeton, N.J., 1967); Harry Fleischman, Norman Thomas (New York, 1964); Bernard Johnpoll, Pacifist’s Progress (Chicago, 1970); David Shannon, The Socialist Party of America (New York, 1955).
43. Clarence Senior to members of the NEC, July 13, 1935, Thomas mss.; Seymour, “Organized Unemployed,” p. 23. See also New Leader, Dec. 12, 1931.
44. The LID was formed out of the old Intercollegiate Socialist Society in 1921. LID, Thirtieth Anniversary Report (New York, 1935).
45. Asher, “Chicago,” passim.
46. “People’s Unemployment League of Baltimore,” Monthly Labor Review (May 1933); Roy Rosenzweig, “Radicals in the Great Depression: Socialists and the Unemployed, 1929–1936,” unpublished paper, Jan. 1974.
47. New Leader, Feb. 6, 13, and March 12, 1932.
48. Rosenzweig, “Socialists.”
49. Asher, “Chicago,” p. 23; interview with Frank Trager, New York, May 17, 1973; Naomi Ritches to author, May 3, 1973.
50. Roy Rosenzweig, “Radicals and the Jobless: The Musteites and the Unemployed Leagues, 1932–1936,” Labor History 16 (Winter 1975): 52–77.
51. Ibid.; Louis Budenz, “Jobless—A Longtime Job,” Labor Action, Jan. 21, 1933.
52. Rosenzweig, “Musteites,” passim.
53. Fred Donaldson, “Father Cox’s Hunger Marchers,” Labor Age 20 (Feb. 1932): 11–13; The New York Times, Jan. 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 17, 24, 1932; Federated Press, Jan. 4, 1932.
54. Donald J. Lisio, The President and Protest: Hoover, Conspiracy, and the Bonus Riot (Columbia, Mo., 1974); Roger Daniels, The Bonus March: An Episode of the Great Depression (Westport, Conn., 1971).
55. E. Wight Bakke, Citizens Without Work (New Haven, 1940), pp. 59–64.
56. Donaldson, “Cox,” p. 12.
57. Lisio, Protest, pp. 317–318.
58. On middle-class unemployed see Alfred Winslow Jones, Life, Liberty, and Property (Philadelphia, 1941); O. Milton Hall, “Attitudes and Unemployment: A Comparison of the Opinions and Attitudes of Employed and Unemployed Men,” Archives of Psychology, no. 165 (March 1934), pp. 5–65; Bernard Sternsher, “The Other America in the Twenties and Thirties,” paper read at American Historical Association Convention, Atlanta, 1975.
59. Lisio, Protest, p. 82.
60. The New Leader, Jan. 23, 1932.
61. Rosenzweig, “Musteites,” passim.
62. On unemployment insurance see Daniel Nelson, Unemployment Insurance: The American Experience, 1915–1935 (Madison, Wis., 1969).
63. Searls, “Cuyahoga County,” pp. 74–75.
64. Studs Terkel, Hard Times (New York, 1970), p. 339.
65. Frank Trager to Norman Thomas, March 7, 1934, Thomas mss.
67. American Civil Liberties Union, “What Rights for the Unemployed?” (New York, 1935), p. 4; Bakke, Citizens, p. 65.
68. Robert S. and Helen M. Lynd, Middletown in Transition (New York, 1937), p. 41. See also Robert S. McElvaine, “Thunder Without Lightning: Working-Class Discontent in the United States, 1929–1937,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, SUNY at Binghamton, 1974; Jones, Life, Liberty, Sternsher, “The Other America.”
69. Bakke, Citizens, p. 61.
70. Homer L. Morris, The Plight of the Bituminous Coal Miner (Philadelphia, 1934), p. 111; Bakke, Unemployed Worker, p. 189.
71. James Cannon quoted in Leab, “United,” M.A. thesis, p. iv.
72. Philip Eisenberg and Paul Lazarsfeld, “The Psychological Effects of Unemployment,” Psychological Bulletin 35 (1938): 358–390; Sternsher, “The Other America.”
73. See for example Warren Susman, ed., Culture and Commitment, 1929–1945 (New York, 1973), p. 68.