Proletarian Party of America Records (1925-1968, bulk 1953-1965)
Summary Information
Title: Proletarian Party of America Records
Creator: Proletarian Party of America
Inclusive dates: 1925-1968
Bulk dates: 1953-1965
Extent: 3.3 linear feet
Photographs: Photograph (1) - Box 4
Drawings: Drawing (1) - Box 4
Printed Material: Some minor Proletarian Party publications, mostly in mimeograph form, located in box 4.
Abstract:
Political group formed in Wayne, Michigan in 1920, with roots in the old Socialist Party of America. This "Michigan faction" was expelled from Communist Party shortly after its founding in 1919, in part for its "consistent adherence to majority action and repudiation of the Communist Party's minority action concept." The party moved its headquarters to Chicago in 1925 where it maintained an office until disbanding in 1968. Consists mainly of correspondence of National Secretary Al Wysocki.
Call number: LABADIE Proletarian Party of America
Language: The materials are in English.
Repository: University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center), Joseph A. Labadie Collection

Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).

Preferred Citation:

Proletarian Party of America Records, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)

Collection History
Acquisition Information:

Purchased by the Labadie Collection from rare books and manuscripts dealer Carmen D. Valentino, Philadelphia. Received September 24, 1992 and accessioned September 15, 1995.

Processing Information:

Collection processed and finding aid prepared by Paul F. Schaffner, March 1996.


Arrangement

The collection is divided into three series:

  1. General Correspondence, arranged chronologically
  2. Mundane Official Correspondence, arranged chronologically
  3. Other Material, arranged alphabetically

The distinction between the three categories is not always clear-cut, since mundane correspondence may contain added personal notes, article drafts and clippings attached to letters, and fragments are not always intelligible enough to be classified with confidence.

Most of the records were torn up by hand when the party disbanded in 1968, usually into quarters or halves. Perhaps 75% of the records have since then been largely or wholly reconstituted.


Biography

The Proletarian Party of America was founded 27-28 June 1920 in Wayne, Michigan, its founders including John Keracher and Al Renner, who had "headed the 'proletarian group' in the old S[ocialist] P[arty of] A[merica]," who insisted on study of Marxism, and who recognized the Russian Revolution as normative (Letter from Wysocki to Downs, 20 June 1961).The party began as a schismatic "Michigan group" expelled from the Communist Party immediately after the organization of the latter in Chicago in 1919, partly on the grounds of its "consistent adherence to majority action and repudiation of the Communist Party's minority action concept" ( The Proletarian , 8.3-4 (April, 1925): 11).Though it consistently stressed adherence to "the fundamental principles of Marxian communism," it insisted also that the principles of communism could only realistically be implemented with the wide public support of an awakened laboring class. Accordingly, its chief objective was educational, "To enlighten and marshal the workers for the conquest of political power..." (party broadside, n.d.):"To arouse the working people of America to a realization of the historic role they are called upon to play, namely, their self-emancipation from the yoke of capitalist exploitation" ( The Proletarian Party: Its Principles and Program [1957?], 2).

According to Robbyelee Terry (letter to the Labadie Collection, 1968?), the Proletarian Party "moved to Chicago in about 1925 where they kept their national headquarters until June, 1968. At that time building in which their headquarters was located was being razed by urban renewal, only a handful of party members was left and the old man [Al Wysocki] who was party secretary was having to partly pay the rent from his social security check. They had long been unable to publish their newspaper. So they disbanded."Wysocki had become acting national secretary in the summer of 1953, (confirmed in the post at the national convention in November of 1953), when John Keracher became too ill to continue in the position and moved for his health's sake to first Arizona and then Los Angeles, where he died five years later, 11 January 1958.

The history of the party during Wysocki's tenure, despite occasional inquiries from young people and brief spurts of activity (as in L.A. during Keracher's last years), seems to have been one of uninterrupted decline, as aging members died, withdrew, or drifted away. In the mid fifties there were active "Locals" in at least Boston, Toledo, Los Angeles, Flint, Detroit, Tampa, and South Bend, with references to Locals having existed in Rochester, N.Y. and Elkhart, Indiana; a solitary member jokingly refers to himself as "the entire St. Paul Local"; by 1963 only Chicago, Flint, and Detroit remain, and Detroit's chapter is moribund. The party newspaper, Proletarian News, effectively ceased publication in 1961 and repeated efforts to raise enough money to publish failed. By 1963 there was talk of a strategic withdrawal around the party's only remaining asset, the Charles Kerr publishing company.

Terry refers to the party's ownership of Kerr, a renowned socialist publisher who had published the first American edition of Das Kapital , as its "most notable achievement": In 1925, John Keracher...bought the controlling shares of stock in the Kerr Co. He earned this money as a shoe maker, and paid approximately $30,000 for the shares. From that time on the P.P. controlled the Kerr Co. In the 40's and 50's some pamphlets were published by Kerr, but other than a few pamphlets by other authors, nothing new was printed, and few titles reprinted since the P.P. acquired the Co.... After Keracher's death..., the controlling shares of stock were left to Al Wysocki.... Wysocki has been unable to locate more than 10% of the persons holding stock in the co. and has been unable to hold a stockholder's meeting for years.

From what one can gather from the correspondence preserved in this collection, Kerr was in the end more a burden than an asset, costing money, for example, just to keep its printing plates from being melted down as scrap lead, never yielding more than an occasional sale or two, and serving chiefly as a reminder to a dying party of a glorious era in the socialist movement now irrecoverably passed.

Additional information on the Proletarian Party and its leaders can be found in the party's publications, especially The Proletarian , of which the Labadie Collection possesses a scattered run (and a couple of issues of which are included in this collection), and its successor, Proletarian News , of which the Labadie possesses a nearly complete set. Some limited biographical information appears scattered in this collection: e.g., information on Al Wysocki in a letter to Raymond Rector, 16 April 1953, and information on John Keracher in Wysocki's notes for a eulogy (notes and drafts folder). One letter refers to a manuscript history of the party by Keracher, but this does not appear to be extant.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The records of the Proletarian Party survive in an unusual condition, requiring an organizational scheme with some unusual features to accommodate them. Most of the records were torn up by hand when the party disbanded in 1968, usually into quarters or halves. Perhaps 75% of the records have since then been largely or wholly reconstituted by being pasted onto sheets or strips of paper or occasionally clipped or stapled together; the remainder exist only as fragments. These fragments have been variously treated depending on the series to which, if whole, they would belong. Fragments of general correspondence, if dated, are placed in separate folders of fragmentary correspondence at the end of each year's correspondence files; undated fragments are divided by medium and shape, handwritten fragments in one folder, typescript (mostly carbon copy) fragments into several, depending on whether they represent the top left, bottom left, or bottom right corners, the entire left side, or some miscellaneous portion of the original page. This should make it possible to reassemble individual letters when necessary, assuming that all the component parts still exist. Fragments of mundane official correspondence and other material is not distinguished from non-fragmentary examples of the same, fragments that have lost their date being treated as undated.

Note also that many of the records consist of carbon copies, often made on the verso of other documents of interest (flyers, bulletins, the Constitution of the Proletarian Party, etc.). With one or two exceptions, it is the later use as a carbon that is reflected in the item's organizational placement. Researchers seeking the documents accidentally preserved in this way may need to examine the whole collection personally.

The value of the collection resides chiefly in the correspondence. Taken in bulk, it provides an almost intimate acquaintance with the people and ideas that animated the Proletarian Party during its last ten to fifteen years of existence, as well as recollections of its past. The jargon and mechanisms of the party are well illustrated, as is, poignantly, the inability of either to cope with the refusal of history to cooperate with the party's program, or to accept the weariness its members. The decline of the party is well captured in passages like this (John Davis to Al Wysocki, May Day, 1963): "We are dying on the vine as it were, there isn't many more than a dozen of us left. You can't call this a political party. The bulk of our funds go to the paying of rent for the Headquarters and the Kerr store room. I ma not at all clear about what can be done." Or this, from one of the last two members of the Detroit Local (Phil Drouin to Al Wysoki, 6 May 1964): "I have been trying to get a meeting of the remaining members in local Detroit and the only one that shows up is myself and Bennie so we keep postponing it and contact the other members and they always have excuses so...it looks like local Detroit is finish." To which Wysoki can only reply vainly (9 May 1964): "The local Detroit members are asleep on their revolutionary duties."

For comments on the Sarah Lovell for Mayor (of Detroit) campaign, see general correspondence, April 1957. For Wysocki's exchanges with curious student Arthur Maglin, see general correspondence, May, 1960; with student Douglas Hainline, see May and July 1962. For comments on the correct interpretation of the assassination of J.F.Kennedy, see general correspondence of 29 November and 9 December 1963.

Subject Terms
    Subject Terms
    • Proletarian Party of America
    • Charles H. Kerr & Company
    • Proletarian news (Chicago)
    • Communist parties--United States--20th century
    • Socialist parties--United States--20th century
    • Working class--Political activity--20th century
    • Advertisements
    • Correspondence
    • Drafts (documents)
    • Manifestoes
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
     
    General correspondence,  (bulk 1953-1965) [series]:

    General correspondence, the bulk of the collection, consists almost entirely of the correspondence of Al Wysocki (with little surviving from Keracher's tenure) acting more or less in his official capacity of national secretary. It includes letters addressed to Wysocki and carbon copies of his own letters. They supply details of party business (Local quotas, contributions, meetings, lectures, socials, meetings of the of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and national conventions, etc.), contain numerous reflections on the political and social conditions of the time, as well as on the state of the party, and indulge frequently in personal chit chat. A very high proportion of the letters are to or from a small set of people, a list of whom is supplied below.

    Box   1  
     1925-1952
     
     1952
    Box   1  
     January-December 1952
    Box   1  
    Fragments ,  (bulk 1952)
     
     1953
    Box   1  
     January-March 1953
    Box   1  
     April-June 1953
    Box   1  
     July-September 1953
    Box   1  
     October-December 1953
    Box   1  
    Fragments ,  1953
    Box   1  
     1954
     
     1955
    Box   1  
    Fragments ,  1955
     
     1956
    Box   1  
     January-December 1956
    Box   1  
    Fragments ,  1956
     
     1957
    Box   1  
     January 1957
    Box   1  
     February 1957
    Box   1  
     March 1957
    Box   1  
     April 1957
    Box   1  
     May 1957
    Box   1  
     June 1957
    Box   1  
     July 1957
    Box   1  
     August 1957
    Box   1  
     September 1957
    Box   1  
     October 1957
    Box   1  
     November 1957
    Box   1  
     December 1957
    Box   1  
    Fragments ,  1957
     
     1958
    Box   1  
     January-March 1958
    Box   1  
     April 1958
    Box   1  
     May 1958
    Box   1  
     June 1958
    Box   1  
     July 1958
    Box   1  
     August 1958
    Box   1  
     September 1958
    Box   1  
     October-December 1958
    Box   1  
    Fragments ,  1958
     
     1959
    Box   2  
     January-March 1959
    Box   2  
     April-June 1959
    Box   2  
     July-September 1959
    Box   2  
     October-December 1959
    Box   2  
    Fragments ,  1959
     
     1960
    Box   2  
     January-March 1960
    Box   2  
     April-June 1960
    Box   2  
     July-September 1960
    Box   2  
     October-December 1960
    Box   2  
    Fragments ,  1960
     
     1961
    Box   2  
     January 1961
    Box   2  
     February 1961
    Box   2  
     March 1961
    Box   2  
     April 1961
    Box   2  
     May 1961
    Box   2  
     June 1961
    Box   2  
     July 1961
    Box   2  
     August 1961
    Box   2  
     September 1961
    Box   2  
     October 1961
    Box   2  
     November 1961
    Box   2  
     December 1961
    Box   2  
    Fragments ,  1961
     
     1962
    Box   2  
     January-March 1962
    Box   2  
     April-June 1962
    Box   3  
     July-September 1962
    Box   3  
     October-December 1962
     
     1963
    Box   3  
     January-March 1963
    Box   3  
     April-June 1963
    Box   3  
     July-September 1963
    Box   3  
     October-December 1963
    Box   3  
    Fragments ,  1963
     
     1964
    Box   3  
     January-June 1964
    Box   3  
     June-December 1964
    Box   3  
    Fragments ,  1964
    Box   3  
     1965-1967
     
    Undated
    Box   3  
    Whole sheets
    Box   3  
    Handwritten fragments
     
    Typewritten fragments
    Box   3  
    Top left corners
    Box   3  
    Bottom left corners
    Box   3  
    Bottom right corners
    Box   3  
    Left sides
    Box   3  
    Miscellaneous pieces
     
    Mundane Official Correspondence [series]:

    Mundane Official Correspondence, again mostly to or from Wysocki, consists of subscription requests, change-of-address requests, book orders, receipts, acknowledgments, and similar routine material, little of which, aside from some small personal additions, contains much of interest beyond the return address of the subscriber. Orphaned envelopes that contain an address or part of an address are given a folder of their own in this series.

    Box   3  
    Before 1953
    Box   3  
     1953
    Box   3  
     1955-1956
    Box   3  
     1957
    Box   3  
     1958
    Box   3  
     1959
    Box   3  
     1960
    Box   3  
     1961
    Box   3  
     1962
    Box   4  
     1963
    Box   4  
     1964
    Box   4  
     1965
    Box   4  
    Undated
    Box   4  
    Envelopes,  1953-1967
     
    Other Material [series]:

    Other Material is comprised of five folders, arranged alphabetically: one of Clippings, one of Financial and Miscellaneous Records, one of Meeting Information, one of Notes and Drafts, and one of Publications.

    Box   4  
    Clippings

    The Clippings folder contains nothing directly related to the party, rather flyers, articles, and clippings having to do with contemporary conditions, or emanating from other political groups and movements, not all of them on the left. It also includes a few Information propaganda sheets published by the "Peace Council of the German Democratic Republic" (1967-8).

    Box   4  
    Financial and Miscellaneous Records

    Financial and Miscellaneous Records, on the other hand includes exclusively party materials: a few annual reports from the Charles Kerr Publishing Company (1961), some Kerr inventories (1961, 1967, 1968), enumerations of Proletarian News subscribers by state (427 in 1960, 418 in 1961), accountings of some minor funds (for a mimeograph machine (1952), for the convention (1957), etc.), and some very miscellaneous material dealing with internal party business.

    Box   4  
    Meeting Information

    The Meeting Information folder includes announcements of regular Marxism study classes (Chicago), Local picnics, socials, and lectures, and announcements of visiting lectures by Wysocki, Keracher, John Davis, Christ Jelset, etc. There is some correspondence dealing with arranging picnic sites. The folder also includes what appear to be schedules for the Chicago "Friday Forum," from a period later than any of the correspondence (1966-67), and listing the weekly chairmen (drawn from Charles Barone, Al Wysocki, Charles Ray, Leonard Deenik, Frank Baumann, and Sam Calander) as well as, apparently, notes of the few actually in attendance.

    Box   4  
    Notes and Drafts

    Notes and Drafts includes draft articles, notes and ideas for lectures, and similar material--even a sheet of hunger march songs from 4 March 1933.

    Box   4  
    Publications

    The Publications folder contains a selection of lesser publications: fund raising letters from 1950, 1953, 1958, 1959, and 1961; Proletarian News flyers and subscription forms, some with Kerr book offers attached; Kerr book announcements (as late as 1967)and order lists (e.g., 1958, 1964); a few fragments of the party Constitution; some proofs of the mimeographed Proletarian Newsletter and Bulletin (1961, 1962, 1964), a copy of the party Principles and Program (1957?), and some fragmentary issues of The Proletarian (April and May, 1925).

    Additional Descriptive Data

    Key to Typical Forms of Address

    1. Al = Al Wysocki
    2. Craig = Craig Bowen
    3. Charlie = Charles Monksie
    4. Dave = David Leiki
    5. Frank = Frank Baumann
    6. Harry = Harry Uzar
    7. Phil = Phil Drouin
    Partial Index to Correspondence
    Baumann, Frank

    (Las Vegas, LA, Chicago))

    1. 1953, 1958-1963, n.d.
    Blackburn, Joe T.

    (Welch, OK)

    1. 1959-1962
    Bowen, Craig

    (resigned April 22, 1963) Detroit, MI)

    1. 1957-1963, n.d.
    Brenda, Bennie

    (Detroit, MI)

    1. 1957, 1958, 1960-1964, n.d.
    Burros, Robert J.

    (New York)

    1. 1960, 1961, n.d.
    Corklic, Steve

    (Miami)

    1. 1960-1962, 1967, n.d.
    Davis, John

    (Flint, MI)

    1. 1957-1964, n.d.
    Derhammer, Dale

    (Los Angeles, CA)

    1. 1956
    Downs, M.B.

    ()

    1. 1958-1961, n.d.
    Drouin, Phil

    (Detroit, MI)

    1. 1957, 1962-1964, n.d.
    Feit, Homer

    ()

    1. 1953, 1960, 1962
    Frohn, Roger

    (St. Paul, MN)

    1. 1953, 1957, 1958, 1960
    Hahn, Ted

    (Los Angeles, CA)

    1. 1957-1959
    Hart, G.C.

    (Baltimore, MD)

    1. 1953, 1961, n.d.
    Howard, Stella

    (St. Petersburg, FL)

    1. 1953
    Leiki, David

    (resigned May 21, 1962) Boston, MA)

    1. 1957, 1958, 1961, 1962, n.d.
    Miller, Kenneth

    (Tampa, FL)

    1. 1957-1959, n.d.
    Monksie, Charlie

    (Los Angeles, CA)

    1. n.d.
    Ritchie, Oliver

    (Miami, FL)

    1. 1959, 1962, 1964, n.d.
    Seymour, Kenneth

    (writes under name "A. St. Maur") Cambridge, MA)

    1. 1959, 1960, n.d.
    Tomarazzo, Peter

    (Toledo, OH)

    1. 1953, n.d.
    Uzar, Harry

    (resigned Local Boston and PP July 10, 1961) Boston, MA)

    1. 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, n.d.
    Wilson, Frank

    (South Bend, LA, CA)

    1. 1955, 1958, 1960
    Youngblood, Cecil

    (Elkhart, IN)

    1. 1956-1958, 1960-1962, n.d.