THE PEOPLE'S COUNCIL OF AMERICA 1917-1919
In 1917, as American casualties in the war began to mount, a new organization emerged at the head of the peace movement, the People's Council of America (note 3). The People's Council launched its campaign at a Madison Square Garden Rally in New York with 20,000 people in May, 1917, one month after the U.S. declared war on Germany. At its peak, according to Curti's history of the peace movement, it had at least two million sympathizers.
The program of the People's Council was "radical." It was a direct response to the Russian Revolution where Russian workers had laid down their weapons and refused to continue fighting World War I against German workers. In addition to favoring an "early, just, and democratic peace," the People's Council also "denounced war profiteering, insisted on adequate wages for labor and expressed sympathy with the ideals of economic and social justice which the new Russia seemed to champion."
The base of the People's Council was working' class, and its leadership, for the most part, was explicitly socialist. It drew support from many trade unions and from the left wing of the Socialist Party. Although there were few direct ties to the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), the militancy of the IWW workers and their outspoken opposition to the war added strength to the cause. The U.S. government became so worried that there might be a working class revolution that they came to the direct support of the pro-war leadership of Samuel Gompers in the American Federation of Labor, and the government funded a pro-war propaganda organization, the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy" in order to split the labor opposition. The subsequent battle provides the title for the most complete book on the history of the People's Council, The Struggle for Labor Loyalty, by Frank Grubbs. Despite massive defections from the ranks of organized labor, Samuel Gompers managed to hold the AFL leadership to a pro-war program (note 4).
There was still no effective mobilization of the Afro-Americans into the peace movement, largely because they continued to be excluded from trade unions. One bright exception was the monthly publication of The messenger, an anti-war and socialist periodical put out by Black intellectuals and trade unionists, including A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The war years were a time of lynchings and Ku Klux Klan terrorism, as well as segregation. Responding to the murder of 30 Afro-Americans in an East St. Louis race riot, Eugene Victor Debs noted: "Had the labor unions ever opened the door to the Negro, instead of barring him...the atrocious crime at East St. Louis would never have blackened the pages of American history."
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