THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEAGUE 1898-1902
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The Anti-Imperialist League lost strength after Bryan's defeat in the 1900 election. Faced with government threats to prosecute anti-war activists for treason, on the one hand, and McKinley's decision to withdraw volunteer troops from the front, on the other hand, there was a "quickened shrinkage of upper-class support for anti-imperialism," according to Schirmer's history of the Anti-Imperialist League. Since the League lacked a solid base of working class support, being "overwhelmingly middle and upper class" according to Schirmer, it was unable to survive these defections. Analyzing Bryan's loss, Schirmer claims that "the most serious weakness of the campaign was the failure to win the participation of organized labor in the anti-imperialist coalition despite frequent efforts."
The weakness of the Anti-Imperialist League reflected the weakness of organized labor at the turn of the Century. Of the 30 million wage earners, only 2 mil1ion were in unions, including 1 1/2 million in the rapidly growing American Federation of Labor. The A.F. of L. was conservative, led by Samuel Gompers, and divided from the militant socialist wing of labor that was led by Eugene Debs and the newly-formed Socialist Party. And neither wing of organized labor was organizing Afro-American workers who were excluded from most unions. Despite the presence of some trade unionists in the Anti-Imperialist League (Boston union leader George McNeil spoke at the founding meeting of the League and Gompers was a national vice-president), the rank-and-file of labor was never mobilized. According to Foner's labor history, organized labor felt that the Bryan campaign failed to live up to its promise of a vigorous anti-imperialist position and therefore sat out the election.
Was the Anti-Imperialist League successful? According to Schirmer, "After a rash of annexations accompanying the Spanish War, the dominant imperialist group turned away from outright colonialism to indirect forms of political domination...The anti-imperialist uprising of the American people against the annexation of the Philippines appears to have influenced that decision."
Although the Anti-Imperialist League was able to have some effect on U.S. foreign policy, it could not save the Philippine people from a devastating defeat and thirty more years of colonial rule. According to Schirmer, "certainly central to the defeat of the Philippine people was their isolation internationally. Faced with an imperialist adversary of overwhelming military superiority, the Filipinos got no aid, military or diplomatic..." At the turn of the century, the international understanding and support of national liberation was still weak.
The world was changing, however, and the working class was at the center of change. Eugene Victor Debs, head of the Socialist Party in America and leader of the great railroad strike of 1894, denounced the war in l998, and proclaimed:
They realize that war is national murder, that the poor furnish the victims and that whatever the outcome may be, the effect is always the same upon the toiling class...We are opposed to war, but if it ever becomes necessary for us to enlist in the murderous business, it will be to wipe out capitalism, the common enemy of the oppressed and downtrodden of all nations (Note 2).