Louis Carlo Fraina, the son of Antonio Fraina, was born in Salerno, Italy on 7th October, 1892. His family emigrated to New York City in 1898. His father found work as a waiter but found it difficult to earn enough money to feed his family. Fraina later recalled: "I remember that my mother refused charity, even when bread was scarce. There was something in her that resented charity."
According to Theodore Draper: "At the age of six Louis sold newspapers on the Bowery near Chatham Square. After school, he worked in a tobacco factory as his mother's helper and picked up extra money shining shoes."
Fraina left school in 1908 after the death of his father and found work as a clerk for the Edison Company. He spent his spare-time reading the works of Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, George Bernard Shaw and Theodore Dreiser. Fraina contributed an article, Shelley, the Atheist Poet, in the agnostic journal The Truth Seeker in 1909. Arthur Brisbane read the article and gave him a job as a reporter for the New York Journal.
Fraina joined the Socialist Party of America. However, after six months he left because he did not consider it radical enough. He was also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World before he became a follower of Daniel De Leon and he became a member of the Socialist Labor Party. He also wrote for its newspaper, The Daily People. In 1914 he criticised De Leon for his approach to politics: "He was temperamentally a Jesuit, consistently acting on the principle that the end justified the means. And he attacked opponents with all the impersonal implacability of the Jesuit."
In May 1914 he joined The New Review. According to the author of The Roots of American Communism (1957): "Soon he also became a member of the board of directors, secretary of the publishing company, business manager, and chief contributor. Increasingly, the policy and tone of the magazine took on his personal coloration." Theodore Draper claimed that Fraina's writings provided "by far the best insights into the mind of the left wing before and after the outbreak of the war."
Fraina was an opponent of the First World War. He argued: "War, particularly a general world war, tests the capacity of all whom it affects. The world war is a war that has thrown into the crucible of change all ideas and institutions; and out of this molten mass is emerging a new order... War develops out of the class struggle, and the class struggle develops in and through war. While bringing with it the collapse of Socialism as an organized movement, the war has simultaneously demonstrated, in a new way and emphatically, that the proletariat holds the future of the world in the hollow of its hand."
In 1917 he was a supporter of the Russian Revolution and joined the Communist Propaganda League. "Class antagonisms have been sharpened, while officially and apparently they have been modified through national unity; and Capitalism has shown its utter incapacity to preserve and promote civilization and progress. Moreover, the Russian Revolution has projected upon the stage of history the new revolutionary class in action, the class of the revolutionary proletariat. The Socialist conception of the proletariat as a class that will engage in the revolutionary struggle against Capitalism, and overthrow Capitalism, is no longer simply a theory, but a fact."
According to Paul M. Buhle: "Fraina rejoined the Socialist Party at this point in 1917, evidently for strategic reasons rather than any newfound attraction. He was not so different, in this move, from thousands of immigrant late-comers building up the various immigrant federations. They, too, had trouble taking the party seriously up to this point. But Fraina had both a distinct personal history and purposes that the ordinary enthusiasts of the Russian Revolution had probably not clarified in their own minds. As Fraina had called upon SLPers to do in late 1912, he entered the mainstream of American socialism with a sword."
In February 1919, Fraina joined forces with Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe, John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow to create a left-wing faction in the Socialist Party of America that advocated the policies of the Bolsheviks in Russia.On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported this faction. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled.
In September 1919, Fraina, Jay Lovestone, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Benjamin Gitlow, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Ella Reeve Bloor, Charles A. Ruthenberg, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. Within a few weeks it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
Fraina argued in The Proletarian Revolution in Russia (1918): "The Bolsheviki have subjectively introduced the revolutionary epoch of the proletariat, objectively introduced by Imperialism in the war... Socialism in action, Marxism becomes life-that, in sum, constitutes the achievements of the Bolsheviki."
Fraina became editor of party publications. Along with Charles A. Ruthenberg, Jay Lovestone, Harry M. Wicks and Alexander Bittelman, Fraina joined the Central Executive Committee of the American Communist Party. One of the leading members of the party, James Cannon, argued that: "Fraina was the first writer of pioneer American Communism. He did more than anybody else to explain and popularize the basic program of the Russian Bolsheviks. American Communism owes its first serious interest in theoretical questions primarily to Fraina."
In the summer of 1919, Ferdinand Peterson, was recruited by the United States Department of Justice as Special Agent FF-22. His task was to create problems for the emerging communist movement. Later that year he informed Santeri Nuorteva, the Russian Soviet Government Bureau's secretary in New York City, that Fraina was working as a spy for the United States government. Peterson claimed that he had seen him go three times into the New York headquarters of the Department of Justice.
Fraina was investigated by the American Communist Party but Jay Lovestone and Alexander Bittelman were able to confirm that he had been in Chicago on two of the dates stated by Peterson. Fraina was ordered to Moscow but after two "trials" it was decided he innocent of these spying charges. However, John Reed argued that Fraina could not be trusted and should not be allowed to return to any leading position in the party.
In December 1920 Fraina was sent from Moscow to distribute money from the Comintern to various communist groups. While in Berlin he gave $25,000 to John T. Murphy of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Another $10,000 went to Charles E. Scott of the American Communist Party. He took another $10,000 to Mexico where he was to become the Comintern representative in that country.
Fraina left the communist movement in 1922. He sent a letter of resignation and a financial report to the Comintern and to Charles A. Ruthenberg, the secretary of the American Communist Party. He later explained that the reasons why he left was factionalism, the disappearing freedom of thought and Soviet domination of the movement. However, he remained a Marxist and still considered he was still a "communist at heart".
Comintern calculated that Fraina was guilty of spending $4,200 of its money. They began to circulate stories that Fraina had "embezzled" $500,000 and was on the run. Fraina, fearing for his safety, adopted the name, Joseph Charles Skala and arrived back in New York City in 1923. He found work in a dry-goods store at $12 a week. After a few months he found work as a temporary proof-reader at the New York Times.
On 5th May, 1926, The New Republic published an article by Fraina entitled How is Ownership Distributed? was an attack on the ideas of Thomas Nixon Carver, the author of a book, The Present Economic Revolution in the United States, that had been published earlier that year. He had argued that the ownership of stock in the great corporations was becoming so widespread that the workers would soon own and control American industry. Fraina's article attempted to show that corporate ownership was not being democratized, despite the multiplication of stockholders. The article was not signed by Louis C. Fraina or Charles Skala but Lewis Corey.
Fraina was totally disillusioned with Joseph Stalin and the communist government in the Soviet Union. "I once believed, as a Marxist, that dictatorship of the proletariat would relax and pass away; but the dictatorship grew tighter and tighter until it became a totalitarian state. Some years ago I concluded that dictatorship was to blame. But was it?"
Fraina remained a Marxist and said of the Great Depression: "Another and more fundamental aspect of the crisis involves the decline of American capitalism. It is a crisis of the economic order itself. This is evident in the inability to restore prosperity on any substantial scale. The future is one of incomplete recovery: of economic decline, mass disemployment (including millions in clerical and professional occupations), lower standards of living, and war. Every depression is in a sense a crisis of capitalism. But this depression represents the development of a fundamental, permanent crisis in the economic and social relations of American capitalism."
Over the next few years Lewis Corey became a well-known economist. In 1930 he published The House of Morgan. He also became editor of The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. A job that was to last between 1931 and 1934. His most important work, The Decline of American Capitalism, a Marxist interpretation of the American economy, was published in 1934. When the American Communist Party discovered that Corey was Fraina, they published a 64-page pamphlet written by Alexander Bittelman, dismissing his ideas.
In 1935 Fraina published The Crisis of the Middle Classes. Once again he used the name Lewis Corey. It received a good review in the New Masses and after that date he published several articles in the magazine. Fraina also joined the Communist Party (Majority Group), an organisation formed by Jay Lovestone, Benjamin Gitlow, Bertram Wolfe and Charles Zimmerman, after they had been expelled by the American Communist Party in 1929.
Fraina said of the Great Depression: "Another and more fundamental aspect of the crisis involves the decline of American capitalism. It is a crisis of the economic order itself. This is evident in the inability to restore prosperity on any substantial scale. The future is one of incomplete recovery: of economic decline, mass disemployment (including millions in clerical and professional occupations), lower standards of living, and war. Every depression is in a sense a crisis of capitalism. But this depression represents the development of a fundamental, permanent crisis in the economic and social relations of American capitalism."
In 1937 Fraina found work as an economist for the Works Progress Administration in Washington, D.C.. The job only lasted for six months and he returned to teaching at the New Workers School that had been established by Jay Lovestone. He also worked for the Winter School that had been set-up by the Independent Labor League.
In 1941 Fraina became professor of political economy at Antioch College. He therefore became one of the few professors in American academic history who never went to high school. He also went onto publish a series of articles entitled Marxism Reconsidered in The Nation. This was followed by the book, The Unfinished Task.
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Fraina took a position of non-intentervention. Disturbed by the growing power of Adolf Hitler, in 1940 he changed his mind on this issue and helped establish the Union for Democratic Action, an organisation that called for American assistance to defeat fascism. Other members included Reinhold Niebuhr, George S. Counts, Louise Bowen and Philip Randolph.This brought an attack from The Daily Worker under the headline: "Lewis Corey - Ludicrous Salesman of Nice Imperialism".
Following the 1945 General Election Fraina/Corey looked to the British Labour Party as a model for American socialists. According to Paul M. Buhle: "He believed, as late as 1945, that Europe could not return to capitalism, and democratic socialism in Europe would thus regain its strength. A new order was emerging all over the world, even if it would take generations to realise."
During the 1948 Presidential Election Fraina/Corey denounced Progressive Party candidate, Henry Wallace, as an agent of Joseph Stalin. He described the Soviet Union as the "greatest slaveholder in history". According to William V. Shannon his "attacks on Communist ideology were unsparing".
In 1951 Fraina/Corey became educational director of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butchers Workmen. On 24th December, 1952, the United States government served him with a writ of deportation. It was part of their campaign to deport alien communists. A month later the union dismissed him from his job.
The chief government witness against him in the hearing the following April was Benjamin Gitlow. According to his lawyer, "Gitlow testified quite freely as to Corey's activities in the 1920s but claimed to be totally unaware that Corey later became actively anti-Communist." For the next six months he waited anxiously to see if he was going to be deported. This waiting came to an end when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage on 16th September 1953. As Paul M. Buhle pointed out in A Dreamer's Paradise Lost (1995): "Two days posthumously a Certificate of Lawful Entry arrived along with a notice from a publisher for a contract for the projected book, Toward an Understanding of America."
On February 1, 1913, the Steel Trust made “a general increase in wages and salaries, averaging for employees receiving less than $2 per day about 12½ per cent.” We do not know whether the increase has actually been made; we must take Chairman Gary’s word for it. But if it has the “increase” is a mere bagatelle compared with the gigantic rise in the cost of living and the yield of profits.
It must be observed that despite this “increase” in wages, which Gary claims is $12,000,000, profits of the Steel Corporation for the first quarter of 1913 were higher from eight to twenty million dollars for eight years, and lower from five to two millions for three years. So huge is labor’s yield of surplus value in trustified industry that profits are always large despite “increased operating expenses.”
The picture drawn by steel mill wages is one of grinding, agonizing toil, of a machine existence – just enough oil in the form of wages to keep the human machine going. The $1.68 to $2.16 daily wage is even lower, considering that few steel workers are steadily employed. Social workers estimate that $700 to $800 is the minimum yearly income to sustain a proletarian family on common necessaries. Most of these steel workers never earn that. They must, therefore, live a materially sub-human existence.
Not only are wages low, but hours of work are extraordinarily high, Of the 172,706 steel workers investigated by the Bureau of Labor, 50,000 or 29 per cent, customarily toiled seven days per week, and 20 per cent sweated 84 hours or more per week, which means a 12-hour working day every blessed day in the week, including Sunday. Nearly 43 per cent of the men were found working 72 hours per week, or 12 hours per day for a 6-day week. Men often toil 20 to 30 hours at a stretch. A plan is mooted to give the 7-day men one day off a week, but this would not affect the 72-hour a week men. Toil would continue frightful.
The hypocrtical plea of the steel barons is that a “metallurgical necessity” exists for the 7-day week, for continuous operation. But this continuous operation could be secured without sweating the men seven days a week. The plea is a dastardly subterfuge. The investigators developed the fact that the 7-day week was not confined to the blast furnace department, where there is a “metallurgical necessity” for continuous operation, and where 88 per cent of the men toil seven days a week; but it was found that, to a considerable extent, in other departments where no “metallurgical necessity” exists, work was also carried on Sundays.
War, particularly a general world war, tests the capacity of all whom it affects. The world war is a war that has thrown into the crucible of change all ideas and institutions; and out of this molten mass is emerging a new order.
This epochal character of the war is appreciated much more by the representatives of capital than by the representatives of the proletariat. Imperialism recognizes that all it cherishes is at stake; it recognizes that its future depends upon its action in this war, and its capacity to adapt itself to the new conditions that are developing. The old slogans, the old policy of Capitalism are being adapted to circumstances as they arise; it is inflexible in its class attitude during the war, and flexible in its attitude toward new problems, studying these problems, realizing that new conditions impose new measures. There is a ferment of ideas, a passionate activity, among the representatives of Imperialism, who appreciate the universal scope of the problems of the war. But, unfortunately, this attitude does not generally prevail among the representatives of the proletariat. Socialism itself is not in tune with the new rhythm of things. Socialism, on the whole, has during the war abandoned its class attitude. Socialism has met a real and humiliating defeat; and instead of recognizing this defeat as a defeat, in the spirit of men and of rebels, the tendency is either to explain away the defeat or hail it as a great victory. Instead of an appreciation of new conditions and new problems, the dominant Socialism smugly adheres to its old slogans and policy, the old tactics that directed Socialism straight to disaster. The great problems of a new epoch are compressed in the petty formulæ of yesteryear, – perverted formulæ, formulæ that have become a corpse which exhales the poisonous stench of death. This attitude is particularly apparent, largely dominant, in American Socialism; the war is used for purposes of petty political advantages, and there is no appreciation, no attempt to appreciate, the revolutionizing importance of the war in its relation to Socialism.
The world war is a revolutionary factor. The war is transforming the world economically, socially and politically. Its importance has a dual character its influence on immediate events, and the ultimate changes and reconstruction it imposes upon the Socialist program and Socialist action. This process of transformation preceded the war and will continue after peace is concluded, the significance of the war being the circumstance that it has brought these preceding factors of transformation to a climax and powerfully accelerated their onward development.
The war marks the definite, catastrophic end of an epoch of Capitalism. It is not the end of Capitalism, as the petit bourgeois Socialist fondly imagines, – the petit bourgeois Socialist, who sees the end of Capitalism in any and all things except the dynamic struggles of Socialism and the proletariat. The old competitive Capitalism, the Capitalism of laissez-faire, of democracy and liberal ideas, has emerged definitely into a new epoch, the epoch of Imperialism. This transformation carries with it the alteration of old values and institutions, – an alteration being accomplished by Capitalism, but not, as yet, by Socialism.
Precisely as the nations at war are not battling for the mere division of territory or particular advantages, but for general power, so the transformation being wrought by the war is not measured in particular facts or institutional changes, but in the general line of development of Capitalism, and of the revolutionary proletariat: a new epoch, and a new alignment in the social struggle.
War develops out of the class struggle, and the class struggle develops in and through war. While bringing with it the collapse of Socialism as an organized movement, the war has simultaneously demonstrated, in a new way and emphatically, that the proletariat holds the future of the world in the hollow of its hand.
Class antagonisms have been sharpened, while officially and apparently they have been modified through national unity; and Capitalism has shown its utter incapacity to preserve and promote civilization and progress. Moreover, the Russian Revolution has projected upon the stage of history the new revolutionary class in action, the class of the revolutionary proletariat. The Socialist conception of the proletariat as a class that will engage in the revolutionary struggle against Capitalism, and overthrow Capitalism, is no longer simply a theory, but a fact. Capitalism is a-tremble with apprehension at the accomplished fact of a proletarian revolution, and the danger that lurks in the awakening consciousness of the international proletariat.
The institution of the Federal Reserve System during the first administration of Woodrow Wilson was an important development in the amalgamation of Capitalism and Imperialism. It realized, if not wholly, at least sufficiently for all purposes, the dream of finance-capital for a central bank. The older dream had been a central bank completely dominated by Big Capital, an expression of the epoch when a few financial magnates maintained supremacy, often to the injury of Capitalism as a whole. But with the amalgamation of Capitalism and Imperialism into State Capitalism, with the disappearance of America’s splendid isolation, and the recognition of the necessity of a united capitalist class in the struggles of Imperialism and to secure world power, the older conception of a central bank had to be modified. It could no longer be simply an instrument of Big Capital; dominantly and necessarily an instrument of finance-capital, the central bank under the new conditions had to make ample provisions for the lesser groups and interests of Capitalism, become the instrument of a larger Capitalism. The Federal Reserve System met these requirements adequately. It unified the banking system of the country, solved minor antagonisms and amalgamated Capitalism, and freed financecapital for the struggle to secure the financial supremacy of the world.
The war offerd a splendid opportunity for financial supremacy, and the Federal Reserve System, centralized in the Federal Reserve Board, responded successfully to the opportunity. Upon his resignation on August 9 as a member of the Federal Reserve Board, Paul M. Warburg, an active factor in the organization and operation of the Federal Reserve System, summarized its achievements in one sentence: “Nothing but mismanagement could wrest the financial premiership of the world from us.” American Capitalism has definitely emerged into the epoch of international Imperialism.
American life moves and changes swiftly. Government and industry resort to new and desperate measures. Traditions break down. Accepted truths are challenged or repudiated. The present is dark, the future uncertain and threatening. There is an accumulating pressure of underlying ferments and forces which create social explosions. Classes mobilize: ideas clash. These are all indications of a crisis.
One aspect of the American crisis arose out of the depression and the efforts to overcome it. While ballyhoo promises a new and everlasting prosperity, a new world, millions hope merely for a job, any sort of job; for an income, any sort of income to ward off charity. Millions must accept charity, whether direct or in the form of “relief work.” The mobilization of government to “war upon depression” aroused hopes which were meagrely realized.
Another and more fundamental aspect of the crisis involves the decline of American capitalism. It is a crisis of the economic order itself. This is evident in the inability to restore prosperity on any substantial scale. The future is one of incomplete recovery: of economic decline, mass disemployment (including millions in clerical and professional occupations), lower standards of living, and war. Every depression is in a sense a crisis of capitalism. But this depression represents the development of a fundamental, permanent crisis in the economic and social relations of American capitalism. Only a deep-going crisis could force government and industry to adopt measures which were formerly condemned as opposed to economic progress. The intervention of government in industry is, of course, nothing new: the development of capitalism has been accompanied by growing government aid to industry. But such aid was limited in scope. It was, economically, an expression of the upswing of capitalism, of the necessity of government action to “regulate” the developing relations of trustified capitalism. But to-day government intervention is on an unprecedented scale. Its economics and politics are an expression of the decline of capitalism, of the necessity of government action to prop up the sagging foundations of the economic order. The avowed aim is to insure prosperity, formerly achieved by the working of “free” capitalist enterprise. The real need is for increasing use of government to manipulate economic forces, for state capitalism, because capitalist industry is unable to function as of old. The forms of state capitalism may change, but the need remains, with fascism looming ahead. As capitalism declines, the state must intervene more drastically to aid industry and suppress labor. It is the death of the old world, not the birth of the new.
The depression which set in after 1929 was the worst economic disaster in American history. It was aggravated by the acute world crisis, a major catastrophe of capitalism. The downward movement of production began in July, 1929 and continued until March, 1933 – three years and nine months. No previous decline was as long or as steep, not even in the great depressions of 1873 and 1893. In the depression of 1920-22 the downward movement of production continued ten months, and two years completed the swing from recession to renewed prosperity. Unemployment, including clerical and professional workers, rose in 1933 to 17,250,000; 14,250,000 wage-workers or nearly 50% were unemployed, compared with 30% in 1921. Part-time employment was also greater. And the situation was not very much improved, for the depression did not end in March, 1933. The revival, largely because of its inflationary and speculative character, did not lead to recovery. There was the ominous spectacle of a minor but complete cycle within a few months: revival in April, recovery in May, and “boom” prosperity in June; as production and profits outstripped wages and consumption, “prosperity” broke down in July, accompanied by a crash in the stock market; recession and depression again, and an intensification of the crisis.
If there was one man who led the way to a pro-Communist Left Wing, that man was Louis C. Fraina. Yet in 1952 the current leader of the American Communist party, William Z. Foster, in a 600-page book entitled History of the Communist Party of the United States, did not find room for a single mention of Fraina's name. By an almost unbelievable combination of circumstances, this name was wiped out of the consciousness of a generation. It is doubtful whether one per cent of all the thousands of people who have passed through the American Communist movement could identify Fraina or tell what he did.
Progressive movement at the edges of moderate political socialism was considered a friendly milieu for socialist agitation. The growing integration of the official labor movement into an overall national economic plan led their successors toward very different conclusions.
The uncomfortable perception spread that capitalism probably would not collapse of its own weight in the near future, nor would it yield to socialist reformers. A gap in the old socialist logic yawned, and a variety of ideas grew to fill the gap. These ideas, along with DeLeon's observations, formed the boundaries of Louis Fraina's critiques to come.
The most measured, optimistic assessment - against which Fraina very largely developed an original revolutionary critique - was made by William English Walling. Former popular muckraking journalist, a founder of the Niagrara movement (precursor to the NAACP), and longtime left-wing critic of Socialist Party policy, Walling reigned briefly as the party's prestigious unorthodox thinker. In 1912-14, his three major theoretical works appeared: Socialism as It Is, The Larger Aspects of Socialism, and Progressivism and After.
Unevenly written, hurried, and repetitive, these now-forgotten studies constitute a monument to the attempted reconciliation of socialism with the Progressive Era reformism and simultaneously with social science. If Walling's conclusions proved correct, neither the Socialist Party nor a revolutionary alternative had any particular role to play in the foreseeable future.
Walling, the first notable socialist intellectual to become an unabashed pragmatist, believed that science applied to sociology and philosophy had banished archaic materialism and idealism alike. In this frank philosophical revision - destined to be expounded again in the 1930s to 1950s by Sidney Hook and accepted by a later Lewis Corey as intellectual gospel - a great measure of socialism's traditions simply fell away. The Hegelian elements of Marxism, with their quasi-mystical roots in religious-utopian perfectionism, lacked any basis in a world of high technologies and experts. Pragmatism seemed to Walling a synonym for "Americanism," a philosophy that assumed that great negations (catastrophes such as ruinous war and total economic collapse) could no longer happen, at least not in American life."
The outdated anticipation of collapsing capitalism, according to Walling, had made socialists wrongly expect a single, decisive political class struggle. Socialists had thereby been blinded to the hidden strengths of the system, "the possibilities of transformation and progress that still inhere ... the increased unity and power it will gain through State Capitalism, and the increased wealth that will come through a beneficent and scientific policy of producing." Socialists also had mistaken the actual course of the class struggle.
By 1917, the Masses was suppressed, its editors and artists placed upon trial... The poetic sensibility of the Masses passed, in large part, over to the Liberator, a physically smaller and more politically focused weekly. Most of the outstanding Ashcan artists had in any case already abandoned ship during a 1916 internal struggle at the Masses over the demand for more clearly political cartoons. Boardman Robinson remained, joined by Hugo Gellert, William Gropper, Reginald Marsh, and various talented cartoonists. Floyd Dell's spirited literary columns continued to highlight figures like Sherwood Anderson, to uphold the sheer beauty of poetry, and to engage in an eclectic variety of literary proposals (such as a turn from Naturalism to a more "scientific" realism) he had foreshadowed in the New Review.
But things had changed in a deeper sense. Symptomatically, the opening of New York's Sheridan Square along with the expansion of the West Side subway set off a hyper-wave of new construction in Greenwich Village, raising rents, inviting tourists, and reducing bohemianism to an increasingly empty spectacle. The "end of innocence" came to the Village just as national journalists spread a version of its values (or at least, its looser sexual morals) to "Country Club" youth in the hinterlands.
The Liberator actually outpaced the Masses circulation, rising finally to eighty thousand. It had gripping labor reportage and a coverage of African-American life (including outstanding black editor, poet, and future novelist Claude McKay) hitherto unimaginable. Its main appeal was symptomized by John Reed's 1918 reports from the "New Russia." Willy-nilly, despite its continued independent-mindedness and literary experimentation, the Liberator had become a Russian-oriented, proto-Communist magazine."
The displacement of a vaguely anarchistic sensibility, full of the self-parodies the Masses pages often featured about the intelligentsia at work and at play, soon left almost nothing behind. Only "Mass Action" of a proto-revolutionary kind could, one imagines, have restored the poetic verve of the middle 1910s, precisely because no mass action was likely to be directed by any all-dominant political movement of the Left. Irrationalism in the best sense would have been vindicated again.
Fraina rejoined the Socialist Party at this point in 1917, evidently for strategic reasons rather than any newfound attraction. He was not so different, in this move, from thousands of immigrant late-comers building up the various immigrant federations. They, too, had trouble taking the party seriously up to this point. But Fraina had both a distinct personal history and purposes that the ordinary enthusiasts of the Russian Revolution had probably not clarified in their own minds. As Fraina had called upon SLPers to do in late 1912, he entered the mainstream of American socialism with a sword.
The Bolsheviki have subjectively introduced the revolutionary epoch of the proletariat, objectively introduced by Imperialism in the war... Socialism in action, Marxism becomes life-that, in sum, constitutes the achievements of the Bolsheviki.
The Decline of American Capitalism caused a stir far beyond the usual circle of radicals and progressive labor publications. John Chamberlain of the New York Times commented, "I expect to be reading it page by page until Christmas."' Adolph Berle called it "an extremely brilliant Communist tract" and admitted that a Marxian economist could see the obvious problems in the American economy. Alvin Hansen thought he "knew of no better book to hand to the head of a corporation which insists that wages be cut so that the dividend rate be maintained."' John R. Commons, father of modern institutional labor history, wrote a lengthy critique of the book in the American Economic Review, calling Corey the "first Marxian economist to reduce the Marxian theory to quantitative terms." And George Soule of the New Republic held that Corey's work had filled the most serious theoretical gap of the Communists, their inability to demonstrate Marxian claims in terms of American conditions.
The Decline of American Capitalism is indeed an impressive book, and it richly deserves reevaluation because of its importance as a path-breaking Marxist or radical critique of American capitalist economic mechanisms. Unfortunately, it contained too much repetition; the book ran "two hundred too many" pages according to one critic. Wall Street analyst William J. Blake, at the end of the decade, commented shrewdly that Corey suffered "from the desire to bring down his capitalist flock of birds with every kind of statistical shot in his lockers, although, some do not fit the Marxian rifles. Corey seemed to be making up for lost time in his career, rushing into a parallel analysis of indictment of American capitalism from many similar vantage points.
Corey's fundamental analysis fell into three categories. He began his book with a historical sketch of American capitalism, trying to discover why monopoly in the United States did not immediately bring decline and depression. He devoted most of the book to a critique of American capitalism as it existed in the 1920s and early 1930s. Here, he sought to show in a myriad of ways the existence of a basic contradiction between the massive production of profits and the relatively low level of wages, leading to underconsumption, depression, further monopolization, and final decline of the system. Within this critique of present trends Corey intended to reconcile the theory of overproduction and underconsumption - a familiar Keynesian notion - with Marx's theory of the falling rate of profit, particularly as expressed in the third volume of Capital. Finally, Corey tried to draw strategic and tactical conclusions about the approaching death of capitalism. He studied imperialism as an element of capitalist self-destruction, and he drew the conclusion that the American people had to choose between communism and minimal economic recovery under fascism.
From a social-economic viewpoint, monopoly capitalism and imperialism are the transition to a new social order; from a class-economic viewpoint, they are an effort, by the dominant capitalist interests, to prevent the birth of that order. This sharpens both the economic contradictions and the class antagonisms...
The Communist movement represented the larger historical interests of the working class (as well as its immediate interests) and is the only alternative to social decline and decay. It is a minority, but is also the advance guard of a class, issuing a challenge, creating an ideology, rallying the iron battalions for the coming struggle.
For this thin moment, Corey was therefore at pains to distinguish his own strategy of democratic-radical unity from the Popular Front of the Communists. In a radio debate with Popular Front-leaning Harry F. Ward of the Union Theological Seminary, Corey argued that Rooseveltian strategy of collective security foreshadowed not the defeat of worldwide reaction but the victory of reaction in America. The United States, he said, had allied itself militarily with "Tory England, the greatest imperialist oppressor in the world today." If Americans did succeed in devoting their resources to a "world of cooperation," it would be only because they forced their government to abandon its "militarist preparations and imperialist objectives." The Communist agitation, Corey warned, blunted the radical thrust; the struggle against fascism should be no mere holding action but also "a struggle against declining and decaying capitalism."
Other events quickly turned him rightward. Like so many fellow radicals (including thousands of disillusioned Communists), Corey was thunderstruck by the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. Following the Communist treatment of non-Communists in the Spanish Civil War, the Moscow Trials, and the revelations of Stalin's terror, the Pact offered definitive proof of Russia's degeneration. In a speech delivered that fall for a symposium of the Lovestoneite Independent Labor Institute, Corey suddenly warned darkly of a deformed socialism. From start to finish, the Soviet example had been wrong. A violent seizure of power under any circumstance would inevitably bring "a total dictatorship over the masses of people" which would "leave the new order scarred for years to come."
Here, Corey seemed close to breaking with more than his views on Russia. The key to a corrected socialist policy was liquidating the "unhistorical and unrealistic" belief in the proletariat as the "carrier" of socialism. This fetishization, he now insisted, had prompted both the Stalin terror and the failure of German socialists to stop fascism! A new policy appealing "to all useful groups in society" could lead to a "new gradualism" that was also a "program of decisive socialist action."
Within a year, the Lovestone group, already in 1939 down to a mere handful of members, had formally "liquidated" itself. Arriving at the conclusion that no more could be accomplished as a separate movement, its leaders suggested that loyalists enroll in the Socialist Party, a rapidly fading entity. Although one should not overinterpret the point, Corey's Marxism arguably died with that of the Lovestoneites. According to the later recollections of Charles Zimmerman, Corey also grew restless at his job of educational director, despite the rare economic security it brought him. He resigned in 1939, hoping once again to make his living as a writer.
In 1940, Corey consciously and explicitly turned his back on Marxism. During this year, he wrote a three-part renunciation of his old Marxist beliefs for the Nation. Basically, he held, Marxism was subject to a "Hegelian hang¬over" that made it excessively concerned with ideology at the expense of day-to-day realities and possibilities. Predictions about capitalist decline had proven correct in light of the crisis of the 1930s, but a Marxist economic model offered no adequate replacement for capitalism because the Russian experience had shown that revolution contained a "totalitarian potential." Capitalism could be peacefully transformed, moreover, by all functional groups - blue and white collar workers, technicians, and farmers-without resorting to violence. Corey argued, as he continued to do until his death, that: "We must learn to use the democratic state, overcome its class nature and limitations, democratize it still further with greater popular controls, and increase its constructive services.... The alternative is the easy Marxist way which, history now shows, ends in a totalitarian nightmare."
Corey's remarks drew wide comments from the Left, which the Nation printed as a symposium. Earl Browder baldly accused Corey of careerism; Bertram Wolfe argued that Corey had put aside the central role of the working class; Algernon Lee of the Social Democratic Federation, a right-ward split from the Socialist Party, accused him of inventing alternatives that did not exist. Norman Thomas was the most sympathetic with Corey's premises but warned against any naive belief in the conversion of democracy into socialism.
Max Shachtman, Trotskyist spokesman, made the most penetrating comments. He suggested that the only difference between the standard program of social reformers and that of Corey was the latter's promise to "put `teeth' into his gradualism." But "in reality," Shachtman went on, "Mr. Corey's teeth, and those of most middle-class radicals, are chattering with fright in the growing totalitarian darkness. Despite the strong talk, there is nothing aggressive in their program." Corey's position had been shown by the extreme defensive posture of his article. Shachtman concluded, "He stressed not so much what he proposes to accomplish as what he proposes to prevent."
No upbuilding of the United Nations, no world unity for cooperation, no disarmament and peace is possible until Soviet military power is destroyed.... We must force a showdown with the Soviet Union and devise a policy with which to do so.
Fraina's legal problems cut short his plans and schemes. In December 1950, justice Department agents served him with a deportation warrant for being in the country illegally almost his entire life and - even more remarkably - for being a Communist. His family had come to the United States without papers, and he had decided later against filing because of his 1917 arrest and conviction as a conscientious objector. He had, moreover, left the country illegally on Comintern work and then returned illegally as well.
Tens or hundreds of thousands of others had committed similar technical indiscretions, of course. But radicals of all kinds now faced persecution on the grounds of old infractions. Benjamin Gitlow, Fraina's former factional rival in 1919-21, emerged a star witness for government investigations of the purported Communist subversive threat. According to Corey's lawyer, Gitlow testified "quite freely" about Corey's activities in the early period but seemed (or acted) "totally unaware" of Corey's later anti-Communist stance." Obviously, anyone on the congressional committee could have ascertained Corey's real views, but in these vindictive times, Corey was just another victim.
In fact, he had been told, in 1950, that he could apply for a Certificate of Lawful Entry and be accepted. But with the restrictive McCarren Act in effect, his application was denied. On Christmas Day, 1952, he received an announcement of the impending deportation order. The next month, the butchers' union released him, adding greatly to his personal stress level.
Corey spent his last years in New York City, in between trips to Washington to work with lawyers on his case. He suffered a second and decisive cerebral hemorrhage at his desk on 15 September 1953, lapsed into a coma, and died the next day. Two days posthumously a Certificate of Lawful Entry arrived along with a notice from a publisher for a contract for the projected book, Toward an Understanding of America.