Archival Things: Organizer Notes #1

September 7, 2009

District 9. Minnesota. This is a Finnish prairie. I call it the Finnish woods. It’s dark and dreary for us here. We have a few English and South Slavic outposts. They control everything that is worth and worthless. We couldn’t touch this district even if we move the CI [Communist International] into Minneapolis. The state is a Finnish Cooperative Commonwealth.

District 13. [San Francisco] … Very little if any political activities. This is a home of retired radicals. Not even retired revolutionists.

District 15. Connecticut. In this case we are planning to remove the district – not the district organizer. We will shortly make it a sub-district of New York. There is nothing here worthwhile speaking of.



  1. Talk about a cloudy crystal ball–coming up, Teamsters Local 299 (Farrell Dobbs represent!), 1934 General Strike… OK, I dunno about CT, and I’m taking my medicine as a retired radical in San Francisco, but jeez.

  2. Which districts had the most worthy activities going on?

  3. Rootless, Yeah, there’s no date on the document, but my first thought was, “Well, this must be pre-1934!” I also liked the CT write-off–“Actually, it’s not me, it’s you.” Complaining about Finns, by the way, is a well-defined theme in reports throughout the 1920s. I have a theory that part of the Yokinen Trial (Finnish janitor “tried” for racial chauvinism in Harlem) had to do with disciplining the unruly Finnish section, but no direct docs to back it up.

    Lizzie, These Party assessments are actually not too good to gauge a general sense of a region. Almost all of them complain about the current state of organizing, point out failures, and scold both workers and organizers for their failings. Even places like Chicago and New York with major Party presences were mainly written about in terms of their failings. (No districts reporting revolution and successful establishments of workers’ soviets.) On the whole these sources reveal much more about politics and culture within the Party than any general of activity in a region.

    That said, occasionally you get some good material, like when the Cleveland organizer sent a long note on his interactions with the Garveyites, on how organized they were and energetic, too–if only they could be “captured” by the CP. Or, you’ll get a note on work among Indian nationalists in Detroit or rural Texas, and think, “Wait, what?”

  4. Almost all of them complain about the current state of organizing, point out failures, and scold both workers and organizers for their failings.

    That E.H. Carr book about the Comintern includes similar grousing to the point of tedium. As I recall there isn’t a lot of cheerleading, the stuff Lenin derided as “official optimism;” everybody’s deficient, nobody’s following the instructions from the ECCI, the Party press is garbage, the Social-Democrats’ grip on the workers is still strong etc. It’s occurred to me that keeping the cadres in a permanent state of anxiety, not democratic centralism, was the real principle of organization–that, in a way, the capriciousness of Stalinism was its content and the terror its expression, or enacting, or something. Probably not an original idea.

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