The University Record, July 23, 2001

University acquires Proletarian Party papers

From University Library

(Image courtesy Labadie Collection)
Papers documenting the rise and decline of the Proletarian Party of America, a Marxist political group active 1920–71, have been acquired by the U-M. Previously owned by the Charles H. Kerr Co., the archives of the group now are part of the Labadie Collection in the Special Collections Library.

The Proletarian Party, extensively involved in worker education and industrial labor movements in this period, was founded in 1920 by a group of Michigan radicals who were expelled from both the Socialist and Communist parties.

As the Proletarian Party grew, branches emerged in at least 38 U.S. cities. Although there were branches on both coasts, the party’s stronghold was the industrial Midwest.

The party emphasized worker education. Its “guiding spirit” was Scottish-born organizer, public speaker and pamphleteer John Keracher, who is credited with introducing legions of workers and labor organizers to Marxist principles.

Keracher was an animated speaker and writer who attracted large audiences. Many of the Proletarian Party’s members became prominent labor leaders, especially in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

The party is credited by some with inciting the 1937 Flint sitdown strike.

The archives, now housed in the Labadie Collection, include hundreds of fliers and handbills publicizing Proletarian Party events. Various publications offer scholars a window into the internal disputes that shaped the direction of the organization through the years.

Several one-of-a-kind items are preserved in the archives, such as unpublished essays and lectures by Keracher, original cartoons, photographs of party members and events, and signed letters by Keracher and other radical leaders.

The collection also includes materials documenting the personal lives of members, such as birth and death records, family papers, legal papers, and party leaders’ autobiographical manuscripts.

A handwritten diary of the 1937 sitdown strike at the Wilson-Jones plant in Chicago provides a detailed picture of the front-line experiences of labor radicals.

The papers enrich the Labadie Collection’s holdings in the areas of labor radicalism and American Marxism.

“The Labadie Collection is one of the world’s top research collections of social protest materials,” says Curator Julie Herrada.

“It is a collection of rich documentation that includes the activities and lives of radicals from the 19th century to the present.”

A published finding aid is available upon request. For further information about the Labadie Collection and the Special Collections Library, visit the Web at: www.lib.umich.edu/libhome/SpecColl.lib/spec_coll.html. The Special Collections Library is on the seventh floor of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 10 a.m.–noon Saturday.