Ohio History Journal

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Socialist Party of Ohio--

War and Free Speech

by Richard A. Folk

During World War I Ohio Socialists faced the dilemma of what action

to take when two "imperialistic-capitalistic" economies come into conflict.

According to theoretical Marxism, Socialists could not support a struggle,

the purpose of which was to expand the capitalist system. In the United

States, the Socialist party's National Executive Committee followed this doc-

trine in August 1914 when it proclaimed the party's opposition to the Euro-

pean battle. These Socialist leaders saw war as being "destructive of the

ideals of brotherhood and humanity to which the international Socialist

movement . . ." was dedicated. Blaming the war on the European ruling

classes, the committee pledged American Socialist support to "the Socialist

parties of Europe in any measures they [thought] necessary to undertake to

advance the cause of peace and good-will among men."1 Four years earlier

Ohio's George R. Kirkpatrick had expressed these views in his book, War!

What For?.2

Contrary to this theory, the Socialist parties in England, France, Russia,

and Germany not only failed to oppose the war, but actively supported it.3

This pragmatic decision enabled Socialists to avoid attacks by capitalistic

governments while they sought popular support under a shield of patri-

otism. Thus, European Socialist parties temporarily abandoned their long

range goal of establishing utopia and international tranquility for the im-

mediate purpose of party organization and growth. This gulf between theory

and practice was incomprehensible to the Ohio Socialist mind.

In searching for a solution to their problem, American Socialists aligned

into three basic groups. One supported the Socialists in Allied countries and

saw the European clash as a battle between freedom and democracy on one

side and militarism and ultra-conservative reaction on the other. It was

therefore in the best interest of Socialism to see Germany and her partners

in militarism crushed. Another group adhered to Marxian philosophy and