PART 1 – THE EUROPEAN WAR
Germany's decision to not resume unrestricted submarine warfare is coupled with a switch from sabotage to propaganda operations inside the U.S., providing stark evidence of the hunger and hardship that the Entente blockade is inflicting on Central Europe to newspapers. Moved to action, wealthy German-Americans start a charity for German children, gathering clothes, toys and treats to be distributed as Christmas gifts. Tragedy strikes when a Royal Navy submarine mistakes their vessel for a German ship and torpedoes it, taking it down with all hands. Confused initial reports imply that the sub had full knowledge that they were sinking an American vessel and even left drowning passengers to die in the North Atlantic. German spies and yellow journalists seize on the opportunity, and by the time the full story is revealed public outrage has already reached a fever pitch. President Wilson implores the British to compromise and let non-war supplies through before Congress votes for sanctions or other punitive measures. With little choice, the blockade ceases counting farm products, foodstuffs, and other critical goods as war material, delivering the Central Powers from looming famine.
John 'Jack' Reed, an American journalist working for the Socialist magazine The Masses, departs New York in August with his wife and co-worker Louise Bryant to write on the post-revolutionary political climate. Arriving in Petrograd shortly after the Kornilov affair, they were witness to the run-up to the October Revolution and the fall of the Winter Palace. They ingratiate themselves to the new government as fellow Socialists.
Reed returns from Russia, singing the praises of the Bolsheviks, and begins working on a book about the October Revolution.
As the war begins to turn against the Entente, American investors begin demanding more collateral from their clients, including most of France's gold reserves.
Huey P. Long, a young Louisiana lawyer, is elected to a seat on the Louisiana Railroad Commission, his first political office. A vocal enemy of the powerful Standard Oil Company, he quickly gains a reputation as a great campaigner, orator, and populist.
Jack Reed’s "Ten Days That Shook the World" is released early in the year, becoming the definitive English-language account of the Russian Revolution, and earning Reed great notice among American leftists.
The Temperance Movement reaches its high tide - with over half the states in the country dry, and most others with local option restrictions on alcohol sales. Attempts to enforce Prohibition at the Federal level fall flat, with wet Senators filibustering several attempts. In addition, several publicized cases of methanol poisoning and continued, or even increased, alcohol consumption in dry states, begins to turn public opinion against the Anti-Saloon League.
The year ends with the surrender of France and the effective close of the war in Europe. Despite the loss of its favored side, the United States is in good economic health, militarily secure, and ready to enter a new decade of peace and prosperity...
THE EMERGENCY NATIONAL CONGRESS OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY, 1920
The crisis at the heart of the Emergency National Committee can be traced, more than anything, to this: the dual revolutions in Russia and France, and what to support. The National Executive Committee, following 1919 elections, was for the first time in the control of the insurgent left wing. Benjamin Gitlow, C.E. Ruthenberg, William Bross Lloyd, and John Reed were among some of the new members in command of the newly strengthened and emboldened Socialist Party. Yet already there was tension in the air, with a powerful established Communist faction mourning the destruction of Lenin’s dream, and the growing Syndicalist presence in France marking the stages of a worldwide split, even as the Jacobin faction waved red flags across Paris. It was with this in mind that the NEC announced that there was to be an Emergency National Congress to determine the party’s future in the days before the 1920 May Day.
The Congress began peacefully enough, with Executive Secretary Alfred Wagenknecht calling the sizable crowd to order. He commended the Party for its successes in organizing since the ascent of the left wing, with the dock strikes against supplies to the American Expeditionary Force in Russia garnering special note by Wagenknecht, and thunderous applause from the attending delegates. But now, the Congress came to the issue at hand: how was the Party to react to the rising star of the French Commune?
Gitlow was one of the more enthusiastic voices in support of the new Commune, pointing out that it had successfully driven out its reactionary elements and was in firm control of its territory. The red flag flew over the Eiffel Tower, and yet there were those in the Party who wished to do any less than welcome it with open arms? Unthinkable.
Ruthenberg fired back, noting the lack of leadership displayed by the CGT, despite it being the last star of leftism in the globe. According to Jacobin contacts, the “natural allies of the French worker” were being sidelined in favor of “disorganization and pro-German military activities”. (The carefully worded dog-whistle in reference to anarchist and Syndicalist politics was just the opening salvo in the long dance between the Syndicalist and Communist factions of the Party as they attempted to win the dwindling right-wing to their own sides.)
The heated exchanges continued for nearly an hour, but it was ultimately John Reed who was able to quell the crowds, at least somewhat. The bright young star of the Party noted his mourning of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, and the workers which he had seven all throughout Petrograd, that must be now suffering terribly for having chosen liberation. But he saw no reason to, at least for this May Day, not celebrate one of the last lights of worker’s rule on the planet. And indeed if the Socialists and CGT could work together, was it not a symbol that the estranged IWW and the Socialist Party could work together to achieve freedom in the United States? It was a radical enough thought that the crowd fell into a thoughtful murmur that suddenly turned into thunderous applause, to Reed’s bewilderment.
Eugene Debs had arrived, making a rare intra-Party dispute appearance. Reed had the right idea, thought Debs. Over eight years ago, the Party had voted to expel Bill Haywood and those who preferred the IWW’s tactics of direct action and sabotage. It had never recovered. “If we had not driven away our close friends in those years, who is to say what we could have gained? The toil of the workers, the cries of children without parents, the anguish of war – how much could us united have stopped? We have been given a sign, a chance to make things right, and we must take it, or be lost.” Deb’s heartfelt plea to rescind the 1911 expulsions and amendments attacking direct action and sabotage could not fall on deaf ears, not even to those less inclined to the IWW and the new French state. The stage was set for reconciliation in the American Left.
For all the pomp, all the bluster, all that history would later declare this a key moment in the Socialist Party, not much changed immediately afterwards. Debs would go on to successfully break his 1912 record in his 5th Presidential bid, the party would continue its slow march into popularity and mass politics – but nothing would truly change until the Mingo War. With the reconciliation that followed that horror, along with the shared resistance to the Palmer raids, the Left could only get stronger in America. The struggles between the Syndicalist and Communist wings would continue up through the fateful year of 1936, just as steadily as the Center of the Party kept them in line for the most part. But there is no denying that the Emergency Congress was where the two souls of American leftism began to recombine.
PART 2 – ROARING TWENTIES AND RED WARS
The United States sees its first elections with full women's suffrage, as the 18th Amendment comes into effect on November 1st. The Democratic ticket of Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo and Attorney General Alexander Palmer are elected.
As the dust settles from the Communal Revolution, and the Russian Revolution begins to collapse, Jack Reed is sent to report on the new and very different French socialist government. Taken by the comparative efficiency and ability to provide for the people of the CGT's government, compared to what he had seen of the Bolsheviks, he becomes an ardent Syndicalist.
The promising political career of Franklin Roosevelt is tragically cut short when he succumbs to polio.
In the aftermath of the Matewan Massacre and the murder of Sheriff Sid Hatfield, 10,000 UMW coal miners in Mingo County, West Virginia, began a guerrilla war against their employers. Against the advice of Mary "Mother" Jones, the strikers marched on neighboring anti-Union stronghold Logan County over a peak called Blair Mountain. The Battle of Blair Mountain ended in a union victory, and Logan was soon under their control. Nearby AFL and IWW members began to travel to the region to support the uprising. President McAdoo, on the advice of Vice-President Palmer, ordered the Army in. Brigadier General William Mitchell, a proponent of close air support, worked with "Sheriff" Don Chaffin of Logan to drop explosives and tear gas on the town. Logan was surrounded and ordered to unconditionally surrender or be tried for treason. After diplomatic overtures by William Blizzard and the other leaders of the uprising failed, morale collapsed and the miners surrendered, although most hid their weaponry in caches rather than turn them in. General Mitchell's promises of amnesty proved to be hollow – and Blizzard, Jones, and many others were tried and executed.
In the aftermath of the Mingo War, Vice-President Palmer begins a program of left-wing suppression. However, the "Palmer Raids" backfire as their uncoordinated nature, along with shock and rage over the executions of the Mingo War's leaders, drive leftists together under the Socialist Party of America, which begins to grow as an electoral force.
Now Chairman of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, Long successfully sues the Cumberland Telephone & Telegraph Company for unfair rate increases, earning $440,000 in refunds for 80,000 customers. Long defeats appeals of the case all the way to the Supreme Court, prompting Chief Justice and former President William Taft to call Long “one of the greatest legal minds [he had] ever met”.
A general strike is called in Seattle. Workers from all unions and backgrounds join together, first to demand a bevy of concessions from the city and its industries – and then begin to move towards a far grander design. A General Strike Committee is formed for the "Seattle Commune", becoming the de facto city government from early-April to mid-May. When news that the Army is about to be deployed again breaks, the Committee disbands and work resumes. With a lack of violent actions to prosecute, there are no executions like Mingo - and the aftermath is an overall increase in the bonds between American leftists. Jack Reed, returned from France, plays an active part in the Commune's government, and his writings both increase the popularity of syndicalism among Americans and elevate him to a leading voice in socialist politics.
McAdoo and Palmer are re-elected. Long runs an unsuccessful Gubernatorial campaign, but pioneers the use of radio advertisements and sound trucks in Southern politics.
PART III – THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The TUC's general strike spooked conservatives and brought smiles to the left, but Washington and Wall Street remained confident that the situation was under control. As the British Revolution takes shape, it becomes clear that America's greatest trading partner has suffered an irreparable blow, and panic sets in. On April 20th, the inevitable comes to pass, and the New York Stock Exchange takes its largest recorded plunge. The Roaring Twenties come to a roaring halt.
A lone bright spot arrives in May, as Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.
A special "pan-union" congress is called in Philadelphia on July 12th, where Jack Reed and the leaders of the IWW put forth a bold plan to form an umbrella organization to coordinate union activities and policy, to the end of bringing the revolution to America, tentatively named "The Combined Syndicates of America". The plan is met with general approval, but large parts of the AFL leadership object to its commitment to revolution, eventually departing the conference. Despite the setback, the "One Big Union" was now a reality.
The Socialist Party convenes on October 4th, and is quickly swayed towards the CSA's program of direct action, or at least that cooperation with the program would bring electoral success.
The United States recovers some of its dignity by spearheading the creation of the Legation Cities in the aftermath of the German Intervention in China, citing the Open Door Policy. Notably, Quentin Roosevelt, the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, is sent as part of the US diplomatic efforts to protect American Interest abroad. In addition to gaining recognition as an able diplomat during the Intervention, Quentin Roosevelt earned some additional fame for his aviation skills.
But the economic situation continued to be dire, and accordingly American businesses reluctantly begin to drop their longstanding enmity towards trading with the German Empire. California and the Pacific Northwest turn towards the Japanese instead, resuming steady economic growth. Elsewhere, the unemployment rate remained in the double digits.
The November Congressional elections see the Socialist Party of America jump from five to twenty-three seats in the House of Representatives, and Seymour Stedman of Illinois become the first Socialist Senator.
The Columbine Mine Massacre occurs. The growing leftist voice in government will not let the matter rest, and eventually Federal charges are brought against the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company and several police officers. Although only one man is convicted, it is the first time in U.S. labor history that anyone has been brought to justice for violence against strikers.
In May, Huey Long is elected Governor of Louisiana, under the slogan "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown" – and begins a massive public works and enrichment program. His vicious attacks on corporate power and the upper-class lead his detractors to label him a socialist, which he viciously denies, calling the CSA and Socialist Party power-hungry conspirators aiming to topple the United States. Harder to deflect are the accusations of demagoguery and abuses of power.
In November, Herbert Hoover and Charles Curtis easily defeat Al Smith and Joseph Robinson, promising a great program of rail and other construction to combat unemployment. The Socialist Party, running Norman Thomas, takes several Midwestern states – though not enough to keep the Republicans from a majority of electoral votes. Jack Reed runs for Senator in New York to support the bid, and is swept into power in an upset.
PART IV – THE KINGFISH RISES
After four months of complete government inactivity between the McAdoo and Hoover administrations, the 19th Amendment is proposed and passed, moving Inauguration Day to January 20th and the reopening of Congress to the 3rd.
After nearly being impeached over an oil tax for funding his social programs, Long becomes even more convinced that people's interests must be fought for outside the law, and grows increasingly dictatorial in his methods.
Norman Thomas uses his failed Presidential bid to win the New York City Mayoral race, becoming one of many Socialists now holding major offices throughout the country.
Long-running Catholic radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin begins attacking both socialism and syndicalism, and the greed of the capitalist classes for creating the conditions to allow these ideologies to flourish. He draws in millions of listeners of all backgrounds and denominations.
After the Louisiana legislature shoots down most of his proposals, Long abruptly begins a bid for the US Senate - and wins. However, he refuses to stop being Governor, and leaves the Senate seat as vacant while he is away from D.C., claiming that the bid was a referendum on his popularity with the people of Louisiana, Long returns to pushing his reforms with a new mandate.
Coughlin is dropped by CBS after he refuses to let them review his scripts – so he raises money from his listeners to create his own network.
Labor disputes in America have begun to return better results for workers, from a combination of public sympathy, CSA organizing and direction, and Socialist Party support. With the Republican's work program not addressing any of the systemic problems plaguing the American lower classes, direct action and a Socialist administration are seen as the only reasonable solutions by most unionized workers. Working in the Senate has begun to open Reed to the idea of "reform from the top", and he begins conferring with the social democratic wing of the SPA on running for President himself.
Long's programs give Louisiana some of the best infrastructure in the United States, but the Governor takes a heavy, nigh-dictatorial hand in all State affairs. In October, Lieutenant Governor Paul N. Cyr demands that Long resign the position and enter the Senate. In response, Long summons the Louisiana National Guard to garrison the Governor's mansion and defend himself from the "coup". After suing in the Supreme Court to get Cyr removed on a technicality, he appoints his friend Oscar K. Allen as the new Lieutenant Governor and future puppet. His power base secured, Long finally takes his seat as Senator.
PART V- STORM CLOUDS
At the Democratic National Convention, Huey Long runs for the Presidential nomination but the party instead chooses long serving Maryland governor Albert Ritchie. Long responds by forming his own party – the "America First Party”.
The Presidential election is the most chaotic in recent memory – as the Socialists and the somewhat recovered Democrats peel off states from the Republicans, and many states are won without a majority of votes. With a hung Electoral Collage, the House of Representatives narrowly re-elects Hoover as President, causing widespread outrage.
The Dust Bowl begins in South Dakota, but soon becomes centered around the Oklahoma Panhandle and Kansas. The storms reach all the way to D.C., and New England's winter snow is tinted red. Farmers and their communities are forced to migrate in the millions, many heading west to California. The industrial-worker and miner focused Socialists are unable to offer solutions to the problem, especially with the displaced rural populations now competing for work in the big cities.
After years of planning, the America First Party is officially founded by Senator Huey Long.
The AFP grows rapidly amongst Southern and rural populations, and is endorsed by Father Coughlin, whose National Union for Social Justice has joined the party. He coins the slogan "All For Long or All Is Lost". It also attracts radical spiritualist and political theorist William Dudley Pelley, whose "Minute Men" paramilitary groups become a fixture of the party. Long keeps them at a distance, but does not disavow or condemn him.
Quentin Roosevelt, groomed as the Roosevelt family's heir after the death of Franklin in 1921, narrowly defeats Norman Thomas to become Governor of New York.
Charles Lindbergh takes an interest in nativist politics after a German immigrant is convicted for the kidnapping and murder of his son. His star-power leads to Long seriously considering him as his candidate for Vice President – although eventually settling on his longtime ally William Lemke instead – and making him a prominent figure in the party.