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Morris Hillquit (Moishe Hillkowitz)

Morris Hillquit was an American socialist. He represented American socialists in the Socialist and Labor Internationals. From 1920 he campaigned against American communists, regarding them as a harmful alien import. Until the 1930s he dominated his party’s international relations and in 1929 was elected chairman of the national party.

Background

  • Morris Hillquit was born on August 1, 1869 in Riga, Latvia. Son of Benjamin and Rebecca (Levene) Hillquit. His father was a factory owner who enrolled his son in a non-Jcwish secular school.

  • Education

    • At age fifteen Hillquit already saw himself as a socialist, following many other secular Jewish students of the time. With the decline in his father’s fortunes, the family emigrated to the United States in 1886. Settling in New York, Hillquit was drawn to East Side Jewish radical circles and on his eighteenth birthday joined the Socialist Labor party, soon becoming one of its active crusaders against anarchism.

      He also participated in antircligious demonstrations, including a Yom Kippur ball marked by feasting and smoking. Like other cosmopolitans he saw no future in preserving a unique Jewish way of life. Nevertheless he worked as a Yiddish journalist and organizer as an official of the United Hebrew Trades of Jewish Labor.

      He entered New York University Law School, suporting himself by tutoring students in Latin and teaching English to immigrants. He now disapproved of ethnically oriented socialism, which brought him into conflict with other Jewish socialists.

    Career

    • After graduation, he and his brother opened a successful law practice, often representing unions. In 1899 he was one of the leaders of the right-wing opposition faction of constitutional socialists, which split from the Socialist Labor party in protest against the radical leadership of Daniel De Leon. This led in 1900 to the foundation of the Social Democratic party, which in turn evolved into the Socialist party, in which Hillquit was the outstanding ideologist and tactician. Hillquit was now a major figure in the socialist movement, in which he took a centrist position between the revolutionary left and the reformist right.

      From 1901 to 1906 he served as New York representative on the party’s national committee. On several occasions he ran for Congress but was never elected. Hillquit remained the leading polemicist in the party against the left wing and emerged as the champion of a gradualist, lawful socialist position.

      After World War I broke out in 1914, he used his energies to keep the party intact and to launch an aggressive antiwar crusade. He published a peace platform that blamed the war on European capitalists and imperial ists and sought to keep the United States out of the war. Running for Congress in a New York district he was only narrowly defeated. He was now more prepared to cooperate with other antiwar organizations. In 1917 he ran for mayor of New York and attracted a broad coalition of support in his unsuccessful bid, in which he received 22 percent of the votes.

    Major achievements

    • He was a founder of the People’s Council for Democracy and Peace.

    Politics

    At this time he took a more cautious attitude, seeking to soften socialism so as to make it more palatable to the American people. His model was now the British Labor party, which was achieving electoral success in Britain. His views roused the ire of Lenin, who called him a social traitor and excluded him from membership in the Communist International.

    Hillquit continued to anger the left-wingers with his cautious altitude to strikes, his agreement to government-dictated arbitration agreements, and his indifference to democratic reform within the unions.

    Party affiliation: Democrat

    Religion

    The war period saw him draw closer to the Jews; he championed the Jewish worker in the United States and in Europe and became the lawyer for major Jewish unions in New York. He became a hero to Jewish workers when, in 1915, he successfully defended seven Jewish officials of the Cloakmaker’s Union charged with murdering a strikebreaker.

    He was also prominent in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, for which he was counsel. However, in the 1920s he rarely championed Jewish causes and his image as a Jewish leader faded.

    Membership

    Member Socialist Party, since 1888.

    Connections

    • Married Vera Levene, December 31, 1893.
    • father: Benjamin Hillquit
    • mother: Rebecca (Levene) Hillquit
    • spouse: Vera Levene
    Morris Hillquit
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    Born August 1, 1869
    Died October 8, 1933
    (aged 64)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:

    Contributor  

    Darya Ya

    last changed 19/05/2017 view changes
    • Address
    • General Info
    • Background
    • Works
      • Author: History of Socialism in the United States, 1903. Socialism in Theory and Practice, 1909. Socialism Summed Up, 1912.Socialism—Promise or Menace (with John A. Ryan), 1914. From Marx to Lenin, 1921.
    • School and college years description
    • Career Description
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