William F. Dunne, the son of an Irish immigrant father and a French-Canadian mother, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 15th October, 1887. The family lived in Minnesota when he was a child, where his father was a railroad worker. Dunne attended the College of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, a private, Roman Catholic institution.
Dunne found work on the Northern Pacific Railway as an electrician and later settled in Vancouver, British Columbia. He became an active trade unionist and in 1910 joined the Socialist Party of America.
During the First World War he moved to Butte, Montana, where he served as chairman of the joint strike committee of the metal trades strike in 1917-18 and edited the Butte Daily Bulletin, the official organ of the Montana Federation of Labor and Butte Central Labor Council. In 1918 Dunne was elected Montana State Legislature.
In 1918, Dunne was arrested on charges of sedition for an anti-militarist editorial in the Butte Daily Bulletin. His trial began on 20th February, 1919, in Helena, with his defense team lead by Burton K. Wheeler. Dunne, who was accused of being a "Bolshevist and an agitator" was convicted and fined $5,000. This conviction was later overturned by the Montana Supreme Court.
The right-wing leadership of the Socialist Party of America opposed the Russian Revolution. However, those members who disagreed with this policy formed the Communist Propaganda League. In February 1919, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe, John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow created a left-wing faction that advocated the policies of the Bolsheviks in Russia. On 24th May 1919 the leadership expelled 20,000 members who supported this faction. The process continued and by the beginning of July two-thirds of the party had been suspended or expelled.
In September 1919, Dunne, Jay Lovestone, Earl Browder, John Reed, James Cannon, Bertram Wolfe, William Bross Lloyd, Benjamin Gitlow, Charles Ruthenberg, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Louis Fraina, Ella Reeve Bloor, Rose Pastor Stokes, Claude McKay, Michael Gold and Robert Minor, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. Within a few weeks it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
According to Theodore Draper, the author of The Roots of American Communism (1957): "Six Dunne brothers were once active in the labor movement; four became Communists; and three - Vincent R., Grant, and Miles - later became Trotskyists. A Socialist since 1910, Bill Dunne brought the Socialist party branch of Butte into the Communist Labor party in 1919. Unlike most of the other former Socialists, Dunne was never completely housebroken in the Communist movement."
Initially, the American Communist Party was divided into two factions. One group that included Charles Ruthenberg, Jay Lovestone, Bertram Wolfe and Benjamin Gitlow, favoured a strategy of class warfare. Another group, led by Dunne, William Z. Foster and James Cannon, believed that their efforts should concentrate on building a radicalised American Federation of Labor. Ruthenberg argued in an article published in Communist Labor: "The party must be ready to put into its program the definite statement that mass action culminates in open insurrection and armed conflict with the capitalist state. The party program and the party literature dealing with our program and policies should clearly express our position on this point. On this question there is no disagreement."
William Z. Foster retailated by arguing: "At heart and in their daily action the trade unions are revolutionary. Their unchangeable policy is to withhold from the exploiters all they have the power to. In these days, when they are weak in numbers and discipline, they have to content themselves with petty achievements. But they are constantly growing in strength and understanding, and the day will surely come when they will have the great masses of workers organized and instructed in their true interests. That hour will sound the death knell of capitalism. Then they will pit their enormous organization against the parasitic employing class, end the wages system forever and set up the long-hoped-for era of social justice. That is the true meaning of the trade union movement."
In 1923, Dunne was expelled from the American Federation of Labor for his membership of the American Communist Party and his involvement in the Trade Union Educational League. The following year Dunne was a delegate to the 5th World Congress of the Communist International. He remained in Moscow as the party's representative to the Comintern.
It was decided that because William Z. Foster had a strong following in the trade union movement that he should be the party candidate in the 1924 Presidential Election. Benjamin Gitlow, was chosen as his running-mate. Foster did not do well and only won 38,669 votes (0.1 of the total vote). This compared badly with the other left-wing candidate, Robert La Follette, of the Progressive Party, who obtained 4,831,706 votes (16.6%).
In 1925, Dunne returned to the United States to become an editor of the Communist Party's daily newspaper, The Daily Worker. The following year he was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate. In 1928 he returned to Moscow as a delegate to the 6th World Congress of the Communist International. By this time Dunne was seen as a strong supporter of Joseph Stalin.
In 1929 Nikolay Bukharin was deprived of the chairmanship of the Comintern and expelled from the Politburo by Stalin. He was worried that Bukharin had a strong following in the American Communist Party, and at a meeting of the Presidium in Moscow on 14th May he demanded that the party came under the control of the Comintern. He admitted that Jay Lovestone was "a capable and talented comrade," but immediately accused him of employing his capabilities "in factional scandal-mongering, in factional intrigue." Benjamin Gitlow and Ella Reeve Bloor defended Lovestone. This angered Stalin and according to Bertram Wolfe, he got to his feet and shouted: "Who do you think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Zinoviev defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except your wives." Stalin then went onto warn the Americans that the Russians knew how to handle troublemakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."
Jay Lovestone realised that he would now be expelled from the American Communist Party. On 15th May, 1929 he sent a cable to Robert Minor and Jacob Stachel and asked them to take control over the party's property and other assets. However, as Theodore Draper has pointed out in American Communism and Soviet Russia (1960): "The Comintern beat him to the punch. On May 17, even before the Comintern's Address could reach the United States, the Political Secretariat in Moscow decided to remove Lovestone, Gitlow, and Wolfe from all their leading positions, to purge the Political Committee of all members who refused to submit to the Comintern's decisions, and to warn Lovestone that it would be a gross violation of Comintern discipline to attempt to leave Russia."
William Z. Foster, who had already gone on record as saying, "I am for the Comintern from start to finish. I want to work with the Comintern, and if the Comintern finds itself criss-cross with my opinions, there is only one thing to do and that is to change my opinions to fit the policy of the Comintern", now became the dominant figure in the party. Jay Lovestone, Benjamin Gitlow, Bertram Wolfe and Charles Zimmerman, now formed a new party the Communist Party (Majority Group).
With the support of Foster, Dunne was elected as a member of the Politburo of the American Communist Party in 1929. Two years later Dunne later moved to the Soviet Union, where he worked as a personnel specialist in charge of the 500 or 600 Americans working at the tractor plant in Stalingrad.
In 1932 Foster suffered a heart-attack and Earl Browder became the new leader of the American Communist Party. Foster moved to Moscow where he received treatment for his heart problems. He returned to the United States in 1935, but by this time Browder had established himself as the most important figure in the party. He was now strong enough to remove Dunne from the national leadership and in 1936 he was sacked as editor of the The Daily Worker.
In 1944 Earl Browder controversially announced that capitalism and communism could peacefully co-exist. As John Gates pointed out in his book, The Story of an American Communist (1959): "Browder had developed several bold ideas which were stimulated by the unprecedented situation, and now he proceeded to put them into effect. At a national convention in 1944, the Communist Party of the United States dissolved and reformed itself into the Communist Political Association." Ring Lardner, another party member, explained: "The change seemed only to bring the nomenclature in line with reality. Our political activities, by then, were virtually identical to those of our liberal friends."
Except for William Z. Foster and Benjamin Davis, the leaders of the American Communist Party unanimously supported Browder. However, in 1945, Jacques Duclos, a leading member of the French Communist Party and considered to be the main spokesman for Joseph Stalin, made a fierce attack on the ideas of Browder. As John Gates pointed out: "The leaders of the American Communists, who, except for Foster and one other, had unanimously supported Browder, now switched overnight, and, except for one or two with reservations, threw their support to Foster. An emergency convention in July, 1945, repudiated Browder's ideas, removed him from leadership and re-constituted the Communist Party in an atmosphere of hysteria and humiliating breast-beating unprecedented in communist history."
William Dunne died on 23rd September, 1953.
William F. Dunne... was born in Kansas City of an Irish immigrant father and a French-Canadian mother, raised in Minnesota, and entered the trade-union movement as an electrician in Vancouver, British Columbia. During the war he moved to Butte, Montana, where he served as chairman of the joint strike committee of the violent metal trades strike in 1917-18 and edited the Butte Daily Bulletin, official organ of the Montana Federation of Labor and Butte Central Labor Council. Dunne dominated the radical Butte labor movement as secretary of the local electricians' union, vice-president of the Montana Federation of Labor, and member from 1918 to 1920 of the Montana State Legislature, to which he was elected on the Democratic ticket, then temporarily invaded by the extreme Left Wing. Six Dunne brothers were once active in the labor movement; four became Communists; and three - Vincent R., Grant, and Miles - later became Trotskyists.
A Socialist since 1910, Bill Dunne brought the Socialist party branch of Butte into the Communist Labor party in 1919. Unlike most of the other former Socialists, Dunne was never completely housebroken in the Communist movement. It seems that he tried to get to Moscow in 1921 by working his way across on a boat bound for Stettin, Germany. There he went on a spree with some shipmates, invited the attention of the German police, and never reached his destination. He returned to New York to add one more radical trade-unionist to the new Communist leadership.