Charles H. Kerr Company Publishers

Charles H. Kerr Company Publishers
Charles H. Kerr Company Publishers
Founded 1886
Founder Charles Hope Kerr
Country of origin United States
Headquarters location Chicago
Distribution Small Press Distribution
Publication types Books
Official website

Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company was established in Chicago, Illinois in 1886 by Charles Hope Kerr, originally to promote his Unitarian and vegetarian views. As Kerr's personal interests moved from religion to Marxism and he became interested in the labor movement, the company's publications took a similar turn. The company's 1900 catalog promised books "on socialism, free thought, economics, history, hygiene, American fiction, etc."



In 1906 Kerr published the first volume of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. Kerr & Co. was also the first publisher of volumes 2 and 3 of Capital, publishing original translations made for it by Ernest Untermann in 1907 and 1909, respectively. From 1900 through 1918, Kerr also produced a monthly theoretical and political magazine, the International Socialist Review (ISR), one of the most important publications of the American radical movement in this period. The publication was closely linked to the Socialist Party of America, with first editor A.M. Simons taking a scholastic and theoretical bent towards its content. From about 1908, Charles H. Kerr himself took over the publication's editorial role, and the magazine moved further to the left wing of the socialist movement, paying closer attention to the strike movement and the Industrial Workers of the World.

Kerr was noted for his translation from the French of the radical workers' movement anthem, "The Internationale;" his version became the English words sung in the United States (although a different, anonymous English translation is sung in Britain and Ireland). Kerr's version was widely circulated in the IWW's Little Red Songbook.

During World War I, the US government denied mailing privileges to all Kerr publications, alleging them to be seditious violations of the Espionage Act of 1917. The ban dealt a fatal blow to the ISR, never a profitable publication in the best of times.

Immediately after the war, Charles Kerr came into close contact with the Scottish-born Detroit radical John Keracher through the latter's "Proletarian University" movement and its need for Marxist literature. In 1920, Keracher took a faction out of the underground Communist Party of America and established a small rival organization, the Proletarian Party of America. Keracher became a member of the Kerr Board of the Directors in 1924 and in 1928 Charles Kerr sold him the bulk of his controlling shares in the firm. Thereafter, the Proletarian Party controlled the operations of Kerr & Co., publishing a number of Keracher's works, including How the Gods Were Made (1929), Producers and Parasites (1935), The Head-Fixing Industry (1935), Crime: It's Causes and Consequences (1937), and Frederick Engels (1946).[1] Owing to poor finances, comparatively few other new Kerr titles were ever published by the PPA, although the backlist of the company was no doubt invaluable in maintaining the tiny organization's solvency.

Following the departure of the Proletarian Party from the scene in the 1960s, Charles H. Kerr & Co. was kept alive by a hardy band of midwestern radicals close to the IWW orbit under its new moniker, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. Today, the Company advertises "Subversive literature for the whole family since 1886."


  1. ^ Allen Ruff, "We Called Each Other Comrade": Charles H. Kerr & Co., Radical Publishers, pg. 204.

Additional reading

  • Ruff, Allen, "We Called Each Other Comrade": Charles H. Kerr & Company, Radical Publishers. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

External links

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