Saturday, February 14, 2009

USH12: Socialists and Suffragettes, Writers and Anarchists

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century was a time of war, robber barons, and empire building (see my last post and post of 1/29/09), but it was also a time of resistance and new ideas (see my posts of 1/25/09 and 2/2/09). Above all, it was a time when there were people looking at other ways of being--writing about them, lecturing about them, and organizing around them. I would love to write short biographies of each of these people, but I don't have the time, space, or energy to devote more than a few sentences to each.

Henry George was a newspaper editor who wrote a book on economics, Progress and Poverty, which was published in 1879. He advocated for a tax on land, claiming no other tax would be needed. He felt large tracts were belonged to everyone and said, "We must make land common property."

Edward Bellamy was a Massachusetts lawyer who wrote a utopian novel called Looking Backward. (See my post of 7/14/08 for an extensive list of utopian novels, including Looking Backward.) In the novel, apparently the protagonist wakes up in the year 2000 and found a cooperative socialist society. (Unfortunately, I woke up in the year 2000 and found GW Bush and Dick Cheney.) The novel, published in 1888, was the third best-selling novel of that time (after Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben Hur) and influenced a lot of people.

Eugene Debs (mentioned in my post of 2/2/09 as the farmers's choice for president) was opposed to worker's strikes when he started his career. Apparently one of the things that helped change his mind was when he read Looking Backward. He helped organize a railway union in 1893 and supported the Pullman Strike of 1894. For that he spent six months in prison. At the trial he denied that he was a socialist, but after studying socialism while imprisoned, he became an impassioned socialist when he got out. Debs spent a life organizing unions and espousing socialism. He was the Socialist Party candidate for president five times.

I mentioned the Haymarket Incident in my post of 2/2/09. Two of the key anarchists who were involved were the leaders of the International Working People's Association, August Spies and Albert Parsons. Both were hanged. August Spies, who was an upholsterer, said at his trial that anarchism stood for "a co-operative organization of society, under economic equality and individual independence." Albert Parsons, who had worked as a printer and a newspaper writer, had left the rally quite a bit before the bomb exploded and was in Wisconsin when the arrests were being made, but turned himself in as an act of solidarity with his comrades. The Wikipedia article on him claims he could have asked for clemency and gotten a life sentence rather than being hung, but didn't do so because he felt it would have been an admission of guilt. His wife, Lucy, was an effective activist also, who organized and gave speeches until her death, at 89, in 1942. The Chicago Police Department once stated that she was "more dangerous than a thousand rioters".

Two anarchists who felt that the Haymarket affair was part of their political awakening were Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. I've mentioned Berkman in my post of 1/29/09 because he shot Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead strike and spent fourteen years in prison for it. Goldman and Berkman were both born in Russia and came to the US in their teens. They met in New York, in 1889. Lovers and lifelong friends, they worked together on the journal, Mother Earth, which was one of the key sources of anarchist ideas for eleven years (1906-1917). They were both arrested in 1917 for conspiracy against the draft, and were both eventually deported to Russia--where they were first excited about the communist experiment, and then rapidly disenchanted. The experience led Goldman to write My Disillusionment in Russia and Berkman to write The Bolshevik Myth. Berkman committed suicide in 1936, in France. Goldman died in Toronto in 1940, while in North America to raise money to support the anti-facists in Spain. Emma Goldman was an amazing speaker. One woman who heard Goldman speak said, "Can you imagine the effect she had on an East Side girl of seventeen who knew nothing of the world of culture? ... I used to travel clear across town to hear her lecture on Saturday nights on literature, birth control, and women."

A different sort of anarchist was Benjamin Tucker. Son of radical Unitarians and a Friends Academy graduate, he early supported women's suffrage and the eight hour workday. He edited two anarchist journals in the late nineteenth century, The Radical Review and Liberty (which ran until 1908) and translated the works of Proudhon and Bakunin. He advocated nonviolence and a more individualist version of anarchism.

The Industrial Workers of the World was formed in 1905 with the support of Eugene Debs, Mary Harris Jones (aka Mother Jones), Lucy Parsons, and many others. More than two hundred anarchists, socialists, and trade unionists were at the founding convention of the IWW which was opened by Bill Haywood, a socialist and union organizer. Notable Wobblies (it's unclear where the nickname came from) included Joe Hill, an activist and songwriter immortalized in the song "I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill Last Night", and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (see below). The IWW is still around and organizing.

The first Women's Rights Convention took place in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848. It was inspired by an incident at the London World Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840 where women were told that they had to sit up in the balcony and couldn't participate in the meeting. William Lloyd Garrison, who saw the connection between the abolition movement and the rights of women, sat with them. Later Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott began talking and organized the Seneca Falls conference. Elizabeth Cady Stanton became one of the leaders of the women's suffrage movement along with Susan B Anthony and Alice Paul--all pushing to give women the right to vote--something that didn't happen until 1920. To get the vote women picketed, were arrested and imprisoned, and eventually used hunger strikes. (Incidentally, apparently Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and Alice Paul all came from Quaker influenced backgrounds--as did many of the abolitionists.) Susan B Anthony once told Eugene Debs: "Give us suffrage, and we'll give you socialism." Debs said, "Give us socialism and we'll give you suffrage." And writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman's poem "The Socialist and the Suffragist" ended with 'the world' telling both of them that their work was the same.

Beyond the vote, women like Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger fought to give women information about birth control, both being imprisoned for distributing that information. Margaret Sanger's work, unfortunately, was tinged with racist ideas and an advocacy of eugenics.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a labor organizer, a Wobbly (until Bill Haywood kicked her out), a founder of the ACLU, and a chairperson of the American Communist Party. She gave her first speech at sixteen to the Harlem Socialist Club. She organized workers across the US, fought for women's suffrage, and for access to birth control. She died in 1964 while visiting the Soviet Union.

Helen Keller was a writer, a socialist, a suffragist, and a supporter of birth control. She was an IWW member who defended Bill Haywood when he was expelled from the IWW and was also a founder of the ACLU. Unfortunately, she is best known for her disabilities.

WEB DuBois was briefly a socialist but is best known as an agitator for black rights. He called a conference of Negro leaders together near to Niagara Falls in 1905 starting what was known as the 'Niagara Movement', helped found the NAACP in 1910, and wrote the classic work The Souls of Black Folk. He opposed leaders like Booker T Washington who preached accommodation to the white status quo.

Another leader from the Niagara Movement who opposed Booker T Washington was William Monroe Trotter who came to a Washington lecture in Boston with a series of questions that were provocative enough to cause fistfights and get Trotter arrested. Trotter founded and worked at a journal, the Boston Guardian that was housed in the same building that William Lloyd Garrison once used to publish the Liberator.

The 'muckrakers' were a group of journalists who began exposing the robber barons and industrial corruptions. A few key works by muckrakers were Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (an exposé of the meat industry) and Ida Tarbell's History of Standard Oil (which exposed Rockefeller's unethical tactics--see my post of 1/29/09).

One of the influences on Upton Sinclair was Jack London, best known for his book Call of the Wild. London was a socialist and published a novel in 1906, Iron Heel, where he warned of the possibility a fascist America and contrasted it with a vision of socialism.

Another progressive writer was psychologist William James who published an essay on nonviolence in 1910 entitled "The Moral Equivalent of War". James suggested young men be conscripted to use their aggressive energies for constructive purposes.

Lawyer Clarence Darrow, who campaigned in support of the surviving Haymarket anarchists and defended Bill Haywood in court, was another early supporter of nonviolence and wrote books such as Resist Not Evil and An Eye for an Eye prior to World War I.

World War I was not universally supported. Roger Baldwin (who later became president of the ACLU) was a conscientious objector, as was Ammon Hennacy (who became a leader in the Catholic Worker movement). Jane Addams (who later founded one of the first settlement houses and helped organize the Women's Internation League for Peace and Freedom [WILPF]) spoke out against the war. And WEB DuBois pointed out the imperialist nature of the war, how the Allies and Germany were struggling over who could exploit Africa and Asia. (Also see my last post on how the US was becoming an empire.)

And once WWI was over with, the prosperity that followed led to a flowering of writers and artists.

Quote of the Day: "If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out." - Eugene Debs

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Hippolyte Havel, "Emma Goldman", and Richard Drinnon, "Introduction: Harking Back to the Future", in Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays
Staughton Lynd, Nonviolence in America
Wikipedia, various articles (particularly on the individuals cited)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States


SoapBoxTech said...

Amazing and scary how so many of those important thinkers and doers met their end.

Thanks also for (perhaps inadvertently) showing the irony of the "pro" wrestler Booker T.

murph said...


Excellent post and synopsis of a selected historical sequence.

I notice, with some amusement, that the concept of anarchy has changed somewhat from Goldman's period. Of course it is a rather natural process for "isms" to change with circumstances and information change. Except for the hard line religious fundamentalist of course.

There is a very thoughtful new post of The Archdruid site concerning science and scientism (not Scientology).

MoonRaven said...

Thank you both for your very nice comments.

SBT--The irony was certainly inadvertent--I'm afraid I don't know anything about the wrestler, Booker T.

Murph--I agree that changes in ideology as circumstances change is a good thing--and, yes, that's one of the basic problems with fundamentalism, religious or otherwise.

And thanks for the heads up about the new Archdruid post. I haven't read it yet.