Update 14-05: Sunday, February 2, 2014.

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

"Equality Colony: A Brief History Showing Our Objects and Present Condition -- Cooperative Colonies Are Not All Failures," by H.W. Halladay [Nov. 1, 1901]   Official history of Equality Colony, a utopian socialist entity located 15 miles from today's Bellingham, Washington, with which Gene Debs was briefly associated as a national organizer. Halladay attempts to paint a positive picture of the colony's experience, while intimating severe difficulties: only 2 of the 15 originators of 1897 remained with the colony four years later, with two of them dead. An influx of 200 additional members in the summer of 1898 was followed by a mass exodus of disillusioned members, so that only 125 individuals of all ages remained by 1901. Conditions were grim and dangerous: five colonists died in accidents and two children were burned to death in a fire. Only with a steady influx of donations was the colony viable -- a task made difficult by the virtual collapse of the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth organization, with membership plummeting from a peak of 3,500 to "250 or 300." The colony's main industry was the production of wood products, the writer intimates, including a sawmill capable of producing 20,000 board feet daily and a wood shingle mill. Governance was via a bi-weekly meeting of a general assembly, with a 7 member executive council handling day-to-day operations.


"Separate Organizations," by Josephine C. Kaneko [April 1908]   The matter of mobilizing women in support of the socialist cause was an important matter for the Socialist Party of America from its earliest days as an organization. One notable step forward took place in 1907 with the launch of the monthly magazine, The Socialist Woman, organ of the Socialist Women's League of Chicago. While the importance of mobilizing women was almost universally accepted, the means of bringing women into the movement was the matter of some debate. Josephine Kaneko of The Socialist Woman offers her own opinion of the two primary tacks: integration of women into locals of mixed genders vs. the organization of female auxiliary branches. Kaneko states that given ideal conditions -- a sufficiently ideologically enlightened group of women and a male Socialist local "sympathetic and responsive to those needs of women which lie outside their own" -- the so-called "mixed local" was unquestionably the superior form. However, Kaneko states, frequently women were insufficiently familiar with socialist ideology or comfortable in asserting themselves on an equal plane with men, resulting in a tendency for them to sit at meetings in "obedient reverence under the shadow of their aggressive power." In other cases, Kaneko notes, Socialist locals functioned as glorified men's clubs: "a place where men met and talked and smoked, and split hairs over unimportant technicalities, transacted a little business, talked and smoked some more, and adjourned until the next meeting’s program, which consisted of practically the same line of procedure." In such cases the organization of separate women's organizations as a temporary training grounds for female activists was merited by conditions. "we have to manage, somehow, to get women interested in Socialism," Kaneko declares, "It hasn’t been done satisfactorily so far through the mixed local. It remains to be seen what can be done through separate organizations."

"Are the Interests of Men and Women Identical? A Suggestion to the National Convention," by Josephine C. Kaneko [May 1908]   Josephine Kaneko of The Socialist Woman magazine issues an explicit feminist challenge to the delegates of the forthcoming 1908 National Convention of the Socialist Party of America. "It is time now," she declares, "that we cease our appeal to men alone, and give some attention to womankind. It is not enough to say that 'the interests of the workingman and woman are identical,  therefore what we say to the workingman includes the woman also.'" Kaneko continues: "Women are tired of being 'included,' tired of being taken for granted. They demand definite recognition, even as men have it. They know that their interests and men’s interest have not been identical since the dawn of human history, and it will take something more than a mere statement of the fact to make them believe they can be identical under Socialism." Kaneko charges that the tendency of Socialist Party meetings to be held in back rooms of taverns and "other dreary, comfortless halls which are always obnoxious to women" constitutes "a discrimination in favor of one sex over another." She additionally castigates the party for the male orientation of its propaganda and failure to actively address issues of importance to women.

"Letter to Francis B. Morse in San Francisco from Spencer B. Best in Portland, OR, April 9, 1918."   Graphic pdf.  One never knows where primary source material will pop up... This revelatory letter from Spencer Best of the Military Information Section of the Spruce Production Division of the US Army Signal Corps was tucked inside the first issue of the Loyal Legion of Loggers & Lumbermen Monthly Bulletin, published in Portland, Oregon in March 1918 in support of that de facto federal government-sponsored "company union." The Google books project found it there and dutifully scanned it up as part of the publication! Best writes to his friend Francis Morse of the Associated Press: "The purpose of this publication, as you will readily see if you read it closely is purely propaganda, to inspire into the hearts of a bunch of semi-seditious foreigners and IWW a certain degree of loyalty to our country and to speed up in the work." The purpose of the LLLL is thus neatly expressed in a single line. Thanks to Google.

"Shrinking Shrimps," by J.O. Bentall [May 16, 1919]   Writing from Crow Wing County Jail in Brainerd, Minnesota, 1916 Socialist gubernatorial candidate Jacob Bentall delivers this short essay glorifying his fellow Socialist political prisoner Gene Debs in positively hagiographic terms. Debs is likened to Socrates, Jesus Christ, Galileo, and Lincoln by the former Christian Socialist and future Communist Oppositionist Bentall. Debs is depicted as a man who could no more be put into a dungeon than "they could get the Atlantic Ocean into a washtub." By way of contrast, those who legislated against, investigated, arrested, tried, and upheld the conviction against Debs are called "the shrinking shrimps of capitalism" -- vanishing from view just as Debs grew in stature through his imprisonment. The campaign of repression had only turned the working class into a "class conscious, wide-awake, clenched-fisted, fighting-mad, victory-bent, irresistible, unconquerable, unified mass," in Bentall's words. "Gag law and tyranny did overnight what we have been trying to do for half a century."


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