Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I wanted to buzz through each roll of microfilm of the old socialist magazine, THE APPEAL TO REASON, on loan from the Kansas Historical Society. Then I realized I did not want to miss the weekly articles of a Henry M. Tichenor who seems to know all history in fascinating detail, leaping back and forth in time. And then there is also “The Book of Life,” the lengthy weekly columns by Upton Sinclair, that later becomes “The Book of Love.” Sinclair writes, in the 25 June 1921 column, “If you listen to the defenders of the present capitalist order, you may learn that it is an honest and beneficent order, ordained by nature and by God as well; a permanent order, and one which would be ruined by change. Those who persist in talking about changing it are described as dreamers and Utopians, theorists and cranks, long haired men and short haired women.” The title of another his columns is still the unresolved question in the U.S.: “Democracy or Empire?”

Unfortunately, I am not sure I have the time or patience to go through the many, many microfilms, and may have to take long breaks from that task.

The Appeal to Reason has an exhausting idealism, wonderful humans dreaming up the best resolutions for all issues, political and personal – all good, progressive ideas. It was a feverish period when the Wobblies won some of the basic human rights we have today, many clubbed, given long prison sentences; many shot down in the streets. Even the participants in these activities came to feel that want they wanted was “a dream” – or not something that could be accomplished in those decades – or in that century. The basic, unjust, anti-Democracy forces in the U.S. remain in control. In some ways, conditions are worse. I know that everything my father, president of a small town union, won for the workers of our hometown factory have been obliterated. One of my brothers worked in a factory where workers were not even paid a wage, only paid by the number of articles they could produce, and they are permitted only one week of vacation a year – and only on the one week designated by the factory. The work his wife was doing was taken over by workers in Mexico.

While I probably agree with the dream of socialism as defined by people like Eugene Debs, such terms as “socialism” and “capitalism” undoubtedly oversimplify on the one hand, creating deadlocks triggered simply by ill-defined words; and at the same time, they may overcomplicate with abstract explanations and proposed social structures, where it might be better to stick to basic touchstone ideas, such as “Is this a proposal that respects monetary values or humane values?” “Does this represent ‘collaboration and relationship’ over ‘competition and domination’? Of course, the greedy and power-hungry will always need to be regulated, and will never comprehend what is meant by “humane” and “inter-relationship.”

Jumping to the final issues of the Appeal, when the yearly subscription went up from 50 cents to $1.00 (at a time when the average annual salary was less than $600), the sense was creeping in that the magazine was dying from lack of support, and, as with the destruction of the power of the I.W.W., through government oppression and violence.
For the government has an army at its disposal, and the government represents those who are disciples of what can only be defined by some term like capitalism, and will use the Army to preserve that system that benefits a certain elite and a mesmerized middle class. I have failed to note that the great founder and champion of The Appeal to Reason, Julius Wayland, depressed by the death of his wife and the ongoing smear campaigns against him, committed suicide on 10 November 1912. Ideal aims frustrated, idealism can lead to a self-destructive disillusionment, as Wayland’s suicide message included, “The struggle under the competitive system is not worth the effort.”

Reading the magazine, one sees that little has changed from then until now - the same issues, the same intelligent people complaining about the same problems -- but there are good comments, analyses, descriptions, such as

“A Niagara of goods of all sorts is poured out, and we call it prosperity. We are so proud of it that we make it into a religion…. But then suddenly a strange and bewildering thing happens. All at once, and without warning, orders fall off, values begin to drop, business collapses, factories are shut down, and millions of men are thrown out of jobs…. Capitalist prosperity is a spasmodic thing,” and the best you can hope for, each time it fails, is some form of paternalistic pity.

Some of the conclusions in “Stop the Next War By Exposing the Last One!” will sound familiar to all of us in the shadow of the U.S. wars of 2008:
“Has America more or fewer friends abroad then it had in 1914 or 1916?
"Are we more ‘united,’ as we were informed that we would be?
“Is there less mutual fear and suspicion among us?
“Are our personal liberties more or less secure than they were?
“Is it easier for the masses to earn a living than before?
“Are the social poles nearer together or wider apart?
“Can you imagine a more colossal or vicious conspiracy than one in which the ‘leaders of the people’ in every walk of life are implicated as liars, and in which the dupe is a nation of one hundred million people – a nation which is constantly informed that it is the most intelligent on earth?”

It is fascinating to read in the magazine the events as they were happening at the time that became history or the subjects of fictional treatments: “Isadora Duncan is about to leave Paris to go to Moscow to establish a school for Russia children.” Margaret Sanger proposes that women learn about birth control, and the magazine offers many books geared to women. There is news of the trials of Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartoleomeo Vanzetti, their wives and children wailing in the courtroom, as the innocent men are condemned.

After spending an hour with Bartoleomeo Vanzetti, on 7 June 1922, in the Charlestown in Boston, Upton Sinclair wrote about “this humble Italian working man….an idealist and an apostle of a new social order….He is simple and genuine, openminded as a child, sensitive and possessing that innate refinement which makes good manners without need of teaching. He has devoted his life to the service of his fellow wage workers and is still serving them and knows it well. [The government has] conspired to send such a man to the gallows….This brother of ours must be saved: warm-hearted, brave, and true, the precious life that is in him must not be strangled by the hangman’s noose!” In 1927, these innocents were executed. Given an architectural tour of Boston by Robert Minichiello I was in the Catholic Church which commemorates Sacco and Vanzetti in a stained glass window.

The Appeal seemed a place where intelligent people could debate. One of the ongoing debates, carried on in a civilized, almost light-hearted manner was “Has Life Any Meaning? A Debate Between Frank Harris and Percy Ward.” Ward remarks, “Has life any meaning? Judging from the size of this audience, there is evidently some doubt about the question.” Mr. Ward concludes that death, pain, and calamity trumps meaning. Harris quotes Goethe: “Keep your doubts, your fears, your pessimism to yourself. I have enough doubts and fears of my own. But, if you have any hopes, if you have any encouragements, to give men in this world, then give them and you will become a benefactor to your kind.” As Ward had relied on Prospero’s final speech in THE TEMPEST, that life is an illusion, Harris quotes the Shakespeare imperative: “Ripeness is all.”

The 13 November 1920 issue reported that in the national elections, SOCIALISTS POLLED OVER 2,000,000. In that election, Eugene V. Debs was the Presidential candidate of the Socialist Party while still in prison, and won a surprising percentage of the votes.

The 20 July 1921 issue reports that “Texas Now Holds U.S. Mob Record”:…Civil liberty in Texas is bleeding to death. Ten times within a short period have men been beaten, whipped, tarred and feathered, mutilated, branded with acid….Although mob madness has included with the rage of its terror eight whites to two negroes, it has dealt most savagely with the blacks, mutilating one and burning on the forehead of the other the initials of the Ku Klux Klan….One man in Bremman was mobbed for talking German … J.L. Cockrell, a negro dentist of Houston, was whipped, tarred, feathered and mutilated following charges that he had lived with a white woman who had mistaken him for a white man.” I guess you do not need me to suggest that “mutilated” probably means castrated, or the mutilation of his genitals, and that the woman, to save herself, may have felt she had to deny him.

The 4 March 1922 issue reports on U.S. savagery in the Dominican Republic: “The republic was absolutely quiet in November, 1916…Not an American dollar or an American life was even threatened when the fleet ordered to San Domingo City by Secretary Daniels, in agreement with Secretary of State Lansing, committed its act of war or piracy by seizing the capital city and suppressing the Dominican government. When the Dominican congress began proceedings for impeachment of President Jiminez, the American representative offered armed support to Jiminez against the congress. Jiminez resented the insult and resigned at once. Then the minister of war was escorted to the American legation and offered a ‘corrupt proposal’ if he would support for the presidency a man picked by the American representative. He refused, and the congress proceed to elect Francisco Henriquez y Carvajal as president, in the face of warnings that the American government had decided that he would not be ‘acceptable.’

“When the inevitable American-made treaty, identical with the one forced upon Haiti at the point of the bayonet, was presented to him, Henriquez spurned it. The American admiral landed marines – May, 1916 – and for six months used every pretext to increase his forces in the country, until the proclamation of the admiral that he had been made military governor was issued in November, 1916, some three weeks after the reelection of Woodrow Wilson on his “kept-us-out-of-war” platform.

“Thousands of marines were then spread over the country with unlimited authority over the natives,’ said Knowles. ‘Censorship of tongue, pen, press, mail and telegraph, of the severest kind, was established. Marines recruited in American cities and including ex-convicts were set in authority with the result that a reign of terror followed. Tortures, burning of homes, revival of Butcher Weyler’s concentration camps followed. Competent public employes by hundreds were dismissed to make room for foreign incompetents. Five years of this maladministration, repression, cruelty and provocation to conflict followed.

“They and all other nations of Latin American know today the new meaning of the Monroe Doctrine. That doctrine now means that when the Washington government shall choose to invade and destroy the liberty and independence of the next victim among the republics to the south, no European nation, no combination of European states, shall dare to protest or appeal against that deed of violence.”

The Appeal to Reason was affected, of course, by revolutionary events in Russia, which from the other side of the world seemed to be fulfilling their abstract ideas. The Appeal, admirably, published gruesome pictures and raised money for the victims of massive and horrific famine and starvation in Russia. In the 6 May 1922 issue, Upton Sinclair was uneasy about articles by long-time radical Emma Goldman: “Emma Goldman does not believe in force – at least not government force – and so she says that the Bolsheviks have betrayed the Revolution.”

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