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Radicalism in the Mountain West, 1890-1920

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Radicalism in the Mountain West, 1890-1920 traces the history of radicalism in the Populist Party, Socialist Party, Western Federation of Miners, and Industrial Workers of the World in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Focusing on the populist and socialist movements, David R. Berman sheds light on American radicalism with this study of a region that epitomized its rise and fall. As the frontier industrialized, self-reliant pioneers and prospectors transformed into wage- laborers for major corporations with government, military, and church ties. Economically and politically stymied, westerners rallied around homegrown radicals such as William "Big Bill" Haywood and Vincent "the Saint" St. John and touring agitators such as Eugene Debs and Mary "Mother" Jones. Radicalism in the Mountain West tells how volleys of strikes, property damage, executions, and deportations ensued in the absence of negotiation. Drawing on years of archival research and diverse materials such as radical newspapers, reports filed by labor spies and government agents, and records of votes, subscriptions, and memberships, Berman offers Western historians and political scientists an unprecedented view into the region's radical past.

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CHAPTER ONE Overview

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Overview

THE MOUNTAIN WEST FROM 1890 TO 1920 was a place where, as historian John Caughey once noted, the environment had “to be taken into account.”1 Writer Harvey Fergusson, son of a prominent New Mexico Progressive reformer with the same name, observed that the Mountain West towns of this period, when seen from a distance, looked “small and insignificant, completely dominated by a landscape that lends itself but grudgingly to human use.”2 When coming to the region, Fergusson had the impression “of leaving a world of men and buildings and entering one dominated by mountains.”3

The area was vast, often bleak and desolate, with abundant natural resources but little water. One found rugged terrains and long distances between settlements. Socialist and labor organizers were commonly struck by how far they had to go just to find someone to talk to about joining up. Hundreds of agitators before and after Eugene Debs grumbled as they tried to get to remote mining camps and isolated farms, forced to depend on trains that frequently broke down or followed an unpredictable schedule. The region was sparsely settled. According to the 1890 national census, Nevada had only around 45,000 people, Wyoming had only a few more at 60,000, while Idaho had approximately 84,000. Colorado was the largest, with 412,000 residents. In most states and territories of the region, the foreign born constituted a relatively high percentage of the populations. Some of the foreign born, especially Western Europeans, were among the most active participants in Mountain West politics during the years in which the territories and states were still in the process of formation. Others, however, as noted later, did not fit in.

 

CHAPTER TWO Coming Together: The Populist Protest

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Coming Together
The Populist Protest

WRITING IN FEBRUARY 1896, Joseph H. Kibbey, a Republican party leader in Arizona, noted that political life in the territory was in flux. Since the late 1880s, Kibbey contended, more and more people had been willing to experiment with radical changes in governmental functions and to think beyond what the Republican and Democratic parties were offering them. “The people,” Kibbey concluded, “are thinking hard, are thinking rapidly, and more than ever are less disposed to adopt party policy simply from mere party adherence.”1 Political activists in the Mountain West, even in the remote and lightly settled territory of Arizona, had picked up on Edward Bellamy’s view of a future world in which cooperation had replaced competition. Many, too, had seen confirmation of Henry George’s theme that progress for a few had been accompanied by poverty for the many.

Hoping to turn things around, reformers and radicals of various stripes had come together in the early 1890s under the banner of the Populist party. Mountain West Populists borrowed freely from Populists elsewhere, but they were not simply trying to be fashionable in advancing ideas imported from the East or West Coast. On the contrary, they were groping for remedies to real problems that had begun to emerge in the region. They were also helping to set the stage for anti-corporate reform and radical activities.

 

CHAPTER THREE Moving Left: Stopping the Trains

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Moving Left
Stopping the Trains

THE YEAR 1892 WAS A BREAKTHROUGH ONE for Populists in much of the Mountain West, but the years 1893 and 1894 were initially even more exciting as events seemed to confirm what the more extreme Populists had been asserting about the capitalist system. Several national and regional disturbances in these years—affecting economic conditions, labor-management relations, and the silver issue—played into the Populists’ hands, helping them build further support for the party from labor, farmers, and the middle class. During this period, too, many Socialists joined the Populist cause, though how many did so is difficult to estimate.

Editorial writers for The New York Times attributed this to the discovery by the Socialists that the call for free silver was actually a call for Socialism, the idea being that in calling for free silver, proponents were acting on the Socialist principle “that the Government, as the agency of the whole people, should be made to promote the interest of those who, unaided, do not get on as well as they would like to, or, to put it in another form, that the Government should take care of the distribution of the total wealth of the people so that all shall have what they consider an equal share.”1 The newspaper’s equating silver with Socialism appears to have had less to do with an effort to identify the appeal of the silver cause than with a desire to discredit it. At any rate, the editorials were off the mark as far as Socialists were concerned. While Socialists were attracted by much of what was in the Populist platform, they did not always embrace the silver crusade. Many were suspicious of the motives of some of silver’s most prominent supporters in the corporate world and saw it as a distraction from the more central revolutionary goal whose time, given present economic and political conditions, seemed to be coming.

 

CHAPTER FOUR Fusion, Decline, Transition

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Fusion, Decline, Transition

IN THE MID-1890S THE SILVER MOVEMENT CAUGHT FIRE nationally and became of even more importance in the Mountain West. Organizations such as the American Bimetallic Union, hordes of politicians led by young William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, and scores of newspapers and magazines extolled the virtues of silver, as did William H. Harvey’s Coin’s Financial School, which spelled out the case for silver in simple terms for ordinary people.

As the silver issue became more salient, so too did the divisions within the Populist party between those who wanted to make it the central issue, because it was by far the party’s most popular vote getter and the most likely key to electoral success, and those who wanted to advance the party’s traditional anti-corporate program of which silver was only a part. Populists were also divided over a related issue of whether the party should fuse with other parties around the silver issue or retain its independence and go it alone. Central among those pushing for fusion were mining kings in Montana and other states who, after the Panic of 1893, came to value fusion on the national as well as the state level as a way of promoting the silver issue.1

 

CHAPTER FIVE Party Building: Bravery in the Face of Triumph

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Party Building
Bravery in the Face of Triumph

IN 1898, WARREN FOSTER SUMMED UP THE SITUATION as many radicals saw it: the Populist party “was born; it fused; it died; but its soul has gone to the better land of Socialism.”1 Eugene Debs concurred with this interpretation of events. He had campaigned for Bryan in 1896 but moved on after the election to Socialist activity. In June 1897 he formed an organization called Social Democracy of America (SDA) out of what was left of the American Railway Union (ARU). The new organization’s chief emphasis was the creation of Socialist colonies in sparsely settled states such as Nevada and Idaho that would bring in workers, including those blacklisted as the result of the Pullman strike; take over existing governments; and establish cooperative regimes.

In 1898 Debs joined the Social Democratic party (SDP), created by a faction of the SDA led by Victor Berger. That year the SDP elected two of its members to the Massachusetts legislature and the first Socialist mayor in the country, John C. Chase, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Chase, a twenty-eight-year-old clerk in a cooperative grocery store, took office along with three Socialist candidates for alderman and three for councilman. Like the many Socialists to follow him in the pursuit of municipal office, he downplayed revolutionary rhetoric and said he was going to focus on carrying out the principles in the local party platform that included public ownership of utilities, better distribution of tax burdens, more open government, the adoption of the initiative and referendum, and the creation of public works programs to help the unemployed.

 

CHAPTER SIX Promoting the Miners’ Agenda

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Promoting the Miners’ Agenda

IN THE LATE 1890S AND EARLY 1900S miners throughout the Mountain West sought solutions to various problems—low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions—through political activity and by directly confronting mine owners on the industrial front. Using the vote to reward friends and punish enemies, they dominated local elections, turning governments in mining counties into miners’ governments. In these places leading politicians and officeholders, including sheriffs and their deputies whose support came in handy during strike periods, were often members of the miners’ union. Miners also had support for their political objectives at the state level through the representatives from mining communities elected to state legislatures. At one time or another, their demands had a prominent place in the planks of nearly all political parties in the Populist era. One found evidence of the miners’ political muscle not only in their votes and the votes of their friends and neighbors in mining communities but also in the lobbying activities of mining union officials and the labor federations to which the miners’ unions held membership, indeed, in which mining unions were often a dominant force.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN Party Progress: The 1904 Election

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Party Progress
The 1904 Election

EUGENE DEBS, IN 1904, no doubt contributed to the success anxiety of many Socialist party members—the fear that growth would bring an influx of people who would divert the party from its mission. He did so by picking up 402,000 votes, almost five times as many as he had in 1900 (Appendix, Table 2). Right-wingers who dominated the national Socialist party could not help feeling they were on their way toward building a mass party that could compete with Democrats and Republicans and, on the local level, with the mushrooming number of municipal reform parties. To get things going they had added one immediate demand after another to the party platform. These steps were made over the vocal opposition of revolutionary leftists and prompted some on the left to drop out of active involvement with the party.

The right-left split in the national Socialist party boiled over in 1905 when leftists attempted to remove right-wing leader Victor Berger from the National Executive Committee (NEC). Berger’s sin, as the left saw it, was in urging Socialists in Milwaukee to vote for a Republican judicial candidate in the 1905 election. Wisconsin Socialists had decided not to nominate judicial candidates that year. Berger was accused of violating the national party constitution by supporting a “capitalistic candidate” for judicial office. The left pushed for and received a national referendum on whether Berger should be removed from the NEC. Before members had a chance to vote, however, the NEC itself acted, voting twenty-four to seventeen (with nine members not voting) to remove Berger from the committee. The decision was reversed, however, by the general membership vote (see Appendix, Table 7).

 

CHAPTER EIGHT The WFM, Big Bill, and the Wobblies

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The WFM, Big Bill, and the Wobblies

WRITING IN 1907, John Curtis Kennedy of the University of Chicago argued that trade unionism and Socialism were essentially the same movement. Trade unionists and Socialists, he argued, “hold to practically the same views and are seeking the same ends . . . it is only a question of time before trade-unionists in America will recognize this fact and lend their support to the Socialist party”—and, indeed, many were already doing so.1 Even the American Federation of Labor (AFL) during this period was not as anti-Socialist and revolutionary as commonly supposed. Its step toward independent political action in 1906 led, in many cases, to closer working relations with Socialist parties. Socialists within the AFL and various trade unions had been working for this result. Still, the AFL had an ample number of critics from the left. Many Mountain westerners, especially the unskilled and semiskilled workers in and around mining areas, were impatient with what they saw as the slow-moving, conservative AFL. For radicals the craft unions, which the AFL prized, stood in the way of worker solidarity.

 

CHAPTER NINE The Red Special, Elections, and Free Speech

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The Red Special, Elections, and Free Speech

DELEGATES FROM THE MOUNTAIN WEST took advantage of the opportunity to make their views known on a variety of topics during debates at the 1908 Socialist party convention. Some joined in the debate over relations with trade unions, often, but not always, coming down on the side of those opposed to forming stronger ties with such organizations. Said delegate Joseph D. Cannon of Arizona: “There are two kinds of unionism and both of them cannot be right . . . one is class unionism and the other is craft unionism. . . . Let us endorse the class form of unionism.”1 A. Grant Miller of Nevada, though, did not want the party to take a stand either for or against trade unions, while Ida Crouch Hazlett made an impassioned argument for strengthening relations with trade unions, lest they slip away from the revolutionary movement.2

The solidarity of Mountain West Socialists was more apparent on various issues with a regional bent. They were, for example, as one in criticizing their eastern comrades such as Morris Hillquit for being, as Guy E. Miller of Colorado put it, at best, “lukewarm friends” of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM).3 They were also in agreement on what to do about Asian immigration, another western problem easterners knew or cared little about. A. Grant Miller argued that Orientals were different from other immigrants; they were not coming to stay but just to make money and leave. He warned that “if you want to emasculate the labor movement in the west, just stand for the immigration of all these people from the orient, if you please, and you will do it, and you will satisfy the capitalist masters of the Union.”4 Delegate Ernest Untermann from Idaho, a well-known Socialist writer, evoked considerable applause with this convoluted declaration: “I believe in the brotherhood of man, regardless of races, but I do not believe in extending that brotherhood to my brothers of other races. I am determined that my race shall be supreme in this country and in the world.”5 Untermann later linked Asian immigration to the production of a large army of transient white unemployed workers known as blanket stiffs, who, having no settled abode, had lost the franchise, rejected political action, and moved from the Socialist party into the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)—an organization that was a millstone around the party’s neck.6

 

CHAPTER TEN Thunder Stealing, Respect, and Relevance

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Thunder Stealing, Respect, and Relevance

BY THE SECOND DECADE of the twentieth century the image of the Socialist movement in the Mountain West, thanks in part to press coverage of violent labor wars and the emergence of the Wobblies, took on the character of wild-eyed, rough-and-ready, bent-on-destruction radicalism. This was not only a public view but a view held by many in the party. A study by Robert F. Hoxie of the University of Chicago, based on reports supplied by around 600 party workers in various states and localities in 1910, for example, led him to conclude that the Mountain West was home to a particularly intense form of Socialism. He found strong mine worker unions, a class-conscious Socialism, and a Socialist party that rested “very largely on the support of men with European blood in their veins.”1 Hoxie, though, also suggested that something other than nativity was involved by noting that the “special type of Socialist victory at mining centers in otherwise unaffected territory leads to the thought that there is something in the working environment of these miners which makes them think in different terms from those about them and gives them a different outlook on life and society.”2

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN Going Local: Water and Sewer Socialism

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Going Local
Water and Sewer Socialism

IN 1911 THE MUNICIPAL PLATFORM of the Socialist party in Great Falls, Montana, promised municipal workers an eight-hour day at union scale, free water for widows making a living doing laundry work, free legal advice from the city attorney to members of the working class, and municipal ownership of the electric power, gas, and street railway companies. Also included in the platform was a call for “a municipal owned and controlled ice plant, coal yard, loan office, hospital, dance hall, sanitary department, and free employment office.”1 A year later the Socialist party in Prescott, Arizona, sought votes in the upcoming city elections with a similar program when it came to municipal ownership and also called for such steps as more economical administration of the city’s finances (the city was deep in debt), greater equalization of taxation and water rates, an ordinance closing down all saloons in the city on Sundays, and greater enforcement of laws against prostitution.2 As was typical of Socialist parties around the country at the time, the party also called for the initiative, referendum, and recall—the popular package of direct democracy that Socialists claimed as their own. In pressing their credentials, Prescott Socialists made a point of noting that “the Socialist Party is the largest political organization in the world. It is international in scope. The International Socialist Party has locals and branches in every country in the world. Affiliated with the locals and branches are more than thirty million men and women working heart and soul together toward the realization of an ideal.”3

 

CHAPTER TWELVE The Rising and Falling Tide: Condition of the Parties

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The Rising and Falling Tide
Condition of the Parties

FROM 1910 TO 1912, the fortunes of the Socialist party on the national level took a sudden leap forward. Membership swelled from 58,000 to 113,000 during the period, and the party reached what turned out to be its peak with the electorate in 1912 when Eugene Debs polled more than 900,000 votes, about 6 percent of the votes cast, for the presidential office. By 1912 the party could also boast that it had sent two members to Congress and had enjoyed several triumphs at the state and local levels, including more than seventy mayors running largely on municipal reform issues.1

The national party coming into the 1912 election had beefed up its staff and service capacity. The national office grew from a place where the national secretary had one or two assistants to one where the secretary had more than a dozen full-time employees.2 The national party also launched the Lyceum Lecture Circuit, a nationwide system of lecture courses featuring Socialist speakers. In addition, in August 1912 the national office initiated a publication called The Party Builder, providing information on the Lyceum program and other party developments and activities.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN Pitching the Battle: Ludlow, Hill, Duncan, and Hunt

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Pitching the Battle
Ludlow, Hill, Duncan, and Hunt

RADICALS IN 1913 STILL THOUGHT FONDLY of two major forces working toward the same end in the Mountain West: “As the Socialist party stands for the emancipation of the working class on the political field so the Western Federation [of Miners; WFM] and the United Mine Workers [UMW] stand for the complete abolition of wage slavery on the economic field.”1 Relations among Socialist parties, the WFM, and the UMW were close, although there were bumps along the road that showed up during intense labor disputes. Relations between the WFM and UMW had soured after the WFM joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), but the UMW paved the way for the WFM’s reentry into the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1911. The UMW, the AFL’s largest union, threatened to secede if the WFM was denied reentry. Both mining unions had many Socialists among their ranks, some of whom were in leadership positions and hoped to use their influence to turn the AFL in a leftward direction. Both unions and Socialist party activists in much of the country had a common irritant in the IWW. For mainstream Socialists trying to build a mass-based political party, the less they or anyone else heard from the troublemaking Wobblies, the happier they were. The IWW dismissed political action and, when it came to action on the industrial front, liked to tell miners that the WFM, in joining the AFL, had “lined up with the reactionists as one of the main bulwarks of the capitalist system.” It was, as a consequence, no longer a revolutionary force and had lost whatever ability or desire it had to win strikes.2

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN Slipping, But Holding On: In the Legislature

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Slipping, But Holding On
In the Legislature

IN 1914 NATIONAL SOCIALIST PARTY LEADERS thought they had a winning issue by becoming the only party attempting to keep the United States out of the European war. The party took a clear-cut antiwar position and by September of that year had distributed hundreds of thousands of antiwar leaflets and called upon the 6,000 or so locals to stage mass meetings and pass resolutions against the war.1 Whatever the net effect of this effort, the party, by its own calculations, gathered in only about 595,000 votes in 1914, 10,000 fewer than it had in the previous non–presidential election year of 1910.2 Within the party there were also the beginnings of a pro-German and anti-German division, a divide that would become more serious in later years.

Eugene Debs maintained a high profile in the Mountain West in 1915–1916. His 1915 “Pacific Coast Tour” took him to Montana, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado. He took another western trip in 1916 that included several of these states again, along with New Mexico and Arizona. In 1916, however, he was not the party’s nominee for president. That honor went to Allan Benson, a journalist from Yonkers, New York, who was far less colorful or charismatic than Debs. Opening his campaign at a meeting in the Bronx, the quiet speaker failed to excite the crowd, and many left before he had finished his speech. Joseph D. Cannon, former Arizona Socialist and Western Federation of Miners (WFM) organizer who had moved to New York, also spoke at the meeting and seemed to capture more attention with his claim that Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, on March 9, 1916, was the product of a plot by American millionaires. Seeking to promote their own interests, the millionaires, according to Cannon, had hired Villa to lead the raid in an effort to provoke the United States into taking over the northern states of Mexico.3

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN War and Repression: The Law of Necessity

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War and Repression
The Law of Necessity

THE SOCIALISTS’ ANTI-MILITARISM presented little problem for presidential candidate Allan Benson in 1916; after all, Wilson swept the West on the peace issue. From 1914 to 1917 American Socialists could oppose the war in Europe without opposing their own government and thus opening themselves to the charge of siding with the enemy. Matters changed after April 6, 1917, the day the United States entered World War I. The Socialist party moved quickly, holding a National Emergency Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 7–14, at which delegates—including fifteen from the Mountain West—adopted an antiwar proclamation later overwhelmingly ratified by the party membership. The St. Louis Anti-War Proclamation and Program stated: “The Socialist Party of the United States in the present grave crisis solemnly re-affirms its allegiance to the principle of internationalism and working-class solidarity the world over, and proclaims its unalterable opposition to the war just declared by the Government of the United States.”1 The party also pledged its opposition to conscription and censorship.

 

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