[R-G] Big Bill Haywood -- and the Old-Time Wobblies [An Appreciation]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at hunterbear.org
Wed Sep 19 12:44:15 MDT 2007

NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: This is an older post of mine, long on our website. It contains a brief discussion list intro by me -- and then my review/essay from the Wisconsin Magazine of History.

Note by Hunter Bear:

These past several days, as a number of socialist "respectables" and 
ex-radicals and some liberals mount their latest efforts against Cuba [and, 
in a very real way, against Left socialism] via a statement whose final 
sentence refers to that perennially threatened and embattled Revolutionary 
country as "just one more dictatorship, concerned with maintaining its 
monopoly of power above all else," I've been thinking a good deal about Big 
Bill Haywood.

He was an enduring Red socialist and Wobbly -- always with guts -- who was 
frequently attacked by the Yellows but who Kept Fighting all the way 
through. He's been a hero of mine ever since I was a boy in the Arizona 
mountains. But I never saw his book until very early in 1955 when I read 
that great autobiography -- Bill Haywood's Book [1929] -- in a Wobbly Hall 
on Seattle's Skid Road. There, coffee and stew pots perked and old-timers 
spent many hours indeed telling their rich and dramatic stories of Strikes 
and Struggle to an eager kid, just recently out of the U.S. Army -- and now 
out to Save the World. The old library in that IWW bastion -- where the 
framed photographs of the Great Martyrs [Joe Hill, Frank Little, Wesley 
Everest] looked down from the wall -- contained many hundreds of books: 
mostly radical ones, and some fine fictional works as well.

But Bill Haywood's book -- there so heavily read it was almost falling 
apart -- was my favorite and when, after wandering and unwinding through the 
Intermountain West, I finally arrived home at Flagstaff, my parents were 
quick to call a used bookdealer via an Atlantic Monthly ad. And an 
excellent copy soon arrived which I still have. And happily, in 1958, its 
publisher -- International -- brought out an on-going new edition and, from 
time to time, I secured those, eventually giving copies over the years to my 
children along with copies of another great classic, that by Haywood's 
life-long friend, Ralph Chaplin: Wobbly [1948].

Several studies of Haywood began to emerge by the end of the '60s -- notably 
a book by Joe Conlin: Big Bill Haywood and the Radical Union Movement 
[1969]. A popular bio came forth in 1983 -- Roughneck, by Peter Carlson. I 
took advantage of its appearance to do a substantial review essay for the 
Wisconsin Magazine of History -- a big and solidly academic [but always 
readable] journal. Here it is --the lead book review in the Winter 1983-84 
issue of the WMH:

Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood. By Peter Carlson. [W.W. 
Norton & Co., New York, 1983. Pp. 352. Photographs, notes on sources, 
index. $17.50.] Reviewed by John R Salter, Jr [Hunter Gray]

In the concluding portion of Roughneck, a biography of William D. "Big Bill" 
Haywood, author Peter Carlson perceives the Haywood legend as something 
which "withered and died" soon after his 1928 death in the Soviet Union, 
becoming "a footnote in history books, a name entombed in dusty archives, a 
faded photograph on a yellowed newspaper clipping." This may be have been 
true in the fickle U.S. East. But when this reviewer was growing up in the 
Northern Arizona mountains in the 1950s, the memories of Utah-born Haywood, 
one of America's great radicals, and of his two primary organizations -- the 
Western Federation of Miners [WFM] and the Industrial Workers of the World 
[IWW] -- had lost little of their freshness and lustre. And in the early 
1960s at Tougaloo College, my students and I studied the historical IWW, its 
tactics, and its leaders very closely as we developed the massive 
Wobbly-type Jackson Movement in Mississippi's capital.

Carlson's book, more than a half-century after Haywood's passing, and in an 
era when too few survive of the red card-carrying old timers who followed 
the shooting-stars of the IWW ["Organization, Education, Emancipation"], is 
designed to cover the activist and personal dimensions of Haywood from the 
19th century western frontier through increasingly and bitter class warfare 
into the late 1920s and his death. Roughneck is sympathetically [and well] 
written and is a fairly detailed synthesis drawn mostly from various other 
works on the WFM and the IWW and less from archival materials and 
author-conducted interviews.

The events of the Haywood/WFM/IWW saga are basically covered. Among them 
are Haywood's birth in 1869 at Salt Lake City and his boyhood in Ophir, his 
early work in the mines of Nevada and his experiences as cowboy and 
homesteader, the impact on Haywood of Haymarket anarchist martyrdom [1887], 
his growing involvement within the WFM in the late 1890s and early 1900s, 
and his rise to national secretary-treasurer of that increasingly radical 
industrial union, the founding of the egalitarian and syndicalist IWW in 
1905 and Haywood's eventual ascendancy some years later to the top post of 
secretary-treasurer, the Haywood/Moyer/Pettibone Idaho murder frameup 
[1906-1907], the great strikes such as Cripple Creek [1903-1904], Lawrence 
[1912], Paterson [1913], Western copper and lumber [1917], and farmworker 
organizational drives in 1910s. The roll call of Wobbly martyrs is set 
forth, e.g., Joe Hill [1915], Everett Massacre victims [1916], Frank Little 
[1917], Wesley Everest [1919]. Carlson touches the IWW conflicts with the 
craft-oriented AFL and the "yellow" Socialists, and sketches a graphic 
picture of the corporation-initiated and government-backed domestic hysteria 
and repression which culminated in U.S. of America vs. William D. Haywood et 
al. and related examples of "legal" attacks and in bloody vigilante 
activities -- all of which made a mockery of the Constitution and the United 
States justice system during and after World War I. The rise of the 
Communist movement and the decline of the IWW, Haywood's 1921 flight to the 
Soviet Union, and his final years in that setting round out the 
chronological scope of the book. Problems between Haywood and his wife, 
Nevada Jane, their eventual separation, his mistresses, his great love for 
his daughters, as well as his drinking and health problems, are all well 
integrated into the primarily activist-oriented thrust of the book.

Minor flaws involve misspelling several individuals' names, inaccurately 
naming several reference works, and misspelling Mormon "Morman" a number of 
times. More fundamentally, several important works are not listed and, too, 
there is little exploration of the key issues in radical circles of the 
period [issues which are still very much to the fore today] in which Haywood 
was deeply involved: pragmatism vs. ideology, centralization vs. 
decentralization, political action vs. direct action, nonviolence vs. 
violence, the rights of minorities and women. The frontier origins of 
American syndicalism and its development -- still an appealing perspective 
to many in a time when the same basic socio-economic-political problems 
faced by Haywood and his colleagues continue, with the more recent addition 
of massive bureaucracy -- is scarcely discussed. Various individuals 
closely associated with Haywood, e.g., Ralph Chaplin, Clarence Darrow, 
Eugene Debs, Daniel DeLeon, Mabel Dodge, Elizabeth Flynn, Emma Goldman, 
Samuel Gompers, Thomas J. Hagerty, Mother Jones, Frank Little, John Reed, 
Vincent St. John, could be much more fully depicted.

Carlson's assessment of Haywood is general and not much more than two 
paragraphs exemplified by "the blows he landed left his enemies a little 
weaker and a lot more willing to compromise with the reformers who followed 
in his wake." Carlson's perception of Haywood's relationship to the Soviet 
Union ["When his naiveté was crushed by the cruel realities by the Russian 
Revolution, Haywood was left a bitter, broken man"] may very well be true. 
But little evidence is offered by Carlson to justify this conclusion, for 
which considerably more evidence does in fact exist than, say, in the case 
of John Reed.

Within its limits, Roughneck is a sound piece of craftsmanship. But it is 
not art nor is it a full study of Haywood. It is popular biography, 
offering little that is new to those already familiar with the period and 
its issues and organizations and participants. It is, however, fun to read 
and a good introductory stream which, hopefully, will encourage those 
interested "new-timers" to pursue the man and the lessons in such important 
works as Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood [1929 
and various recent editions], The I.W.W.: Its First Seventy Years[1905-1975] 
by Fred Thompson and Patrick Murfin, Wobbly: The Rough and Tumble Story of 
an American Radical [1948] by Ralph Chaplin, and Joseph Conlin's Big Bill 
Haywood and the Radical Union Movement [1969]. Hopefully, too, a full 
biography of Big Bill will ultimately appear -- doing so well before the 
centennial of his death!

John R. Salter, Jr. [University of North Dakota]

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk 
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´ 
and Ohkwari' 

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