notes on Big Bill Haywood & me (yikes, i just placed myself on the same pedestal as one my models)

when i was still in high school, i read Ralph Chaplin’s autobiography, “Wobbly, the rough and tumble story of an american radical”. (have no idea how that book found its way into the high school library.) Big Bill Haywood was one of the Wobblies that Chaplin worked alongside.

after the american civil war through the end of WW1, Haywood’s time, activists from the various tendencies often worked on common projects- the 8 hour day, outlawing child labor, safe working conditions, against imperialist & colonial wars, & of course, industrial unions. Eugene Debs, Lucy Parsons (widow of Albert Parsons, one of the Haymarket Martyrs), Daniel De Leon (the leader of the Socialist Labor Party & not a near relation far as i know) & Bill Haywood attended & played active roles in the founding conference of the International Workers of the World, June 1905.

in 1907, Haywood and other Wobblies were acquitted of murdering a former governor of Idaho. Clarence Darrow was his lead attorney & Eugene Debs (the spokesperson for the Socialist Party at the time) led a massive political defense campaign on their behalf. in 1921, Haywood fled the USofA after being convicted of “espionage” for opposition to WW1. He died May 18, 1928 and is buried in Moscow.

i was awed by the militant tapestry of the early labor, anarchist and socialist movements especially as the “official” labor organization, the AFL-CIO seemed the antithesis of those movements.

to their great credit, Haywood and the activists of the IWW maintained very militant anarcho-syndicalist principles combined with a generosity of spirit and comradeship that remains a model for movements today.

****i originally intended this as a FBook post “only me”.  it’s a partial memory of one of my first encounters with radical movements.

i was probably 15, 16 years old when i read Chaplin’s bio.  didn’t follow up this reading of a radical’s memoir right away but in the fall of 1965, i attended Loop City College with my high school friend, Kirby Shapiro.  we both signed up for a class on the Civil Rights movement and i encountered for the first time the writings of WEB du Bois, Martin Luther King, Booker Washington, Frederick Douglass & most importantly, Malcolm X.   these figures were hardly ever mentioned in high school history classes at that time.  i became a partisan of Malcolm X, SNCC & Stokely Carmichael.  through them, i discovered Fidel, Che & the Cuban Revolution.

while at city college, i & friends edited a school sponsored poetry magazine and got it into our head to call an anti-war assembly right around memorial day.  we started putting up hand made flyers and were called into the Dean’s office.  a nice man who read us the riot act.

we backed off but by the time, i left Loop City College (now relocated and renamed Harold Washington), i was eager to join the anti-war & Chicano movements.  in the fall of 1967, when i got to University of Illinois that had opened a Chicago campus a few years earlier, i found a thriving anti-war movement, an SDS that was open to all tendencies, the Young Socialist Alliance (which i quickly joined) but no Chicano movement.

my friend, Genaro Lara and i canvassed the campus for Latino students.  we gathered nearly all the Latino students (there were less than a hundred on campus) into a group we naively called Vanguardia.  we quickly learned a valuable lesson.  a good portion of the students were children of Cuban exiles and objected to the leftist character we gave the group.

SDS, the anti-war committee & YSA asked us to co-sponsor the visit of a CPUSA leader as a test of the universities ban on communists.  we did so and all the groups were proscribed by the university.  we conducted a sit in of the student union and the university quickly backed off.  we did not re-form “Vanguardia”.

as i recounted in a previous post, i recently began characterizing myself as an anarcho-communist.  have to add that this is not because i’m steeped in anarchist concepts or familiar with the anarchist movement’s history & literature.  i was for a significant period of my life involved with the Trotskyst variant of the communist movement.  the trotskysts share the Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, Fidelista adherence to the model of command party communism–wherein the central command of “THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY” substitutes for the democratic decision making of the oppressed and workers now and for the distant future under the rubric of “the dictatorship of/over/under/the proletariat”.

from this earlier reference point, i characterize my current views as “technically” anarchist.  this has led me to begin a review of the history of the socialist, anarchist & communist movements.  my impression is that, at times, the activists of these various movements worked together and engaged with each other in a manner that current command party advocates w’d find surprising.

most of my former trotskyist comrades are woefully ignorant of this history and prefer to use the term “anarchist” as a pejorative in the same manner that the bourgeois media does.

fortunately or not for me, i am familiar with the communist movement and its various tendencies  and I am no longer impressed by their rationalizations of their own shortcomings and those of the regimes they champion.  this is especially true of their “heroic” mythologizing of the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent adoption of that model by a large section of post WWI socialist & some anarchists & anarcho-syndicalists.

the IWW had a great core of activist organizers but its successes were episodic.  they participated in some of the great battles of the pre-WWI labor.  often these were fought by women, immigrants in industries neglected by the AFL-CIO.   but the IWW has a presence in today’s left.

right now, i’m reading Paul Avrich’s The Haymarket Tragedy which gives an account of the labor, socialist & anarchist movements from the Civil War to the 1886 general strike for the 8 hour day & the subsequent railroading of anarchist leaders for a bombing they were not involved in.

i feel i have to start at the beginning.  i’m also interested in but have not started reading material on the schism between anarchists & socialist in the first & second internationals.  this distinction is misleading as anarchists were and are anti-capitalists,  socialists, communists & quite often more thoroughly so than the command party & militarized regime advocates.

i hope to intensify my studies of the anarchist movement’s myriad variants and participate in some manner with comrades of those movements.  perhaps i can be a link, a modest bridge between anarchist activists & communist.  so far, my former trotskyist friends tolerate my anarchist leanings.  perhaps they’re amused.

2017-02-10 (2) Bill Haywood on general strikes

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