RAISING THE RED FLAG:
Culture, Labor, and the Left, 1880–1920
Jeffrey A. Johnson
Those on the Left, politically or otherwise, use a variety of cultural media to advance their goals. In the modern world, leftist ideologies are advanced in myriad ways, yet many have disseminated into popular culture. Few can overlook the radicalism inherent in lyrics from the band Rage Against the Machine, the internationally iconic image of Che Guevara posted on walls around the world, or progressive online publishing such as MoveOn.org. Yet the radicalism and left-wing politics of today, broadly conceived, are not unique in their use of cultural elements, including literature, imagery, and song, to further agendas. Radicals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used, with great competence, stylistic, societal, and media means not only to respond to a frustrating world around them but also to propagate their causes of reform.
As the nineteenth century closed, a new era of mechanization, mass production, and speculation brought rapid and sweeping changes to the American workplace and its laborers, creating, in the words of several historians, “the seedbed of a new social and economic order.”1 The nation’s new consumptive culture, far from being benevolent, placed a premium on want and wealth. While the “captains of industry” prospered, the nation’s rank-and-file wage earners struggled. Across the nation industrial and agricultural laborers