Wobbly, the Rough-And-Tumble Story of an American Radical

By Ralph Chaplin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1. THE FIRST BRICKBAT

I HAVE waited a long time before putting this story down on paper. I am one of those who helped to lay the foundations for radicalism—or what passes for radicalism in these explosive days. For half a century I have been in the midst of the American labor movement, living radicalism, thinking radicalism, and fighting for it.

Most of the men who might have written this book are no longer alive. Some died in prison. Some, like Eugene V. Debs and Vincent St. John, died not long after their release from federal penitentiaries. Others, like "Big Bill" Haywood, perished in self-inflicted exile in the Soviet Union. Still others, like Frank Little and Joe Hill, were lynched or executed.

The battle-scarred old-time "stiffs" who fought in the Industrial Workers of the World's wild crusade for economic justice a generation ago are aged and scattered. In the fo'c'sle head on the high seas, in secluded stump ranch cabins, or around an occasional "jungle" fire under a railroad bridge, the saga is still being told. But, when the last of the old-time migratory revolutionaries dies, the story must not die with him.

It was with these, the famous and the forgotten, that my life was bound up, as rebel editor, writer of battle songs, and agitator, and as a friend and fellow-worker, for half a century. Their story, not mine, needs telling.

What is a radical, and how does he get that way? The roots of radicalism go deeply into American soil. My ancestors came to this country a long time ago in a sailing boat. They were at war with their generation just as I have been at war with mine. My father and my mother came to the free midwestern prairies in a covered wagon. They did their pioneering in the good black soil of Kansas. I did much of mine on the soapbox, on the picket

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