Thursday, February 18, 2010

Election Ballot for the Socialist Party of Bellingham and Some "Materialist" History

I found this ballot between the back pages of Volume XVIII ORN - PHT of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, New Werner Edition. From the frontpiece, I learn that this was published in thirty volumes with a New American Supplement edited under the personal supervision of Day Otis Kellogg, D. D. by the Werner Company in 1903. Of the thirty volumes, I have two. I found both in the wonderful free books boxes in front of Michael's Books on Grand Avenue.

I found little reference to the nominated men on the ballot. John Cloak's name is mentioned in Charles LeWarne's fascinating Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885-1915:

Several Washington towns elected Socialist officials. Socialist locals continued in the Freeland and Equality areas and even at Home, but few former colonists were prominent in large political organizations. John Cloak was a Socialist councilmen and mayoralty candidate in Bellingham.  [p. 238]

And the enigmatically named E. Lux had this mention in the Stone and Webster Public Service Journal, Januray 1912:

During the past month a very warm political campaign has been conducted in Bellingham, which was closed by the election on December 5th. The fight for the mayorality had been three-cornered, between a Republican, E. J. Cleary, a Socialist, E. Lux, and the present Chief of Police, J. L. Likens. The result was a clear won victory for the Republican, Mr. Cleary, a business man. The two surprises of the election were the heavy vote for the Socialist candidate and the ridiculously low vote (total of 150) for a mayorality candidate whose sole platform was a reduction in rates charged by this company for gas and electricity.

This area of Washington has a long history with regard to Utopia Movements and radical politics. Most infamously, The Equality Colony that was founded near Edison in 1897. Here is the Wikipedia article:

The Equality Colony was a US socialist colony founded in Skagit County,Washington, in the year 1897. It was meant to serve as a model which would convert the rest of Washington and later the entire United States to socialism. The colony itself was highly modeled after the famous utopian piece Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, and was in fact named after one of Bellamy's other books, titled Equality.

The colony was formed by the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth, a group of Socialist Party members that notably included Eugene V. Debs and Henry Demarest Lloyd, among others. Most of the Socialist Party had by the 1890s drifted away from colonization and towards political action, and the party itself had started to fall apart. Due to this, the Brotherhood decided it was time to form its own organization and colony.

Led by G.E. "Ed" Pelton, they bought 280 acres of land in Western Washington, near Edison, for $2,854.16. More land was bought later, bringing the total acreage up to about 500. Washington was chosen as a location not only due to the climate and fertility of the land, but also due to social factors. It was home to a relatively small population and left-leaning politics, having elected a Populist governor who was heard to be sympathetic to the cause of the BCC.

From Utopias on Puget Sound 1885-1915 by Charles Pierce LeWarne
At its peak, the Equality Colony had two large apartments, a barn, a dining room and kitchen, a school house, a public hall, a store room, a printing office, a saw mill, a root house, a blacksmith and copper shop, an apiary, a bakery, a cereal and coffee house, and a milk house. It most likely had a peak population of around 200 or 300 people, although one newspaper account reported up to 600 people. Colonists lived in apartments, but were over time allowed to build their own houses. Residents chose their own profession. All wages were equal, with men working for eight hours and women working for six. Town meetings were held every week, with all adult colonists having a vote in deciding policy.

Grounds and buildings of the Equality Colony | 1900
University of Washington Libraries Special Collection

The colony prospered for about four years, due to rich land, productive workers, and strong leadership. However, it could not run smoothly forever. Disagreement began to run through the colony, and the official leadership was often questioned. A split arose among the hardcore socialists; some were statist socialists, who believed in following the colony government, and others were of the anarchosocialist variety. In addition to this, the colony was becoming overrun by freeloaders who, claiming to be socialist, arrived without any money and, instead of paying the membership free, claimed that they would work it off. They would work for a few weeks, take up to the limit of items from the grocery store and eat more than their share of home-cooked meals, and then sneak off, having done their part to lead the colony towards bankruptcy. These two factors were more than enough to run the colony down, and by 1905 the Equality Colony was all but completely ruined.

The final factor in the demise of the colony occurred February 6, 1906, when an unknown person or group of people set fire to several buildings at night. The worst loss was the barn, which burned completely to the ground, killing most of the colony's cattle. The perpetrator was never identified. The land was sold for 12,500 dollars to John J. Peth, and all that remains today of the colony are some fruit trees and a minuscule graveyard.

From The Single Tax Review of 1911 (more interesting that it sounds), I found this mention:

Bellingham is a city of 25,000 people, and there were cast at the last election some 1,200 Socialist votes; yet the librarian of the Socialist local tells me that to his certain knowledge he is the only Socialist who has ever taken out the three volumes of Capital!

The 1913 book, The Common Cause, whose motto is, "There is no need, no excuse for Socialism. But there is sore need of Social Reform," I found  indications of opposition to the "materialistic interpretations" of the Socialists in Bellingham.

 It is not in Schenectady alone that Socialism is trying to make its influence felt in the education of the school children. In Everett and Bellingham, Wash., they have attempted to gain possession of the school board, a purpose which aroused successful opposition on the part of the patriotic citizens. The Bellingham Herald, states unhesitatingly that:
"Breeding of the utmost contempt for the United States of America, for all the country stands for, for its constitution and for its flag is the sole purpose sought to be accomplished by the aspiring Socialist candidates to the local school board by the introduction of the 'materialistic interpretation' of history into the public schools. It is planned to change the readers even of the primary classes in order that children scarcely able to speak may be inoculated with the socialistic serum. A materialistic interpretation of arithmetic is also to be introduced and a materialistic interpretation of economics for children of the more advanced classes."
The Herald substantiates its assertions with facts and quotations from socialistic newspapers which leave no room for doubt as to the attitude of the party in regard to the suggested change.

I enjoyed the hyperbolic vitriol of the Herald writer. The phrase, "in order that children scarcely able to speak may be inoculated with the socialistic serum" was well worth all the efforts of my research. And I am curious as to how anyone can teach a "materialistic interpretation" of arithmetic.

 Finally, a little more research led me up to the 1930s and the lively autobiography of Eugene Dennet, Agitprop: The Life of an American Working-Class Radical. In the fascinating chapter, Bellingham Party Organizer, he discusses the trials and tribulations of the Bellingham Communist party, the seven same members, and makes a nice connection with Equality Club, Edward Bellamy and the Equality Colony.

I went to Bellingham, Washington, in the spring of 1932. There I found a very disciplined Communist party of seven members; an Unemployed Council of the same seven members; a Friends of the Soviet Union branch of the same seven members; and an International Labor Defense branch of the same seven members. They were certain that they were following the Party line in every particular, and complained that the masses were just too backwards to act in their own behalf by joining our Party organizations. Our Communist party members faithfully carried out every Party campaign by peddling leaflets, pamphlets, and newspapers. But they had no public influence on anything. They were what I later learned to identify as a classic example of "sectarianism," with total loyalty to the working class and the ideals of the Communist party, but completely isolated from all other existing political activities.

I soon found out that in the city of Bellingham there were mass meetings of the general public with thousands of people gathering to hear discussions about socialism, unemployment, democracy, and many issues coming up in the 1932 elections. They were conducted by some active liberal people stimulated by an organization named the Equality Club, led by a Dr. Beebe. Beebe had sympathies with socialist ideas of Edward Bellamy's old "looking backward" variety. He was intellectually interested and active in current events.

One cannot help but smile and wonder about whatever happened to those ineffectual and hapless "same seven members."

1 comment:

  1. wow, amazing. I wonder why we never became socialists after all? Long live Socialism! Down with the exploiters!