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In a Houseboat on the St Joe.

In commiserating with an LJ friend about of the absence of intellectual stimulation in Georgia and Idaho, i commented that i had never met an anarchist in Idaho and very few socialists.  Its true that in Denver, i sought out such people and in Idaho i have let them find me.  But i had forgotten a time in my life when i did know Idaho anarchists.  In the late 1950s i was in charge of the state welfare program in a small rural county in the north.  Some of the older men i met while doing my job were former members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

These "Wobblies" were. as some commentator suggested, not so much anarchists as hungry.  Working in rhe mining or logging industry, they were subject to long hours and difficult working conditions with lousy pay and no control over the conditions under which they were "wage slaves."  They became Wobblies to survive not to achieve some political goals.  Students of U.S. labor history know well the story of the struggle for contol of labor conditions of Northern Idaho pitting the United Mine Workers and the Wobblies against the full forces of business. and government including private security, police and military.  Striking miners were rounded and stockaded near Wallace (where they were guarded by African American troops, creating the basis, along with southern origins, for the intense racism of North Idaho labor).  Men in their 20s in the 1890s and early 20th century were, by 1958, in their late 70s, eighties, and nineties.  They had learned something of syndicalist philosophy and continued to read the Communist and De Leonist propaganda, which was the closest thing many of them could find in the 1950s to an anarchist press.

These old men had influenced a few younger men, including myself, to share their views and visions.  One who became a friend to me was E. S, who came in to apply for food stamps* one winter to help feed his wife and eight year old nephew.  Probably in his late 40s or early 50s at the time, (so he will be long dead by now), he was a logger who lived on a houseboat in the river that ran through our little town.  Some of the most stimulating days of my youth were spent aboard that houseboat.  He had zero years of schooling, a rare thing even then, and had been illiterate well into adulthood.  He had taught himself to read for the sole purpose of understanding syndicalist thought.  He is the only person i know who has actually read  (the still incomplete) Das Kapital --all 2500 pages of it, cover to cover, twice.   In the process he developed a love of reading and philosophy.  His walls were lined with shelves which were filled with books (including all of the University of Chicago "Great Books.", many of which he had read, and all of which he intended to read.  I have just begun to wonder how much of my political (or anti-political) ideas were formed in my conversations with this man.

* Food stamps.  Of course, there were no food stamps in the 1950s.  Instead there were "surplus commodities", mostly peanut butter, flour, milk powder and whatever else might be available at the time of distribution (and cheese--how could i ever have forgotten cheese!)    

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
amaebi
Jul. 29th, 2011 01:51 am (UTC)
Old radicals, radicals in conservative territory-- my faves. :)

Ah, Nineveh. Ah, prophets. It's a rotten job that makes great companions.

(I think young pastors [invidious verb castigating communication style] about "wanting to be prophetic" are nuts.)
bobby1933
Jul. 29th, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
Old radicals
Yeah, and now i guess i am one. I am the age of some of the "old" men who shared their stories with me over fifty years ago.
amaebi
Jul. 30th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
Re: Old radicals
I think I'm awaiting being an old radical, but maybe I am one. :D
reginaterrae
Jul. 29th, 2011 01:19 pm (UTC)
And thank you for sharing your story! It's fascinating
bobby1933
Jul. 29th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
I'm happy that you enjoyed it.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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