Hard Times for the Economists (who aren’t reading Marx)

Karl Marx

Want to understand the economy? Consult my published works.

by Lew Jeppson

Business columnist Robert Samuelson had an opinion piece in the Washington Post.  It was entitled “Economists in the Dark.”  In it he bemoans the inability of contemporary economists to get or predict anything right. But he offers no solution. Below is my response:

I continue to contend that economics will remain static and ineffective until Marxian analysis is let into contemporary economics. Marxian analysis makes pretty quick work analyzing our current problems:

  • First, profits come from incomplete compensation to labor.
  • Second, the need of capital to grow profits without limit leads to stagnant wages and off-shoring of jobs.
  • Third, the stagnation of wages leads to increasingly top heavy distributions of wealth and income (this is happening, it’s not just theory), and the falling from the middle class of many families.
  • Fourth, as capitalism matures banking capitalism becomes more prominent (financial services have climbed to 20% of GDP) and for that reason their recklessness lends increasing instability (Wall Street banking created the collapse of 2007-2008).
  • And finally fifth, government steps in to save the system from collapse by borrowing heavily and flooding the system with money to save the banks which in turn loan to the government to finance the bailout of themselves.

Marx predicted all of this. Isn’t this just great? We Marxists understand this stuff. Samuelson and the rest can’t because they don’t have the right tools.

Socialists: Saying What We are For

Another title for this article might be – how do we respond to the right wing?  I recently listened to an exchange between Michelle Bachman and Senator Bernie Sanders (thank God he’s around).  As Congressman Bachman went through her talking points I found myself screaming at my CRT.  I called her every name I could think of.  Crazy?  Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s not good for the body to get so angry.

As socialists we need to be proactive and state what we are FOR – continually.  We are for protecting those most vulnerable – the young and the old.  We want early childhood education and protection for Social Security and pension funds.

We need to advocate for an evolution of our system, one which deemphasizes profits and advocates for workers’ receiving full value for their contribution, that is, for the value they add.   We need to be for equal rights always, not only for races, creed, and genders, but also for LGBT.  There should be no ambiguity here.

We need to be for environmental protection.

We need to be for single payer health care, while we are guardedly supportive of what President Obama is trying to do to alleviate health care want.

We need to be for family life as a protection against the capitalist system and the vicissitudes of life in general.

We need to be for worker control of enterprise.  This we need to advocate vigorously.
In short, the Wasatch Socialist Party needs to write a platform, describing what we are FOR!

We need to avoid attacks against opponents.  When we do that we argue on their turf and invite retribution and venom, which could be very harmful to all, to us particularly so, in the years ahead.

What do you think?

ACA is Socialism? Think again.

Kelsey Brown, Wasatch Socialist

Healthcare reform has been one of the most prominent topics in the news ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. The ACA is often incorrectly referred to as the “socialization” of medicine. The truth is, the ACA is still capitalist, for-profit healthcare. Socialists always have and always will support a single-payer system of healthcare. We believe that access to good healthcare is a human right completely unrelated to someone’s income. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about why the United States healthcare system is in desperate need of change, and I will give a real-life example of how, even with health insurance, healthcare can be a financial death sentence and why the ACA is incapable of fixing these problems.

How many times have you heard that the United States has the best healthcare in the world and that switching to a single-payer system, the dreaded “socialized medicine,” would ruin it? We don’t want to have to deal with a Canadian or British system, do we? Our taxes would be unbearable and we’d get substantially worse healthcare than we get now, or so the argument goes. What many people don’t realize is that the numbers already indicate that we pay more for healthcare than any other country and we’re not getting our money’s worth.

In the United States, we spend over $8000 per capita annually (the next closest country is Norway at less than $6000) and still have a lower life expectancy than other Western countries (although we’re still ahead of China and Brazil, if that makes you feel any better). We rank 46th of 48th in terms of healthcare efficiency. We’re paying much more than anyone else and receiving much worse care.

Maybe efficiency isn’t everything though. Our doctors make a lot of money, this must attract a lot of bright minds to the field, right? Not so much. A common argument is that if we go to a single-payer system American doctors will flee the country (I’m not sure where they’d go since we’re the last westernized country without a single-payer system) and good students will be deterred from going into healthcare. This fear is probably unfounded. The United States has actually fewer physicians per person than most other OECD countries (34 countries) and our average of 2.6 hospital beds per 1000 people is lower than the OECD average 3.4.

As of 2012 (before the ACA went into effect), 47 million Americans under 65 lacked health insurance. 75% of the uninsured were working and only 40% lived before the poverty line. Before the ACA, only 57% of companies offered their employees health coverage. Even then, though, coverage is not guaranteed. Part-time and contract employees (a growing portion of the population) usually do not qualify for employer-sponsored health coverage. Employer-sponsored coverage isn’t necessarily affordable either. In 2013, the average premiums for family coverage were $16,351. Employees don’t bear this whole cost, but the amount that employees have been asked to pay has risen as much as 70% over the past 10 years. This leaves many employees unable to afford health insurance even if they are offered it. The worst part is that in 2012 due to the high cost of medical services, 27% of those with insurance put off getting needed healthcare and 23% reported difficulty paying medical bills in the past 12 months.

In summary, the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country, has fewer doctors per 1000 people and a lower life expectancy than most other western countries and still manages to leave a significant portion of its population unable to access healthcare. Around half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills and the vast majority of filers had health insurance. The next entry on healthcare will focus on a real-life example (mine) of how medical bills, even with insurance, can easily become overwhelming to a family well above the federal poverty line.

Response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address

By Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative, Seattle City Council
Tuesday January 28, 2014

Tonight, President Obama talked about the deepening inequality.

But that is a testament of his own presidency. A presidency that has betrayed the hopes of tens of millions of people who voted for him out of a genuine desire for fundamental change away from corporate politics and war mongering.

Poverty is at record-high numbers – 95% of the gains in productivity during the so-called recovery have gone to the top 1%.

The president’s focus on income inequality was an admission of the failure of his policies.

An admission forced by rallies, demonstrations, and strikes by fast food and low wage workers demanding a minimum wage of $15. It has been forced by the outrage over the widening gulf between the super-rich and those of us working to create this wealth in society.

While the criminals on Wall Street are bailed out, courageous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden are hunted down and the unconstitutional acts he exposed are allowed to continue.

Obama is the president who is using smartphone apps – games like Angry Birds – to spy against tens of millions of ordinary people in a completely blatant violation of basic constitutional rights.

The President claims ending two wars while he continues to intensify a brutal campaign of drone wars in multiple countries, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, and not to mention the plight of US soldiers returning with permanent medical conditions and declining veterans’ benefits.

Obama is the president whose broken website is a symbol of the broken hopes of millions who believed his promises for affordable healthcare.

“Climate change is a fact,” says Obama.

Here is another fact: Climate change is getting worse and worse, on his watch. There has been a massive increase in incredibly destructive practices like the use of coal and fracking.

Leadership in stopping the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline has come not from Obama or Congress, but from the thousands of courageous people organizing and taking direct action to stop it.

Obama shouts “Fix our broken immigration system.” He is the president with record numbers of deportations.

My brothers and sisters, these problems are not new. And they are not an accident.

Working people have faced nearly four decades of wage stagnation and rising income inequality.

Four decades, with four Republican presidents and three Democratic presidents. Four decades that show neither party can solve these problems and that both fundamentally represent the same interests – the interests of the super-wealthy and big corporations.

We will only make progress on the basis of fundamental, systemic change. We need a break from the policies of Wall Street and Corporate America. We need a break from capitalism. It has failed the 99%.

Both parties bow down before the free market, and loyally serve the interests of their corporate masters – the only difference being a matter of degree.

The political system is completely dysfunctional and broken. It is drowning in corporate cash.

Working people, youth, people of color, women, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants – the 99% – have no voice or representation

We need our own political party. Independent of big business, and independent of the parties of big business.

Some say it cannot be done.

But look at the example of my campaign for Seattle City Council. I ran as an open socialist. I did not take a penny in corporate cash. My campaign raised $140,000 from ordinary working people. I ran as an independent working-class challenger to the capitalist establishment.

I ran on a platform of $15 minimum wage, taxing the super-rich to pay for mass transit and education, and for affordable housing, including rent control.

I am only taking the average worker’s wage while politicians in Seattle and in Congress are totally out of touch with the lives of the rest of us.

We built a grassroots campaign of over 450 people. With almost 100,000 votes, my election was the first time in decades an independent socialist was elected in a major US city.

Americans are hungry for something different. And it’s not just in Seattle. A recent poll showed that sixty percent of Americans want a third party.

Let’s talk about minimum wage. Obama said, “No one working full-time should have to raise a family in poverty.”

And his solution? Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 over 3 years.

I absolutely welcome any step forward on raising the minimum wage. And it is outrageous how the Republican Party is standing in the way.

But let’s be honest: $10.10/hour over three years – or $20,000 per year if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job – is not a ticket out of poverty for working families.

Fast food workers and Walmart workers have gone on strike and built powerful protests in cities in every part of the country over the past year for $15/hour. And that is the only reason politicians are now talking about raising the minimum wage.

Look at the example of the SeaTac $15/hour initiative. A initiative for $15/hour minimum wage was on the ballot – and won!

“Let’s make this a year of action,” Obama said.

In my view, we need action by working people and the poor for higher wages and a $15/hour minimum wage. Action by young people fighting student fees and the debt around their neck for the rest of their life. Action by homeowners against the epidemic of foreclosures. By trade unionists against anti-trade union laws and for workers’ rights.

Get organized!

Get active in your union. Get active in a local movement. Join the struggle to defend the environment.

Join with me and my organization, Socialist Alternative, to challenge big business and fight capitalism.

The epicenter of the fight back in 2014 is the Fight for Fifteen. I urge you to be part of this struggle. Find out more and sign up to get involved at 15Now.org.


Announcing Free Seminars on Marxian Economics

There are three main branches to economics today – Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian. Each school has something to teach the others. But, unfortunately, the Marxian school is largely absent from the scene in most universities and colleges. Why? Well, frankly, Marx is taboo – pure and simple. Some of this is due to the cold war which prevented examination of Marx’s intricate theory found in works like “Capital” and others. But some of it is due to the laziness of the economics profession and the dominance of right wing dogma today.

The absence of Marx in most economics departments is critical. It has prevented economics from advancing. It is no exaggeration to state that Marx is to economics as Freud is to psychology! Marx explains capital accumulation in capitalism, and moreover explains such as an exploitation of labor. This changes everything! Marx also explains much more. Marx must be let in, and the sooner the better. The environmental crisis requires some degree of socialist action. We need to have Marx’s explanation of how capitalism works to guide us in developing socialist institutions.

The Wasatch Socialist Party will hold some ground-breaking seminars in Marxian economics, open to the public, in conjunction with the Salt Lake Community College Revolutionary Students’ Union. The seminars will be conducted by Lew Elton Jeppson, recently retired professor of economics at SLCC, and others. The seminars will be in open discussion format with lots of Q and A. The Wasatch Socialist Party will keep all informed of dates. The seminars will begin early in March at SLCC.

We are back!

After a hiatus of a year, the Wasatch Socialist Party is re-forming and meeting again! As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work to establish a local branch of a political party.

For those of you interested in meeting up, we’re going to resume meeting at Mestizo Coffeehouse once month, Saturdays at 4 pm. The next meeting will be Saturday, January 18 at 4.

And if you’re interested in joining the Socialist Party USA, you can do so at the SPUSA site.

Watch this site for new articles and ideas in the coming weeks!

What We Want for Christmas

Two days ago, here in Utah just as all over the country, thousands of Christmas shoppers lined up outside stores like Walmart and Target, seeking deals on commodities manufactured in factories all over the world. As in any other shopping season, these consumers probably gave little thought to where the items they bought came from. They only cared if these goods were cheap, or if they could get the latest branded shirt or popular toy.

Over the next two days, a massive fire broke out in a garment factory in Bangladesh. According to the New York Times,

Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor record of fire safety. Since 2006, more than 500 Bangladeshi workers have died in garment factory fires, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group based in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have been easily avoided if the factories had taken the right precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods, have too few fire escapes and widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, mostly women.

While consumers in the US were hiding away their newly bought presents under beds, in attics, or in closets, these workers were cramming into too-few staircases in a 9 story building, lying low on floors in a futile attempt to escape smoke, or jumping out of windows.

This is the price of low prices: hundreds of burned bodies and hundreds more injured people. This a fraction of a global workforce dedicated to bringing us the names brands we want at the prices we can’t beat. Their wages are low, and the safety and environmental standards they work in are even lower. Their work is a large part of what makes Black Friday work.

These same Bangladeshi workers have been agitating for better wages and working conditions. I doubt any Christmas shopper here in Utah would begrudge them those things – especially after this tragedy – but of course the result would be prices at Walmart and Target going up, and perhaps that’s untenable for us. We live in a system where such price changes are anathema, because it’s not about decent wages anymore, it’s about the ability to maintain a consumer lifestyle just as our parents did. Our wages, in fact, are going down, too, but just so long as we can get cheap stuff from underpaid people in Asia we don’t notice. And as long as we don’t notice, the owners of the giant retailers, factories, sourcing firms, importers, and distribution companies make tremendous profits and widen the gap between them and us.

So, what do we want for Christmas? Less stuff. Less consumption, less demand for cheap goods at any cost. Less environmental destruction. Lesser lines outside global companies that push wages down around the world and push dangers up. More worker control of these factories. More worker control of retailers. Far less profit going to owners. Far more going to the people who actually do the work.

That would make for a fine Christmas.

Obama Re-elected – The Fightback Begins

Posted: 06 Nov 2012 10:45 PM PST

Tonight, Barack Obama was declared the winner of the U.S. Presidential election. Obama ran a centrist, lackluster campaign that was fueled by an avalanche of campaign donations from corporate America.  The losers were poor and working class people all over the country.

By Billy Wharton

Although, Mitt Romney was the other corporate funded candidate in the race, it will be regular Americans who will have to live with repercussions of a second Obama presidency.  Over the next four years, the administration will continue to extend the damage it has initiated since 2008.

On the healthcare front, four more years of Obama will mean that the terms of his Obamacare legislation will be frozen into place.  The possibility of re-initiating grassroots campaigning for single-payer healthcare will be mostly foreclosed until the causalities of this new system emerge en masse.  Obama made sure to protect the pharmaceutical companies and further entrench private health insurers into the healthcare system. No wonder then that a major healthcare company such as Kaiser Permanente lavished more than $500,000 on the Obama campaign while ignoring Romney. Private healthcare companies were the real winners in the first Obama presidency and they will certainly consolidate these gains in the next four years.  Poor and working class Americans will pay the price for this.

And the same will be true as the hysteria about the “fiscal cliff” gets ramped up.  This discussion will be the pretext for bringing the kinds of harsh austerity measures currently being enacted in Europe across the Atlantic to America.  The Obama administration has already begun negotiations with Republican members of Congress for what they are calling a “compromise budget.”  The compromise will entail cutting social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and social security in return for slightly higher taxation on the rich.  Such cuts will bring the federal government in line with state and local governments who have been engaged harsh budget cuts for the past four years.  What once were called the “third rail” programs of American politics – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – will instantly be converted into a target for an Obama administration intent on slashing the federal budget.

A second Obama term will also mean more of the same for foreign policy. Far from advancing a peace agenda, the Obama administration had intensified aspects of the military aggression in the Middle East initiated by George W. Bush and has, in some cases, accelerated the erosion of civil rights.  The two symbols of this militaristic approach are the homicidal drone bombing campaign that Obama has personally overseen and Private Bradley Manning who currently sits in a military detention facility.  The drones demonstrate that even if Obama slightly reduces the military budget, he will remain committed to using the military industrial complex as a tool to enforce American global interests even if this violates international human rights.  Manning is Obama’s prisoner – a brave whistle blower who refused to comply with criminal military aggression.  He stands as a permanent symbol of Obama’s war on civil rights and his case should be a point of struggle for left-wing activists.

Finally, both Obama and Romney have almost entirely disregarded issues related to climate change.  Obama’s administration has the advantage of actually recognizing that climate change exists.  Yet, this has meant little in regards to either pro-environment legislation or  even a shift to renewable energy sources. Obama’s environmental bankruptcy has been on vivid display during the periodic environmental disasters.  He was asleep at the wheel during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, coddling the multinational corporate offenders at BP as they foot dragged through a clean up.  More recently, he was purely reactive during Hurricane Sandy, offering consoling words, but nothing in the way of a strategic plan of action to ensure safety today and environmental balance in the future.  Four more years of Obama will bring us no closer to this vision that lies at the heart of Eco-socialism.

Not surprisingly, the challenge faced by regular people all over the country will be the same with a second Obama administration as it would be with a new Romney regime.  We must build the capacity to fiercely resist the austerity policies that are sure to be imposed on us.  No fiscal cliff, grand compromise or economic common sense should be allowed to be used as a justification for these cuts.  Resist, resist, resist should be the clarion call of the next four years.

Throughout this process, democratic socialism will remain a viable alternative to the politics of austerity. Socialism’s critique of capitalism and counterposing of the global commons to American hegemony offer a vision of a different future – one in which the great wealth of the world is put to work to make life better for everyone, one in which the people of America are reconnected to the world by bonds of solidarity and one in which humanity regains equilibrium with the natural world.  This is what we continue to fight for -  a world based on the socialist values of solidarity, compassion and justice.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly[at]gmail[dot]com.

A Socialist Victory in the Venezuelan Elections

This does not mean that Venezuela has become some sort of socialist paradise.  What it does mean is that when a regime begins to intentionally address the problems faced by poor and working class people, serious progress can be made.  

by Billy Wharton

Long before Occupy Wall Street, long before the radical elements in Europe coalesced after the 2008 economic crisis and long before the electoral rise of mass democratic socialist parties in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands, a serious crack was made into the global capitalist system.  Not surprisingly, the new political space for socialism came from Latin America, more specifically from Venezuela where former military officer Hugo Chavez was democratically elected as President in 1999.  Chavez represented more than just a protest against the worst features of capitalism.  The Bolivarian Revolution promised to transform Venezuela and provide a direct challenge to Global Capitalism.  Tonight’s re-election of Hugo Chavez allows this project to continue – it demonstrates that millions of voters in Venezuela continue to support the ideals of a democratic socialism for the 21st century.

The accomplishments of the Chavez regime over the past 13 years are undeniable.  When he entered office, Chavez took command of an economy that had been ravaged by IMF structural adjustment plans that had devastated most of the welfare subsidies and social guarantees that had been built up by the progressive nationalist regimes of the 1970s.  This process reached a critical head in 1989 as the rumor of more IMF cutbacks set off mass riots in poor and working class communities that came to be known as “El Caracazo.”  Chavez’s leadership emerged out of this rebellion.

Using conservative sources, we still find that since Chavez was elected President in 1999, unemployment has been cut in half – declining from 14% to 7%.  Increased access to medical care, particularly through community clinics staffed by Cuban physicians, has led to a decline in infant mortality from 20 deaths per 1,000 live births to 13 deaths per 1,000.  Per capita GDP has increased from $4,000 in 1999 to $10,000 today.  And extreme poverty has declined from 23% of the population when Chavez entered office in 1999 to 8.5% today.

This does not mean that Venezuela has become some sort of socialist paradise.  What it does mean is that when a regime begins to intentionally address the problems faced by poor and working class people, serious progress can be made.  Some of these changes have had an anti-capitalist flavor – especially the strategic nationalization of essential industries, the political support of local communal councils and the economic muscle created to support worker-owned cooperatives.  Others relate to the re-direction of oil export profits into an expanded social welfare state.

The election of right wing opposition candidate Henrique Capriles would have meant an immediate end to this process of social transformation.  After years of deep disorganization and marginalization, the Venezuelan right-wing has now re-organized itself.  It speaks the language of social-democracy while representing the social elements in Venezuela who lustily seek a return to the good old days before Chavez.  They have certainly been helped in this effort by the pressure placed on the economy by the global economic crisis, by deep contradictions inside of the Chavez regime and by their deep-pocketed benefactors in the United States.

It was not just the US State Department that was deeply implicated in attempts to de-stabilize the Chavez regime.  Mainstream media sources in the US served as virtual mouthpieces for the the right-wing opposition in Venezuela.  While officials from the Carter Center conducted intensive checks on the country’s electoral system, the US media trumpeted the paranoid claims of the opposition that Chavez supporters were setting themselves up to steal the election.  Despite the public claims made by all Venezuelan officials, including Chavez, to respect any decision made by the electorate, the US media still felt comfortable highlighting reports that Venezuelan National Guardsmen with AK47’s were roaming the streets of Carcas – a not so subtle implication that a coup would follow a Chavez defeat.  Once again, the US media provided the soft imperialist power – dumbing down public opinion in the US while supporting the moral claims of a right-wing opposition bent on the deeply immoral annihilation of social justice in Venezuela.

The electoral victory leaves the Chavez regime with much work to do.  One place to start might be addressing the severe housing crisis.  Although the government has created 250,000 new homes, this has fallen far short of the demand coming from poor and working class communities.  In response, Chavez has launched an ambitious public housing project, known as the Great Housing Mission, before the elections.  Some 3.6 million families have registered for the program and the mission hopes to create 2 million new homes in the next seven years. US media coverage of this effort painted it as a cynical and even cruel attempt to harvest votes.  This might be because the need for affordable quality public housing reverberates far beyond the border of Venezuela into all capitalist societies.  Creating a model socialist public housing sector for the 21st century would provide a signal that the Bolivarian Revolution is still engaging with the process of social transformation that was at the heart of its creation.

Being able to further confront the old elites and eventually the new Boliburguesía, the new elites created by the Chavez regime, will mean that the next phase of revolution has begun.  For now though, the electoral victory of Chavez should send the signal to socialist organizations internationally that mass electoral socialist campaigning can yield concrete results.  Millions of formerly unemployed Venezuelan workers, millions who once lived in extreme poverty, millions of children who survived childbirth and now millions of Venezuelan voters provide testimony to the transformative potential of socialism in the 21st century.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly[at]gmail[dot]com 

Books: Historians document Utah’s red streak

John R. Sillito, left, and John S. McCormick, authors of "A History of Utah Radicalism: Startling, Socialistic, and Decidedly Revolutionary"

McCormick and Sillito document the leftist history, from the LDS Church’s United Order to a slate of Socialist mayors, in A History of Utah Radicalism

By Ben Fulton

First Published Sep 19 2012 05:46 pm • Last Updated Sep 20 2012 05:04 pm for The Salt Lake Tribune

In a state where Republicans rule the roost, it’s hard to imagine a time when Utah’s clock turned leftward.

There’s no need to imagine it, say historians John McCormick and John Sillito. McCormick is dean of the school of humanities and social sciences at Salt Lake Community College; Sillito is an emeritus professor of libraries at Weber State University. Together, the authors have unearthed a treasure trove of just how red and deep the state’s socialist roots once grew. It’s all between the covers of their recent book, A History of Utah Radicalism: Startling, Socialist, and Decidedly Revolutionary.

Cedar City twice elected a Socialist mayor. Bingham, Eureka, Murray and Joseph boasted Socialist mayors, too. Some 115 Socialists were elected to office between 1900-1920, including Socialist and active Mormon J. Alex Bevan of Tooele.

Granted, this politically dynamic time didn’t last long before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the rest of Utah, made its bid for mainstream respectability. But with the backdrop of the LDS Church’s decidedly socialistic religious framework, the United Order, it spawned the well-known martyrdom of labor activist Joe Hill, as well as the quirky offshoot of Mormonism known as the Godbeites. Then there’s the historical moment when the daughter of an LDS Church president was praised by anarchist Emma Goldman.

McCormick and Sillito’s book just received the Francis Armstrong Madsen prize for Best History Book at the Utah State History Conference.

How did the socialist movement in Utah differ from labor and socialist movements in other states?

Sillito »The radical movement in Utah tended to look a lot like parties and movements in other parts of the country. The majority of party members were LDS, of course, but they kept in touch with other socialist organizers and candidates in the country.

McCormick »Utah socialists wanted to see themselves as part of the larger movement. That meant they wanted to stay in touch. National speakers came through Utah on a regular basis, partly because Utah socialists invited them.

Sillito »It was the crossroads of the West then, even as it’s the crossroads of the West now. There’s a wonderful story about Eugene Debs [American union leader and a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World] getting stuck out in Tooele after speaking in Salt Lake City. He got stuck in the snowstorm.

McCormick »He wrote a lovely letter to his brother that’s recounted in the book: “Whatever possessed you to put Tooelle [sic] into this schedule? … The snow was so deep and the roads so bad that no auto owner would let us have a machine at any price. … In 15 minutes I was half frozen, chilled to the marrow, and my feet soon became like ice. … Must I have such a damned killing dose as (this) administered to me on every trip? I am willing to be killed for the cause but I don’t want to die a fool’s death.”

How much more or less socialist was Utah at the time than the rest of the nation?

Sillito »There were things that happened here that weren’t happening in other places. For example, Utah Socialists elected legislators. In other states where Socialists were equally strong, they weren’t successful in electing Socialists.

McCormick »State federations of labor in five states officially endorsed the Socialist Party. One of them was Utah. That was a significant sign of their status.

How did Utah Socialists add their own flavor to the movement?

Sillito »Negotiating the dichotomy between short-term goals of improving working conditions on the one hand, and abolishing the system that produced those subpar conditions on the other, was difficult for them.

McCormick »Whenever they gained control they tended to focus on honest, efficient city services. It was important to them that residents had a sewer system, clean water and garbage collection. None of that was radical. It was something everyone could agree on.

But they knew that if they wanted to have a long-term impact, they had to address problems firsthand. They believed that once they solved these problems, they’d gain credibility and trust. Murray City is a great example. One of the main things Socialist Mayor George Huscher did there was establish Murray City Power Department, a city-owned municipal power plant. It’s still in operation today. The Socialist administration of Eureka was first to put a sewer system and garbage collection in place.

One of the last stories we heard about Utah’s working-class history was in 2000, when the Murray smelting stacks were demolished. A lot of people couldn’t understand the symbolic importance of those stacks.

Sillito »When you consciously choose not to preserve sites associated with labor history, some people draw the conclusion there never was a labor history in the state, which just wasn’t the case. Some people say it’s not conscious. I’m not so sure. I don’t know the motives, but I know the result. We’re often aghast when there’s talk of demolishing a historic mansion, but it’s hard to find examples of working-class housing in the state today. Some still exist in west Salt Lake City, Midvale and even Murray. What you preserve, and don’t preserve, is often very political.

What are your favorite historical anecdotes from the book?

Sillito »My own favorite stretches from 1905-1918, when the Episcopal dioceses of Salt Lake City was led by Franklin Spencer Spalding, then his successor Paul Jones. Both were Episcopal bishops, both were self-avowed Christian Socialists who believed in replacing “the rule of gold with the golden rule.” Neither saw their role as a bishop as promoting socialism, it was just their political viewpoint. When one newspaper reporter asked them about their religious and political affiliations, they said, “Out in Utah there are 700 bishops. Being a bishop is no big deal.”

I also have a fondness for Wilford Woodruff Freckleton, who served as a Socialist on the Eureka City Council. He served his [LDS] mission to England, then returned to Eureka to be re-elected, again as a Socialist.

McCormick »What I was always struck by was how pervasive the Socialist influence was. They published newspapers, ran a column in the Sunday Examiner, [a] full page every Sunday for five years. They spoke all over the state, hosting both local and national speakers. They talked about “socialism with sociability.” They hosted Socialism Day at Saltair, with Red Sunday celebrations in Liberty Park. They’d invite people together for card games. They’d sometimes dance until midnight. They were concerned with keeping up morale whenever possible to maintain confidence and commitment. In 1915, Socialists in Duchesne sponsored Overnight Encampments in which up to 1,000 people in rural Utah heard theatrical performances and debates.

Opposition brought down on the labor movement is also interesting. In 1913, the Salt Lake City Council passed an ordinance designed to prevent Socialists speaking in public. They wanted Socialists and Wobblies [members of Industrial Workers of the World] to speak only on the corner of Orpheum Ave. and Commercial Street, now called Regent Street. At the time, that was the center of Salt Lake City’s red-light district.

If people know any figure from Utah’s labor movement, it’s Joe Hill. Is his reputation warranted or overrated?

McCormick »It’s so complicated. People really need to read William Adler’s recent book The Man Who Never Died for the full answer. Hill was an iconic figure whose trial and death in Utah has inspired people everywhere. He had the ability to come up with catchy phrases such as, “Don’t mourn, organize,” and “Don’t listen to people who promise you something in the next life, work for it in this life.” Adler shows, I think, that you can make a good case [Hill] was innocent. But why didn’t he make a better case himself? Perhaps he thought his death as a martyr was more useful than his life as a worker. I’ve been studying that case since 1970. I get a new wrinkle on it every time I study it.

Sillito »We need to remember the socialist movement in Utah was not just about men. Kate Hilliard of Ogden was a great suffragist working with Mormon women. Virginia Snow Stephen is very interesting. She was daughter of the fifth LDS Church president, Lorenzo Snow, a friend of Emma Goldman’s and an advocate of Joe Hill. She was forced to give up her job as art instructor at the University of Utah in 1916 because of her public support for Hill.

What do you hope people come away with from this book?McCormick »Though radical movements from the left are often seen as essentially footnotes to the main story of U.S. and Utah history, marginal to the main story and meriting nothing more than passing interest, paying serious attention to them is important. Doing so can illuminate the past in new ways. A different picture can emerge, not only in details, but in essentials, challenging the “master narrative” and requiring us to think differently about the past, and also then, about the present and the future.

Sillito »Every day when I ask my class if they had a great weekend, they say yes. I say, “Good. Thank the labor movement.” Utah Phillips [labor activist and songwriter] once said, “The most radical thing is the long memory.” In some ways, I think that’s true. I hope with this book people understand the past in a different way. If you know the past, you’re better equipped to address the future.