This site is a static archive. Visit the current IWW website at ▸
Skip to main content

Chapter 13 - The Communist Era (Part 1)

I wrote this and published it in the Redwood Ripsaw of Davenport, California last year (1965).

The Bolshevik Revolution in "Mother Russia" in November 1917 came like the thunder clap of the Atom Bomb. It caught the workers of all the world by complete surprise-and it dumfounded the master class as well.

I was only age 18 and was setting chokers at the time in a logging camp in Oregon, the camp of the "Siletz Lumber and logging company, and I was of course, a confirmed IWW (Wobbly). I listened to furious arguments among the IWW crew members, and they were split right down the middle as to the nature of what really went on in old Russia. The great works of Lenin were yet to be circulated in the US so quite naturally, we were in the dark as far as authentic information was concerned. Oh yes, the bosses newspapers were full of news about "That Red Butcher, Lenin", but us Wobblies knew from sad past experience about the authenticity of such sources.

In the meantime the IWW started a decline after the Russian Evolution, and the split widened on the question of political action. In the early 20s the split was finalized and for a time there were two groups, each claiming to be the real IWW. Workers were quitting the organization right and left and the political action wing finally wound up in the new American Communist Party. By 1923 I was out of the IWW and was in NOTHING until 1928 when I ran into Bill Foster's TUUL in the form of the National Lumber Workers Union. I found therein scores of my former "Fellow Workers" of the Wobblies. This union was affiliated with the RILU, which was the "Red International of Labor Unions.[1]

At one meeting in Seattle we were electing a delegate from the Washington Lumber Locals to attend this RILU which was to meet in the Moscow, USSR. I had inquired around and found that they ALWAYS met in Moscow or Leningrad.[2]

I raised a point of information from the floor as to "why we always had to meet in Russia, and why not a New York conference some time?" This of course brought a big horse laugh from most of the guys and the chairman then explained that in such a case the International delegates from Russia, France, Germany, Poland, England, etc would be promptly thrown into the bucket and deported! So much for "Free Democratic America!"

I went to work in the new union side by side with members of the then new Communist Party and found them to be the best union men I had ever seen. This pretty much sold me on the Communist Party, so I joined them in 1929. We are all aware of what happened in 1929-and the Communist Party certainly didn't cause that depression! What they DID do was to organize some three million American workers into a huge employment organization. Also we raised such a fuss thru unemployed demonstrations that the much despised Communist Party DID get unemployment compensation, they DID get Social Security. They DID get aid to dependent children. These measures did not come automatically, they came into being by way of a hard struggle-led by the Communist Party!

This much despised party also played a leading role in the organization of the big CIO unions in auto, steal, lumber, rubber, longshore, electrical, and mine, mill, and smelter industries.[3] Regardless of what the communist haters say-I've "seen the movie and read the book" as the saying goes. Many an American family survived the depression ONLY, and yes, ONLY because of the Communist activity that was struggling against great odds, AGAINST public apathy, and against the big wheels in both major parties.

We took the lead in the anti-war and anti-fascist movements of the day. We picketed scarp iron going to Japan. We fought actively against evictions. I was jailed as the result of picketing scrap iron going to Japan, and jailed because of picketing in the agricultural strike when the pay was ten cents per hour, and we asked for 35 cents per. [I] was also jailed because of participating in the demonstrations against war and fascism.

Now: If you are a worker, ask yourself, "which side SHOULD I have been on? Should I have laid still for ten cents per hour and let my family starve? When you see a family being evicted into the street, would you help the family, or would you help the "law" to evict them?

I see nothing horrendous at all about Communism. It is merely a system of Public ownership of the factories, mines, mills, power, telegraph, etc. Under PIVATE ownership we are forever having depressions or wars. People CAN function in co-ops, and they surely DO co-operate in baseball teams. Why not in industry? We boast about our private enterprise economy, but a public enterprise economy possibly would have done much better. Anyway, most Americans are convinced that the world Communist movement is a flat failure-so why all the worry about it?

One thing that is for sure: the Communist movement is being led by the most oppressed and exploited sections of the populace. So: to the Communist haters I would say, "get busy and fight against war. Fight against poverty and insecurity. These are the breeding grounds of Communism."

If the so-called "Free World" can produce a better and more secure living standard for these "most oppressed" sections of the populace-then there is absolutely nothing to worry about. If they can't do this, then they properly should worry, and do you know something? They ARE worried and with good reason.

In "prosperous" US some 2% of the populace control some 98% of the wealth.[4] Such is the "Free" World. The big wheels, naturally want freedom. Freedom to ride roughshod over the working class. "Freedom" to exploit the workers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

While I had joined the "party" in 1929, by 1936 I was having some second thoughts about it. They were more and more becoming a mere appendage of the "establishment". They were beginning to support "progressive" candidates in both old parties. They began to worship the "great Roosevelt-AFTER THEY MADE HIM INSTITUTE Unemployment Compensation, Social Security, and the like. This was NOT a revolutionary position, and I objected to this policy. I believed in Socialism-not "reformed" Capitalism. However the revisionists of Marxist-Leninism had their way, and the decline of the Communist Party had begun. From a peak of over 100,000 members it has declined today, in 1966 to less than 5,000.[5]

The first bad mistake was the setting up of a dual Federation of Labor, the TUUL.[6] This was contrary to the teaching of Lenin. This move removed the militants from the AFL thereby making certain the continued rule of well known "labor fakirs" within that federation. Then came 1935, the year of the lumber strike.

The "Party" had dissolved the TUUL by that time and it was a worse mistake to dissolve it at that time than it was to set it up in the 1920s. By that time, 1935, the industrial workers were screaming for an industrial union federation, which later led to the organization of the CIO.

After the dissolving of the National Lumber Workers Union of the TUUL the Party instructed us to join the big "Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union." AFL-which we did. We were then instructed to "gain rank-and-file control of this union. We were able to do this by exposing the sell-out of the leadership in that strike. Rank and File rule prevailed so the Carpenters (the Parent Union) simply jerked the charters of most locals in Washington, Oregon, and some in Canada. Now, had we retained our rank-and-file dyed in the wool National Labor Union the history of the lumberjacks since 1935 would be entirely different. Next, the Party instructed us to set up a new union of lumber workers-which we did. It was the International Woodworkers of America, CIO.[7]

The Communist Party led this union for the most part for a time. Then came ANOTHER fatal blow from the revisionist party leadership under Earl Browder. That decision came in 1937. It was to "dissolve the party fraction." Still later came the Browder decision to dissolve the party itself! Due to the many phoney decisions of the party leadership the influences of the party continued to decline. Came the build-up for World War Two, business picked up, business UNIONISM prevailed, and the present phoney "prosperity" began. Time will of course "take care" of this false prosperity with another world shaking depression which is on the way. Then begins ANOTHER chapter of militant struggle on the part of the American working class.

Within my lifetime as a lumberjack, I saw the rise and then the decline of the IWW and the Communist Party. Both of these organizations, (in spite of their mistakes) did much to improve the lot of the lumberjack. By 1917 loggers had the highest pay rate of any other industrial workers, due to the IWW struggles. What's holding up improvements in the lot of lumberjacks today is the fact that there are two competing unions in the industry, and the fact that there are over a million woodworkers-and only a bit over 150,000 organized! This is why common labor in construction for instance, gets about $3,72 per hour with common labor in lumber receiving from Federal minimum wage to $2.50 per hour.[8]

I remained in the Communist Party until 1945, until "rear ending the Democratic donkey" got [to be] too much for me. In 1948 I was for a time a member of the "West Coast Committee to re-construct the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party" until it failed because it simply was not historically timed.

After the failure of the "West Coast Committee" in 1949. I was out of the revolutionary movement and held membership only in both lumber unions. This period lasted until 1957 when I wound up at Fort Seward, Humboldt County, California. The experiences there come in a later portion of this book.

Now for a few personal notes we will go back to 1927 when I was a scaler and log deck man in a Columbia River sawmill. I got married at that time. Later in the same year the mill went bankrupt, so I wound up at Buster Creek on the Columbia River bucking logs. That was the first time I had read a Daily Worker, official organ of the Communist Party.[9] It was illegal at that time and was printed on thin onion skin paper and mailed out in a long envelope. It was printed in Chicago. This issue, (in 1927) carried an article by Joe Stalin telling how the whole Capitalist world was in for a very severe economic crisis. Two years later this came about, and how!

After Buster Creek shut down , I wound up on a "splash drive" on Wind River, near Carson, Washington. When that was done got on the first log drive on the Clearwater River for the Potlatch Lumber Company of Lewiston Idaho. (This is my last experience as a river pig.) On this drive I met many former river pigs that I knew from Minnesota. Came 1929 and I was spare setter and dogger at Snoqualamie Falls, Washington, east of Seattle-and then came the "Hoover Boom." The world went to hell, or so it seemed, with seventeen million unemployed in 1932. Followed a lot of "Bullwash" about how the country was "over-populated"-and now with the approach of another Hoover Boom, we are hearing the same old baloney! (1966)

The depression years, I hate to remember. From 1930 until 1937 I was on and off of WPA. A logging camp job would open and they would put on only a rigging crew, deck logs at a spar tree, then after a week, shut down, lay off the rigging crew, put on a loading crew and load out-as they had orders. So-back to town, apply for WPA-get turned down because of too many ahead of you-get a committee and go after the welfare set-up. Stay on until a job opened, and repeat the process. (Three cheers for the Private Enterprise System!)

During this time there were anti-eviction fights, unemployed demonstrations demanding "Unemployment Compensation." "We demand Social Security." "Down with war and Fascism." "boycott the aggressors," and the like. There were periods in jail, a time to get beat up for being so brash as to want to live. A period that saw a tremendous glut of everything on the market-and a period when the 17 million unemployed and millions of poor farmers, millions of part time workers, and millions of small business men could buy nothing! Widespread starvation-in the midst of plenty. If you were in that category, which side would you choose? The Communists who were advocating change, or the Big Hoosiers who were against change?? I, for one, made my choice and it was Communism! No rich, no poor, a workers' commonwealth. Let the "brainy ones" and the greedy guts compete all they want to in sports, literature, and the arts-but let the bread and butter alone! Let THAT be the business of the commonwealth Those were my sentiments in 1914-and they still are today.

In 1937 I heard of a few pine outfits starting up in eastern Washington around Chelan. Threw the cork shoes in the old Model T. Pack what clothes you need, drive over and have a look. ONE good thing was that the wife and kids would get my $1.20 per week ration. That's what it was: $1.20 per week per person! SO: you take off in a cloud of smoke with the old T Model, no license, no drivers license, no lights, no brake pedal, and no money. I wound up in a logging camp near Pateros, Washington, above Chelan and got on falling and bucking pine and piling brush for a small apple box outfit. [I] worked a few months and moved over there.

Second year there and the Comrade Wife died with a strep throat. I have at that time, four children, youngest, a girl aged two, and the oldest of three boys aged 9. Hire house keepers. Next it was rumored that a bunch of local women were seeking a court order to take the children away from me as they deemed it impossible for me to raise them. I thought otherwise, so I loaded them up at night and drove them to Seattle, Washington, placed them in a children's home so I could get them out "If and when". The Real reason for the move on the part of the women was because of my activity in trying to get the camp organize into the IWA union CIO.

Hung around Seattle, cutting wood, carrying wood into basements, logging when I could until 1939. Went to Bend, Oregon "home" where Dad was still employed as an edgerman. No work there, so [I] went to Sisters, Oregon. Arrived just in time to see two men lead the dogger away. He had got his arm sliced with the hook dog, so I got the job. He came back 10 days later but the pond job was open so I got that and worked there four years. They moved the mill to Redmond, Oregon and I worked three years there. Had bought a lot and built a shack at Sisters, had got married again and had the kids home and had a major share of organizing the outfit into the International Woodworkers Union.

Settled down to work at the new mill in Redmond and the boys had elected me Vice President of the local as well as shop steward, or "Jaw Smith" as the Wobblies called it. The following might be called "mill town politics". The war was on by that time, and the CIO had a policy of electing a PAC (Political Action Committee) in all locals. The policy of the Communist Party was similar, so I made the motion on the floor of one of our meetings that a PAC be formed. It passes and a three man committee was elected. I was one of them, so following the union meeting, the new PAC met and decided to visit the AFL Carpenters and AL Painters. They gave us floor time and we proposed a joint effort-a combined PAC. Both Unions agreed, so we set up a thing called the "Redmond Union Council". We tried to get the Grange in but they declined. One of our members had the bright idea of organizing a local of the "Farmers Union" and damned if we didn't do that! (it's still in operation today in 1966). As most of the new Farmers Union members were also Grangers, it was a simple matter then to get them both affiliated into the Union Council. The Union Council put up four candidates for City Council-and we elected them all giving Redmond a pro-labor city Government that pledged, among other things, city-financed post-war projects to take up the slack in unemployment. The projects would pay Union rates of pay.

After the election we tried to keep the Union Council going but the Carpenters headquarters at Salem, Oregon forced the withdrawal of the Carpenters from the Council. Same thing happened with the Painters, though the rank-and-file pledged continuing support. I was known as the "only Communist in town" so the red-baiters didn't have a chance. I was also known as a "damn good union man". Later on, some one turned the Redmond Local in to the International, as "Communist dominated" and the whole executive board came down from Portland to purge the local of "Communists in official positions" in the local.

After a lot of red baiting speeches from the visiting Brothers-to a cram packed local meeting, I offered to resign official position in the union by a roaring voice vote they refused to accept my resignation, and that was that. Every member of that local knew I was the only Communist there! We had merged with the Bend Local of IWA-CIO so on that same year (1944) I was elected as delegate to their convention at Vancouver, BC. Later, in same year was elected as delegate to State of Oregon CIO convention at Roseburg, Oregon.

Of course, this political activity was coupled with economic activity, or job action. We get the wages up, the hours down, we defeated racism in the local, we got paid vacations plus fringe benefits, but the employers-as usual-got the lion's share, as they will continue to do until they are dispossessed. Labor has created all, and this we must never forget. The more Communist activity there is-the better conditions become for labor. This is a simple fact of life: "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease." The Wobblies had a good word for it: "To fan the flames of discontent." To be contented is to INVITE wage cuts! So much for "mill town politics".

My generation of "Timber Beasts" was the generation historically slated to see the city of Cloquet, Minnesota lose the title of "Lumber Capitol of the World". By 1914, Everett, Washington had the title. I came from Cloquet, Minnesota to Everett, Washington in 1916 the year of the "Verona Affair" when some five members of the IWW were fired on and killed on the deck of the tug Verona. There were 100 wounded. Why? They were coming from Seattle, to Everett to "speak on the street" when free speech was banned. There had been a joint strike by the Shingle Weavers and the IWW. Martial law prevailed, so speech was banned. The IWW and the Shingle Weavers finally prevailed and free speech was restored. This was at a terrific cost with five men dead, and over 100 wounded, plus nobody knows how many jailed, and for what? Merely to enforce a constitutional provision guaranteeing "freedom of speech"! So much for reliance on the Constitution, or on anything else except on labor organization! Free Speech has been muzzled many times in the US. But for the intervention of the downtrodden as mentioned above, it is conceivable that "Freedom of Speech, Press, and Assembly" could have been lost for good and all time. "Eternal vigilance is the price"

Yes, it was old Thomas Jefferson, third President of US who made that Statement, "Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty."

The next "lumber Capitol" after Everett was Tacoma, then in rapid succession, Gray's Harbor, Portland, Eugene, Roseburg, and lastly and finally, Eureka & Arcata California. I seen the heyday of them all except Saginaw & Bay City Michigan and Bangor Maine.

While on the subject of the "Communist Era let us put in a word or two about WHY communism? Why not "Democratic Socialism, or "reformed Capitalism"? IN the first place there is no such animal as Democratic Socialism. Socialism is the public ownership of means of production. To the boss class and their lackeys, this is NOT democratic, and they will have no part of it/ As to any chance of "reforming" Capitalism, if you could so that it would not be Capitalism! Why? Simply because Capital and Labor have nothing in common. There is a continual struggle going on. Capital wants Labor as cheap as it can be had. Labor, having only their muscle to sell, wants all it can get. This struggle goes on, either on picket lines, over [the] bargaining table, in the courts, and on the job and it is not to be reconciled.

There will come a time in the affairs of Americans when Labor MUST have more in order to exist, and at the same time private capital will have to have more in order to keep going. At this time unemployment will be rife. Possibly "rifer" than it ever was before! This is the collision point! Isn't it reasonable to assume that this will bring on the long-overdue Social revolution? Isn't it also reasonable to assume that once the forces of Labor are triumphant and they arrive in power that they will set up their own "Dictatorship"? It will just mean that Capitalist dictatorship will be replaced by Labor dictatorship, which means that the MAJORITY will dictate to the MINORITY. This Labor, or Communist Dictatorship will "wither away" after this former boss class and their stooges get educated out of their sticky fingered ways! This is my understanding of this horrible thing called Communism!


[1]Scribner is referring to William Z Foster, a former IWW member who quit the organization in the 1910s due to strategic differences with the IWW. Foster wrote a book called Syndicalism which advocated that workers join the AFL and bore from within. Later Foster became a Communist and moved steadily rightward as he grew older. By the 1950s. Foster was solidly pro-Capitalist and supported conservative trade union bureaucrats. The IWW's refusal to align itself with the RILU is discussed in chapter two.

[2] St Petersburg.

[3] CIO = Congress of Industrial Organizations. The CIO eventually merged with the AFL to become the AFL-CIO.

[4] This figure is inaccurate. The figures in the 1960s were closer to 5% of the populace controlling 40% of the wealth, which is STILL an outrageous figure, but hardly what Tom Scribner describes.

[5] Today, the Communist Party is little more than a mild left-of-center auxiliary to the Democratic Party.

[6] This was one of William Foster's strategies.

[7] For more detail about this chain of events, please see Lambcke and Tattam, One Union in Wood, A Political History of the International Woodworkers of America, © 1984, International Publishers. New York, NY.

[8] Remember that this is in 1966 US Dollars.

[9] This paper is now called the People's Weekly World.