Two down, three or four to go… (18-01)


It has been a few months since I’ve had time to work on the site. I discovered that being able to debrief once a week is very helpful for the compilation phase of the work but a detriment to the nitty gritty of editing.

The project started as a four volume thang but the publisher agreed to split the early, pre-socialist material into two volumes, one of which deals with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen material and the second of which deep-dives into the American Railway Union material from late 1892 to 1896. Both of those manuscripts are now in house, the first being copyedited currently. They will release six months apart.

Work now begins on the socialist phase, starting Jan. 1, 1897. We’ve pitched for a fourth volume of the socialist material — which would further extend the five volume series to a sixth volume — and are still waiting to hear from the Haymarket editorial board as to whether they want to commit to doing that. It’s about a 50-50 probability, in my estimation. The project is already pretty huge from a publishing perspective, as each volume is going to be about 750 pages in print.

The title of the first volume is now finalized: Volume 1: Building Solidarity on the Tracks, 1877-1892 is the winning name. The suggestion was the publisher’s and it is totally fine with both David and me. A little more “action packed” than the more mundane title that I favored, Volume 1: The Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, 1877-1892.


The second volume is likely to be called Volume 2: The Rise and Fall of the American Railway Union, 1892-1896, although Haymarket still has not signed off on that. I’m a little bit more adamant about that than I was the title for the first volume. We shall see.

I don’t have a clue what the third volume will end up being called; the name will probably depend to some extent on what the terminal date is — a six volume series will have a shorter time interval. The working title is Volume 3: Movement Builder, 1897-1907, but that’s almost 100% guaranteed to change as we move along, especially since volume 1 has “build” in the title.

I worked pretty hard on the introductions for volumes 1 and 2 and am happy enough with them, I suppose. Combined, they total about 24,000 words, which is a pretty good chunk towards a Debs biography if you think about it that way. My co-editor David Walters has expressed a strong desire to split the writing of the introduction for the next volume so we’ll be writing that collectively. David will concentrate on the trade union material — the American Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World — and I will concentrate on the political stuff — founding the Social Democracy of America, the Social Democratic Party of America, and the Socialist Party of America. If you get the sense that there is a lot of ground to cover in a smallish amount of introductory space, you are on target.

If we get a sixth volume, we will probably cut the third volume off with the election of 1904, leaving the IWW material, such as it is, for volume 4. This is 100% a matter of Haymarket’s willingness or lack thereof to expand the scope of the project — and to stretch out the timeline another year. These volumes are going to take about a year each to compile and finish.

Anyway, I’m breathing a deep sigh of relief at being finished at last with the pre-socialist period. It’s a fairly enormous contribution to American labor history, only something like 4 of the more than 350 Debs pieces have seen print in other collections of his material, so it’s going to be completely new fare for most readers.

More to follow, of course.



backwoodsutopias• Rolling in the door yesterday was a clean hardcover copy of the enlarged second edition of Arthur Bestor’s Backwoods Utopias: The Sectarian Origins and the Owenite Phase of Communitarian Socialism in America, 1663-1829 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970). I’ve actually already had a paperback of this title but any time I’m able to upgrade from a paperback to a real book on the cheap, I try to do that. I’ll rehome the paper trading it in with Bolerium Books in San Francisco.

Debs started out his socialist career as a “Utopian socialist” — an advocate of like-minded individuals getting together in one place and carving out a cooperative society from the wilderness. The scheme has a long tradition in American history, as the title of this book intimates, and has almost never worked for more than a few years before the cooperatives blow apart from internal pressure. Religious communes have had only a slightly better record of longevity, to which the history of the Shakers and the Oneida Community lends testimony.

There’s actually a pig-ton of books on Robert Owen and Owenism. Bestor’s remains one of the best.

Thanks to Vince Kueter and Gene Dillman for the graphics.

About carrite

Independent scholar from Corvallis, Oregon with a strong interest in early 20th century political history.
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