Monday, August 22, 2005


I recently bought Paul Buhle's Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. David Moberg gave it a nice review in In These Times.

I was intrigued by the idea of telling the story of the IWW using the tools of graphic novels. So I was looking forward to Wobblies. Now I have some doubts. The book captures the spirit of the IWW, but it may be seriously flawed as history.

I'm certainly not a labor historian, but I did catch a major howler. And I suspect that experts might find more.

In the story, "Mourn Not the Dead" by co-editor Nicole Schulman it is said that "34 members of the Kansas City IWW were kept in county jails for 2 years awaiting trial."

Actually, the IWWs were oil field workers in the Augusta and El Dorado areas near Wichita and they were held in inhumane conditions in the Sedgwick County jail. According to Earl Bruce White (in Joseph Conlin's At The Point of Production) government agents estimated that there were 2,000 wobblies in Kansas and Oklahoma in 1917.

The National Civil Liberties Bureau (forerunner of the ACLU) hired Winthrop Lane of Survey magazine to investigate Kansas's jails. When his story appeared, Judge Pollack found the jail unfit for prisoners and ordered the trial moved to Kansas City. They received harsh sentences.

And here's another problem. Schulman's text says "10 IWWs were locked inside 'a pie cut revolving drum' without windows....Most became ill. Many died of tuberculosis. Many more went insane." According to White, two of the defendants were judged insane and sent to the Kansas State Mental Health Hospital and were soon released. One defendant died of ifluenza in 1918.

The chief lawyer for the Wichita IWW defendants was Fred Moore, who later headed up the Sacco and Vanzettia defense. In this case he neglected to file a critical court document. This failure may have made him all the more willing, (eager?) to take on the case of the two Italian anarchists.

Also involved in this case, as well as other IWW cases, was Caroline Lowe, a SP activist who a few years later became staff lawyer for the UMW in southeastern Kansas.

Historian Ralph Luker notes that there are problems with an earlier Buhle book.

Recently, Ron Simon reviewed Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner's Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002. In passing, Simon noted that the book was "often marred by historical inaccuracies." Books are often marred by inaccuracies, but the mere slap on the wrist infuriated one of Cineaste's readers.
Martin Brady" is the pseudonym of a Cineaste reader who brings the latest charges against Burle's scholarship. In a letter published in Cineaste (Summer 2004, 68-9), Brady refers to Buhle and Wagner as the "demented duo" and cites over five dozen major errors of fact. Evenhandedly, actors, authors, critics, directors, and producers are misidentified. There are errors of character, chronology, genre, and role. Buhle and Wagner reverse the roles played by Sean Connery and Richard Harris in The Molly Maguires.
Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes have challenged Buhle's history on issues related to the Communist Party in an article in The New Criterion and in a book In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage.

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