‘Why the Socialists Won in Butte’ by Jack Keister from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 11 No. 12. June, 1911.
THE workers of Butte City, Montana, have put men of their own kind into office. On the 3rd of April, the usual spring election was held and despite the fact that some of the slimiest crooked work ever attempted by tricky politicians was pulled off and gotten away with, the Socialists won, electing their candidates for Mayor, City Treasurer, Police Magistrate and five Aldermen.
This unexpected victory means that the seed of discontent that has been many years in the sowing, is firmly planted and has taken root. For years persecution has been the lot of the radicals in the mines of Butte. For them this victory is doubly sweet. Taught by experience that it is but folly to expect appreciation from the workers for their efforts, they have labored on and trusted to the future. They knew the time must come when conditions would force the workers to pay heed. It has come sooner than expected. The laws of evolution have been silently, but none the less surely at work.
In Butte capitalism has reached its highest development. Not many years ago this was a prosperous city. A very large part of the profits of the copper kings was being spent in battling with each other for possession of the mines. Millions were at stake and almost the entire political machinery of the state (the judiciary included) was drawn into the fight, corrupted and sold outright to the highest bidder.
Competition was truly the life of trade in this case, but at an awful cost in morals. The Amalgamated Copper Co., backed by the Standard Oil Co., won the fight and now has possession of the mines in Butte.
While the fight was on, money was plentiful and the small business man waxed fat and sassy, but it is different now. As soon as Standard Oil had gobbled up the mines the small business man began to get his. Competition having been eliminated in production, attention was naturally turned to distribution.
Already the mining company has taken over the larger stores and the small business men are desperate. The more economical production that goes with combination has killed some of his trade. The mining company has reached out and taken part of what is left and to cap the climax the public morals, as the result of the good old times of yore, are such that graft in the city government has become an institution. For years, to be a city official and not to graft, has been merely to confess a lack of intelligence.
A debt of one and one-half million dollars hangs over the city and credit has almost been destroyed.
In the meantime, all has not been well with the workers of Butte. The high efficiency of production that modern industry exacts has thrown thousands of men out of work. Gray hairs are a ban, soft snaps have been abolished and past service forgotten. Men who for years did the masters bidding and were re- warded with fat jobs are now getting a taste of the class struggle. All that does not spell profit must be eliminated. Competition was king but Profit rules now. The king is dead! Long live the king!
Such is the condition that Butte finds itself in today. About the first of the year some of the old time reds of Butte who had their ears to the ground decided to try and crystalize this discontent into a Socialist victory at the spring elections.
A propaganda paper was started and ten to twelve thousand copies distributed from house to house once a month until just before election, when the routes were covered every few days. It took hard work and lots of it, but it showed the way. The result was a socialist victory. The socialist candidate for mayor received almost twice as many votes as his nearest opponent. The size of the vote was a surprise to all. A very large part of this vote is not a socialist vote, but a sympathetic vote, and sympathy means that conditions are ripe for propaganda work. One member of the party puts it this way, “This is not a victory, but rather an opportunity for victory, and the opportunity lies not so much in the offices as it does in the open minds of the workers. Honesty in office (desirable as that is) will not prove that there is a class struggle in society. To make rebels of men, we must train them to think.” Truly the opportunity to make rebels of the miners of Butte is such now as is seldom found. To make the most of this opportunity is the ambition of the “Reds” of Butte.
Of the eight men elected, five make their living by working in the mines as miners, one is a shoemaker working at his trade each day, one is an ex-minister of the local Unitarian Church and one is the business agent of the local Workingman’s Union. If their past conduct is anything to judge by, these men can be depended on to put the interests of the working class first in all things. All have been wage workers all their lives except the mayor-elect and he should have little trouble in reasoning from the workingman’s point of view, for he was fired out of his job as a preacher because he would not obey orders. He is the one public man of Butte that had the courage to take the platform in defense of Moyer, Haywod and Pettibone when they were on trial in Idaho for their lives.
That act almost cost him his meal ticket, but Lewis J. Duncan is not a quitter. Some time later when Emma Goldman was billed to speak in Butte and the use of the halls in the city was denied her, Preacher Duncan offered her the use of his church and he lost his job. The workers of Butte believe that they have men in control that they can depend on.
All of these eight men are firm believers in the principles of industrial unionism, and were supported alike by Socialists and I.W.W. men. No people have had the necessity of the right kind of unionism more clearly demonstrated to them than the industrial slaves of Butte. Jurisdictional fights have sapped their energy for years while the mines slaughter men by the wholesale. Yet in spite of their shortcomings the unions are a power in Butte and the victory of April 3rd could not have been without their protection to the workers. Success on the political field is not going to blind the workers of Butte to the necessity for industrial organization. They realize as Debs does, that “Without such economic organization and the economic power with which it is clothed, and without the industrial co-operative training, discipline and efficiency which are its corollaries, the fruit of any political victories the workers may achieve, will turn to ashes on their lips.”
The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v11n12-jun-1911-ISR-gog-Corn-OCR.pdf