I.W.W. General-Secretary, the legendary ‘Saint,’ Vincent St. John pens a brilliant response to the mass murder of strikers and their families, including union leader Louis Tikas and 12 children, by the National Guard and John D. Rockefeller’s gun thugs at the Ludlow miner’s colony on April 20, 1914. One particularly violent incident in the brutal war against unionized miners and their communities, it would lead to the ‘Ten Day War’ with thousands of mobilized miners assaulting company property, mine guards, scabs, and militia, followed by further repression with a death toll never to be fully known. and the eventual defeat of the strike.
‘The Lesson of Ludlow’ by Vincent St. John from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 14 No. 12. July, 1914.
THE massacre of striking miners, their wives and children, at Ludlow, Colo., by hired gunmen and state militia of the coal operators has served to emphasize the fact that the workers have no rights that the employers respect.
The use of degenerate thugs in strikes as the upholders of “Law and Order” is not confined to the state of Colorado. With few, if any, exceptions, they have been in evidence whenever the profits of the employers were attacked, or their control of industry seriously disputed. The degree of activity may have differed; they may have been clothed with the authority of a state or county at different times, but they have always been present to supply the might needed to enforce the dictates of the employing class.
The southwestern coal fields of Colorado have always been dominated by the rule of the gunman. In the past the peace (?) officers of that section have deported, beaten up, or murdered all organizers who attempted to interfere with the undisputed sway of the coal mine operators.
Whenever the discontent of the coal miners has crystallized sufficiently to give indication of concerted action, the authorized thugs have been supplemented by special guards, whose sole function is to eliminate any and all of the miners whose activity and experience gives any promise of success in the attempt to form an organization.
The means and methods used to accomplish this end are and have been determined solely by one standard — results. The organizers have been waylaid and beaten up; they have been arrested upon trumped up charges and railroaded to jail or to the penitentiary; they have been goaded by petty persecutions into giving the professional gunman an opportunity to use his superior skill with a gun under the pretense of “self-defense”; and when all other methods have failed the active workers have been ambushed and slain by “parties unknown.”
When the strike finally occurs — and conditions under which the miners work make that inevitable — the gunman is given free hand to create a reign of terror. If the strikers refuse to be intimidated and prove equal to defending themselves, the state is then called upon to send the militia to the scene.
The arrival of the militia means that “law and order” is enforced upon the strikers, and that the gunmen have added security in carrying out the program of intimidating the strike out of existence. Martial law is declared if necessary. The most active and experienced of the strikers’ forces are arrested upon trumped up charges; held without bail or trial; refused counsel or an opportunity to communicate with friends or their organization. The flimsy pretext of “military necessity” is resorted to, and drum head trials by a military court martial threatened.
If these methods do not succeed in breaking the strike and the resources of the state will not permit keeping the militia in field, the gunmen in the pay of the mine owners are enlisted as militia and allowed to carry on their depredations clothed in the uniforms of, and with the power of, the state behind them.
It will be noticed that the board of inquiry appointed by the mine owners’ lackey — the Governor of Colorado — to investigate the Ludlow Massacre has re- ported that the strikers were responsible for starting the conflict. The burning of the strikers’ tents and the shooting of women and children, however, they grudgingly admit was the work of company gunmen, some of whom may, or possibly were in the uniform of the state militia. Sure Mike! Every corporation lickspittle from Maine to California knew that. Why should the board waste time and paper emphasizing the obvious?
Why not also charge the strikers with setting fire to their own property, and shooting their wives and children? Men who have so little respect for “law and order” as to endure the hardships of braving the reign of terror that has always existed in the southern Colorado coal fields in an effort to gain some of the comforts of life for themselves and their families would be just the ones to shoot and burn their wives and children. Everyone who is not prejudiced would see the point. Why did the board not embrace the opportunity to serve their masters well and at the same time announce a startling truth? Why leave this blot upon the reputations of the militia’s comrades in arms?
Of course the board of inquiry admits that some of the gunmen may have worn uniforms of the state. This admission leads to the question what is the difference between a gunman and a militia- man? Some of the readers of The Review may have read Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer.” If so they will remember that Tom and his chum, Huckleberry Finn, once rafted down the Mississippi river to New Orleans. At some point on their journey they met with two professional tramps. From the story it appears that the tramps in some way sensed the romantic spirits of the two boys, and forthwith hit upon the plan of representing themselves as the exiled claimant of the throne of France and his faithful gentleman in waiting.
The two adventurers were delighted to accept the company of royalty on the trip. They were glad to provide for the wants of their royal guests without exacting any service in return. One day, however, the royal guests succeeded in securing sufficient liquor to become thoroughly drunk. With drunkenness vanished all of the courtly mannerisms that had served to impress their royal status upon the two adventursome boys. The King and the Duke lay huddled together in a drunken stupor on one corner of the raft. Doubt began to creep into the minds of the boys. This doubt was voiced by Huckleberry Finn in a question to his chum. “What,” he asked, “is the difference between a King and a Duke?” Tom Sawyer, after sizing up the huddled figures of their royal guests, replied, “They ain’t no difference, Huck, leastaways, I guess you can’t tell it when they’re both drunk.” So it is with the gunmen and the militia. “They ain’t no difference” between them so far as the working class are concerned. They will both maim, kill, torture, and cremate men, women and children of the working class whenever the interest of the employers demands.
The tragic feature of the Ludlow Massacre is not that some of the strikers were killed. They died fighting. Fighting against odds. But they died fighting as men should. Their wives and little ones who perished by bullet and flame and smoke died a horrible death. But the only fate in store for them if the strike was lost was one of horror, long drawn out in the fierce struggle for existence that would have been their lot. The tragic part is, that men and women of the working class have to struggle against conditions that culminate in a Ludlow massacre before they are able to arouse their fellow workers to even a faint sense of that solidarity which should exist among the workers as a class, and which would make outrages such as occurred at Ludlow impossible.
It is well that the workers organized and unorganized have responded with funds to enable the strikers to maintain and defend themselves. Nothing else would serve the immediate needs of the men and women on the firing line. It is better still to note the spirit that has actuated workers who have declared their intention of taking an actual part in the conflict if necessary. But the problem cannot be solved by meeting the hirelings of the employing class in armed conflict, however necessary such actions may be at times.
There is but one way that the workers can avenge Ludlow. There is but one way that they can prevent its repetition in some future struggle for better conditions.
That way is to so organize that never again will any body of workers have to carry on a protracted struggle against the employers, isolated from all save financial and moral support. Let the example set by the four train crews who refused to operate trains carrying soldiers and gunmen into the strike bound camps be our inspiration for the future. Let us resolve that from this time on, an injury to one is the concern of all and that the wheels of industry shall stop and profits shall cease to flow into the coffers of any of the employing class whenever any part of our class is engaged in a fight for better conditions.
If this lesson be learned, the death of the miners and their wives and children at Ludlow will not have been in vain.
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/v14n12-jun-1914-ISR-gog-ocr.pdf