A wonderful, even touching, look by Joseph E. Cohen at the lives and comradeship of two leaders of pre-World War One U.S. socialism: Ben Hanford, running-mate with Debs in 1904 and 08, at his passing; and Fred Long, who would pass 18 months later, on his life of service. These brief paragraphs open a window onto a rich tradition of past labor militancy, now almost entirely forgotten.
‘Ben Hanford and Fred Long’ by Joseph E. Cohen from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 10 No. 9. March, 1910.
THERE is no page in the history of the human family more ennobling than that which tells of the companionships that men and women of congenial temperaments and common ideals have formed and by virtue of which they realized the best that was in them. We think of the names of Beaumont and Fletcher, who contributed their fair share to the Elizabethan drama; we are reminded of the literary kinships of Byron, Shelley and Keats, of Emerson and Thoreau, among many others; we are pleased to contemplate the experiments of the Curies with radium and the contribution of the Wrights to the science of aerial navigation. Nor has the Socialist movement been wanting, in these most intimate of friendships. The names of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels are inseparably linked together.
In the same strain, nor yet in a minor key, need we record the story of those twin spirits of American Socialism, splendid types of the intellectual workingman, Fred Long and Ben Hanford.
Printers both, self-taught and self-made, Fred the senior by a year — Ben turned the half century mark before he died — they first met in the days of tramp printing, in the ’80’s, in Chicago, and were thereafter the firmest of friends. Not only were their ideas mutual; even their mannerisms were alike, and nature must have beamed the day each marked the other for his own.
Fred played a conspicuous part in the labor movement in Chicago, as one of the leaders in the eight-hour movement of the Knights of Labor. In the late ’80’s he came to Philadelphia, where he has ever since resided. He no sooner arrived than he took the ferry to Camden and exchanged greetings with Walt Whitman. There is mention of the meeting of the “good gray poet” and the blue-eyed young revolutionist in Traubers book “With Walt Whitman in Camden.” When, sometime later, Fred and his wife adopted a roistering youngster, full of the joy of living, Fred renamed him Walt Whitman Long. By and by Ben set eyes upon the youngster and, after a cursory inspection, Ben surnamed Walt “the committee on cinnamon buns.”
Ben came up from Washington to Philadelphia in the first half of the 90s. Ben was then a single taxer. He told Fred about it. Fred was a confirmed socialist, nevertheless he expressed his willingness to have Ben proselyte him. They took long walks together, for hours at a time, into the wee hours of the morning, to debate the question. In these walks were first manifested the symptoms of locomotor ataxia at a time, into the wee hours of the morning, to debate the question. In these walks were first manifested the symptoms of locomotor ataxia which finally struck Ben down. However much they walked Fred grew no nearer to single tax. Instead, Ben became a Socialist.
Ben’s conversion to Socialism, by the way, is a theme of some little dispute. Seven cities claimed to have been the birthplace of the blind wanderer, Homer. And seven Socialists — and many more— are convinced that they alone won Ben to the cause. There is some ground for the belief that Ben was greatly influenced by Ernest Kreft, also a printer, who died from overwork while leading the union’s eight-hour strike in Philadelphia. Kreft was one of the most gifted organizers of working people the East has produced. He had fought his way to success in the international organization against strong odds, and will be recalled as the Socialist candidate against Gompers a few years ago for the presidency of the American Federation of Labor. But while Kreft was well worthy of having been Ben’s foster father, Ben gave all the credit to Fred Long.
At two other critical periods in his career Ben Hanford accepted the guiding hand of Fred Long. When the split came within the old Socialist Labor party, Fred was among those who promptly abandoned the DeLeon faction. In fact he rendered yeoman service in the struggle, and was chairman of a session of the Rochester convention. Ben was undecided where to take his stand. Fred made it very plain to him that their being in two different camps would in no wise impair their friendship. It did not. Within the year Ben left DeLeon.
Again, in the campaign of 1908, Ben consulted Fred in a matter that perplexed him. Ben was south, writing to Fred that he had completely recovered his health and looking forward to again being of service in the cause to which both had dedicated their lives. The national convention was approaching. “Who do you think ought to be our standard bearers?” asked Ben. “Give us back our old commanders,” quoted Fred, “make it Debs and Hanford.” The support of his old teacher had much to do with turning Ben to accept the nomination.
The last time the two met was shortly before Ben went south in 1907. Fred had gone through one experience in a hospital — all told he has been through three — and was receiving private treatment at home. Ben came over from New York. He, too, had had his first experience in a hospital; his stomach was in a very bad way. He spent a few hours with Fred — it was old times again, of which Ben used to say that an evening with Fred was the inspiration of half a dozen good speeches for him. When Ben left, he remarked to the comrade who accompanied him: “Good God, what has Fred ever done to be punished like that?” A week later Ben was in a Pittsburg hospital.
Like Ben, Fred has suffered torments of pain that pitched and tossed the atom of vitality in him until death itself would have been welcomed as a ministering angel — suffered for five long years with scarcely a respite, bearing up under it by superhuman will, by his serenity, by his rare wit which never failed him, and, above all, by that which he spoke of as having kept ablaze the soul in Ben’s racked body, “the bread that others know not of,” — the precious faith in his fellow men.
Fred still remains with us. He is broken in body, his magnificent, powerful voice may no longer resound through our council chambers. Those who would commune with him must gather at his bed side, as the youth of ancient days gathered about the feet of Socrates and Jesus. The warrior in him has been tempered by the philosopher. No one can read Bobby Burns and Mr. Dooley with such relish as he can. He is keenly sensitive to all that is going on in contemporary thought. He understands the labor and Socialist movements in their many ramifications. His unusually well-stored mind is fertile with suggestions for cartoons, editorials and tactical measures. He has the same glowing optimism he had when as a stripling, thirty-four years ago, he joined the labor movement. He has struck many a spark from the anvil of truth and carried on high the torch of knowledge, of solidarity, of revolution. He has translated the language of Socialist theory into the American vernacular; he has fashioned the profoundest of Socialist principles into terms of American usage, in spirit with the psychology of the American people. His years have been well spent. He smiles upon death.
Ben Hanford and Fred Long! The labor movement is richer, the working class will be happier, for their having lived. The memory of them will be blessed wherever men and women are regaled by the wine of liberty.
How well for them both could have been written the words that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for his own epitaph — Robert Louis Stevenson who, too, knew what it is to suffer and die in the morning of life:
“Under the wide and starry sky/ Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die/ And I laid me down with a will/ This be the verse you grave for me/ Here he lies where he longed to be/ Home is the sailor, home from the sea/ And the hunter home from the hill.”
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/v10n09-mar-1910-ISR-gog.pdf