Frank Little

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Thu Jul 17 09:43:24 MDT 2003

I was intrigued and hopeful when I saw posted on Marxism the interview with
the Frank Little documentarian.  I'm less so on both counts after quickly
going over it.  I do know a good deal about the historical IWW and have
talked -- in the '50s -- with old time Wobblies who knew Frank Little well.
I've known Butte since the '50s and, actually, it's only a few hours away
from here.  But it's not Butte and the documentarian's view of such that's
my quibble.

He indicates that a lot of people in Butte joined the Communist Party.
Hardly.  One of the major and most loyal bastions always of the splendid
International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, the fact is that
virtually every copper worker in the Butte/Anaconda district was a very
loyal Catholic [or Orthodox in some instances] as well.  This interesting
perception of his was certainly not conveyed to me in the remotest sense by
the excellent and fascinating John Hellman, long time Butte resident and, in
those days ['40s, '50s, '60s], head of the Montana CP.  John Hellman and I
spent many hours visiting in great detail years later about the problems and
successes of radical organizing in the Western setting.  In an interesting
aside, I should note that he was one of the last of the Smith Act victims
and was successfully defended by an old-time Butte lawyer who was also a
Republican.  The case was won at the appellate level.

The documentarian is convinced that Frank Little was moving in a direction
that would have taken him into the Communist Party.  Hardly.  Far more than,
say, Bill Haywood, Frank Little was a pure "industrial unionist" and a
direct actionist -- roughly speaking, an anarcho-syndicalist.  He appears to
have had little or no use at any point for political action and was one of
the Wobbly leaders who, early on, drove the DeLeonists out of the IWW.
Frank Little spent no time at all with the Socialist Party.  Strong-willed
and stubborn  [that's why he was murdered], he was not a man to change his

Frank Little was a great man who certainly warrants honest treatment.  And
so, very much indeed, does the IWW generally.

The matter of Wobblies becoming Communists has come up before on Marxism.
Here's an earlier post of mine on that dimension:

It's been stated that, "It is no accident that all the major leaders of
the IWW switched to the new CP after 1917."

Quite the reverse, actually.  The substantial majority of IWW leaders, of
whatever echelon in that essentially decentralized [and NOT anarchist]
organization,  did not convert to Communism.

Many certainly remained for many years with the IWW through continued
repression [a myriad of vicious  Western state "criminal syndicalism"
prosecutions through much of the '20s], heavy factionalism in 1924 [much of
it on a US East v Far West basis], a number of
significant labor struggles over the years ahead [again, mostly in the
West -- but some substantial organizing victories and struggles in Ohio as
well.]  By the '30s,  most of the old guard leadership had either become
inactive or passed away [ e.g.,Vincent St John]   or continued with the IWW
[ such as C.E. Payne, a founder of the IWW in 1905, who mentored me in 1955
when he was almost 90 and the IWW was then formally listed by the U.S.
Attorney General as "subversive"], or went with many Wobbly concepts into
the CIO industrial union movement [ e.g., Mine-Mill and International
Woodworkers of America and National Maritime Union.]

Those Wobblies who joined the emergent  and attractive Communist movement
did include some very capable individuals.  [William Z. Foster, BTW, had
left the Wobblies years before American involvement in World War I.]
William D. Haywood, of course, and George Andreytchine were two of the ten
who, among the 150 convicted under the phony  Federal "Espionage Act,"
understandably enough jumped bail and went to the USSR in 1921.  In the
United States, very capable Wobblies such as Jim Cannon, Harrison George,
Vern Smith, and George Hardy joined the new faith -- but Elizabeth Gurley
Flynn did not until  almost a generation had passed.  The IWW  very early
rejected affiliation with the Third International and the Red International
of Labor Unions.

Of the rough-and-tough  rank-and-file Wobblies, only rarely a real ideologue
among them, it's safe to say that proportionately even fewer affiliated with
the Communist movement than was the case with the leadership.  Some
certainly did -- sooner or later -- but most remained with the fading IWW
and/or went eventually into the burgeoning CIO movement as their prime

Awhile back, I read an old post by Ken Lawrence which claimed that the
Wobblies involved and victimized in the tragic Centralia Massacre of 1919 --
[ where Wesley Everest was castrated and lynched]  -- and, where a number of
other Wobblies convicted of "murder" as a result of their self-defense
served long prison terms at Walla Walla -- all [or mostly all]
joined the Communist Party.  None of them did -- but their capable and
courageous attorney, Elmer Smith, did eventually.

I've always respected age and experience.  I've learned a great deal from
many veterans of radical and militant labor struggles -- and some of those
from whom I learned much indeed that was extraordinarily valuable were
people who had Communist backgrounds: especially those in militant Western

But, in 1955,  in the Pacific Northwest, I was privileged to hear
authoritative and extensive accounts of the Centralia Massacre and
aftermath -- and many other heroic IWW struggles -- directly from a whole
crew of very sharp old-timers [and many  somewhat younger Wobblies ] who
were delighted to pass their traditions and stories along to an eager
half-breed kid from Northern Arizona who has always so very much appreciated
their friendship and their teaching.


Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]

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