[Marxism] Les Evans on his co-workers in the Iron Range

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 6 08:20:53 MDT 2012

This is from his memoir "Outsider Reveries". I stumbled across it 
looking for some information on Stu Singer, the SWP member who 
died recently and who Les disparages in his memoir. Since Evans 
has mutated into a Christopher Hitchens wannabe, I would take his 
words with a grain of salt. It amounts to a kind of debunking of 
the "revolutionary working class" rhetoric that American SWP'ers 
mouthed during the beginning of "the turn", but to the nth degree. 
I sense that he is not quite lying, but using literary freedoms. I 
am posting it because it includes a discussion about evolution, 
the subject of a recent thread here.


 From my work mates at Malton I got my first understanding of the 
ethnic breakdown of the Iron Range. The mines had been opened in 
1892 with contract labor, recruited in Finland. In 1907 and 1916 
there were two hard-fought strikes by the Finnish miners, the 
second one supported by the Industrial Workers of the World. The 
Finns were blacklisted and whole replacement crews imported from 
Sweden and Norway. The Finns retreated into the backwoods, grew 
potatoes in the inhospitable ground, and acquired a reputation as 
drunken Jackpine savages. About half the workers at Malton were 
Finlanders, as the locals called them. One of the Swedes took me 
aside one day to tell me a Finlander joke. “Chicago,” he said, 
“was given the choice of getting the Finlanders or the Niggers. 
They chose the Niggers.”

The racist epithet was not an isolated example. One of the 
winder-testers, Loren, who looked more sophisticated than the 
others with sharp aviator sunglasses, started in, “I don’t like 
having those Nigger doctors cutting on white people in the 
Virginia hospital. We should get the Ku Klux Klan in here to run 
them out of town.” I looked around and found that a majority of 
the crew were nodding in agreement.

Most of the workers went by nicknames: Wally, Dewey, Binky. Binky 
was an overweight kid with a wild mop of blond hair. He came in 
one morning, having seen Muhammad Ali in the television film 
Freedom Road, where Ali plays a U.S. Senator during Reconstruction 
after the Civil War. Binky seemed to have liked the film and 
wanted to give us a blow by blow account. It went something like, 
“Then the Nigger did this, then the Nigger did that. . . .” Binky 
loved bow hunting. One Monday he showed up crowing, “I shot a buck 
yesterday, right up his asshole!”

I asked the fellows what they thought of evolution. A lathe 
operator who had recently moved up from Milwaukee and I were the 
only ones who believed in it. All of the rest thought the world 
was created by God 7,000 years ago, except for Loren, who thought 
humans had been brought by extraterrestrials. At noon we would go 
up to the little lunchroom. Pretty much every day one or two of 
the men would open his lunch pail and exclaim, “What did the bitch 
make for me today?” This was during the national effort to pass 
the Equal Rights Amendment. I started a discussion about it. One 
of the winder-testers, a Finlander, countered, “My wife IS 
inferior, and she knows it!” We were all supposed to be members of 
the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. We were 
pretty much told that it was a firing offense to go to a union 
meeting. Our shop steward, a bitter pockmarked man named Earl with 
pomaded auburn hair, stomped around repeating that “Dat Equal 
Rights Amendment ud force ever school to train our kids to be 

I was working at Malton during much of the Iran hostage crisis, 
where fifty-two American diplomats were being held by radical 
Islamic students. The workers, all Democrats, became contemptuous 
of President Carter. Loren started having lunch in his car, where 
he would listen to a right-wing radio talk show. He would storm 
back into the shop muttering, “Ayatollah Assa-hollah” and say the 
U.S. should nuke Iran. “If we can’t have their oil nobody should!” 
I soon discovered that this was a standard mantra for Ranger 
barbarians. Darryl, one of the mechanics, complained to me one day 
about restrictions on access to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area 
Wilderness. “If I can’t take my motorboat up there,” he fumed, “we 
should burn the whole area out.”

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