During the brief, stormy heyday of his ""one big union,"" the Industrial Workers of the World, Big Bill Haywood (1869-1928)...


ROUGHNECK: The Life and Times of ""Big Bill"" Haywood

During the brief, stormy heyday of his ""one big union,"" the Industrial Workers of the World, Big Bill Haywood (1869-1928) thrilled some and horrified many more with calls for a general strike, the destruction of capitalism, worker-run industry (syndicalism) in a new, harmonious society. This is the first, overdue biography of Haywood, and unfortunately it has almost no shape, focus, or perspective. Carlson sentimentalizes Haywood as a ""martyred visionary,"" and patronizes him as less than a ""cogent political philosopher."" Considering its subject, the book also has little energy or emotional wallop. Nonetheless it could serve to introduce curious, uncritical readers to the major episodes in Haywood's career: the violent Colorado labor eruptions, climaxing in the disastrous Cripple Creek strike (1904); the Boise trial (1905), in which Haywood was charged with plotting to murder Idaho's ex-governor and brilliantly defended by Clarence Darrow; the triumphant Lawrence textile workers' strike (1912) and the disheartening Paterson aftermath (1913); IWW resurgence in the West (migrants, mine workers, lumbermen), WW I hysteria and government hounding, Haywood's conviction and incarceration; his flight (1921) to the USSR. Along with daily-diary detail (especially endless and unselective in the case of the trials), Carlson does note the doctrinal splits among the socialists--between political action and direct action, ""Slow-cialism"" and ""impossibilism""--which culminated in Haywood's ouster and estrangement. And he at least mentions Haywood's disillusion with his Soviet hosts (actually based on another doctrinal split), which estranged him from communism too. None of this, however, enables him to see Haywood as other than a muzzy, made-to-order folk hero: ""as American as tumbleweed. . . as proletarian as Paul Bunyan."" History-minded readers should hew to Melvyn Dubofsky's IWW history, We Shall Be All (1969). But there are at least intimations here of the uproar Big Bill caused.

Pub Date: April 25, 1983

ISBN: 0393302083

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983