Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2010 Issue

Politics from the Left from Lorne Bair Rare Books

Books from the Left from Lorne Bair.


By Michael Stillman

Lorne Bair Rare Books and Ephemera has issued their Catalog Nine: Spring. While no subject is stated, a quick perusal reveals this is a collection of politically left material. Most items range from turn of the century battles for workers' and women's rights, to the 1960s fight for equal rights for African-Americans. There is a particular concentration of items in the middle of this period - the 1930s, time of the Great Depression. Here a variety of voices speak, many through fictional works describing the hard times faced by unemployed workers and struggling farmers. Some reveal their leanings toward socialism, even communism, which arose as a result of the disfunction of the capitalist system during this time. Some seem comical today in their leftist cliches, but the suffering then was real as the country struggled to find a way out of its despair. Here are a few of those appeals from the left in the 20th century.

Item 73 is one of the 1930s novels of the then quite radical Grace Lumpkin, A Sign for Cain. It is the story of a black, communist organizer in the South. That must have been a well-received topic in her southern homeland in the 1930s! Lumpkin grew up in Georgia and South Carolina, and she became very concerned with the treatment of mill workers and sharecroppers, both black and white. She became closely associated with the Communist Party, though never as a member. However, within a few years after the publication of this book in 1935, she became devoutly Christian and vehemently anti-communist. She willingly named names of fellow communist sympathizers during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, and became focused on her virulent anti-communism, to the virtual exclusion of the underlying issues that had enabled the communists to develop a following in the 1930s. Priced at $450.

Not all devout Christians developed such intense anti-communist sympathies. Many actually founded communal, utopian societies, where they combined living without private property with fundamentalist Christian beliefs. One such group was the Metropolitan Church Association, a Wisconsin-based group more familiarly known as the "Holy Jumpers" for their energetic services. They opened several Society of the Burning Bush communes from Wisconsin to Texas during the teens, but most did not survive for long. Item 76 is a 1910 book from their member Frank. M. Messenger entitled Catacombs of Worldly Success or, History of Coarsellor Dell. $200.

Item 117 is a 1935 novel pertaining to conditions in the automobile manufacturing industry in Detroit. That was a seminal year in labor's battles with the auto industry, the year the United Auto Workers union was formed. The book is Conveyor, by "James Steele" (pseudonym for Robert Cruden). It tells of inhuman conditions at the Ford plant where Cruden at one time worked. Henry Ford had instituted speed-up policies which pushed workers ever harder while granting them no increase in pay. Ultimately, while General Motors and others recognized the UAW, Henry Ford held out the longest, resorting to intimidation to keep his workers in line. Cruden would go on to write other exposes of Ford practices under his own name. $350.

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