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General News    H4'ed 10/23/15

Bernie Sanders Not the First Socialist Presidential Candidate

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I'm enjoying Bernie Sanders's speeches and his bonhomie with the crowds, but he's not the first politician to run on the Socialist ticket. For the first time in years, I'm remembering my first--no, my second--job in New York after college, and after getting out of my small (pop. 600) Appalachian town. I became copyeditor-proofreader at the Weekly People, the broadsheet of the Socialist Labor Party, published since 1891, a paper I'd seen in the city at the top of the subway stairs being sold to commuters on their way to work. The editor of the People, Eric Hass, was a Midwesterner who ran as a Socialist four times for President, in 1952, 1956, 1960, and 1964.

There was an editorial staff of three at the People, including me. The editorial and business offices of the party along with the linotype machine and the printing press itself were on one floor of a cavernous warehouse at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. This was the tanning district, where I stepped over discarded hides on my way to work. In my spare time I read the archives--articles by Daniel DeLeon, the party's intellectual, and accounts of actions by the party's legal defender, Clarence Darrow. For a 21-year-old reader of John Dos Passos, it was heaven. I am probably the only person you know who has read every word of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx--more than once. I proofread it every year, its publication was an annual event.

Another annual event was the May Day Banquet, and it was my luck that the time I was present at the banquet fell two days after the death of Senator Joe McCarthy. The banquet became a festival, with anecdotes and jokes and what happened when Joe appeared at the Pearly Gates--I've never seen people celebrate a death in such high spirits.

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May Day picnics were celebrated in Socialist pockets across the country, notably in the farmland of the Midwest among predominantly Scandinavian and German members, and in the Pacific Northwest. The gatherings were covered by the paper as news with stories from local correspondents. When he was a young man, Mr. Hass reported on them when he traveled around on speaking tours for the party. I read them in the archives. After that, he became a national organizer and then editor in 1938, a job he held until 1968.

The People had no investigative reporters, no staff on any beat anywhere. When I asked about the source for one story or another, the answer was always The New York Times, The Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Hass and his assistant editor, John Timm, were able to read news stories and glean their significance, reading with a socialist consciousness. I picked up a little of this skill myself, and could sometimes read behind the bare facts of a story to the underlying conflicts.

Eric Hass was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1905. I have read (and I believe I remember his talking about it) that he joined the Navy at the age of 13. He worked as a waiter, cook, railroad brakeman, engine-wiper, and newspaper reporter. He drank beer, and loved the sport of wrestling, urging the two young men in the office to take it up. For a time he was a student at the University of Nebraska. He had a scholarly mind and a passionate nature. In his later years, after retiring, he became an avid gardener and wrote freelance articles on nature and travel. I remember him best for his love for my first child, my daughter Cameron. He took many photographs of her. I have some of them still.

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So Bernie Sanders is not the first Socialist to run on the ballot. Some candidates, like Henry Wallace, used the label Progressive. There were other labels for the same political shade: Independent, Poor Man's Party, People's, Free Soil, Union Labor, Grassroots, Green, Populist, Workers' World, Workers' League, Peace and Freedom, Freedom and Peace. But fourteen different people have run under the simple designation Socialist, including Eugene Debs, the first to run on a Socialist ticket (1900), who ran five times, and Norman Thomas, who ran six times.

And my old boss, Eric Hass, who ran four times--and once came in third.

 

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Martha Moffett is a  retired editor, now a freelance line editor, and a writer (see books on Amazon)

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