By Brian Small at Mar 30, 2009
"A workingman bereft of his profanity is a silent man" John Steinbeck talking about his labor strike novel, In Dubious Battle. (Lewis Gannet interview in 1945, republished in Conversations with John Steinbeck edited by Thomas Fensch p.35) I can't decide on a profanity policy for blogging. I'd like to find a (CSS) way to have alternative text come up as a rollover to make Znet contributions kid-friendly but JonStewart funny too. (I can't figure out how to style the :hover psuedo class inside html tags) He was great on Cheney saying Obama is making the US less safe for watering down Bush Administration pro-Torture policy. "Are still reading the Intelligence reports?" "No I'm not reading the intelligence reports" "Then let me treat you to a nice hot cup of 'shut the fuck up'". You wonder why more people don't serve that same cup to Karl Rove too.
Today's Mat Tabibi article got me thinking I shouldn't bother worrying about it. "It's over — we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far."
I had to read Grapes of Wrath in high school and remember being impressed - the organizer guy had the initials J.C. Jesus Christ or something. Subtle. In Dubious Battle sounds worthwhile. It was on of three books "dealing with the migratory farm workers of the California fruit farms, and it was the bitterest of the three. 'I guess it is a brutal book'" Makes you think of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, another high school book that leaves an impression. I don't remember dialogue in either book but Steinbeck says he discovered how conversations work later in his career. People don't take turns, one person just tries to keep control as long as they can. "The speech of workingmen may semm a little bit racy... I know this speech and I'm sick of workingmen being gelded of their natural expression until they talk with a fine Oxonian flavor..."
And the way organizing was done on the ground then, how accurate is the novel? "A New York editor .. read the manuscript of In Dubious Battle conscientiously and wrote a three-page single-space report indicating points wat which Steinbeck's Communist organizer diverged from the orthodox party line as expressed by the ideologists of New York." "... As to the Communist ideology, he explained "My information for this book came mostly from Irish and Italian Communists whose training was in the field and not in the drawing-room. They don't believe in ideologies and ideal tactics. The do what they can under the circumstances." (p. 35)
It was a bit disappointing to read that Steinbeck supported the US government's policies with the Cuban missile crisis and Vietnam war. But I'm wondering how Cannery Row and In Dubious Battle will read as a kind of labor history.