Solidarity Forever

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Solidarity Forever

Why I wrote Solidarity Forever

[quote]In the pantheon of American labor history there is a very special place for Ralph Chaplin, the man and his work. As the poet laureate of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), he is probably remembered best for giving organized labor its fighting them song, Solidarity Forever. But to those of us who were privileged to work with him at the Washington State Historical Society during the last few years of his life, Ralph Chaplin will always be honored for more, much more.[/quote]

[quote]I wrote “Solidarity Forever” at a time when there was a life-or-death struggle between fiercely competitive ideological groups to see which of them would shape the future the then embryonic left-wing labor movement. It was a knockdown-drag-out fight with no holds barred, and every available weapon from gentle persuasion to brass knuckles was used to gain a fair or unfair advantage. Indicative of the final outcome is the fact that it was returning Russian-born IWW members who manned the Soviet Union's last barricade of freedom when Trotsky's janissaries liquidated the anti-Communist sailors of the Red fleet after their unsuccessful rebellion at Kronstadt. Many of those young men and women came from Chicago's West-Side close to the IWW headquarters, their rich voices singing what the Communists sneeringly referred to as the “Anarchists' Marching Song”. As for me, the thunderous rhythm was full of the revolutionary affirmation I tried to weave into the pattern of “Solidarity Forever”. Those voices still haunt me, coming as they did from the Russia of Turgenev, Tolstoi, Kropotkin, and Pasternak.

All of this harkens back to the beginning of the war of ideas that was starting to jell in the first decades of the last century, and that was to split the contenders into warring camps for a long time to come. It is my opinion that those ideas have made history, and a whale of a lot of it. Unless present-day historians can identify and define the conflicting elements involved in this confused situation, they will be unable to make the world upheaval that followed in their wake understandable. Every now and then some nitwit theoretician will brush the IWW aside with the owlish observation that we were “the Communists in those days!” Certainly the ideas of such divergent personalities as Lucy Parsons, Victor Berger, Daniel De Leon and William Dudley Haywood were important factors in the struggle, but it was the larger clash of irreconcilable social and economic philosophies that met head on and refused to merge that was back of the prevailing ferment.[/quote]

Pete Seeger performs "Solidarity Forever"


Issues Pages: 

How lovely - yet how sad - reflecting the splits and battles and hatred between the different left-wing sects and cults and priestly orders of the time. Plus ça change...


kropotkin1951 kropotkin1951's picture

Solidarity Forever is an inspiring song when sung with your friends.  I will quote another paragraph from the article.


One thing is certain: nothing of the sort went into the making of “Solidarity Forever”. It was originally designed to meet the needs of a nonconformist, nonpolitical labor organization that was critical of the crudely divided craft unions of the times and practiced voluntary libertarian teamwork at the point of production to obtain its objectives through the “One Big Industrial Union”. The name of this crusading organization was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Historians using the hysterical newspaper headlines of the day as source material have depicted its stormy career in colors blacker than the hinges of hell. Erudite professors, quoting on another as “authorities”, label it as a conspiracy of alien arsonists and dynamiters, the purpose of which was to place all law-abiding citizens at the mercy of the mob. Infuriated by the IWW's libertarian singleness of purpose, the Communists have fought it more bitterly than they have at any time fought the hated bourgeoisie. As for the author of “Solidarity Forever”, he is not at all unhappy to have been associated with the very first indigenous anti-statist, anti-totalitarian labor organization that Moscow saw fit to liquidate – and for good and sufficient reasons. If present-day historians do not get this seemingly confused picture into focus, their lucubrations will be something other than authentic history.

Solidarity Forever, written by Ralph Chaplin, is perhaps the most famous IWW song. It's sung to the tune of John Brown's Body.

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
But the union makes us strong
Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong!
It is we who plowed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong
And of course, more verses have been added:
It is we that wash the dishes, scrub the floors and chase the dirt
Feed the kids and send them off to school and then we go to work
Where we work for half wages for a boss that likes to flirt
But the union makes us strong.