[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]