New Lucy Parsons biography

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Juan Conatz
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Feb 20 2018 04:09
New Lucy Parsons biography

Has anyone yet read Goddess of Anarchy: the Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical by Jacqueline Jones? I haven't seen any discussion of it on this site, which is a bit strange considering libcom.org hosts a few of the pieces that have been used to contest various parts of her background and history. I haven't yet read it but know that it advances a few somewhat controversial claims, some of which I had never heard before.

Such as

1) She denied or downplayed her African heritage for unknown reasons.

2) She had little to say about the plight of blacks in the United States, focusing most of her efforts on Northern white immigrant factory workers.

3) She had her son committed to an asylum because he wanted to enlist in the military during WW1. She subsequently never visited him and he died young in an institution.

4) She often had words and polemics with people like Emma Goldman in public over 'free love', but privately practiced it.

I'm not sure what it has to say about her later years and her relation to the Communist Party, which has been a point of disagreement between anarchists and socialists for years.

Anyway, just wondering if anyone here has read it and had any thoughts about it, especially the conclusions the author draws from the sources she cites.

Jacobin review: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/01/lucy-parsons-jacqueline-jones-goddess-anarchy-interview

Radio Program with author: https://kpfa.org/episode/upfront-february-13-2018/

New York TImes article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/31/books/tell-us-5-things-about-your-book-goddess-of-anarchy.html

Chicago Tribune review: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-books-lucy-parsons-goddess-of-anarchy-jacqueline-jones-20171108-story.html

Mike Harman
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Feb 20 2018 09:34
Juan Conatz wrote:

1) She denied or downplayed her African heritage for unknown reasons.

I've definitely seen this before, except the reasons are usually clearly given alongside it:

lucyparsons.org IWW biography wrote:
Little is known about the early life of Lucy Parsons. She had an African American, Native American, and Mexican ancestry. She was born in Texas around 1853, during the Civil War Era, and it is likely that her parents were slaves. During her lifetime, in order to disguise her racial origins in a prejudiced society, Lucy went under many surnames. She often went by Lucy Gonzales, denying her African American roots, while claiming her Mexican heritage as the cause of her dark skin tone.

Around 1870, while living with a former slave named Oliver Gathings, Lucy met Albert Parsons, who would soon become her husband. Their marriage, however, was probably not legal, since miscegenation laws (laws forbidding marriage or cohabitation between white people and members of other races) prevented interracial marriages at the time.

http://lucyparsons.org/biography-iww.php

jolasmo
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Feb 20 2018 12:19
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3) She had her son committed to an asylum because he wanted to enlist in the military during WW1. She subsequently never visited him and he died young in an institution.

I had heard this before, I think it was mentioned in the "Revolutionary Classics" paperback Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality & Solidarity: Writings & Speeches, 1878-1937 which I read some time ago.

Quote:
4) She often had words and polemics with people like Emma Goldman in public over 'free love', but privately practiced it.

I'd heard about her "words and polemics" with Goldman about free love, though I can't remember any details about her own love life ever being mentioned. I think she was wrong to oppose free love regardless of what she did in the privacy of her own bedroom, and pointing out her hypocrisy on the issue (if true) seems an unnecessarily cheap shot, and not particularly helpful.

~J.

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Feb 20 2018 13:24

One review I forgot to post is by Eric Foner, and appeared in the New York Review of Books. He pushes back a bit against the author

Mike Harman wrote:
I've definitely seen this before, except the reasons are usually clearly given alongside it:

Again, I haven't read the new book, but from what I gathered, there's little evidence out there to say the reason why and that maybe past histories inserted reasons without evidence.

Quote:
I'd heard about her "words and polemics" with Goldman about free love, though I can't remember any details about her own love life ever being mentioned. I think she was wrong to oppose free love regardless of what she did in the privacy of her own bedroom, and pointing out her hypocrisy on the issue (if true) seems an unnecessarily cheap shot, and not particularly helpful.

Not as interested in this specific topic, but if you're a public figure making public commentary on private issues, seems like fair game to point out if you practice what you preach. Particularly if you're a historical figure, I don't see how it is a cheapshot or not helpful to know more about her personal life.

jolasmo
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Feb 20 2018 15:09
Juan Conatz wrote:
Not as interested in this specific topic, but if you're a public figure making public commentary on private issues, seems like fair game to point out if you practice what you preach. Particularly if you're a historical figure, I don't see how it is a cheapshot or not helpful to know more about her personal life.

Aye I suppose so. It just feels a bit iffy to me going into details of her sex life when discussing her debates with Goldman about free love. Maybe you're right and she effectively invited that when she decided to comment on those issues in the first place. Maybe it just feels iffy to me specifically because she was a woman, and everyone always feels entitled to give their two cents on women's sex lives whether or not it actually has anything to do with anything.

It's not like I generally lose much sleep over prominent homophobes being outed as practicing homosexuals, although there again I actually don't think it's all that relevant to how harmful their political ideas are, and I think it's generally counterproductive to centre in on that narrative of the "self hating closet case" as an explanation for their behaviour since it reinforces some pretty damaging stereotypes about queer people in general.

Honestly I think instances of individuals advocating small-c conservative sexual politics whilst failing to actually live up to the standards they expect everyone else to adhere to are so common that they're just not at all interesting to me any more. What interests me more is why that sexual politics continues to be reproduced and enjoys broad support regardless of the fact that many if not most people - including it's staunch advocates - continually prove themselves incapable of actually following its decrees.

~J.

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Feb 20 2018 16:13

Ah. Yeah that makes sense.

syndicalist
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Feb 20 2018 17:29

Juan ---

Quote:
I'm not sure what it has to say about her later years and her relation to the Communist Party, which has been a point of disagreement between anarchists and socialists for years.

I suspect much of this was based on her personal relationships with folks like Jay Fox, Bill Foster.
Jay Fox was an older militant who took to the cause of the Haymarket Maytars,. As he, as a young man, was in Chicago and participated in the May Day events and subsequent freedom & solidarity activities.

If I'm recalling this correctly, Bill Foster and members of the "International Trade Union Educational League" (1915-ish) lived in Lucy Parson's boarding home. So she got to know him and members of his crowd pretty good.

I recall Dologoff's take was different. He felt she was manipulated through flattery and other means by the CPers (see Dolgoff's "Fragments"). And that anyone doing stuff and is radical should be supported.

I make no claims to actually know what was and wasn't. And some of this stuff, like most things, prolly falls in the middle.

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Feb 21 2018 02:55

I don't think it was contested that she had ties to members of the CP. I thought it was contested ground on whether she joined or not or how much direct involvement she had with the Party itself and/or its front groups.

syndicalist
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Feb 21 2018 15:30
Juan Conatz wrote:
I don't think it was contested that she had ties to members of the CP. I thought it was contested ground on whether she joined or not or how much direct involvement she had with the Party itself and/or its front groups.

I guess what I was trying to say is that her entry into, say the International Labor Defense or even as a soft CP member would have been made easier through those long establish contacts. Of course, all this is speculation. And I get the sense that her main aim, regardless of venue, was to keep the memory of the Haymarket alive. And the defense of class war prisoners in general. By the time the IWW was repressed, split and started to reconstitute, the growing and main left movements were those in the CP orbit(s). She could have been an "anarchist at heart", but a organizational drifter as the times arose.

Anarcho
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Feb 21 2018 21:18

I hope it is better than Carolyn Ashbaugh's terrible biography Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary which are reprinted in 2012 by Haymarket Books. As I discuss in my review, Ashbaugh had no notion of what anarchism means and went so far as to suggest Lucy Parsons -- like the Haymarket Martyrs -- were not anarchists! She also seems to be the source of the claim -- unsubstantiated -- that she joined the Communist Party.

syndicalist
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Feb 22 2018 00:31

I'm not sure I agree (but not strongly disagree) with the assessment of the Ashbaugh book. I surely do not think she was the source for the CP rumor. The Dolgoff's used to talk about it as well. And they "sorta" knew her (and def others around her).

Personally, the late Bruce Nelson's book "Beyond the Martyrs: A Social History of Chicago's Anarchists, 1870–1900" make the claim that the anarchists weren't really even anarchists, but socialists of the marxian school. My own guess is that anarchism and the forerunner of modern anarcho-syndicalism, basically had its feet in both the anarchist and socialist camps. The American variant emerging, in large measure, out a more "socialistic" camp.

I've not read Anarcho's Ashblauh's review, so I shall't comment further until I read it.

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May 20 2018 14:55

The author of this book also wrote a piece for the Washington Post. Somewhere in the middle section of this one, she describes three types of anarchists during Lucy Parson's time;

-the first group consisted of those which favored trade unions, represented by Parsons herself.

-the second group consisted of those the author calls “radical libertarians” who were “contemptuous of all kinds of associations”, including voluntary ones.

-and the third group were those that "favored a strong workers’ state, the kind that yielded totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union".

The first two groups don't really surprise me at all, as far as descriptions go. But that third one definitely seems very off. I wonder if that is even elaborated in her book.

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Jul 5 2018 22:37

Has anyone had a chance to read this yet?

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Jul 11 2018 14:39

So I guess no one has read this book yet. Not even Anarcho?

For what its worth, some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are interesting to look at.

The one star review that comes up on the Amazon page is pretty harsh. But who knows for sure if its fair or not.

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Jul 11 2018 14:43
Agent of the International wrote:
So I guess no one has read this book yet. Not even Anarcho?

For what its worth, some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are interesting to look at.

The one star review that comes up on the Amazon page is pretty harsh. But who knows for sure if its fair or not.

That critical view on Amazon is a real eye opener.

jolasmo
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Jul 11 2018 16:08
Juan Conatz wrote:
Agent of the International wrote:
So I guess no one has read this book yet. Not even Anarcho?

For what its worth, some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are interesting to look at.

The one star review that comes up on the Amazon page is pretty harsh. But who knows for sure if its fair or not.

That critical view on Amazon is a real eye opener.

It kind of made me want to read it more just to find out whether it really is as bad as all that - it certainly makes it sound godawful.

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Jul 11 2018 18:26

I can't say for sure whether or not that review is a fair assessment, since I haven't read the book myself, but the overly critical tone does kind of resonate. I mean, how many times do you read a history book on the labor movement of that time - or radical elements within that history - and come away feeling disappointed, like you've wasted your time and money (if you've spent any), because it didn't seem like the historian in question actually thought about methodology before they carried out their 'investigation' and writing? Historians do not even need to be an anarchist - they can be of liberal, conservative or social democratic persuasions for all we know - and still deliver something of value rather than a sounding board for the author's obvious biases and 'filling in the blanks'.

Anarcho wrote:
I hope it is better than Carolyn Ashbaugh's terrible biography Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary which are reprinted in 2012 by Haymarket Books. As I discuss in my review, Ashbaugh had no notion of what anarchism means and went so far as to suggest Lucy Parsons -- like the Haymarket Martyrs -- were not anarchists!

Ashbaugh may not even need a 'notion of what anarchism means'; what a historian shouldn't do is pigeonhole their subjects into preconceived categories. Whether the Parsons and fellow Chicago radicals called themselves 'anarchists', 'social revolutionaries', or 'revolutionary socialists' doesn't really matter, as they are labels used for political self identification. What begs investigation is the ideas, the rationalisations for their activities, which to outsiders might seem to be illogical or irrational. Why do these historians find that so hard to grasp?

syndicalist wrote:
Personally, the late Bruce Nelson's book "Beyond the Martyrs: A Social History of Chicago's Anarchists, 1870–1900" make the claim that the anarchists weren't really even anarchists, but socialists of the marxian school.

According to a reviewer on Goodreads, Nelson uses a demographic analysis to prove that they were 'socialists of the marxian school'. Now that just sounds rather silly to me if that is true. A demographic analysis is surely interesting, but to use it to prove that they were 'marxians' is pretty meaningless. Why does that even matter? Nevertheless, I am planning to read Nelson's book sometime in the future. Not sure about this new Lucy Parsons biography though. Since its nearly four hundred pages, surely there has got to be something in there that's worthwhile?

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Jul 11 2018 21:08
Quote:
The one star review that comes up on the Amazon page is pretty harsh. But who knows for sure if its fair or not.

It is, but it seems justified. I checked the reviewer's other reviews; they were nearly all about radical history or biographies and many of them had 4 and 5 stars... This books seems to have ticked Marius off...