The Fictitious Suppression of Upton Sinclair’s The JungleFact & Fiction
Mr. Phelps, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University at Mansfield, is the editor of the Bedford/St. Martin’s edition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
When a small, Tucson-based publisher of anarchist and atheist literature called See Sharp Press issued a new edition in 2003 of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle, it was not especially remarkable. Editions of The Jungle, from the scholarly to the mass-market, are abundant. Generations of readers have been transfixed by the misery of the novel’s protagonist, the Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus, in Chicago’s gruesome meatpacking industry. No publishing house, it seems, has ever lost money on The Jungle—something that cannot be said of many other works of socialist literature.
The See Sharp edition, however, is extraordinary for its fanfare. Its subtitle proclaims it The Uncensored Original Edition. A slogan on the front cover, complete with exclamation point, denounces all competing editions as “censored commercial versions!” The back jacket touts it as “the version of The Jungle that Upton Sinclair very badly wanted to be the standard edition—not the gutted, much shorter commercial version with which we’re all familiar.”
Inside is a foreword by Earl Lee, a librarian at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, who writes of “efforts of censors to subvert” The Jungle’s “political message” and states that Sinclair “changed The Jungle in order to get it published by a large commercial publisher.” An introduction by Kathleen De Grave, professor of American literature at Pittsburg State, suggests that Sinclair’s alterations were “not driven by a desire for artistic economy” but “produced under coercion, directly or indirectly.” The text restored by the See Sharp edition, she holds, is “closer to Sinclair’s true vision.”
Is it any wonder that reviewers have found it impossible to resist the romance of a forgotten, authentic, suppressed version of The Jungle? Library Journal, in classifying the See Sharp edition as “essential,” deplores the novel’s “butchering” and claims “Sinclair later wanted to reinsert the expurgated material for a full-length version but that never came to fruition” (April 15, 2003). The People’s Weekly World, newspaper of the Communist Party USA, states, “If you have never read The Jungle, don’t waste your time on the 1906 censored version. Go right to the original, now available, at a reasonable price, and feel and experience the real message that Upton Sinclair so deeply desired to convey to his readers” (May 29, 2004).
Just one problem: none of the sensational claims made on behalf of the See Sharp edition is true. The Jungle was not censored. Sinclair did not revise the text to meet the coercive demands of a commercial publisher. He never wanted the 1905 serial version to become the standard edition. And the novel, as eventually published in book form, has a political message that is perfectly clear.
First issued as a book by Doubleday, Page in 1906, The Jungle was a straightaway international bestseller. The See Sharp edition recuperates a lesser-known, earlier version of the novel. The Jungle was first published in serial form between February 25, 1905, and November 4, 1905, in The Appeal to Reason, a socialist newspaper with a nationwide readership edited by Fred Warren and published by J. A. Wayland out of Girard, Kansas. An almost identical text was published in three installments between April and October 1905 in One-Hoss Philosophy, a small-circulation quarterly also published by Wayland. The See Sharp edition reproduces the One-Hoss text.
The initial 1905 version of the novel had a different ending and was longer than the 1906 book known the world over as The Jungle. The former had 36 chapters, the latter 31. This redaction is the basis for See Sharp’s charge that the novel was “gutted” or, as Lee puts it, “expurgated.” According to De Grave, “since the socialists could not raise the revenue to adequately publish, promote, and distribute his book, the only alternative was to revise the novel in such a way that a capitalist publisher would accept it. ...Sinclair must have agonized over the revisions he made. They went against what he believed in, and what he’d seen for himself.”
If this is so—if The Jungle was censored, if corporate perfidy forced Sinclair to make changes he did not wish to make—then a question arises. Why did he permit a bowdlerized version to be reissued, decade after decade?
Across Sinclair’s ninety years, numerous editions of The Jungle were issued . Sinclair held the copyright. Yet every time the novel appeared, it followed the 1906 text. Sinclair self-published the novel four times (1920, 1935, 1942, 1945). He wrote introductory material for the Viking (1946) and Heritage (1965) editions. Further editions of The Jungle include Haldeman-Julius (1924), Vanguard (1926), Albert & Charles Boni (1928), Penguin (1936), Amsco School (1946), R. Bentley (1946), Harper (1951), World (1959), New American Library (1960), Dial (1965), Airmont (1965), and the Limited Editions Club (1965). If Sinclair yearned for the 1905 version and wanted to see it restored, why did he not insist upon its use in these many editions?
To settle this matter definitively requires passing beyond rhetorical questions, however, to a recapitulation of The Jungle’s circuitous publishing history.
After turning out hundreds of pages of fiction week after week in 1904 and 1905, Sinclair was exhausted. He disliked the end result, a work he considered long-winded and rambling. “I went crazy at the end,” he wrote in a personal letter in 1930 to a reader curious as to why many passages had been excised, “... and tried to put in everything I knew about the Socialist movement. I remember that Warren came to see me at my farm near Princeton, and I read him the concluding chapters, and he went to sleep. So I guess that is why I left them out of the book!"
Sinclair began to abbreviate the text. He corrected the Lithuanian references, changing, for example, the name of the main character from Rudkos to the more typical Rudkus. He sought to streamline the novel, making it less repetitious and didactic. At the same time, he ran into problems with Macmillan, a major publisher that had advanced him a contract for book rights following serialization. Macmillan, Sinclair later recalled, demanded that he eliminate the “blood and guts.” Although he strove to pare down the text, Sinclair was unwilling, on principle, to compromise the novel’s brutal realism. The Macmillan arrangement disintegrated by autumn 1905.
Next Sinclair tried to persuade the Appeal to issue the novel as a book, but Warren and Wayland, although phenomenally successful at publishing socialist periodicals, felt ill-equipped to enter into book promotion and distribution. Sinclair then submitted the book to “five leading publishing houses” and watched as every one rejected it, a story he first recounted in a 1920 brochure announcing a new self-published edition of The Jungle.
Frustrated, Sinclair resolved to publish the book on his own. In a letter published in the Appeal to Reason (November 18, 1905), Sinclair criticized capitalist publishing and requested that readers help subsidize the printing costs by ordering copies in advance. He began to trim the work according to his taste and to have the book set into type. Then a surprise turn of events transpired: Doubleday, Page offered him a contract.
Sinclair was satisfied that Doubleday would not pressure him to make changes he could not accept. In a follow-up letter published in the Appeal (December 16, 1905), Sinclair alluded to “an offer from a publishing house of the highest standing, which is willing to bring out the book on my own terms.” Because he had already accepted individual orders, however, Sinclair continued to invite donations and superintend the book’s typesetting. He asked Doubleday to permit him to publish his own small concurrent edition. Their memorandum of agreement was signed on January 8, 1906.
Just one month later, in February 1906, Doubleday, Page put out The Jungle, and the book took the world by storm. Simultaneously, an edition of five thousand copies appeared under the imprint of “The Jungle Publishing Company.” Its cover was nearly identical, except for an embossed addition: the Socialist Party’s symbol of hands clasped across the globe. Pasted inside was a label identifying it as the “Sustainer’s Edition.” The Doubleday edition and this special edition were both issued in New York and printed from the same plates, as prepared by Sinclair.
Sinclair’s memoir American Outpost (1932) corroborates this chronology: "I forget who were the other publishers that turned down The Jungle. There were five in all; and by that time I was raging, and determined to publish it myself. ...I offered a 'Sustainer's Edition,' price $1.20, postpaid, and in a month or two I took in four thousand dollars—more money than I had been able to earn in all the past five years. ...I had a printing firm in New York at work putting The Jungle into type. Then, just as the work was completed, some one suggested that I offer the book to Doubleday, Page and Company. So I found myself in New York again, for a series of conferences with Walter H. Page and his young assistants. ...Doubleday, Page agreed to bring out the book, allowing me to have a simultaneous edition of my own to supply my 'sustainers.' The publication was in February, 1906, and the controversy started at once."
The version that See Sharp Press disparages as “censored” and “commercial,” in other words, is the very version that Sinclair approved, the one that his socialist readers subsidized, and the one that he fought to bring before a wide public without sacrifice of “blood and guts.”
In her introduction, De Grave holds that the 1906 edition was politically vitiated, that it “skirted the realities of disease and death among the poor” and “apologized to the rich and powerful by its silences.” This misimpression arises from a grave analytical error. De Grave presumes that because, say, a given passage condemning capitalism was excised, the resultant novel somehow excuses capitalism. For the most part, however, Sinclair was pruning away duplicative material. It is an absurdity to allege that The Jungle, recognized by millions as one of the leading social novels of the twentieth century, apologized for the rich or overlooked disease and death among the poor.
Equally fanciful is De Grave’s contention that Sinclair watered down the novel’s “ethnic flavor” by modifying its Lithuanian spellings and terms. She makes a great deal, for example, of Sinclair’s adjustment of a minor female character’s name from Aniele Juknos to Aniele Jukniene. This “telling alteration,” declares De Grave, made “the name less Slavic by adding the Romance-language ending.” In actuality, Sinclair was rectifying a blunder. Jukniene is the married feminine form of Jukna; “Juknos” was erroneous. In his meticulous new linguistic analysis Upton Sinclair: The Lithuanian Jungle (2006), Giedrius Subačius, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes, “The Lithuanian language of the 1906 edition would have looked quite correct, accurate, and standardized to contemporary Lithuanians, unlike the first newspaper edition of 1905, which contained many more dialectal features, inconsistencies, and mistakes.”
The Jungle was revised, not suppressed. It was published precisely as Sinclair wished. Its refashioning was not ruinous, and Sinclair emended it voluntarily, not under duress. The 1905 text of The Jungle is best understood not as pristine and superior, but as an unevenly executed rough draft produced in great haste. Sinclair truncated it for aesthetic reasons. The result was a more concise text that retains the novel’s political, ethnic, and naturalistic sensibilities while eliminating some of the tedious didacticism of the first draft. (Most literary critics still believe there's too much of that in the novel, as it is.)
Rewriting abounds in literary history. Charles Dickens, for example, altered the ending of Great Expectations, serialized in 1860-1861, when it appeared as a book, yielding to the entreaties of his friend, the playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth all published different versions of identical works.
There is value, to be sure, in having the 1905 version of The Jungle available in print. It contains, for example, explicit elaborations upon the “jungle” as a metaphor for capitalist civilization, as well as a direct mention of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a model for The Jungle. We need an authoritative scholarly edition of The Jungle that would demarcate precisely which passages were cut or altered between its 1905 and 1906 versions, with an introduction explaining, in a measured way, the significance of the changes. In the meantime, we have the See Sharp edition, hyperbolic to the point of irresponsibility.
Ironies abound in this situation. A radical publisher betrays suspicion of change. A supposedly truer text is promoted with claims contradicted by the evidence. An edition of a novel that indicts capitalism repeatedly for fleecing gullible consumers is advertised misleadingly. A publishing house that accuses all others of crass commercial motives happens upon a cash cow it is unlikely to relinquish.
The failure of the American left is less a result of censorship than of a paucity of ideas capable of winning over new audiences not yet committed to the cause. The left will never transcend the culture of capitalism unless it forgoes stratagems that advance neither social justice nor historical truth. The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves.
Author's addendum (July 19, 2006) This morning I was going over some old research files and came across a personal letter written by Upton Sinclair in 1958. Here Sinclair states in clear, unequivocal language precisely what I argued in my article"The Fictitious Suppression of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle." This letter provides strong--one might say conclusive--confirmation of the historical narrative I offered above.
"The book was finished at the end of 1905," writes Sinclair,"and was not published until June of 1906. It started as a serial in the weekly Socialist paper, ‘The Appeal to Reason,’ which at that time had a circulation of something like three-fourths of a million copies. It published large installments, I would say at a guess about a newspaper page; so all my revelations concerning conditions in the packing houses had been put before a huge public early in the year. I had been offering the manuscript of the book to publishers in New York—I think to five—without result. They were afraid of it, and finally growing desperate I decided to publish the book myself. I got Jack London to write his tremendous endorsement of the book. I announced the publication in ‘The Appeal to Reason,’ and I was taking in several hundred orders a week. I had the plates made and paid for. Then—I have forgotten how—it occurred to me to offer the book to Doubleday-Page; and they immediately accepted it and agreed to take over my plates and to let me have and sell my own edition." (December 1, 1958)
To recapitulate: After the serial version of The Jungle appeared in The Appeal to Reason in 1905, Sinclair, unable to find a mainstream publisher, decided to publish the book himself. He pared down the text and had"the plates made and paid for" himself. Then he received a contract from Doubleday, Page. That publisher, in turn, used Sinclair's self-prepared plates when issuing the book in 1906, while allowing Sinclair to issue his sustainer's edition simultaneously. In short, The Jungle was printed by Doubleday in 1906 not in a censored form but just as Sinclair wished--indeed, from plates he himself had prepared.
DeGruson, Gene. The Lost First Edition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Memphis: Peachtree, 1988.
Harris , Leon . Upton Sinclair: American Rebel. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
Shore , Elliott . Talkin’ Socialism: J. A. Wayland and the Role of the Press in American Radicalism, 1890-1912. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.
Sinclair, Upton. A New Edition of The Jungle. Pasadena, California: Upton Sinclair, n.d. .
—. American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1932.
—. The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962.
—. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1906.
—. The Jungle. New York: The Jungle Publishing Company, 1906.
—. The Jungle: The Uncensored Original Edition. Tucson, Arizona: See Sharp Press, 2003.
Subačius, Giedrius. Upton Sinclair: The Lithuanian Jungle. Amsterdam and New York: Editions Rodopi, 2006.
Upton Sinclair Manuscripts, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. [The specific letter cited in the main article is to William McDevitt, 3 September 1930, and is found in Correspondence, Box 13. The letter cited in the addendum is to G. L. Lewin, 1 December 1958, and is found in Correspondence, Box 59. Both letters are quoted courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana University.]
comments powered by Disqus
Christopher Phelps - 8/2/2008
Yes, I wrote that review for Monthly Review when I was a twenty-something graduate student. In it I took at face value, based on trust and respect, the claims of Gene DeGruson, who edited the first so-called "unexpurgated" edition of the book. I was very impressed by those claims. In the same way, many now are impressed when they first encounter the See Sharp edition, which exaggerates DeGruson's claims to an extreme. They are, as I said in my HNN piece, very attractive and romantic claims: the debasement of a radical novel by capitalist publishers.
For years, I continued to believe all of DeGruson's claims. I figured that DeGruson, as the archivist who to his great credit refocused our collective attention on the original edition in the Appeal to Reason, surely portrayed the novel's genesis correctly. But when actually working in the archives for my own research on the book -- occasioned by its centenial -- I did not find that DeGruson's claims held up. Too much of the evidence in Upton Sinclair's correspondence and interviews was at direct odds with them. The evidence was overwhelming that there was no "censorship" by any conventional publisher, that Sinclair revised the text himself, that he considered this editing rather than expurgation, and that he preferred the revised version. Furthermore, the politics of the novel were perfectly intact in the commonly avaiable edition of the novel. No one has ever mistaken it for anything but a socialist novel. It was not expurgated in the sense of a political stripping of meaning.
This is why I was compelled to change my position. So it is certainly the case that I would not write about these matters now as I first did in 1992, as a graduate student.
As for disclosure, it didn't even occur to me that readers of HNN would care about that very old review written by me. It seems to me that the pertinent issue at stake in this debate is what Sinclair intended and did, not what I have thought over time. While I therefore think the evidence that I have raised is far more important and interesting to discuss, I don't at all mind this being raised on HNN. My position changed? Of course. That's merely a sign that I took the original claims made by DeGruson seriously, used them as my working hypothesis, and then learned more and understood the topic more fully and accurately in the intervening period. It is a requirement of competent history that historians change their interpretations when confronted with new evidence. That's what I did on the question of the origins of The Jungle.
I did, by the way, submit a brief, paragraph-long retraction of my old review to Monthly Review a few years ago, but they did not print it. I can't say as I blame them; my 1992 review was very long dated, and who would really care that I had changed my position fifteen years later? It's hardly big news. Scholars do this. The real crime would have been to have stuck by the old myth in the light of the overwhelming and compelling evidence. I will ask the editors at MR to put my disclaimer up on the site where the old review is available, at least; that I did not know about.
Here is where we are left, with the real question: Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, has See Sharp Press not withdrawn its edition, with its outlandish and bogus claims? Doesn't it care about its credibility?
The insinuation of "Mike Donovan," so reminiscent of the scattershot and ad-hominem methods of Chaz Bufe and See Sharp Press, is that I am maintaining my views on this question for commercial motives. They say that because I edited another edition of the work, what I really intend here is to tout my own edition so as to make lots of money! Despite being patently absurd, this gambit permits them to avoid discussing the actual textual evidence on the historical topic at hand.
A more simple and plausible view would be that in working on my own edition I did extensive scholarship in the Sinclair papers and other archives in preparation, and there discerned the truth about the genesis of the novel. That put me -- unlike most readers -- in a position to contest the embarrassingly false claims made by the See Sharp edition. In other words, scholarship and its obligations, not monetary gain, is a much more concise explanation for my pressing of this point. Had I been interested in monetary gain in this life, I could probably have found easier routes to it than making elaborate historical objections based on extensive archival research. Earn big money! Become a historian!
It is much more obviously the case that See Sharp Press has base commercial motives in continuing to sell its falsely touted edition of this novel. What, besides sales, could possibly justify continuing to keep this edition on the market? Certainly not the truth.
Let's end this here and now: I will pledge henceforth to donate every single dollar and penny of royalties from my edition of The Jungle to Labor Notes newspaper and Teamsters for a Democratic Union -- both worthy labor causes in the tradition of the causes Sinclair supported -- if See Sharp Press pulls its historically unfounded edition from the market.
Scott McLemee - 7/23/2008
Since you cannot argue with the evidence, you fabricate a motive. Sure, that makes sense -- it's not like there is much else you can do, right?
Mike Donovan - 7/7/2008
The link to Mr. Phelps Monthly Review book review:
Mike Donovan - 7/7/2008
I read your article concerning what you call, "The Fictitious Suppression of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle," and was astounded by what you did NOT say.
What was that?
That you, Christopher Phelps, yourself, helped spread this "fiction" of the suppression of the original serialized version in a December, 1991 book review in the socialist periodical, The Monthly Review.
I'm sure you remember your review for "Yours For The Revolution: The Appeal To Reason 1895-1922." In that review, you spend eight paragraphs discussing this topic - from the other side! You called the published Doubleday version, "butchery," (in two successive sentences). You discussed how, "...reconstructed Appeal records reveal that complicated negotiations took place...resulting in its gutting." You continued, "The expurgations wrung from The Jungle (were) to suit the tastes of a capitalist publishing house..." In fact, Mr. Phelps, YOU wrote in the Monthly Review article that, "Lithuanian phrases were eliminated, watering down the text's ethnic flavor." Those words should sound familiar as you blasted Kathleen De Grave in this article for her, "contention that Sinclair watered down the novel’s “ethnic flavor” by modifying its Lithuanian spellings and terms." Hmmmm. Familiar indeed - she simply used YOUR words!
Changing your mind on a topic is one thing. But to write something like you did in this article and not disclose that you once propagandized in support of what you call this "myth" is a serious breach of ethics. A self-disclosure/disclaimer was in order, Mr. Phelps. To not give it, makes one wonder which Christopher Phelps theory you truly believe? The one you wrote for Monthly Review - or - the one you have written here after agreeing to a commercial endeavor with Bedford/St. Martin's press as editor of a new edition of The Jungle.
Oh, the irony!
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
A good exposé of marketing hype making a hash of history. More such raking of hypocritical muck is needed.
Michael Jacobs - 7/12/2007
Good evening Mr. Phelps.
Well... I am not one to argue ideological points of view but... Socialist are always victims placing blame on others or other influences for their lot in life. Capitalism may have its flaws but I would rather be living under governance that protects and guarantees Individualism where I have the Liberty and freedom to choose whether I want to leave the crab-hole or choose to stay. In socialism you are indoctrinated into a religion that teaches you that you have no choice. God didn't create man to be feeble and complacent but to reach beyond impossibilities and overcome obstacles by invention and the dream generation after generation. Those who see possibilities earn success. Having the guts to overcome those who would rather drag you back into the abyss of failure and self-doubt. The rewards are great and jeered by the ones who fear risk and failure or simply have no guts. Indeed it is the rewards that Capitalism offers for those with the balls who will exploit the freedom and liberty of self and commercial enterprise then that of the socialist who envies and loathes with vehement animosity. Convinced that they are the victims with no choice but servitude and that and evil Capitalists is profiting off the backs of their labor. I personally hate Upton Sinclair’s one-sided novel “The Jungle” that reads like socialist propaganda. The turn of the century had many problems rooted in exploitation and corruption. Which involved all levels of society that are not much different then today. The political climates are similar as well. I don’t disagree with the human exploitation that was made of cheap immigrant labor and being prayed by nefarious charlatans. But come on… Caveat Emptor and self-responsibility is required. These people were naïve and intimidated after coming to America. Took what they could get and were trapped mostly by choice. Yeah, it is a jungle out there. Especially if you aren’t street smart or can talk the language yet… Quit whining that you are nothing but a victim and grow up, get educated and be pro-active. This country is like living with a bunch of adult babies crying for Mommy Government to take care of them and blaming all of societies ills on Capitalism. Why don’t these whiners get on a big barge and sail to their Havana Utopia… Fidel will give each one a big wet sloppy kiss.
But Capitalism will always have the inherent poor and uneducated. Never to be elevated and never having the will to pursue a better life beyond complacency. But it gives everyone the means and system for anyone who dreams or dares to break free. Thank God for Capitalism that promotes self-enterprise, entrepreneurial spirit and a chance to profit. A way out of that crab-hole to better ones life and pursue happiness by rewarding hard work and success with financial freedom. I love this country. I love the spirit of enterprise and success. I love the liberty and freedom to choose if I will succeed or fail.
The pendulum will always swing and we will continue to see mass radicalizations every so often. But Americans are inherently conservative and will always, eventually, pick themselves up by the bootstraps realizing that failure makes us stronger and freedom gives us the choice to succeed.
Dorothy Ayala - 5/22/2007
I would also agree with this comment. Sinclair wanted the people to know the truth about the corruption of government and show us that socialism was the only resolution to the problem
john siciliano - 5/17/2007
I agree this version (1905) better represents sinclairs intentions on capitalism and socialism that was reflected onto the workers during that time. The way they were treated and how their struggle to ssurvive.In Sinclair’s view, socialism is the cure for all of the problems that capitalism creates.The novel’s title symbolizes the competitive nature of capitalism.
john siciliano - 5/17/2007
I agree with this comment. Sinclair definately tried to persuade the readers that capitalism is evil and socialism is good.It becomes clear that the novel’s attack on capitalism is meant to persuade the reader of the desirability of the socialist alternative. When socialism is introduced, it is shown to be as good as capitalism is evil.Whereas capitalism destroys the many for the benefit of the few, socialism works for the benefit of everyone.
Christopher Phelps - 7/9/2006
I thank Mitchell Cowen Verter for sharing his interesting story, and I wish to respond to some additional issues raised by the posts above.
If I understand one of the above writers correctly, he believes my article was written in criticism of Upton Sinclair's novel as "socialist propaganda." Actually, the article merely set straight the novel's publishing history. It criticized not the novel but a specific edition that made inaccurate claims about the genesis of this radical classic. Criticism of a particular edition of a novel does not constitute criticism of the novel itself. Those seeking my complete views on The Jungle may wish to consult the Bedford/St. Martin's edition, published last year. In an extensive introduction there, I examine the novel's literary, historical, and political merits. My assessment, while mixed, is generally appreciative.
Another remark above seeks to correct my last paragraph, read as a voluntarist call for the left to achieve success by dint of will. This objection is valid in its core point, but misses the forest for the trees. One may take as a constant factor the obstacles faced by the left in the United States: state repression, cultural conservatism, a powerful and interlocking capitalist class, deepseated racial injustices and divisions, etc. There have been, however, significant mass radicalizations: in 1886-1894, 1901-1919, 1929-1947, and 1956-1973. Why did these fail to advance any farther? Why does the right now dominate the political field? Answering this requires a hard-headed look at the subjective errors and qualities of the left itself, not merely a blaming of circumstance. We should take pains to determine the factors within the left's power to affect: its ideas, strategies, tactics, and organizational forms. One way in which the left is hamstrung, in my view, is when it does not confront untruths advanced in its name, and when it tolerates conspiratorial worldviews that find "censorship" and like manipulations behind every door. This impoverished social theory, if it can be called that, evades the left's responsibility to examine squarely its mistakes and seek to create new forms of thought and organization capable of breaking through our current impasse.
As for the last comment, the one that sees in my article a loathesome "right-wing ploy": what a bracing contrast to the contrary criticism of me from WorldNetDaily.com! That rabid, ultraright web site spent all spring attacking me as responsible for the crimes of Stalin for objecting to homophobia on my campus. These collossal misreadings of my politics, taken together, one seeing me as Molotov and the other as Reagan, serve as reminders of the decomposition of political discourse and the dreadful state of American reading abilities, the logical result of advanced capitalism's vacuous popular culture and its resource-starved, class-divided, bureaucratic education system. Why would a right-winger write sympathetically of the need to "transcend the culture of capitalism"? Why he would end such an article with the telling word "ourselves"? These signposts might have been the basis for a more accurate discernment of my politics. A democratic left -- the only kind I want any part of -- believes in principled criticism, and does not see lurking behind its every incarnation a stealth right-winger.
Can we return to the issue at hand? If See Sharp Press cannot justify its extravagant claims about the various texts of The Jungle -- and weeks have now passed, permitting it plenty of time to provide its own evidence -- why does it keep this erroneous, embarrassingly irresponsible edition on the market? Is this in the interest of the left? Is it in the interest of veracity? Is it in the interest of history?
Dante Magnus - 7/9/2006
Honestly, your investigation to the truth behind the See Sharp Press edition of the Jungle seems remotely valid. However, my criticisms stems from the fact that you use this legwork all for the sake of bashing the Left. You care nothing for the work that Sinclair created, nor the research you did about the See Sharp Press edition. How shameful it is that you claim anything! Instead of true scholarly effort, you have turned this treatise into a right-wing chastising of the left, a most hollow political statement I might add. Your politicizing is nothing more than vainglorious gain from means that serve ill purposes. If you are going to contribute anything to history, purhaps exposing your personal bias would be a good start. Mr. Phelps, you yourself are rewriting history via falsity - the very crime you accuse See Sharp Press of.
Also, when it comes down to it - there is no valid reason to not read the version that See Sharp Press has chosen to release, regardless of the advertisement. In fact, the idea that such a version exists gives reason enough for any to read it. Only your advocative ignorace through your politicizing will contribute to millions choosing not to read the version that See Sharp Press has released. It would be one thing to criticize See Sharp Press for misleading advertising, but to criticize in such a way that discourages others from reading this version because you claim it as a ploy of the left is merely another example of the right silencing differing opinions.
Mitchell Cowen Verter - 7/6/2006
My name is Mitchell Verter. I am most recently the author/editor behind AK Press’ new volume on the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon, Dreams of Freedom (http://akpress.org/2004/items/dreamsoffreedommagonreader)
Regrettably, I was coerced into accepting as a co-editor for this book Chaz Bufe, the man behind See Sharp Press, publisher of the “uncensored” version of the Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Based on how severely he excised and how badly he mangled my hard work on the book, I am amazed that he would have the temerity to accuse others of censorship and to champion himself as the protector of Free Speech.
In his “Translator’s Note” to Dreams of Freedom, Bufe explains, “Mitch was responsible for writing the chronology and the historical introduction, for compiling the bibliography, for selecting the bulk of the translated materials, and for translating perhaps 20% of them. I had the relatively easy task of translating the bulk of the writings and of editing this volume.” (p. 9) Unfortunately, Chaz’s “editing” also entailed censoring all of the hard work for which he gives me credit. Throughout the editing process, I requested that Chaz allow me to see the manuscript proofs. He declined my solicitation, explaining that he was “taking care of everything.”
In fact, it seems that Chaz refused to show me the proofs because he did not want me to know how he had violated a covenant between us two anarchists. After reading my introductory preface “Persons Die: Noble Ideals are Eternal”, Chaz sent me a highly abusive letter attacking, among other things, my references to the prophet Amos and to the ethical philosopher Emmanuel Levinas in a book dedicated to a “militant atheist” like [Chaz Bufe and] Ricardo Flores Magon. Rather than trying to reach a compromise about our philosophical and stylistic differences as book collaborators and anarchists are supposed to do, Chaz made a simple threat: “If you're adamant on this, this is the end of the project because there's no way on earth that I'll put my name to this.” Eventually, Chaz and I came to an agreement: I would modify the preface to take into account his objections. Furthermore, I would sign the piece myself, thereby absolving him of any responsibility for the ideas expressed therein.
Typically, authors are allowed to see the page proofs of their texts so that they can make any last minute edits. Chaz refused me this privilege in order to conceal from me how he had eviscerated my work, mauling it beyond recognition. Nevertheless, he signed my name to the preface that he clumsily rewrote. Beyond this, he introduced a number of copy errors and historical mistakes that impair – but luckily do not vitiate -- the scholarly integrity of this historical reader. Had I been permitted to review the hard work I had put into this volume before it went to the printer, I am sure I could have corrected these.
In his article about See Sharp Press, Christopher Phelps asserts, “The failure of the American left is less a result of censorship than of a paucity of ideas capable of winning over new audiences not yet committed to the cause.” Chaz Bufe is not a man of ideas, but rather an ideologue: most of his writings and publications contain little more than screeds against those with differing views. In contrast, there is quite a lot of intellectual ferment on the left. My historical work on Ricardo Flores Magon provides us with opportunities to think about indigenous, national, and international identity, to understand global economic exploitation and autocratic rule though the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1880, 1884-1911), to compare Theodore Roosevelt’s “War on Anarchism” to Bush Jr.’s “War on Terrorism” and Wilson’s Sedition Act to Bush Jr.’s Patriot Act. Other intriguing titles are being published by AK Press (www.akpress.org), South End Press (http://www.southendpress.org/), Autonomedia (http://www.autonomedia.org/), Zed Books (http://www.zedbooks.co.uk/), and Crimethinc (http://www.crimethinc.com/), among others.
I invite you start reading. Thanks for your time.
Take care. Stay Free.
Mitchell Cowen Verter
trevor g - 7/2/2006
Great post, until the last paragraph, which seems like an unrelated rant that adds an unnecessary and unlikely flourish of wishful thinking to the critique.
The conclusion radically overstates the left's ability to completely control its own destiny, and the historical openness of American political culture to radical ideas, as if the United States has always been and still is a country of liberals just passively waiting for a pragmatic articulation of socialism to win them over to "the left." The truth is much darker, and makes attacking some small and uninfluential band of radicals a much more limited-- if still sometimes useful-- endeavor.
Christopher Phelps - 6/30/2006
Thank you to Paul Noonan for providing that link. It is most interesting, apparently written in response to some earlier objections I had lodged in more casual settings elsewhere to the See Sharp edition, exchanges that led me to write up this more formal account for HNN.
While relative logical coherence is not unimportant as a criterion, evidence is the critical basis for determining whether rival historical assertions have equal claim. Every time I read anything on this matter emanating from See Sharp I am struck by the complete and utter lack of evidence supporting any of its assertions. Not one quotation from all of Sinclair's life work supports their claims, for example. Note that I provided a variety of forms of evidence: personal correspondence, published letters, memoir citations, and scanned images, all substantiating my narrative and judgments. Where is the evidence, any evidence, that would support the See Sharp edition?
John Chapman - 6/28/2006
because it raises issues of labor and agricultural reform and the vulnerability of the worker at the mercy of business and politicians. As for which version is what, the only way to get to the bottom of it is to read them yourself instead of letting the "preachers" and "experts" instruct you.
"Fleecing gullible consumers" and the "crass commercial motives" of business, especially "hits" in the publishing business today (The Da Vinci Code, the Harry Potter series), is the same as it ever was. Hard to know all the time what is fictitious and not. Alternative points of views just as valid but better to believe none of it. If history is really written by the winners, then the rich man’s war, poor man’s fight continues, on credit of course. Sinclaire probably would have a field day with the state of middle-class American life today.
Although the book may have been written to promote socialism in the US, it did raise awareness of the awful conditions the American worker in that time was subjected to. Today we still face the same issues, like miners safety. If left totally to private companies to decide the worker’s fate, the American worker will be worse off. Only those who dislike Sinclaire, see this book as one dimensional and socialist propaganda. These people have one-dimensional minds.
Frederick Thomas - 6/27/2006
..but it is amazing that there appear to be creduloids who will take whatever they read at face value.
Paul Noonan - 6/26/2006
After reading this I sought out the See Sharp Press website and found Earl Lee's arguments as to why the 1905 version of THE JUNGLE better represents Sinclair's intentions here:
I think Mr. Phelps has made the better case, but anyone who wants to can read both sides.
- Ken Burns argues that Vietnam is to blame for much of our current alienation and polarization
- Ilan Pappe says Israel Is Not a Democracy
- Drew Gilpin Faust discusses free speech in Harvard commencement address (video)
- Military Journalist Calls on General McMaster to Step Down—And Let Trump Be Trump
- Historian David Kaiser says the most exciting day of his life was JFK’s election