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Here, reprinted for the first time since its original publication, is muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair's lively, caustic account of the 1934 election campaign that turned California upside down and almost won him the governor's mansion.
Using his "End Poverty in California" movement (more commonly called EPIC) as a springboard, Sinclair ran for governor as a Democrat, equipped with a bold plan to end the Depression in California by taking over idle land and factories and turning them into cooperative ventures for the unemployed. To his surprise, thousands rallied to the idea, converting what he had assumed would be another of his utopian schemes into a mass political movement of extraordinary dimensions. With a loosely knit organization of hundreds of local EPIC clubs, Sinclair overwhelmed the moderate Democratic opposition to capture the primary election. When it came to the general election, however, his opposition employed highly effective campaign tactics: overwhelming media hostility, vicious red-baiting and voter intimidation, high-priced dirty tricks. The result was a resounding defeat in November.
I, Candidate tells the story of Sinclair's campaign while also capturing the turbulent political mood of the 1930s. Employing his trademark muckraking style, Sinclair exposes the conspiracies of power that ensured big-money control over the media and other powerful institutions.
This is the story of the EPIC movement and the campaign to End Poverty in California; an "inside" story of events about which there has been much guessing. It is a revelation of what money can do in American politics; what it will do when its privileges are threatened. When I was a boy, the President of Harvard University wrote about "the scholar in politics." Here is set forth how a scholar went into politics, and what happened to him.
I am beginning this story three days after the election. Having known for a month what was coming, I had time to practice smiling. I write now in a mood of cheerful aloofness. To the gentlemen of great wealth who control the State of California I would not pay the compliment of grieving about anything they could do to me.
I grieve for the people. But the people have suffered for ages, and I have no way to help it. Whoever made this universe ordained it that people learn by suffering, and in no other way. The people of California have much to learn.
For the past fourteen months I have traveled up and down the State, addressing some two hundred meetings and facing half a million men and women. I spoke a score of times over theradio, so that practically every one in the State heard my voice. The substance of my message was this:
"All my life I have believed and preached democracy, in the broad sense of that word; the right and power of the people to govern their own affairs. I am proposing now that the people shall vote to End Poverty in California. I am willing to abide by the people's decision. If you have not suffered enough, it is your God-given right to suffer some more. All you have to do is
to elect Governor Merriam, and he will see that you do it."
In three of my novels you may read what I have observed during nineteen years of residence in the State of California. The first, "100 Per Cent: the Story of a Patriot," deals with the broken promises of the World War. The second, "They Call Me Carpenter," pictures Jesus coming to "Western City," and not having a happy time. Finally, at the height of the Coolidge boom, I wrote "Oil!" a sort of panorama of Southern California life.
If you prefer facts to fiction, there are the opening chapters of "The Goslings," telling how I was arrested and kidnaped by the police of Los Angeles under a charge of "suspicion of criminal syndicalism"; the offense being an attempt to read the Constitution of the United States while standing on private property with the written consent of the owner in my pocket. Or read the chapter in "The Goose-Step," which deals with our State University, termed "The University of the Black Hand." Finally, in "The Brass Check," are chapters dealing with our newspapers, the same ones you will meet in this book, unchanged between 1919 and 1934.
For those who have no time to read books, let me say briefly that for nineteen years I observed my home State governed by a small group of rich men whose sole purpose in life was to become richer, and who subordinated all public affairs to that end. I saw them set aside the Constitution of State and Nation, and use the law enforcement officers as strikebreakers, kidnapers, torturers and killers. I saw the civil rights of workers and friends of workers abrogated. In seventeen counties of California it is against the law for more than three persons to congregate in any place, and it is against the law for poor men even to walk upon the highways. I saw the Governor of the State publicly justify the lynching of possibly innocent men; a Governor who was drinking himself into paresis, and petting his movie mistress in automobiles in the public streets. I saw our richest newspaper publisher keeping his movie mistress in a private city of palaces and cathedrals, furnished with shiploads of junk imported from Europe, and surrounded by vast acres reserved for the use of
zebras and giraffes; telling it as a jest that he had spent six million dollars to make this lady's reputation, and using his newspapers to celebrate her changes of hats.
Side by side with such events I saw the extreme poverty which everywhere accompanies them. I saw old people dying of slow starvation, and children by the tens of thousands growing up stunted by the diseases of malnutrition—the very school teachers dipping into their slender purses to provide milk for pupils who came to school without breakfast. I saw hundreds of thousands of persons driven from their homes; the sweep of an economic process which has turned most of the land of California over to money-lenders and banks. I saw one colossal swindle after another perpetrated upon the public; and for every official who was sent to jail I knew that a thousand were hiding their loot.
In short, I have seen this fair State going the way of the slave empires of history; decaying with luxury at the top, and destroying the concept of democracy by ruthless suppression of the people's protest.
For nineteen years I put my State into books, telling myself that this was my way of service. But now and then my feelings would boil over, and I would go out and make a political speech, or attempt to make one, and get arrested. Three times I let myself be persuaded to run for public office, as a more immediate form of protest. Twice I ran for Governor, and once for United States Senator, always on the Socialist ticket, and the highest vote I ever polled was sixty thousand out of an electorate of a couple of million.
I was fifty-four years of age, and beginning to feel the effects of a lifetime of overwork. I said that I had done my share, and promised myself, and also my wife, that from then on I would be a writer and nothing else.
But then came Hitler; to me the most hideous phenomenon since the days of the Inquisition. I saw where our civilization was heading. I saw around me all the little incipient Hitlers—the Californazis. I put to myself the question: what is the use of taking a lifetime to build a Socialist movement, when our enemies can destroy it in twenty-four hours?
I sat down to rethink the problems of my lifetime. What was wrong with the Socialist party, that it had made no headway in America? First, it was a foreign
movement, and had used long foreign words—proletariat, surplus value, dialectical materialism. I had always known that was a blunder, and had tried to prevent it, but with little success.
Second, the movement was based upon the working class. So far as concerned my home State, there was very little working-class mentality. Those who belonged to that class did not know it, and hated you for telling them. They were middle class in their thoughts and feelings, and even the most hopeless among them were certain that their children were going to get an education and "rise in the world."
I saw the middle classes suffering just as much as manual workers and farmers. The white collar people were losing their jobs and their homes; the small investors had been swindled out of everything; even the skilled technicians, the engineers, administrators, architects—were sitting idle in their offices, unable to pay their rent. Six hundred lawyers were being dropped from the Bar Association, because they could not pay their annual dues of seven dollars and a half. Thousands of doctors were no longer able to collect fees—so it went, wherever one turned.
If Fascism came to California it would be through these middle class people. If Democracy were preserved in California, it would be because these people had come to understand the depression and the remedy.
I wrote a little book, "The Way Out," intended to enlighten them. There came to me a young man, Richard S. Otto, a real estate subdivider, forcibly retired. He had a thousand acres of land which he would be glad to donate for a colony—there was nothing else that could be done with it. He read "The Way Out" and it met his mental needs. He spent a part of what money he had left to print an edition of ten thousand copies of this book. He was running two "Bellamy societies," and would sell the books or give them away at meetings.
That was August, 1933, and there came to me a letter from an elderly gentleman of Santa Monica, chairman of the County Central Committee of the Democratic Party in his assembly district. He suggested that I register as a Democrat and announce myself a candidate for the nomination for Governor on the Dem-
ocratic ticket, putting forward a definite program to deal with the depression. I smiled, and marked the letter to receive the form answer prepared for those who invited me into politics.
But this old gentleman would not be put off. He wrote several times. He said that five of the seven members of his committee were for me; he said it would be the same all over the State. The Democratic Party was split into half a dozen factions, with half a dozen warring leaders, no one of them having any economic knowledge or any idea how to meet the crisis. He tempted me subtly; even if I did not run, would I not help prepare a program for those who wished to take action?
This started a process in my mind. Suppose the people of California wanted to do something, what could they do? I took all my thoughts on the subject and thought them over again, weighing them from a new point of view. I no longer had thirty years, perhaps not thirty months; something had to be done now—and what was it?
This ruled out all measures which were difficult to understand, or were foreign to the American mind. It ruled out all foreign movements, all foreign words. It ruled out all minor parties, all new parties.
I said to myself: "Fifty per cent of the people are going to vote a certain ticket because their grandfathers voted that ticket. In order to get anywhere, it is necessary to have a party which has grandfathers." That seemed to point to the Democratic Party, the oldest in the country, a party of grandfathers and of great-grandfathers. My own great-grandfather had been one of its founders—Commodore Arthur Sinclair, who commanded the first frigate built by our nation, the "Congress," in 1802.
I had left the Democratic Party, because as a youth in New York I had got close to Tammany Hall. Now it was proposed that I should come back, and endeavor to take the Democratic Party of California away from the graf ters and corporation agents. The idea began to interest me, and finally I yielded this far; I said to the old gentleman in Santa Monica: "I will prepare a program and see what you and your friends think of it."
That was how I fell into the trap, and ceased to be
an author and became a politician for fourteen months—in spite of all the promises to myself, and the still more solemn promises to my wife!
Excerpted from I, Candidate for Governor by Upton Sinclair Copyright © 1994 by Upton Sinclair. Excerpted by permission.
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