Chicago was one of the first centers of Socialism in the U.S. This was in part due to the large groups of working class immigrant people who were arriving in Chicago between the 19th and early 20th centuries. There were Socialist Conventions that took place in the city in 1898, 1904, 1908, 1910, alongside the founding of the Socialist Party in 1901. These undercurrents in Chicago can be clearly discerned in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle; the book reaches its narrative climax when Jurgis encounters Socialist media and a socialist gathering, and is thereby uplifted. We decided to map out where Socialist media, particularly newspapers, were being produced between 1900 and 1908, the same time period during which Sinclair was writing The Jungle.
Each red square on the map represents a different Socialist newspaper. The relative sizes of each circle denote the publications’ comparative circulation between the years of 1900 and 1908—small circles indicating narrow dissemination and readership, and large circles indicating wide readership. We tracked nine publications, one on the North Side, two in the Loop, two on the South Side, and four on the West Side. These publications span six languages; Armenian, Slovak, Italian, Swedish, Croatian, and English. The two English-language publications were located in the Loop and in Hyde Park, and enjoyed the largest distribution. These could have been for Irish and British immigrants as well as for more educated audiences, such as the ones Jurgis encounters at the Socialist lecture in The Jungle. In Pilsen, we see four different languages, with Armenian, Slovak, Italian, and Croatian, which were all being printed within a few square blocks of each other. This was possible because of its accessibility to the Back of the Yards, as well to as the other immigrant communities in Pilsen and West Chicago. Finally, we see a Swedish newspaper on the North Side, near the traditionally Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Chicago was home to a host of Socialist publications. The languages of these publications varied wildly, ranging from English to Eastern European ones such as Croatian and Slovak. Socialist papers were issued in such a vast number of languages in response to a thirst in contemporary immigrant communities to learn about Socialist philosophies. In essence, each paper targeted a different immigrant group. The largest paper, International Socialist Review, was published in English and had a circulation size of around 40,000 people. By contrast, one of the smaller papers of the time, Radnicka Straza, was published in Croatian and had a circulation size of approximately 2700. Thus, it’s apparent that while the English language publications may have had the widest sphere of influence, the smaller, more community-specific papers had a relatively large following given the number of immigrants comprising said communities. While these papers might have all differed in language and expected consumer base, they were united in their ideology, and therefore allowed Socialism to become a unifying force via its relevance to a large swath of factory laborers in Chicago. This multilingual trend in Socialist publications continued into the 1920s, at which time less than half of all labor papers were for an English-speaking audience.
Additionally, some of the Socialist publications were aimed at even more niche groups. For instance, what became known as Progressive Woman “published letters from women throughout the Midwest, which offer insight into the thoughts of Socialists and the appeal of the movement for rural and urban women.”
Immigration was a social driver for Chicago’s growth. The city’s rapid expansion—beginning in the middle of the 19th century and extending into the 20th—can be attributed in large part to massive influx of immigrants that converged upon the city during the same period. So, for much of its history, Chicago was more of an immigrant city than anything else. The first to come were the Germans—by the 1850s, they constituted about one-sixth of Chicago’s swelling populace. This would continue to be the case until early in the 20th century. Germans began arriving in the city at a time prior to its industrial transformation; thus, those who ended up settling in Chicago were not seeking unskilled factory jobs, as was the case with the European groups that constituted latter-day immigration waves. Rather, the first Germans to come to Chicago were craftsmen; they were skilled laborers. Still, these first immigrants experienced much of the same discrimination that would plague their successors. Given their unique status as Chicagoans—both as established members of Chicago’s rapidly expanding population, but also as outsiders and the targets of prejudice—their involvement in the City’s most nascent Socialist dissident groups should come as no surprise. German Craft Unionists made up the majority of the Workingmen’s Party (later dubbed the Socialist Labor Party), which would spearhead the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. Participants in the strike would go on to form Arbeiter-Zeitung, one of the more notorious radical leftist papers of the 19th-century Chicago labor movements; it’s no coincidence that the publication was a German-language one.
While Germans were the first to come, they certainly were not the last; much like immigration trends in the United States at large, immigration to Chicago can be characterized by its successional character. The Italian population in Chicago, for example, was the third largest in the country of much of the 1900s. Italian immigration to Chicago would reach its zenith in the late 19th century, when Chicago’s burgeoning railroad industry served as a magnet for unskilled European laborers—Italian and otherwise. Interestingly, the Italian immigrant population was more resistant to being organized along class lines than were some other immigrant groups. This was in part because of its diffuse distribution about the city; more importantly, however, was the fact that Italians coming to America from a just-recently unified Italy carried with them the antagonisms and factionalisms of their homeland. So while Italian Socialist organizations and their associated publications—such as the Italian Socialist Federation, which published La Parola dei Socialisti—strove to build unite Italians in Chicago, their efforts were often in vain.
A host of other immigrant groups were magnetized to the newly industrialized Chicago around the same time: Slovaks, in the 1880s, who came as unskilled laborers; the Swedes, whose population also exploded in the 1880s; the Armenians, who were fleeing the oppressive (but waning) Ottoman regime in the 1890s and early 1900s; and the list goes on. These immigrant groups settled in neighborhoods that continue to be working-class neighborhoods to this day: Pilsen, Englewood, West Pullman, Near West Side, etc. For the most part, these groups converged on Chicago for its industry—these were unskilled workers who, in the face of destitution in their own countries, sought better lives in America. But Chicago attracted immigrant communities for more than just its labor opportunities. The Croatians were a remarkable example of this. American historians of Croatian immigration have called Chicago the “Second Croatian Capital”. While many who came were peasants that sought the same opportunities as their contemporaries, this was not true for all. Many Croatian dissidents—who for a long time had been a thorn in the side of the Austro-Hungarian empire—gravitated to the developing political scene in Chicago; and with them, they brought their activism. Croatian immigration is particularly relevant to our study of multilingual Socialist publications in Chicago, insofar as 44 Croatian newspapers and magazines were founded in Chicagoland between 1892 and 1943—and many of these were starkly Socialist in character. In that sense, the Croatian community in Chicago was a bit of a posterchild for the dynamic alliance we see forming between Socialism and the immigrant-labor class at the turn of the century.
As the 1900s progressed, Socialism would become increasingly suppressed by the U.S. government. Nonetheless, Chicago would retain its identity as a center for activism and political dissidence, as illustrated by the city’s importance for the civil rights movement beginning in the mid-20th century.
Rebecca Flores, Socialist Newspapers and Periodicals 1900-1920, Mapping American Social Movements Through the 20th Century. Retrieved 1/26/17 from http://depts.washington.edu/moves/ SP_map-newspapers.shtml
Rand McNally and Company., and Rand McNally and Company. Rand, McNally and Co.’s Street Number Guide Map of the Principal Part of Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co.’s Street Guide Map of Chicago and Suburbs Showing the City Limits. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1902. Web.
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Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2001.
Sclater, Karla Kelling, Labor and Radical Press: 1820-the Present, The great Depression in Washington State Project. Retrieved 28 Jan. 2017 from http://depts.washington.edu/labhist/laborpress/Kelling.shtml
Beyond the martyrs: a social history of Chicago’s anarchists, 1870-1900 / Bruce C. Nelson.
Graff, Daniel A. “Socialist Parties.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society, 2005. Web. 28 Jan. 2017
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