Anyone who can unsnarl honest Texas history from domination by myths and outright lies will find a proud working class with socialist leaders as advanced as any in the nation. Of course, they are well hidden.
Socialists from Europe were arriving in Texas while the Communist Manifesto was still in its first printing. The revolutionary battles of the 1840s produced strong-willed men and women who arrived in Texas even as they were scourged in Europe. Victor Considerant, an exile from France and a contemporary of Karl Marx, was one of them. He helped establish the La Reunion community that brought culture to Dallas.
Similar utopian settlements arose here and there, especially in the Hill Country near Fredericksburg. Surviving history books tell us that they were “freethinkers” as opposed to being religious, and that they were devoted to their socialist principles even in difficult frontier conditions.
Misleading reasons are given as to why the communities broke up, but the glaring unmentioned facts are that their disappearances unanimously coincided with the formation of the Confederate States of America, and that all of the socialists opposed slavery. The actual gun battles that took place are hardly mentioned, except for the “Battle of Nueces” in which Confederates massacred the socialists from Comfort, Texas, who were trying to escape to Mexico rather than be drafted to fight for the slavocracy. So fierce was the anti-abolitionist climate that the mothers and wives of Comfort dared not even gather the martyrs’ bones until after federal troops liberated Texas in 1865. From 1998 to 2000, their bones lay under a tall monument in downtown Comfort inscribed with the defiant words (in German) “True to the Union.” Unfortunately, in 2000 right-wingers succeeded in getting the monument removed.
For an idea of what these progressive Europeans had to put up with, note this statement from an editorial in the Austin newspaper of the time: “[T]he socialist is an abolitionist everywhere. … We note this advent of socialism in Texas as foreboding us no good; and we wish them to have a fair understanding before they reach our soil, that as a political sect our whole people are against them.”
Among the individual socialists who came to Texas from Europe was newspaper editor Adolf Douai of San Antonio. Like other socialists, he was driven out of Texas by racist slaveholders around 1856. In 1883, Douai was so prominent in America that he was chosen to deliver the eulogy for Karl Marx at Cooper Union in New York.
Of all Texas socialists, E.O. Meitzen and his son E.R. Meitzen stand out. They were prominent in the People’s Party of Texas, which was founded in Dallas in 1892 and played a leading role in the progressive movement. The Texans distinguished themselves among populists with antiracism. They welcomed African American members and spokespersons.
After the Socialist Party was formed in the early 1900s, the Meitzens published outstanding socialist newspapers from their printing press in Halletsville. When virtually all socialist publications, including a number in Texas, were shut down by reactionary legislation in 1917, the Meitzens’ paper, “The Rebel,” enjoyed the second largest socialist subscription base in the nation. Its militancy was evident on every masthead, which proclaimed, “The great appear great to us only because we are on our knees. LET US ARISE!”
Eugene Victor Debs, the best national spokesperson that the Socialist Party ever had, visited Texas and posed with the Meitzens and other progressives. Debs achieved big votes in Northern Texas and Oklahoma when he ran for president. E.R. Meitzen won a large block of votes when he ran for governor as a socialist. He continued as an outstanding spokesperson for justice and civil rights until his death in 1937.
In the 1930s, members of the Communist Party took leadership roles in bringing industrial unionism to Texas. The best known of them all was firebrand Emma Tenayuca, spokesperson for the pecan shellers’ strike in San Antonio. It was credited with first establishing the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the state.
Other communists took leadership roles in bringing industrial unionism throughout Texas. Their efforts were particularly noteworthy among Spanish-speaking workers in the southern region. Union singer Anne Feeney has done Texas a great service by recording the remembrances of Manuela Solis Sager. Sager and her husband were central in union organizing south of, and including, San Antonio during the 1930s and 1940s. A transcript of the recording is available at tx.cpusa.org/mela.htm. Other aspects of Texas history can be found easily at www.labordallas.org.
Traditional Texas history sources also include the workers’ role, but you really have to dig for it!
Jim Lane (flittle7 @ yahoo.com) is a labor activist in North Texas.