Upton Sinclair

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Upton Sinclair was an American Socialist writer and politician, best known for The Jungle (1908), a "muckraking" book about the meat packing industry. While it is the book he is remembered for today, he wrote several others that were best-sellers of their time. In total he wrote over 90 books, most quite obscure today.

One of his most successful was Boston, a novel based upon the Sacco-Vanzetti case, in which he suggested that the convicted terrorists had been railroaded.[1] But in 2005, a 1929 letter from Sinclair surfaced, in which he confessed that Fred Moore, lawyer for the two men, “told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them."[2] As he revealed in another letter, from 1927, Sinclair feared for his life if he told the truth: "My wife is absolutely certain that if I tell what I believe, I will be called a traitor to the movement and may not live to finish the book."[3] In the end, he decided that a lie would sell better than the truth: "It is much better copy as a naive defense of Sacco and Vanzetti because this is what all my foreign readers expect, and they are 90% of my public."[4]

Socialist Upton Sinclair won the Democratic primary for governor in 1934, but voters saw through his fantasies and elected the conservative Republican Frank Merriam.

Upton Sinclair's political views were leftist and socialist. He ran for public office several times, running on the Socialist Party ticket in 1906 and 1920 for the U.S. Congress, and in 1922 for the United States Senate. In 1934, he ran on the Democratic Party ticket for governor of California. His 1934 run as a Democrat frightened a lot of people, who saw his EPIC (End Poverty In California) plan as an elaborate back-door scheme to bring communism to California, and he was overwhelmingly defeated.[5] Remarking on his electoral attempts in 1951, he said, "The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it...", adding that he had only won 60,000 votes running as a Socialist on an open platform of socialism, but 879,000 votes running as a Democrat on an "End Poverty In California" platform.

Upton Sinclair was a co-founder, along with fellow Socialist Party members Jack London and Norman Thomas, of the League for Industrial Democracy in 1905. This is the group whose student wing (the Student League for Industrial Democracy) would go on to change their name to Students for a Democratic Society in 1960 and become the genesis of the New Left campus unrest of the 1960s.

Notes

  1. E.g.: "[O]f the five identification witnesses upon whom the case against Sacco rested, one was a many times arrested crook, one a hysterical prostitute, one a halfwit, one a disoriented fantasist, and one a feeble victim of police pressure." Upton Sinclair, Boston: A Novel (A. & C. Boni, 1928), p. 411
  2. Jean O. Pasco, "Sinclair Letter Turns Out to Be Another Expose," Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2005. Cf. "Novelist's Book about Murder Trial Called into Question," Canadian Broadcasting Company, January 28, 2006 (Archive); cf. Doug Linder (2001), The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, Famous Trials (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law); Richard Newby, Kill now, talk forever: debating Sacco and Vanzetti (AuthorHouse, 2006) ISBN 1420843931, p. 634
  3. Richard Newby, Kill now, talk forever: debating Sacco and Vanzetti (AuthorHouse, 2006) ISBN 1420843931, p. 481
  4. Jonah Goldberg, The Clay Feet of Liberal Saints, National Review, January 06, 2006. Cf. Ann Coulter, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Random House Digital, Inc., 2007), ISBN 1400054214, p. 52
  5. Upton Sinclair, End Poverty in California The EPIC Movement, The Literary Digest, October 13, 1934
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