Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Who was Frank Bohn?

In certain circles in the Youngstown-area, Frank Bohn is most famous for his 1915 statement, "Everybody breathing dirt, eating dirt - they call it "pay dirt," for Youngstown clean would be Youngstown out of work." Few interpret him as anything more than a steel worker who recognized the importance of the industry in the Mahonig Valley. His story, however, is that of an active American socialist. He was greatly concerned about the plight of the American worker, particularly in the booming steel industry of the early 1900's. He wrote many letters, propoganda pieces, and books describing what he considered the "future system of industrial society."(1) He was an organizer in the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) and the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance. He was a frequent contributor to The Masses, one of the dominant socialist arts magazines of the early 1900's, which described itself as a "revolutionary not a reform magazine."(2)

As a young man from Michigan, he was part of the state's delegation to the SLP's 1904 convention in Chicago. He was described as "affable, slick, polished, a fluent talker, making quite an impression."(3) He wholeheartedly believed in what he wrote, stating, "under Socialism industrial government as well as political government will be democratic. Its purpose will be to manage production and to establish and conduct the great social institutions required by civilized humanity. Political government will then, of course, have ceased to exist."(4) His ideas were revolutionary in the United States, yet no doubt struck a cord with recent European immigrants escaping harsh working conditions and intolerance in their native land and looking for a sense of community in their new country.

Bohn would later become the National Secretary of the SLP in the United States, although his mismanagement of the organization would see him removed several years later. He continued to write his beliefs on socialism however but became discredited within the organization, with the SLP today claiming that because of his lack of leadership, "he came nearer than anything to wiping out the Socialist Labor Party."

1) The Intellectual
2) Kaaterskill Books
3) www.slp.org/pdf/slphist/slp1_hk.pdf
4) Industrial Socialism. Haywood and Bohn. Charles Kerr and Co. 1906.

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