In dubious battle - John Steinbeck

Depression-era fruit pickers

Story about two Communists who set out to organise a strike of seasonal fruit pickers in California.

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In Dubious Battle - John Steinbeck.epub1.8 MB

Comments

Juan Conatz
Sep 15 2013 04:42

This is one of my favorite books. I've read it probably 15 times preceding any meaningful or actual radical left involvement.

fingers malone
Sep 15 2013 12:52

I've just bought it on your recommendation.

gram negative
Apr 12 2015 16:08

this book has some ace organizing advice - find out a way to deliver the grandchild of the top social leader of your workplace by dismissing the authority of the more knowledgeable midwife, and bam! instant workplace relationships are formed.

Serge Forward
Apr 12 2015 16:36

Brilliant book. UK school curriculum has Of Mice and Men on it. Should be this instead... if only...

Steven.
Apr 12 2015 20:09
gram negative wrote:
this book has some ace organizing advice - find out a way to deliver the grandchild of the top social leader of your workplace by dismissing the authority of the more knowledgeable midwife, and bam! instant workplace relationships are formed.

Yeah, the whole book does really show the problem of the whole "organiser" model of struggle.

sabot
Apr 12 2015 22:45

Also, the book is being developed into a film: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Dubious_Battle_(film)

It'll have Selena Gomez in it, so you know it's going to be good wink

Edit: above link is broken for some reason

James MacBryde
Nov 3 2015 17:33

sabot writes:

Quote:
Also, the book is being developed into a film: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Dubious_Battle_(film)

It'll have Selena Gomez in it, so you know it's going to be good wink

Edit: above link is broken for some reason

Thanks for that information. It's been along time coming and many previous attempts have come to nought. Out of interest does anyone know what 'Party' is referred to in the opening pages. I know the main protagonists are both communists but I have not been able to establish which grouping they were supposed to be members of.

By the way the link you referred to is no longer broken.

P.S. I came to this page while searching for any literature on the Battle of the Beanfield; any recommendations?

Juan Conatz
Nov 3 2015 17:44

The "Party" is definitely the Communist Party USA.

Steven.
Nov 3 2015 17:45
Juan Conatz wrote:
The "Party" is definitely the Communist Party USA.

yeah. It is covered in the preface, I think the first publisher Steinbeck went to was a member of the CP and his firm refused to publish it

Sike
Nov 3 2015 18:29

Steinbeck never mentioned the party affiliation but given the period they would most likely be CPUSA.

I had read elsewhere that Steinbeck didn't specify the party affiliation of the Communist protagonists in the book because he had intended the story more as a timeless morality play then as a political expose.

James MacBryde
Nov 3 2015 19:32

gram negative writes:

Quote:
...authority of the more knowledgeable midwife.

I think the 'midwife' you refer to had very little authority, scant knowledge and even less personal hygiene.

Steven writes:

Quote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
The "Party" is definitely the Communist Party USA.
yeah. It is covered in the preface, I think the first publisher Steinbeck went to was a member of the CP and his firm refused to publish it

I haven't read this Penguin edition and cannot open the download on my tablet but I would be very interested to read the preface you refer to. I know that Steinbeck was often accused of himself being a communist so that I would imagine would be the reason the 'Party' is not explicitly named. Could of spelled the end of a fruitful writing career.

James MacBryde
Nov 3 2015 19:54

I can categorically state that the 'Party' in question was not the Wobblies (IWW) as I have just recalled a section of the book in which the old man refers to actions carried out by the aforementioned.

I suppose I find it hard to believe the CPUSA could have promoted such autonomous action by its members having grown up with a member of the CPGB who was so hoodwinked, although to her credit she did cut off her bullying husbands finger.

Thanks for responding to my questions.

Juan Conatz
Nov 3 2015 19:54

I don't think its directly named because it doesn't need to be. FWIW, Steinbeck was involved in CP front groups around the time the book was written.

James MacBryde
Nov 3 2015 20:04

It certainly would have put me off reading it and I'm glad he chose not to name the Party. Certainly, 'it doesn't need to be': the action speaks louder than words. I have read that his friend on whom he based the Doc character in several books was the main first hand source of information for In Dubious Battle. I always felt, despite the title of this book, that his sympathies were definitely on the side of the strikers and not the owners. Anyway, I just love it. And Grapes of Wrath.

Fnordie
Nov 3 2015 21:57
John Steinbeck wrote:
"I don't like communists, either, I mean I dislike them as people. I rather imagine the apostles had the same waspish qualities and the New Testament is proof that they had equally bad manners."
James MacBryde
Nov 3 2015 23:40

Steinbeck also distinguished between communist intellectuals and the working class communist on the ground; he certainly despised the former and respected highly the latter. If my memory serves me correctly this view of his can be found in the collection of his letters published by Elaine Steinbeck after his death.

Chilli Sauce
Nov 4 2015 03:38

I always assumed he didn't name the party because he was trying to make a larger critique than just one of the CP. I know when the book came out it was criticized by the right for being pro-Communist and criticized by the left for being anti-Communist.

In any case, I don't think there's any doubt Steinbeck's sympathies were on the side of the strikers.

James MacBryde
Nov 4 2015 08:09

Chilli Sauce writes:

Quote:
I always assumed he didn't name the party because he was trying to make a larger critique than just one of the CP.

I never read it as a critique of anything, just a description of events occurring under his nose and on his doorstep. The title, 'In Dubious Battle', can be read two ways: as you interpret it, or as a battle that can go two ways: victory or defeat for our class struggle.

Either way, the book imagines just one battle in a war.

James MacBryde
Nov 4 2015 13:13

James MacBryde wrote:

Quote:
I never read it as a critique of anything, just a description of events occurring under his nose and on his doorstep.

I realise now that a critique and a criticism are not the same thing; the former is a detailed analysis whereas a criticism involves an element of judgement. So, the novel can be seen as a critique of a particular strike, analysing the different forces at work.

Juan Conatz
Nov 4 2015 15:30

Some people see it as a critique or criticism of the CP but I think people are reading into it too much. Steinbeck was flirting with The Party when he wrote it and was in contact with the lanor movement. As far as whether the CP did activities like described in the book, they formed the cadre of the TUUL unions and part of the backbone of the CIO. They were going out there doing this stuff.

James MacBryde
Nov 4 2015 20:55
Quote:
Steinbeck was flirting with The Party when he wrote it...

I'd be interested to know your source or whether this is conjecture. As I wrote earlier, in his letters he displays contempt for the Party leadership and great admiration for rank and file members.

James MacBryde
Nov 6 2015 07:34

John Steinbeck writes:

Quote:
I don't like communists either, I mean I dislike them as people. I rather imagine the apostles had the same waspish [not WASP-ish] qualities and the New Testament is proof that they had equally bad manners. But this dislike is personal...

Steinbeck continues:

Quote:
...and some of these communist field workers are strong, pure, inhumanly virtuous men. Maybe that's another reason I personally dislike them and that does not rebound to my credit.

Letter to Louis Paul, February 1936

Juan Conatz
Nov 6 2015 18:09

I don't have time to find a source, but he is said to have been in National Writers of America, a CP front group.

James MacBryde
Nov 23 2015 08:47

I've had a quick glance on Wikipedia and have found reference to the League of American Writers but this was not a front organization for the CPUSA, it was openly launched by the CPUSA. I have read Steinbeck's collected letters and some of his non-fiction (Travels with Charley, Once There Was a War, The Log From the Sea of Cortez) and the impression one gets throughout is of a solid American liberal. The fact that he could get inside the head of a communist is just testament to his power as a writer, not proof he was a member of the Communist Party of the USA. He could empathize with winos, travelling salesmen, small holders, migrant workers, shopkeepers and even businessmen as well. Not to say he wasn't a figure of hate for many of the American establishment.

Wikipedia goes on to say that:

Quote:
A number of prominent writers were enlisted in the cause over the next several years, including Thomas Mann, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Dreiser, James Farrell, Archibald MacLeish, Lillian Hellman, Nathanael West, and William Carlos Williams.

However, these were honorary titles bestowed upon the good and the great of literary circles and in no way proof of membership or affiliation to the CPUSA.

I knew an English novelist, Leon Garfield, who was courted by an anarchist group based in Whitechapel and he attended a few of their meetings but you will have to take my word for it, he was no anarchist.

gram negative
Nov 7 2015 19:31
James MacBryde wrote:
gram negative writes:
Quote:
...authority of the more knowledgeable midwife.

I think the 'midwife' you refer to had very little authority, scant knowledge and even less personal hygiene.

From chapter 4:

Quote:
“Well, where did you learn about births?”“I never learned till now. I never saw one before. The only thing I knew was that it was a good idea to be clean. God, I was lucky it came through all right. If anything’d happened, we’d’ve been sunk. That old woman knew lots more than I did. I think she knew it, too.”
James MacBryde
Nov 7 2015 20:06

Having studied nursing for 18 months at Coventry and Warwick School of Nursing, I would say that filthy fingernails and unsterilised sheets serve far more of a danger to a woman's health during childbirth than a lack of knowledge by those attending to her. My spouse gave birth to our third child in the back of my mother-in-laws Renault Scenic on route to our local hospital. The only real danger to mother and baby occurred when the expert midwife opened the car door and exposed the newborn to sub-zero temperatures. I'm sure, 'gram negative', you will be glad to hear lil Rosie Anna is safe and well, and in bed watching Narnia.

James MacBryde
Nov 7 2015 20:13

Serge Forward writes:

Quote:
Brilliant book. UK school curriculum has Of Mice and Men on it. Should be this instead... if only...

They are both great books but from a school kids perspective the shorter book is probably preferable.

James MacBryde
Feb 6 2016 23:26

Steven.
Feb 14 2017 11:46

Bump, because James Franco's film is out later this week, on 17 February

lproyect
Feb 18 2017 15:38