Harry Golden’s Favorite Socialists

Here’s an excerpt from For Two Cents Plain by Harry Golden about Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the early years of the 20th century:

“The Socialists, of course, were important then. Morris Hillquit was a brilliant speaker, and so were Louis Waldeman and Congressman Meyer London; but my own favorites were Scott Nearing, Algernon Lee, Norman Thomas, and August Claessens. Claessens was a Roman Catholic and of course the Jews were pleased and flattered when he threw a few Yiddish words into his speeches.

Tammany Hall [a dominant political organization in New York] did everything to harass the Socialist spellbinders. Occasionally a few Tammany henchmen would set up a soapbox on the corner opposite the Socialist speaker. When the Socialist began to speak, the Tammany Hallniks would begin to sing, ‘Tammany, Tammany; swampum, swampum, get the wampum, Tammanieee.’

Tammany had the help of the police, and the big thing was to demand a license from the Socialist and thereby upset his meeting.

‘Where is your license to speak here?’ demanded a policeman of Claessens one evening. Claessens stalled as the cop made a path in the crowd around the stand.

With perfect timing Claessens then shouted: ‘My license to speak here was given to me on July 4, 1776 in the City of Philadelphia.’

The cop scratched his head and ran back to the call box to ask the desk sergeant what to do next — and the crowd roared.

The soapbox Socialists were advocating social security, unemployment insurance, and public housing, and they were harassed and arrested. Now [1959] Richard Nixon is for social security, unemployment insurance, and public housing, and this could happen only in America.”

I have been having a ball with Golden’s three bestsellers: Only in America, For Two Cents Plain and Enjoy! Enjoy!