In dubious battle - John Steinbeck

Depression-era fruit pickers
Depression-era fruit pickers

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

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 27, 2013

Comments

Juan Conatz

10 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on September 15, 2013

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

fingers malone

10 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on September 15, 2013

I've just bought it on your recommendation.

gram negative

8 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by gram negative on April 12, 2015

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

8 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Serge Forward on April 12, 2015

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

Steven.

8 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on April 12, 2015

gram negative

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

8 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sabot on April 12, 2015

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 ;)

Edit: above link is broken for some reason

James MacBryde

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 3, 2015

sabot writes:

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on November 3, 2015

The "Party" is definitely the Communist Party USA.

Steven.

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on November 3, 2015

Juan Conatz

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Sike on November 3, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 3, 2015

gram negative writes:

...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:

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 3, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on November 3, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 3, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fnordie on November 3, 2015

John Steinbeck

"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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 3, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on November 4, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 4, 2015

Chilli Sauce writes:

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 4, 2015

James MacBryde wrote:

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on November 4, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 4, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 6, 2015

John Steinbeck writes:

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:

...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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on November 6, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 23, 2015

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:

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by gram negative on November 7, 2015

James MacBryde

gram negative writes:

...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:

“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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 7, 2015

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

8 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 7, 2015

Serge Forward writes:

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

8 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on February 6, 2016

Steven.

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on February 14, 2017

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

lproyect

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by lproyect on February 18, 2017

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/02/17/steinbecks-red-devils/

Juan Conatz

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 18, 2017

The film is getting pretty terrible reviews. I'm probably not going to see it, even though I was initially excited about it. Do not want a bad film to displace the mental imagery I have of one of my favorite books.

Steven.

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on February 18, 2017

I don't know I think the trailer looks pretty good. Won't bother in the cinema but I'll download it when it's up on torrent sites and have a look

jef costello

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by jef costello on February 18, 2017

It's available online already, haven't watched it.

jura

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by jura on February 20, 2017

I've watched it, it's Hallmark stuff, don't even bother.

Juan Conatz

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 20, 2017

Hallmark is a store that sells greeting cards. They also have a TV channel with their own movies that are low budget, sappy and feature emotionally ham-fisted acting.

Serge Forward

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Serge Forward on February 21, 2017

That's a shame. I was looking forward to this.

vicent

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by vicent on February 21, 2017

I thought the novel was unrealistic and silly anyways, I doubt that 30's activists behaved in anyway like the protagonists in the novel. It's easy to torrent online so I'd recommend watching it if your bored, as it is a rare film with a strong class war theme

Chilli Sauce

7 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on February 21, 2017

That's the thing, though, it's a question of whether you're supposed to identify (and by extension, whether Steinbeck identifies) with that action of the protagonists. I know when the book first came out, it was attacked by the Left for being anti-CP and attacked by the right for being pro-radical. I feel like the critical reviews that have been posted to this thread have sorted of missed that ambiguity.

All that said, it could be shit as a film (calling it Hallmark is pretty damning) but in terms of the content of the story, it's worth questioning whether Steinbeck was making simple moral judgement one way or the other when it comes to the M.O. of his characters.

Fnordie

6 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fnordie on March 11, 2017

I watched it today. It stays pretty faithful up until the end, and then butchers the fucking ending. And then adds a saccharine caption about how great the wagner act was, for good measure.

Juan Conatz

6 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 11, 2017

vicent

I thought the novel was unrealistic and silly anyways, I doubt that 30's activists behaved in anyway like the protagonists in the novel.

What do mean by that?

I thought it was pretty accurate portrayal of organizers. There is always a level of ulterior motive and dishonesty when it comes to this stuff that's why its hard and unnatural to do for many.

Reddebrek

5 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Reddebrek on January 2, 2019

Just so you know John Steinbeck died in 1948 so if this sites servers are located in the UK or the EU his work is now in the public domain (in English) so it should be ok to add his more famous novels too.

westartfromhere

1 week 4 days ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on February 15, 2024

Just a quick heads up to anyone signing up to comment on this site (libcom.org). Don't expect to be greeted as an old long lost comrade. Instead, it will be like stepping into a CPUSA flophouse occupied solely by joyless Joy's, with one exceptional Mac. Persevere.