Celebrating Progressives
and Progressivism: Part 3

Commonwealth Communities   Class Warfare Genuine and Counterfeit Progressives
Communism and Socialism Failed

Replacing Capitalism

  Capitalists Are Murdering Workers
Progressives Must Defeat Fascists

Progressive Awareness

  Developing Progressive Awareness

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

Blessed is he who attains understanding of the causes of things. 1

    In this ongoing series, we're celebrating outstanding progressive leaders of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this essay we'll review the significant contribution made to American progressivism by Upton Sinclair (1878-1968).

    Upton Sinclair was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American progressive author who wrote over ninety books, acquiring particular fame for his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle. It exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

    Almost no one was aware of the corruption and unhygenic conditions then prevailing in the American meat industry--and its capitalist owners pulled every crooked scheme they could to keep the public uninformed. Sinclair quoted a capitalist newspaper's efforts to condemn his novel, The Jungle, as "hysterical."

"The 'Outlook' [early 20th century newspaper] had no doubt that there were genuine evils in the packing-plants; the conditions of the workers ought of course to be improved, BUT--

'To disgust the reader by dragging him through every conceivable horror, physical and moral, to depict with lurid excitement and with offensive minuteness the life in jail and brothel--all this is to overreach the object . . . Even things actually terrible may become distorted when a writer screams them out in a sensational way and in a high pitched key . . . More convincing if it were less hysterical.'"
Upton Sinclair, The Brass Check

    "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach," Sinclair said about his book The Jungle, a story of workers' rights set in the filthy stockyards of the early 20th century. At the time, readers focused more on the tainted sausages and less on the men, women, and children eking out an unhealthy existence in the meatpacking plant and its environs. The story remains a case study of how nasty food products are no healthier for those producing them than they are to consumers.

      Sinclair ran in the 1934 California gubernatorial election as a Democrat. He received 879,000 votes, his most successful run for office, though he was overwhelmingly defeated. Sinclair's platform, known as the End Poverty in California movement (EPIC), failed to gain any widespread support after 1934.

"The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC [End Poverty in California]. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to 'End Poverty in California' I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them."

A letter from Upton Sinclair to Norman Thomas, 25th September, 1951

The Capitalist Cabal and the Press

    Sinclair struggled against what he called the "prostitute press" all his life, focusing most forcefully on that problem in his book, The Brass Check:

Upton Sinclair "Radical criticism of the press was an integral component of the many large social movements of the Progressive Era, which sought to resist the effects of accelerating capitalist development. It was a time of striking similarity to the present, mirroring in particular the corruption of democracy by political and economic elites whose control over the media strangles public awareness, debate, and activism. However, unlike today, radical criticism of capitalist journalism was a dominant theme on the left during the Progressive Era, particularly in the socialist, anarchist, and progressive press. This was the Golden Age of radical press criticism, and Upton Sinclair was at its epicenter." 2

The American Cooperative Movement

Extracts from Sinclair's Novel, Co-op

"When people ask me what happened in my long lifetime, I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to Upton Sinclair's novels."

Bernard Shaw

    Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd series of historical novels ought to be required reading for all high school students. I only came upon the Lanny Budd novels several years ago, and found them the best description and analysis of the times leading up to and including World Wars I and II that I've ever read.

"Lanny Budd is living history. It draws the reader into the book and shows him what the times were really like from 1913 until the beginning of the Cold War. The story follows the life of Lanny Budd, a bastard son of a New England munitions-maker industrialist and an expatriate lady of fashions living on the French Riviera as he grows up among many relatives and friends in all walks of life across Europe and the United States. Sinclair mixes fiction with hard facts of world politics, writing a running commentary on world events in a 'fly on the wall' approach, as if Lanny Budd was a personal acquaintance of world leaders from Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt and others." 3

"Lanny Budd talked with officials, both military and civilian, about the curious Soviet practice of telling the most barefaced and obvious lies and maintaining them in spite of any facts offered in rebuttal. Was it an assertion of their ego, that truth was whatever they chose to make it? Was it a consequence of their denial of the existence of any moral law? Or was it just an expression of their contempt for their opponents? They would tell you a lie and then laugh in your face--not because they thought you believed it but because you were foolish enough not to understand that they were superior to both the truth and you. Because you were foolish enough to believe that there was actually any such thing as truth in the world! Because you were inferiors, doomed to early extinction, and it didn't matter in the least what you believed about anything! That was really the way they felt, and lying to you was part of the process of your extermination. They, the new master class, the future possessors and rulers of the world, yielded to nothing--not even the truth!"

Upton Sinclair, The Return of Lanny Budd, 1953

This phenomenon of dictating reality applies to all forms of despotism: Italian fascism, Nazism, Communism, Zionism, or Capitalism

Upton Sinclair     One way to determine Upton Sinclair's vast importance to American and world progressivism is to contrast his life and actions to such pseudo-progressives as Walter Lippmann. Lippmann flirted with socialism when he entered Harvard in 1906. His roomate at Harvard, John Reed of Soviet Union infamy, used to introduce Lippmann: "Gentlemen, the next president of the United States." Lippmann turned from flirting with socialism to become one of the most vile supporters of the capitalist cabal, assisting in the formation of the Council on Foreign Relations, an insidious cabal think-tank.
"One of his numerous critics was the famous journalist and opinion leader Walter Lippmann, whom Sinclair called an 'old friend' since they had known each other when both were socialists. But before World War I, Lippmann decided socialism was unrealistic, and in 1927 he wrote an essay that skewered Sinclair's utopian flair. Having dumped his youthful socialism, Lippmann couldn't understand why others hadn't as well. Writing for the Saturday Review of Literature, he lobbed some of the complaints mentioned above and then argued that Sinclair was fast becoming irrelevant to national public discussion."

Kevin Mattson, Upton Sinclair and the other American Century, 2006

    Upton Sinclair went on from his early study of cooperative political and economic systems to write significant books on the demonic machinations of capitalism and the need for progressive reform worldwide.


1 Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BCE), known in English as Virgil or Vergil,
a Latin poet during the early years of the Roman Empire

2 Upton Sinclair and the Contradictions of Capitalist Journalism

3 Andrew Simon