The Lost Leader: William D. Haywood

Patrick Renshaw introduces an archetypal twentieth century figure: the American Trade Unionist who fled to Russia and who Comintern believed they could use to lead an American Bolshevik revolution.

Like the unknown political prisoner, the defector to the Soviet Union has become one of the characteristic figures of our time. Spies who came in from the cold, Burgess and Maclean or Kim Philby, are familiar enough; and the traffic, of course, is two-way.

Yet the centenary of the birth of one of the first Americans caught between two worlds, William D. Haywood, passed last year virtually unnoticed. This year—as Russia celebrates Lenin’s centenary and the United States undergoes another year of social unrest—the fiftieth anniversary of Haywood’s flight to Moscow approaches almost unobserved.

‘Big Bill’ Haywood was not a spy; and although he was a political prisoner, he was far from unknown. Indeed, fifty years ago he was perhaps the most notorious man in American public life. As secretary-treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies as the I.W.W were known, he was chief defendant in a five-month trial of the leaders of this revolutionary syndicalist labour union.

Haywood was a huge, one-eyed labour agitator and union organizer, a man with ‘a face like a scarred battlefield’ in John Reed’s vivid phrase, with a magnificent stage presence and speaking voice that made him one of the finest orators of the time.

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