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Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler

- Albert Einstein

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)

Upton Sinclair

"There are able-bodied men here, who work from early morning until late at night, in ice-cold cellars with a quarter of an inch of water in the floor – men who for six or seven months in the year never see the sunlight from Sunday afternoon till the next Saturday morning- and who can not earn three hundred dollars a year. There are little children here, scarce in their teens, who can hardly see the top of the work benches. … Workers falling into meat processing tanks and being grounded, along with animal parts, into "Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard,” (from The Jungle, Upton Sinclair).

In 1904, reports which were coming from the filthy conditions of Chicago’s meat-packing industry, persuaded Fred Warren – the editor of socialist journal, Appeal to Reason – to commission Sinclair to investigate and write a novel about the life of immigrant workers there. The investigation was helped by Mother Bloor and the book which titled, The Jungle, was rejected by six publishers. Sinclair decided to publish the book himself, which was an immediate success and translated in many languages. It was a best-seller all over the world and it has been printed ever since. In the U.S. itself it caused social uproar and led to the enactment of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But Sinclair complained that the tragedy of industrial life and his socialist preaching were being lost in the meat controversy. "I aimed at the public heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach".

Upton, was born on September 20th, in Baltimore, Maryland. His family moved to New York in search of a better life when he was ten. At the age of fifteen he started writing to earn money to help his family and finance his education. His first marriage was at the age of twenty two, which passed through poverty and led to the writing of Springtime and Harvest (1901), a tale of penniless lovers. Swinging between having and not having in an unsettled life, interested him to read socialist classics and socialist journals, among them was, Appeal to Reason. This ideology caused him to move his writings toward realistic fictions instead of adventure stories.

In 1902, Sinclair joined the Socialist Party of America, and at the same time was a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1905 along with Jack London, Florence Kelly and Clarence Darrow formed the intercollegiate Socialist Society. In 1906, the proceeds of his book, The Jungle, enabled him to establish and support the socialist commune, Helicon Home Colony in Eaglewood, New Jersey. Sinclair Lewis which was a Noble Prize winner in literature, worked there as a janitor. The commune, a haven for leftist intellectuals, burned down four months later by arson.

In 1906, Sinclair who was a famous 28 years old young socialist, ran for Congress in New Jersey and lost. Again in 1920 and in 1922 he ran unsuccessfully first for the U.S. House of Representatives and then for the Senate under the banner of Socialist Party. In 1926 as a socialist candidate, and in 1934 as a Democratic Party nominee, he ran for the governor of California under the platform of End Poverty in California (Epic). He got about 879000 votes but not enough to win. This relative victory happened in spite of vicious mudsludging of the right-wingers. For example, Los Angeles Times had launched a campaign in which Sinclair was pictured as a supporter of free love and nationalization of children.

In 1915, Sinclair published the, Cry for Justice. In this occasion John Reed wrote to him that his "anthology, has made more radicals than anything I ever heard of."

With the start of WWI, most members of the Socialist Party argued that this is a war between imperialist powers to reshape their spheres of influence around the world. They opposed the U.S. plan to enter the war. But some members including Sinclair who were moved by the atrocities committed by German soldiers in Belgium, supported U.S. entrance in the war against Central Powers. For this reason Sinclair left the Socialist Party. However, during the war and with the emergence of the Soviet Union in 1917, the Espionage Act was passed in Congress and resulted in the imprisonment of many intellectuals and socialists including Eugene V. Debs. Thus, an outraged Sinclair wrote to President Woodrow Wilson arguing that it was "futile to try and win democracy abroad, while we are losing it at home.” He rejoined the Socialist Party in 1926 and in 1927 in an article published in The Nation, he admitted that he had been wrong about WWI.

On April 20th, 1914, when Rochefeller’s militia attacked and shot dead Ludlow, Colorado miners, Sinclair was among the demonstrators and was arrested for a short time. In the case of Sacco and Venzetti who were ultimately executed, he proclaimed their innocence in his 1928 famous book, Boston.

In 1932, Soviet Director, Sergey Eisenstein, with the help of Sinclair, made the movie “Que Viva Mexico”. Upton got involved in this project by Charlie Chaplin. The movie, which was partially filmed in U.S. and Mexico, inflamed quarrels in both the Soviet Union and United States. In the Soviet Union, Eisenstein was denounced by Stalin’s circle as a capitalist propagandist and in the U.S., Sinclair was demonized by the ruling class as a communist.

During WWII, Sinclair published Dragons’ Teeth (1942), which was about the rise of Nazism in Germany. He won the Pulitzer Price for this novel.

After WWII and the start of the Cold War, Sinclair began correspondence with Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer to provide details for a book about the development of the atomic bomb.

His final novel, The Return of Lanny Budd (1953) - which is also the final book of the Lanny Budd’s series - is about hostile sentiment in the U.S. toward the post-war Soviet Union.

On November 25th, 1968, the fruitful life of this extra-ordinary writer, humanitarian and socialist came to an end peacefully. Sinclair was buried in the Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC.

Some of his other works are:

  • Manassas (1904)

  • The Captain of Industry (1906)

  • Cosmopolitan (1906)

  • The Industrial Republic (1907)

  • The Money Changers (1908)

  • Samuel The Seeker (1909)

  • The Machine (1911)

  • Damaged Gods (1913)

  • King Coal (1917)

  • The Profits of Religion (1917)

  • The Brass Check (1919)

  • The Spy (1920)

  • They Call Me Carpenter (1922)

  • The Goose-Step A Story of American Education (1923)

  • The Goslings (1924)

  • Money Writes! (1927)

  • Oil (1927), this novel is the basis of the movie, There Will Be Blood (2007), by Paul Thomas Anderson

  • Mental Radio (1930)

  • American Outpost (1932)

  • The Epic Plan for California (1934)

  • No Pasaran! (1937)

  • The Gnomobile (1937)

  • World’s End (1940)

  • Between Two Worlds (1941)

  • Dragon’s Teeth (1942)

  • Dragon Harvest (1945)

  • A World to Win (1946)

  • O Shepherd, Speak! (1949)

  • The Cup of Fury (1956)

  • My Lifetime in Letters (1960)

  • The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair (1962), written with the help of Maeve Elizabeth Flynn III

  • More

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