Ragnar Redbeard and the Industrial Workers of the World

1845-1945, Historical Work, Max Stirner, Ragnar Redbeard, Trevor Blake / Thursday, May 30th, 2019

My property is not a thing, since this has an existence independent of me; only my might is my own. Not this tree, but my might or control over it, is what is mine. Now, how is this might perversely expressed? They say I have a right to this tree, or it is my rightful property. So I have earned it by might. That the might must last in order that the tree may also be held – or better, that the might is not a thing existing of itself, but has existence solely in the mighty ego, in me the mighty – is forgotten. Might, like other of my qualities (humanity, majesty, etc.), is exalted to something existing of itself, so that it still exists long after it has ceased to be my might. Thus transformed into a ghost, might is – right.

Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own (New York: Benjamin R. Tucker, 1907)

Ragnar Redbeard (1859 – 1929), author of Might is Right, stands alone. His book was famous during his lifetime, but he elected to never draw attention to the man who wrote it. He wrote a book on the sovereignty of the individual that is worthy of sharing a shelf with Max Stirner or Friedrich Nietzsche. Might is Right is a book of blood and thunder, written by a man whose day job was in an ice cream factory. In 2019, Underworld Amusements published Might is Right: The Authoritative Edition. This is the edition to buy.

The Industrial Workers of the World (the I. W. W., “the Wobblies”) is an international organization founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. The Preamble to their Guiding Principles and Rules is little changed since that time:

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the earth.

The Wobblies have improved the working conditions in many factories, shops, mines and other worksites all across the world. In their struggle to achieve their goals, hundreds of Wobblies have been fired, blacklisted, tortured, imprisoned and lynched. They also published dozens of newspapers and magazines. The I. W. W. exists today. Find a branch near you, read their tremendous back catalog of publications and find our more about this significant and fascinating organization, the “one big union.”

Ragnar Redbeard spoke poorly of the “dignity of labor.” He wrote that organizations were fit for sheep, and that the only moral role was to be a butcher or a wolf among them. The Industrial Workers of the World spoke highly of the working class. They wrote that it was inherently immoral as well as ineffective to separate workers into competing individuals or competing unions. It might seem that there could be no harmony between them. This essay is an overview of a time when the Wobblies were enthusiastic supporters of Might is Right.

The editors of UnionOfEgoists.com and Der Geist are not advocates. We do not define what is or is not egoism, we only publish what was said to be egoism in print between the years 1845 and 1945. Any reader who wishes to be told what is “real” egoism is compelled to read elsewhere. Further, the editors of UnionOfEgoists.com and Der Geist do not invest a single word or thought toward who the “real” Wobblies were or are. Any reader who wishes to form such an opinion is encouraged to both read about IWW history and to meet with current members of the Industrial Workers of the World.

The Wobblies of a century ago took pains to differentiate themselves from both the left and the right. They mocked (and sometimes fought) both communists and the Ku Klux Klan. In advocating for industrial organization they refrained from unionizing any individual shop or industry. The Wobblies of today are not the Wobblies of a century ago. Today’s Wobblies do align themselves with the left, and do unionize individual shops and industries. The book Might is Right of a century ago delivered pains to the left and the right. It mocked (and sometimes most cruelly) both labor and religion. In advocating for ‘the just’ it refrained from identifying who that might be outside of ‘the strong.’ Over time Might is Right came to be commonly associated more with right-leaning groups. Those who are familiar with only today’s IWW may find it strange that at one time a number of their most active members were enthusiasts for Might is Right. Those who are familiar with only the common association of Might is Right with right-leaning groups will find it strange that at one time it was championed by the Industrial Workers of the World. For the last time, the editors of UnionOfEgoists.com and Der Geist will remain eternally mute when it comes to “real” egoism and the “real” I. W. W. We only provide quotes and context from the past, when the two walked shoulder to shoulder.

Ralph Chaplin (1887 – 1961) was the author of the lyrics to “Solidarity Forever,” an anthem of the Industrial Workers of the World. He drew the black cat logo used by the I. W. W. He was put off by the failure of Soviet Russia and did his part to keep communism out of the I. W. W. In 1917 he was sentenced to twenty years in prison for conspiracy to hinder the draft. Chaplin quotes a fellow traveler’s criticism of Might is Right in his autobiography Wobbly: The Rough-and-Tumble Story of an American Radical (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948):

One day [prison guard Captain Eddy] found a copy of Might Makes Right [sic] in our cell. He picked it up with a grimace. “Is this a Wobbly book?” The question was directed at Dan Buckley, who explained that it had been written a quarter of a century previously by one “Ragnar Redbeard,” a diminutive, repressed Near North Side philosopher with delusions of grandeur. “Well, I’ve noticed a lot of Wobblies reading the damn thing. Let me have it.” Captain Eddy read Might Makes Right through. Then came the expected outburst. “This tin-horn ‘superman’ – this crummy, gutter-spawned, half-pint dictator, yammering about the ‘might of the proletariat!’” He continued: “Let’s be honest about the thing. A lot of you so-called ‘rebels’ would be failures under any kind of social order. Some of you guys blame capitalism for the things God neglected to give you. Wage slaves, bah! You wouldn’t be wage slaves if you had what it takes to be anything else. Take it from the Marines, the ‘Ragnar Redbeards’ of the world can be handled with a fly swatter, if it ever comes to a showdown!”

Ralph Chaplin and the I. W. W. were the ones reading (if irreverently) Might is Right, while the prison guard with a military background was the one damning it.

Mortimer Downing was the spokesperson for a number of Wobblies called the “Silent Defenders.” In 1919 he was sentenced to ten years for ‘conspiring to oppress employers of labor.’ Downing had this to say to the Court: “Only one generous, kindly doctrine ever came into the world, only one that will put individual responsibility where it belongs. That is the doctrine that might is right.” In the company of so many other Wobblies speaking of Might is Right as a book they read and advocated, it is difficult to think of Downing’s phrase as only a coincidence.

The One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published by the Industrial Workers of the World initially edited by John Sandgren.

In The One Big Union Monthly Vol. I No. 1 (March 1st, 1919) a direct if uncredited quote from Might is Right appears in the form of a comic illustration on page 10:

An essay titled “Might is Right” in Vol. 1 No. 4 (June, 1919) does not mention Redbeard by name, but includes this passage suggesting a familiarity with Redbeard’s view:

Ideals are pale things in this world of cold, ruthless materialism. Idealism in politics never was. We, who are revolutionists, know that the crimes of the age will only be ended by Might. The criminals of this age who have written the Paris treaty, will only be mastered by those who are economically stronger. All the ideals in the universe will not budge them. But a class organization will sound their doom. Labour must fight capital by the same weapons. They on top and we below – both are materialists. We want the world, not because we love justice, but because we love ourselves. We fight revolutions not for Idealism but for self-interest. Such is the law of life. Why, like Wilson, pretend that it is otherwise. The power of the I. W. W. comes from our realization of this materialism. We are not fogged by illusions of right and wrong. We do not bow at the shrine of tender phrases. Might is right. Let us learn the lesson, and organize until we are the mightiest.

A familiarity with Redbeard’s views is also shown in “Courts and Direct Action” in One Big Union Monthly Vol. 1 No. 7 (September 1919):

The truth may be a fine thing and it is said that it will prevail, but it must have “power” behind it, for Might is Right, as it has been and will continue to be.

Redbeard was acknowledged by the Wobblies by name in One Big Union Monthly New Series Vol. II No. 1 (January 1938):

Stars and suns may perish
Empires wax and wane
But the law of struggle
Eternal shall remain.
Ragnar Redbeard

As late as February 1938, One Big Union Monthly (New Series Volume II Number 2) was making references to “Sainted Redbeard.”

The One Big Union Monthly, published by the Industrial Workers of the World, both quoted Ragnar Redbeard’s book Might is Right and incorporated his ideas into their own.

The Industrial Pioneer was a publication of the Industrial Workers of the World edited by Henry Van Dorn. In Volume I No. 2 (June 1923) there is a poem by Ragnar Redbeard:

The Logic of To-Day
Then what’s the use of dreaming dreams – that “each shall get his own”
By forceless votes of meek-eyed thralls, who blindly sweat and moan?
No! A curse is on their cankered brains – their very bones decay:
Go! Trace your fate in the Iron Game, is the Logic of To-day.

Once again, a publication of the I. W. W. devotes its resources to citing Ragnar Redbeard and Might is Right.

Direct Action was a Wobbly newspaper from Sydney, Australia. In Vol. I No. 1 (January 31st, 1914) it published “Might is Right” by Covington Hall, based on a poem by Ragnar Redbeard in Might is Right. The poem by Hall was quoted again in Vol. I No. 5 (May 15th, 1914). In Vol. 2 No. 28 (May 1st, 1915) Direct Action published the Redbeard original. Direct Action Vol. I No. 16 (November 1st, 1914) published a column of “Redbeardisms” made up of direct quotes from Might is Right. Direct Action Vol. 3 No. 62 (March 18th, 1916) again published the Redbeard poem “Might is Right.” Several issues in Volume 3 of Direct Action announced a book of poems including “Might is Right,” including No. 56 (February 5th, 1916), No. 59 (February 26th, 1916), No. 61 (March 11th 1916), No. 64 (April 1st, 1916) and No. 65 (April 8th, 1916).

E. A. Griffney wrote an essay titled “Might is Right” for Direct Action Vol. 3 No. 91 (October 7th, 1916). This essay claims that violence justifies itself in the triumph of those who use it well, be they capitalists or Wobblies:

It is highly amusing when we hear the workers indulging in sentimental wailing and gnashing of teeth at the candidness of speech of some undiplomatic employer or the harshness of the measures used by the employing class to beat the working class into subjection. [Property owners are] justified in using any and every means to suppress manifestations of working-class discontent. A strike being an attempt to defy the rights of capitalists to exploit labor for profit must be crushed without mercy. […] The morality of [strike breaking] is quite in keeping with all the theory and practice of our present social system. We must give the employing class credit for their splendid organization and solidarity when faced by an active revolt of wage slaves. It is for the later to learn and profit by example. When they are capable of practicing similar solidarity they will conquer their masters, and the power of their might will be proof of their right.

This same issue quotes from the individualist essay The Right to Ignore the State by Herbert Spencer, reprinted in a limited edition by the Union of Egoists in September, 2017. Direct Action Vol. 3 No. 104 (January 13th, 1917) published an essay claiming it is not violence in itself that is wrong, but the monopoly on violence held by the State. James Pope, in “Demand an Answer,” dismisses thought over action and writes that when the workers take up violence it will, by that very act, become morally correct. In other words, might is right.

[We] are living in a mad world at present, but the only answer the lords and rulers have is: “Might is Right, we have the might and if you dare to enlighten this ‘dumb terror,’ we will deal with you as we have already dealt with thirty members of your class.” […] That is the answer the “boss” makes to the questions. You philosophers and sentimentalists may rave about ethics and justice until Doomsday, but until you develop the might to threaten his position he will continue to be right.

Pope also wrote “The Justification and the Objective of the I. W. W.” for Direct Action Vol. 4 No. 123 (May 26th, 1917):

“To-day the workers co-operatively run industry. The Capitalist is nothing but the extractor of surplus profits of industry. Organized industrially, the worker would be the greatest power on this earth, and the happiness of society as a whole comes before the greed of a class. Might is right: so what’s the matter with the workers owning the tools of production?”

Direct Action Vol. III No. 94 (October 28th, 1916) expressly links the Industrial Workers of the World to the ethics of Ragnar Redbeard in the poem “The Stalwards of Gaol” by C. D.:

Fellow slaves, line up to-day
The war is on in fierce array
The weapon you must use to fight
Is “One Big Union” – “Might is Right”

Direct Action Vol. 2 No. 29 (May 15th, 1915) publishes “The General Strike,” a play in rhyming couplets by S. W. which concludes: “There is only one alternative in sight / We must confess the truth – that Might is Right.” The contradictions of Redbeard’s ethics (it sure doesn’t feel right to be on the receiving end of might) are acknowledged in Direct Action Vol. 1 No. 19 (December 15th, 1914) in “What My Environments Causes Me to Believe” by W. H. Lewis: “Might is Right, even though it be wrong.”

In Direct Action there is support for the claim that Might is Right was read and respected by the international body of the Industrial Workers of the World. Direct Action quoted Redbeard, paraphrased Redbeard and wrote original texts inspired by Redbeard.

The Industrial Worker was a newspaper published by the Industrial Workers of the World. The Industrial Worker Vol. 2 No. 27 (September 24th, 1910) published the poem “Might is Right” by “Author Unknown.” And Vol. XIV No. 110 (February 21st, 1933) published “Without Strong Union Script and Peonage are Miner’s Reward” by 4. M. J., which concludes: “The master class have never been known to give anything. If we expect to improve our lot, we will have to organize and fight. Might is right. Get busy.”

The Industrial Worker is another Wobbly newspaper that shows the influence of Ragnar Redbeard and his book Might is Right.

Left to Right: Jay Smith, E. F. Doree, Covington Hall, C. L. Filigno.
Left to Right: Jay Smith, E. F. Doree, Covington Hall, C. L. Filigno.

Covington Hall (1871 – 1952) was the primary editor and contributor to an I. W. W. newspaper first published as The Lumberjack and later as Voice of the People. He wrote for One Big Union Monthly, The New Solidarity, Direct Action and other Wobbly newspapers and magazines. Hall published books of poetry and essays including Battle Hymns of Toil, Dreams & Dynamite, Labor Struggles in the Deep South and Songs of Rebellion. A biographic sketch of Hall appears in Battle Hymns of Toil

For more than forty years he has been active as a writer, speaker and publicity agent in many fights made by the Workers and Farmers for economic freedom. He has fought with them in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, and all over Dixie. He began this activity as a follower of William J. Bryan. He has taken an active part in many strenuous political campaigns, such as the Farmers’ Non-partisan League of North Dakota, where, in 1920 and 1921, he acted as one of the publicity chiefs for the League under Governor Frazier and his Attorney General, now Congressman William Lemke. […] He has written thousands of poems in defense of and to stir up the Farmers and Workers everywhere. These poems have gone all over the English speaking world and many have been translated into other tongues. Always, even when they were merely propaganda verse, the purpose has been to call the Workers and Farmers to battle for the Brotherhood for which the Rebel Carpenter of Nazareth fought and died. These poems have not been written to please those of us who might be timid or hold fixed prejudices.

Covington Hall received the praises of labor leader Eugene V. Debbs, labor cartoonist Art Young and A. L. Emerson of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers. He wrote under the names Covington Hall, Covington Ami, Covami, Notgnivoc, and Voc the Barbarian.

The Lumberjack was published in Alexandria, LA and New Orleans, LA. Voice of the People was published in New Orleans, LA and Portland, OR. Hall served as editor for all but the final nine issues, which were edited by B. E. Nilsson. Three issues of the newspaper were numbered “27,” and the newspaper volumes were numbered first I, then II, then III, then back to II. To lessen confusion, citations made here refer to an absolute sequence printed on all most issues, numbers 1 through 97.

The first words on the first page of the first issue of The Lumberjack are “MIGHT IS RIGHT.” These words appear in the masthead of every issue, nearly one hundred in total. Reverence for Redbeard is found throughout The Lumberjack / Voice of the People across the years of its publication, in every location it was published and by every editor that published them.

Issues 49 through 53 of this Wobbly newspaper contained variations of this advertisement for Might is Right:

Might is Right.

Have you read that great book, “Might Is Right” by Ragnar Redbeard? You will not agree with all he speaks, but, he will make you THINK – think outside the beaten sheep-paths. You will, probably, gag at this:

“‘He fed the hungry’ – but to what end, I say? Why should a famishing multitude be fed by a god? And that, too, in a land said to be flowing with milk and money [sic]! Would not such a mob be far better dead? Would not Napoleon with his cosmic ‘whiff of grape-shot’ be just the right man for such an occasion? From the harmonious nature of things, it is clear that men were intended to feed themselves by their own personal exertions or perish like dogs. He therefore who ‘feeds the hungry’ is really encouraging poltroonry (which includeth all other crimes) FOR MEN WHO QUIETLY STARVE WITHIN REACH OF ABOUNDING PLENTY ARE – ALL POLTROONS… They waste their lives pursuing shadows; and for hire build their own tombs. Their minds are below freezing point, nay! below zero! Crippled souls are they.

“Courage, I say! Courage that goes its way ALONE, as undaunted as when it marches to ‘victory or death’ amid the menacing stride of armed and bannered legions. Courage, that never falters – never retreats! That is the kind of courage the world lacks today… That is the kind of courage that has never turned a master’s mill. That is the kind of courage that will never turn it. That is the kind of courage that will DIE, rather than turn it.”

If you want to read this tremendous Epic of the Strong, send us a DOLLAR and we will send you a copy of “MIGHT IS RIGHT” and THE VOICE for 30 weeks; or we will send you the book alone for FIFTY CENTS. Address THE VOICE, 520 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA.

Issues 54 through 56 of this Wobbly newspaper contained variations of this advertisement for Might is Right:

Might is Right

“What,” says Redbeard, “is your ‘civilization and progress’ if its only outcome is hysteria and downgoing?

“What is ‘government and law’ if their ripened harvests are men without sap?

“What are ‘religions and literature’ if their grandest productions are hordes of faithful slaves?

“What is ‘evolution and culture’ if their noxious blossoms are sterilized women?

“What is education and enlightenment if their dead-see-fruit is a catiff race, with rottenness in their bones? …

“In this arid wilderness of steel and stone I raise up my voice that YOU may hear…

“Courage, I say! Courage that goes its way ALONE, as undaunted as when it marches to ‘victory or death’ amid the menacing stride of armed and bannered legions. Courage, that never falters – never retreats! That is the kind of courage the world lacks today… That is the kind of courage that has never turned a master’s mill. That is the kind of courage that will never turn it. That is the kind of courage that will DIE, rather than turn it.”

“Might is Right” is published in England and is out-selling any book we ever handled. Better order a copy to-day.

If you want to read this tremendous Epic of the Strong, send us a DOLLAR and we will send you a copy of “MIGHT IS RIGHT” and THE VOICE for 30 weeks; or we will send you the book alone for FIFTY CENTS. Address THE VOICE, 520 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA.

Issues 57 through 72 of this Wobbly newspaper contained variations of this advertisement for Might is Right:

Might is Right

The root-thought of “Might is Right” lies in this quotation: “Property, remember, is an integral part of freedom and manhood. They who have no property are at the mercy of those who have. Woe unto him who has ‘nothing.’ Economic dependence is a flaming hell.”

If every Lumberjack, Worker and Working Farmer in the South would read this great book they would clearly see how they have lost their inheritance in their native land by themselves losing the oldtime fighting spirit of the Clansmen.

You will not agree with all Redbeard says no more than I do, but YOU should read this extraordinary book. One thing it will do – it will show you how the “Mighty” rule and rob proletarianize the race and then, it is up to you to THINK FOR YOURSELF.

If you want to read this tremendous Epic of the Strong, send us a DOLLAR and we will send you a copy of “MIGHT IS RIGHT” and THE VOICE for 30 weeks; or we will send you the book alone for FIFTY CENTS. Address THE VOICE, 520 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA.

Issues 71 through 80 of this Wobbly newspaper contained variations of this advertisement for Might is Right:

“Might is Right.” Send us $1.00 for FOUR 13-week or TWO 26-week PREPAID Subcards and we will send you a copy of this great “gospel of the strong.” FREE. The book alone is 50 cents.

Readers of this newspaper took advantage of the Wobbly’s offer to sell Might is Right, as shown in letters to the editor.

Enclosed please find 50 cents for which send me “overs” each week for five weeks, you my string them out 10 weeks if you want to. “Might is Right” received O. K. and it sure is a humdinger, never read anything like it before; it is something I needed to understand years ago. A. J. Sulem, Rialto, CA (Issue 66)

Fellow-worker Voice: Find enclosed Post Office Money Order for two bucks. One buck put to the bucking of capitalism – maintenance Fund of the Voice; for the other buck please send me two of the books “Might is Right” and I will help to buck the present order of society by the aid of “Redbeard.” I have one copy of the Doctor’s fiery spirit and am getting it worn out by others reading it, and I want to have one copy on me always. There is something the matter. The capitalists, master class, are stupid or depend on the stupidity of the working class to keep themselves in power. Every slave should read “Might is Right” once, twice, and then three times. I. J. Blocer (Issue 67)

Enclosed you will find $2.00 for which send one copy of “Might is Right” and the balance in three months’ subs, and oblige. Wm. Lorwe. (Issue 71)

So, workers of the world, UNITE, and become our fellow-workers by joining the IWW, the ONE BIG UNION based on scientific principles, having its roots deep down now already in the economic field […] Remember this, that everything on this earth has been and is now and will always be gained by MIGHT. It’s might that rules the universe and it’s might that survives in the struggle for existence. Remember, MIGHT IS RIGHT. Yours for the revolution, T. G. Gaveel. (Issue 72)

Issue 81 is the first issue published in Portland, Oregon. This and all remaining issues retain “MIGHT IS RIGHT” in the letterhead, but issues 81 through 84 contain no other mention of Ragnar Redbeard and his book. It might be thought that the editor had a change of heart regarding Redbeard along with a change in location. The newspaper also had a change in editors, with final nine issues edited by B. E. Nilsson. The evidence is that except for four out of ninety-seven issues, the Wobblies consistently promoted Ragnar Redbeard and his book Might is Right, because he returns to their pages from issue 85 onward. Nilsson attended an October 1 1914 lecture by Dr. Charles H. Chapman in Portland Oregon, and reported that Dr. Chapman included Ragnar Redbeard in his lecture on “The New Evolution.”

The Industrial Workers of the World published Ragnar Redbeard in their newspaper The Lumberjack / Voice of the People

“There is no dignity in a bent back – no glory in a perspiring brow – no honor in greasy copper-rivited rags. There is nothing very delectable in picks, shovels, and calloused paws. ‘Dignity of Labor!’ – Dignity of hell! ‘Cursed is the brow that sweats – for hire, and the back that bends to a master’s burden!” – from Might is Right (Issue 51)

Life is strife for every man,
For every son of thunder;
Then be a lion, not a lamb,
And don’t be trampled under.
Redbeard (Issue 53)

Redbeard (Issue 58)

Behind all Kings and Presidents, all Governments and Law,
Are army corps and cannoneers to hold the world in awe;
For Might is Right when empires sink in storms of steel and flame,
And it is right when weakling breeds are hunted down like game.
– from Might is Right (Issue 61)

Owners are Freemen; the Propertyless are Slaves. (Issue 78)

From the falls of St. Lawrence to wide Amazon
From Clye and from Shannon to Danube and Don
From the Nile and the Ganges to rolling Hoang-Ho –
It’s “woe to the vanquished” wherever you go

From the icefields of Klondyke ot Kongo’s dark stand
From the geysers of Heckla to red Rio Grande
Fron the banks of the Tiber to fair Caliao –
It’s “woe to the vanquished” wherever you go.
Ragnar Redbeard (Issue 86)

Always think your own thought
All other thoughts reject;
Learn to use your own brain
And boldly stand erect
Redbeard’s Review London 1901 (Issue 95)

The Industrial Workers of the World also published works inspired by Ragnar Redbeard in The Lumberjack / Voice of the People. Issues 69, 71, 77 and 78 published variations of Redbeard’s poem “The Logic of To-Day” as found in Might is Right (albeit with the following note from editor Covington Hall: “We have taken the liberty to arrange this great poem in the way we believe it should flow”). Hall’s version was also published in The Labor Journal (Everett, Washington, March 14, 1913) and Freedom’s Banner (Iola, Kansas, July 5th, 1913).  Issue 87 published a column of “Redbeard-Isms” that quote from Might is Right with one interesting addition. “Even as I write (1890-1896) – with wrecked civilizations lying around me, cold and chill – outraged nature is preparing her whirlblasts of wholesale avengements.” The two dates in parenthesis do not appear in the original. This suggests a familiarity with not only the contents of Might is Right but also its publication history. Here are more examples of work by the Industrial Workers of the World that are paraphrases of or inspired by Ragnar Redbeard…

He who loses is always wrong. […] Cursed is the job-coward; damned are the meek – Blessed are the strong, for they shall inherit the earth. […] Might is right, but there is no might where right is not. (Issue 3)

Remember: Organization is Power. Might is Right. (Issue 7)

There is no RIGHT without MIGHT; no MIGHT without RIGHT! (Issue 8)

I repeat: TRUTH conquers all things; MIGHT is RIGHT; ORGANIZATION IS POWER. […] If you want to get a bigger share of what you produce, you must be organized, too. This is not a question of sentiment. It is a COLD SCIENTIFIC FACT. MIGHT IS RIGHT, and today the Bosses have the MIGHT because they are COMBINED TOGETHER for their MUTUAL BENEFIT, which is the exploitation of the wage workers out of who’s sweat and blood is wrung the millions which your masters enjoy. (Issue 15)

“MIGHT IS RIGHT” the workers say
“Our number is our might;
We’re growing stronger every day
And soon will win our fight. (Issue 15)

Real liberty is a conquest, not a bequest. (Issue [32])

The survival of the fittest is the scientific song that regulates the universe and pushes things along; and in the world’s class struggle there isn’t any doubt but the idle, useless class will some day peter out; this means that only useful folks will finally survive, because no other class is fit to feed and keep alive. (Issue [33])

FORCE! Sonny, everything rests on force, and the working class INDUSTRIALLY ORGANIZED, acting as a unit, is the most terrible force than can to-day be brought against the capitalist society. (Issue 34)

Of all the old wise saws, that ever saw the light, There is none to be compared to: MIGHT IS RIGHT (Issue 45)

Might is Right, but might without right never did, does not, and never will exist. (Issue 79)

THE RULES by Peter Bell
They gathered all in marble hall
To see which one would rule;
To the masters they whispered a word or two,
Then they whispered to the fool,
“Justice!” he cried; and away he ran
To boast about his right,
But the masters jeered as the poor fool cheered,
For they knew that might was right. (Issue 97)

NOW AND THEN by Peter Bell
In the primitive jungle dark as night
The cruel beasts roared in their terrible might
And the weakest died in a hopeless fight,
For there in the jungle might was right.
Now in the jungle of laws and men
The same is proven time and again,
And the slaughter feasts on a battlefield
Only proves that justice to might must yield.
The Twentieth Century with its laws
Takes the place of the wild beasts’ jaw
And the facts of life are hidden from sight
So the workers won’t learn that might is right. (Issue 97)

Covington Hall also published Rebellion (“Made Up of Dreams and Dynamite”). This appeared to be a magazine in support and sympathy with the I. W. W., but Hall’s own work rather than that of the I. W. W. itself. Several issues include Might is Right. From Rebellion Vol. 2 No. 2 (May 1915):

“The Gospel of the Strong” Have you ever read Ragnar Redbeard’s great book Might is Right? Well, if you have not, you have missed something worth while. […] In this great book Ragnar Redbeard boldy asserts that Liberty and true Manhood cannot return to humanity until the World is cleansed by a catastrophic struggle against the “Emperors of Gold” and their “rotting millions.” In blazing and thought-shocking sentences he shows the inevitability of what is now going on in Europe and America and calls the “New Nobility” to rise and unslave the Race. If you care to read the books of men who think and speak their own thoughts, who are not simply human phonographs, send us $1.00 (or in New Orleans and foreign $1.10) and will mail you a copy of Might is Right, a copy of the Songs of Love and Rebellion, and send you Rebellion for 3 months.

The Lumberjack / Voice of the People / Rebellion made reference to Ragnar Redbeard in issue after issue. They also made reference to other egoist and individualist authors.  Issue 49  quotes Friedrich Nietzsche: “The State! Whatever the State sayeth is a lie; whatever it hath is a theft; all is counterfeit in it; the gnawing, sanguinary, insensate Monster, it even bites with stolen teeth – its very bowels are counterfeit.”  Issue 59 quotes Nietzsche:  “To injure intentionally when our safety and existence are involved, or the continuance of our well-being, is conceded to be moral.” Rebellion Vol. 2 No. 2 (May 1915) again quotes Nietzsche: “Far too many are born. For the superfluous ones the State was invented. Behold how it allureth them: how it devours and chews and masticates them!” The following issue of Rebellion (Vol. I No. 3, May, 1915) not only repeats the offer for Might is Right and Songs of Love and Rebellion. Rebellion Vol. I No. 7 (January 1916) offers Might is Right (“will forst you to sit up and think for yourself”) and The Right to be Lazy (1883) by Paul Lafargue (1842 – 1911). “You never even dreamed you had such a right, but Lafargue will prove it to you more wittily and logically than a right was ever before set forth.” The Lumberjack Vol. 1 No. 20 (May 22nd, 1913) includes an essay by George G. Reeve, who sang the praises of Redbeard in two issues of Ross’s Monthly (March / April 1920; August 1921). Voice of the People Vol. II No. 39 (October 2nd, 1913) reprints an essay by individualist and peer of Benjamin Tucker, Jo Labadie.  And Issue 59 of Voice of the People includes a quote from the primary author of the philosophy of egoism, Max Stirner: “He who has might has right; if you have not the former, neither have you the latter – Stirner.”

The poem “I, the Soul” appears in Rebellion Vol. I No. 7 (January 1916). It begins and ends:

There is no earthly power strong enough
To bar my way. There is no road so rough
But I will follow to the farthest goal
Or, failing, fall unconquered – I, the Soul
[…] My fate it is my own to make or mar
I am my spirit’s good and evil star
And here, or here after, let come what will
I am and shall be my own master still.

Rebellion Vol. I No. 9 (March 1916) paraphrases Redbeard on the front cover: “A hymn of praise I raise / A high and holy song / The race IS to the swift / The battle to the strong.” Rebellion Vol. I No. 12 (June 1916) published the poem “The Supreme Law,” which begins and ends…

The Soul of Man is builded from a trillion years of strife,
The Iron Law of Struggle is the Supreme Law of Life;
Thru all, o’er all, it follows man wherever he may range –
The urge compelling progress and the power forcing change.

It is the law of being, fixt, immutable and right,
The essence of eternity, infinity and light;
All matter, mind and spirit, all is mothered out of strife –
The Iron Law of Struggle is the Supreme Law of Life.

There is no cause to speculate about what Might is Right meant to the Wobbly editors of The Lumberjack / Voice of the People because they published their view. From Issue 85…

The Voice has received lately many clippings from Australian papers regarding the life of the strange, wild genius called “Ragnar Redbeard,” the author of that harsh yet thought-compelling book Might is Right – a book that all rebels will want to read, especially in these days that ‘try men’s souls’ but with the philosophy of which, in full, no social revolutionary will agree. But the book will force you to think and it will show you in naked words how the mighty rule. It is not Redbeard’s fault if, as he says, you misunderstand his “meanings.”

It seems that he, “Ragnar Redbeard,” was a New Zealander of Irish parentage and, strange as it sounds, for through all Might is Right runs vitriolic hatred of the politician, he was one of the organizers of the Australian “Labor Party.” It was perhaps the bitter experience he gained in that abortion that led him to express, in blighting words, the burning contempt of and for politicians that blazes out on every page of his truly great book. It is said of him that he could stand upon a public platform and recite off-hand, making up the verses as he went, poems of great strength and beauty. That one of his favorite stunts was unmasking the hypocrisy of the “Christian Church” by dressing himself in rags, walking up the main aisle of a church on a “Lord’s Day” and taking a front pew, when, of course, he would be ushered out; that at other times when the spirit was upon him, he would stop and begin a mighty address to some group of workers standing on the street, soon blocking the entire way, when again, of course, “Lawanorder” would be on his back.

From all the clippings, the man is shown in his book – a mighty and terrible hater of all hypocrisy, especially that mother of all hypocrisies and shams, capitalist society. In the last clipping sent the writer thereof closed with the exclamation, “I wonder who killed him!” You will not agree with all this great book teaches but you will never regret reading it. We will send it to you for 50 cents, or send us $1.00 for 13 weeks, or two 26-week prepaid subcards and we will send you the book free.

How the Wobblies viewed the works of Ragnar Redbeard is summed up in Issue 86…

Might is right. Get right, you cuss.

You will not agree with all that the Industrial Workers of the World and Might is Right teach, but you will never regret reading about them.

Chaplin, Ralph: Wobbly: The Rough-and-Tumble Story of an American Radical.
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948).
Direct Action Vol. I No. 1 (Sydney January 31st, 1914).
—– Vol. I No. 5 (Sydney May 1st, 1915).
—– Vol. I No. 16 (Sydney November 1st, 1914).
—– Vol. I No. 19 (Sydney December 15th, 1914).
—– Vol. 2 No. 28 (Sydney May 1st, 1915).
—– Vol. 2 No. 29 (Sydney May 15th, 1915).
—– Vol. 3 No. 62 (Sydney March 18th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 56 (Sydney February 5th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 59 (Sydney February 26th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 61 (Sydney March 11th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 64 (Sydney April 1st, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 65 (Sydney April 8th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 91 (Sydney October 7th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 94 (Sydney October 28th, 1916).
—– Vol. 3 No. 104 (Sydney January 13th, 1917).
—– Vol. 4 No. 123 (Sydney May 26th, 1917).
Hall, Covington: Battle Hymns of Toil. Oklahoma City: General Welfare Reporter 1945.
—– Dreams & Dynamite. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr 1985.
—– Labor Struggles in the Deep South. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr 1999.
—– Songs of Rebellion. New Orleans: Covington Hall 1915.
Freedom’s Banner (Iola, Kansas, July 5th, 1913).
Industrial Pioneer, The Vol. I No. 2 (Chicago June ,1923).
Industrial Worker, The Vol. 2 No. 27 (Chicago September 24th, 1910).
—– Vol. XIV No. 110 (Chicago February 21st, 1933)
Labor Journal, The (March 14th, 1913)
Lumberjack, The 1 Vol. I No. 1 (Alexandria January 9th, 1913).
—– 2 Vol. I No. 2 (Alexandria January 16th, 1913).
—– 3 Vol. I No. 3 (Alexandria January 23rd, 1913).
—– 4 Vol. I No. 4 (Alexandria January 30th, 1913).
—– 5 Vol. I No. 5 (Alexandria February 6th, 1913).
—– 6 Vol. I No. 6 (Alexandria February 13th, 1913).
—– 7 Vol. I No. 7 (Alexandria February 20th, 1913).
—– 8 Vol. I No. 8 (Alexandria February 27th, 1913).
—– 9 Vol. I No. 9 (Alexandria March 6th, 1913).
—– 10 Vol. I No. 10 (Alexandria March 13th, 1913).
—– 11 Vol. I No. 11 (Alexandria March 20th, 1913).
—– 12 Vol. I No. 12 (Alexandria March 27th, 1913).
—– 13 Vol. I No. 13 (Alexandria April 3rd, 1913).
—– 14 Vol. I No. 14 (Alexandria April 10th, 1913).
—– 15 Vol. I No. 15 (Alexandria April 17th, 1913).
—– 16 Vol. I No. 16 (Alexandria April 23rd, 1913).
—– 17 Vol. I No. 17 (New Orleans May 1st, 1913).
—– 18 Vol. I No. 18 (New Orleans May 8th, 1913).
—– 19 Vol. I No. 19 (New Orleans May 15th, 1913).
—– 20 Vol. I No. 20 (New Orleans May 22nd, 1913).
—– 21 Vol. I No. 21 (New Orleans May 29th, 1913).
—– 22 Vol. I No. 22 (New Orleans June 5th, 1913).
—– 23 Vol. I No. 23 (New Orleans June 12th, 1913).
—– 24 Vol. I No. 24 (New Orleans June 19th, 1913).
—– 25 Vol. I No. 25 (New Orleans June 26th, 1913).
—– 26 Vol. I No. 26 (New Orleans July 3rd, 1913).
—– 27 Vol. I No. 27 (New Orleans July 10th, 1913).
One Big Union Monthly Vol. 1 No. 1 (Chicago March, 1919).
—– Vol. 1 No. 4 (Chicago June, 1919).
—– Vol. 1 No. 7 (Chicago September, 1919).
—– New Series Vol. II No. 1 (January 1938).
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, OR August 30, 1914).
Rebellion Vol. I No. 2 (New Orleans April, 1915).
—– Vol. I No. 3 (New Orleans May, 1915).
—– Vol. I No. 7 (New Orleans January, 1916).
—– Vol. I No. 9 (New Orleans March, 1916).
—– Vol. I No. 12 (New Orleans June, 1916).
Silent Defense, The: A Story of the Remarkable Trial of Members of the Industrial Workers of the World Held at Sacramento, California (Industrial Workers of the World: Chicago, 1918).
Voice of the People 28 Vol. II No. 28 (New Orleans July 17th, 1913).
—– [29] Vol. II No. 29 (New Orleans July 24th, 1913).
—– [30] Vol. II No. 30 (New Orleans July 31st, 1913).
—– [31] Vol. II No. 31 (New Orleans August 7th, 1913).
—– [32] Vol. II No. 32 (New Orleans August 14th, 1913).
—– [33] Vol. II No. 33 (New Orleans August 21st, 1913).
—– [34] Vol. II No. 34 (New Orleans August 28th, 1913).
—– [35] Vol. II No. 35 (New Orleans September 4th, 1913).
—– [36] Vol. II No. 36 (New Orleans September 11th, 1913).
—– [37] Vol. II No. 37 (New Orleans September 18th, 1913).
—– [38] Vol. II No. 38 (New Orleans September 25th, 1913).
—– [39] Vol. II No. 39 (New Orleans October 2nd, 1913).
—– [40] Vol. II No. 40 (New Orleans October 9th, 1913).
—– [41] Vol. II No. 41 (New Orleans October 16th, 1913).
—– [42] Vol. II No. 42 (New Orleans October 23rd, 1913).
—– [43] Vol. II No. 43 (New Orleans October 30th, 1913).
—– [44] Vol. II No. 44 (New Orleans November 6th, 1913).
—– [45] Vol. II No. 45 (New Orleans November 13th, 1913).
—– [46] Vol. II No. 46 (New Orleans November 20th, 1913).
—– [47] Vol. II No. 47 (New Orleans November 27th, 1913).
—– 48 Vol. II No. 48 (New Orleans December 4th, 1913).
—– 49 Vol. II No. 49 (New Orleans December 11th, 1913).
—– 50 Vol. II No. 50 (New Orleans December 18th, 1913).
—– 51 Vol. II No. 51 (New Orleans December 25th, 1913).
—– 52 Vol. III No. 1 (New Orleans January 1st, 1914).
—– 53 Vol. III No. 2 (New Orleans January 8th, 1914).
—– 54 Vol. III No. 3 (New Orleans January 15th, 1914).
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—– 60 Vol. III No. 9 (New Orleans February 26th, 1914).
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—– 77 Vol. III No. 26 (New Orleans June 30, 1914).
—– 78 Vol. III No. 27 (New Orleans July 7th, 1914).
—– 79 Vol. III No. 27 [sic] (New Orleans July 14th, 1914).
—– 80 Vol. III No. 28 (New Orleans July 21st, 1914).
—– 81 Vol. III No. 29 (Portland July 30th, 1914).
—– 82 Vol. III No. 30 (Portland August 6th, 1914).
—– 83 Vol. III No. 31 (Portland August 13th, 1914).
—– 84 Vol. III No. 32 (Portland August 20th, 1914).
—– 85 Vol. III No. 33 (Portland August 27th, 1914).
—– 86 Vol. II No. 34 (Portland September 3rd, 1914).
—– 87 Vol. II No. 35 (Portland September 10th, 1914).
—– 88 Vol. II No. 36 (Portland September 17th, 1914).
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—– 94 Vol. II No. 42 (Portland November 5th, 1914).
—– 95 Vol. II No. 43 (Portland November 12th, 1914).
—– 96 Vol. II No. 44 (Portland November 19th, 1914).
—– 97 Vol. II No. 45 (Portland November 26th, 1914).

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