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Upton Sinclair wrote the novel '100%: The Story of a Patriot' to protest the arrest of Tom Mooney, a labor leader convicted of the San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing in 1916. The story follows a man named Peter Gudge who became a coached witness, red infiltrator, and other tools of the capitalist establishment. Mooney was arrested on the testimony of several witnesses who were considered dubious at the time, and became more questionable as time passed.
If you replace the name Tom Mooney with the name of Jim Goober, and describe the arrest and trial of the labor leader, you essentially have the back story for Chapters 1-30 of this novel. In the real life bombing, Tom Mooney, his wife Rena, and two associates, Warren K. Billings and jitney driver Israel Weinberg, were arrested. The trial that followed was conducted in a lynch mob atmosphere, and featured several witnesses whose testimony was allegedly coached by the prosecutors.
Mooney and Billings were convicted and sentenced to death by the hangman until President Wilson interceded. California authorities changed the sentence to life imprisonment, in part because of questions about the testimony of several witnesses. Mooney became one of the most famous political prisoners in America, serving his sentence until he was pardoned and released in 1939.
The title for this book review is a quote from Edward Cunha, who led the prosecution against Mooney. While Sinclair protested the case of Mooney in particular, he also protested the sentiment of people like Cunha.
At the time of the bombing, the United States was officially neutral in the European War that became known as World War One. Socialists denounced the war as one fought by the working class for moneyed interests. When America did join the war, a vast public relations campaign was initiated by Committee on Public Information to win over the hearts and minds of the American people. The Bureau of Investigation, the precursor to the FBI, used spies to infiltrate anti-war organizations and reduce internal agitation or organized opposition to the war. They set out to coerce the actions of the recalcitrant.
Peter Gudge became one of those spies, not willingly but not too reluctantly either. He graduated from paid informant to agent provocateur at the conclusion of the Jim Goober trial. Agent provocateurs were spies and "under cover" men used for the purpose of luring others into crime. As an agent, Gudge first began starting trouble with the Anti-Conscription League, but his big project was a bombing plot where he framed several local Reds. Unfortunately for Gudge, one of the men that he framed was also a paid informant for 'the organization.'
In the book, Gudge is called the Jimmie Higgins of the Whites. Gudge is probably more of a boob than Higgins, and less likeable, but you end up rooting for him, because the people who come down on him are even more unlikeable (such as McGivney and Guffey). Those bosses of Gudge are part of a cover organization called the American City Land and Investment Company. In actuality, the company was a security arm of the leading business organizations of the city.
Many other events that occurred in the novel really did happen. The Centralia Massacre, also known as the Armistice Day Riot, was a violent and bloody incident that occurred in Centralia, Washington, on November 11, 1919, during a parade celebrating the first anniversary of Armistice Day. On December 21, 1919, the Buford, a ship the press nicknamed the "Soviet Ark," left New York harbor with 249 deportees. Many of those deportees had been detained in the November Palmer Raids. The well-known radical leaders Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were also on board.
Characters in the novel were also arrested for protesting the war or distributing leaflets that urged people not to fight, for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Two famous cases reached the Supreme Court based on arrests of related real-life incidents, one involving Charles Schenck of Philadelphia and another involving four radicals from New York City: Mollie Steimer, Jacob Abrams, Hyman Lachowsky and Samuel Lipman. The Supreme Court affirmed convictions in both of the cases.
100% was the inevitable follow-up to Sinclair's novel Jimmie Higgins. One can make no mistake about the author's distaste for religion in this novel, but the real bone of contention for Sinclair was the threat to liberty and democracy caused by unlicensed, somewhat official agent provocateurs. This book is available for free on Project Gutenberg and also for free from the PSU-Hazelton website, in The Electronics Classics Series as a PDF that you can read by Adobe Acrobat. The Project Gutenberg version has annoying line breaks that have been fixed in the PSU-Hazelton book.
Thankfully the book is available in electronic format because one never knows how old books will stand up to time. I did try to find a hard copy of the book to check a pair of sentences that I believe are errors. Unfortunately, the copy in the library that I use is 'lost.' It would be nice to know if the errors are ones in transcribing the novel, or errors made by the author / publisher when the book was released.
Check out this sentence in Section 76 and ask yourself, 'Was it his last cheek, or his last check?'
But most judges were willing to co-operate with the big business men in ridding the country of the Red menace, and Peter's total of scalps amounted to over a hundred before his time was up, and Guffey sent him his last cheek and turned him loose.
I also believe the following sentence in Section 81 has an extra comma after 'Peter's':
It became Peter's, form of sport to stick an automatic revolver in his hip-pocket, and take a blackjack in his hand, and rush into a room where thirty or forty Russians or "Sheenies" of all ages and lengths of beard were struggling to learn the intricacies of English spelling.
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I've read several novels by Upton Sinclair, but, given how prolific he was, that's only scratching the surface of his prodigious body of work. I think The Jungle is one of American literature's true masterpieces, but I could never find another of his books that even belongs in the same league with that great work. Until now, that is. 100%: The Story of a Patriot, originally published in 1920, is a brilliant novel of the struggle between labor and big business in America during the First World War. While combat was raging in Europe, a war between the classes was taking place on the home front. This novel provides a vivid look into the paranoia of that era, and the brutal tactics employed in the conflict between the Reds (Socialists) and the Whites (capitalists). It's no secret which side Sinclair leans toward, but the best part about the book is that he ingeniously tells the story not from the Reds' point of view but through the eyes of their enemy.
Peter Gudge is a luckless, loveless loser who's recently been fired from his job. His resumé lists a string of credentials as assistant to an assortment of con men. While wandering through the streets, bemoaning his present situation, he happens upon a patriotic rally. Suddenly, a bomb goes off, apparently planted by a terrorist. Peter is found at the scene and apprehended by the police. He is imprisoned, interrogated, and tortured by the secret service of the Traction Trust, a shadowy organization of agents who protect the interests of big business. They want to pin the bombing on a prominent labor leader named Goober, so they recruit Peter to become an agent for them and infiltrate the local community of Socialists and Anarchists. Since he was falsely accused and tortured by the police, the Reds welcome him with open arms. Peter proves quite adept at his newfound vocation, and soon becomes an invaluable asset to the capitalist cause. Though he initially undertook the job purely out of self-interest, he soon begins to believe in the cause he's fighting for and views himself as a true American patriot.
100% consists of 86 brief chapters, and there's nary a dull moment among them. This is no typical espionage novel, but it is frequently suspenseful. The emotional tone ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreakingly tragic. Sinclair, true to form, exaggerates the class struggle, or rather, he collects all the most disgraceful, brutal, reprehensible acts ever perpetrated against the labor movement and condenses them into one fictional location dubbed American City. By telling the story from Peter's point of view, Sinclair elucidates the misguided mindset that allows "patriotic" Americans to see such actions as justified. One can see parallels between the jingoism of the World War I era, as depicted by Sinclair, and the Cold War paranoia of the Reagan Era, the xenophobia that followed 9/11, or the police brutality against the Occupy Wall Street movement. Times of crisis often create an opportunity for civil liberties to be trampled upon. In this book, Sinclair doesn't push Socialism so much as he merely pleads for an end to such draconian tactics in favor of a fair, non-violent playing field for the clash of ideologies.
The most common criticism against Sinclair's work is that his fiction is essentially propaganda, as if that were to negate its literary value. Propaganda and literature are not mutually exclusive. Sinclair is like the liberal equivalent of Ayn Rand. Though both are great storytellers, to them a novel's not just a novel, it's a means of changing the world. Such conviction is admirable, even if you don't buy wholeheartedly into the message they're selling. After all, if a novel's not preaching something, what's the point? If nothing else, 100% will open your eyes to a new perspective on American history that you never got from your high school textbooks.