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Farrell Dobbs

SWP Presidential Tour

Building the Party in Montana

(24 August 1948)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 12 No. 36, 6 September 1948, p. 4.
Transcription & Mark-up: Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

PLENTYWOOD, Mont., Aug. 24 — Like coffee in Brazil, there’s an awful lot of wheat here in eastern Montana. Harvest time has come, drawing most every able-bodied man into the fields. But not nearly so many men as there used to be.

Horse-drawn binders, bundle racks, shocking crews, spike pitchers, and the old-fashioned separator are almost extinct. They have given way to the combine, tractor, truck and jeep.

Technological development in agriculture, as in industry, has sharply reduced the need for labor power and speeded the growth of monopoly control over the land.

Herein lies the primary cause of the large population shift from the farm to the city reflected in the latest reports of the government census bureau.

Statistics can reveal trends well enough, but they cannot convey an understanding of the human side of things. To get that picture you must travel across hundreds of miles of wheat country as I have just done.

Abandoned Homes

You will see a host of abandoned homesteads, each telling a mute tale of pioneering courage, grim struggle for existence and final defeat at the hands of predatory monopoly capitalism.

Although homesteads are abandoned, the land is not. Amber fields of grain reach right up to the threshold of what was once the home of a toiling farmer, who dreamed of making a good life for his family.

The homesteader is gone now, and the grain is no longer his. It belongs instead to a bank, insurance company or monopoly farm corporation. It is in the hands of absentee owners who cruise through cool waters in luxurious yachts while underpaid laborers glean the harvest under the hot Montana sun.

What about the small farmers who have managed to hang on? The yield of grain is quite good this year. They appear on the surface to be enjoying a bit of prosperity. But let us look beneath the surface.

The small farmers still owe the banks for old seed loans they were unable to pay off in bad years. They must mechanize their farms if they hope to compete with the invading monopoly farm corporations.

The farmers must pay robber prices to the profiteering capitalist middlemen for goods and machinery produced by the workers, just as the workers must pay exorbitant prices to the profiteering capitalist middlemen- for food produced by the farmers.

Neither the farmers nor the workers have much . left after the capitalist parasites have taken their cut.

Depression Days

Deep-going apprehension of a devastating economic depression is widespread among the farmers. They are uneasy about the danger of are turn to those irrational times under capitalism when a farmer can’t buy a sack of milled flour although he lives in the midst of a sea of wheat. They still carry the memories and bear the scars of the starchy, low-calorie diet of the 1930’s.

Yet another fear is gnawing at the hearts of the farmers. Next week their sons must register for the conscript army of World War III. Like the mothers and fathers in the cities, they don’t want another slaughter of humanity. They want to live at peace with the world.

These are the people among whom the Party has sent Henry Schultz to work as the SWP campaign director for the Rocky Mountain region.

Comrade Schultz has traveled by auto through more than 8,000 miles of great plains and mountain country, inspiring the comrades to action, winning support from sympathizers in the campaign to put the SWP on the ballot.

He is with me here in Plentywood, having just come from Utah and Colorado where the petition work has been completed and final steps for filing are now being taken.

We have met with the Plentywood comrades to plan a September state convention to put the Party on the ballot in Montana. It is fitting that the action should be initiated here in Sheridan County.

Socialist Sheriff

Sheridan County was known 20 years ago as the “red county of America.” Its fame is the fame of Rodney Salisbury who fell before the grim reaper in 1938.

Comrade Salisbury was to my knowledge the only revolutionary sheriff ever to hold office in America. What a sheriff he was!

On the wall of his office hung enlarged portraits of Lenin and Trotsky. He kept the jailhouse door standing wide open. Inside was a huge poster which read, “Free Tom Mooney.” The jail served as a hotel for workers who needed a bed for the night.

When Comrade Salisbury ran for re-election, itinerant workers chalked the slogan, “Salisbury for Sheriff,” on box cars and railroad water tanks from Fargo to Seattle.

Rodney Salisbury homesteaded in Montana during the hard days. He knew from experience the life of an industrial worker. He was equally at home and equally well known among Butte copper miners and Plentywood wheat farmers. His name is today legendary among the old revolutionary militants of the West.

Seasoned Fighters

Here in Plentywood we have a group of seasoned working class fighters who received their training under Rodney Salisbury’s leadership.

They will take the initiative in the campaign to put the SWP ticket on the ballot so the wheat farmers of eastern Montana and the copper miners of western Montana can have a chance to vote for. Socialism.

I confidently predict that the election campaign will make the Socialist Workers Party widely known and will win us many more members and sympathizers throughout the entire Rocky Mountain region.

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