Big Bill Haywood

By: Brian Berger
February 4, 2014


On the morning of March 31, 1921, International Workers of the World General Secretary William “Big Bill” Haywood (1869–1928) ate breakfast in a Hoboken hotel, went to the Scandinavian-American Line’s 17th Street pier and, phony passport in hand, boarded the steamship Oscar II bound for Norway. Three weeks later, his journey was front-page news: “Bill Haywood jumps bail; is now in Russia.” It was unlike the labor radical to flee. In 1907, when he was Secretary-Treasurer of the Western Federation of Miners, attorney Clarence Darrow won Haywood’s acquittal in the 1905 bombing murder of strikebreaking ex-Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg. In December 1911, speaking at Cooper Union, Haywood announced “It is our purpose to overthrow the capitalist system by forcible means if necessary.” Major Wobbly-led strikes followed but capitalism furiously struck back: in April 1917, Congress declared war against Germany and two months later passed the Espionage Act, criminalizing much anti-war dissent. Come September, Heywood was indicted for sedition and when, finally, not even Clarence Darrow could spare him twenty years in Leavenworth, that’s when he fled. Bolshevist life looked good, at first. “I’m more enthusiastic every day,” Haywood told Lewis Gannett of The Liberator magazine. “I’ve been in Moscow two months and I haven’t heard of a death by starvation, of a murder, a raid on an illicit still, on a saloon, a gambling den, or a house of prostitution, and I haven’t seen a drunk or a prostitute. By God, boy, this is the most wonderful city in the world.”

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: George A. Romero, Ida Lupino.

READ MORE about members of the Anarcho-Symbolist Generation (1864–73).


Activism, HiLo Heroes