David M. Struthers

 

On his book The World in a City: Multiethnic Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century Los Angeles

Cover Interview of December 11, 2019

The wide angle

The book opens its aperture to capture forms of interracial organizing and interaction that might otherwise be dismissed as fleeting and insignificant; the mobility of workers often made solidarities and coalitions short-lived. I use the anarchist notion of affinity to give form to the myriad cooperative actions that shaped the social practices of resistance at street corners and the plaza listening to speakers, rural job sites, jungle camps, boxcars, and in military action during the Mexican Revolution.

Many writers and scholars over time have used affinity to different ends, something that I briefly examine in the introduction. I found the most utility in centering the voluntary associations of anarchists and then extending that frame to looking at temporary sites of struggle. I’m not concerned with things like party membership or carrying a union card; I followed the action through the radical and labor networks that ran through Los Angeles. This approach maintains focus on the continuity of organizing practices across space and borders, while tracing changing solidarities, associations, and organizations that formed and dissolved through struggle, repression, and factionalism.

The book grew out of a suggestion from a friend to read Regeneración, the newspaper published by the Partido Liberal Mexicano, a group that was anarchist, despite having the word ‘liberal’ in its name. They told me about the paper’s Italian column and how interconnected Mexican and Italian radicals were in Los Angeles. I found that and more as my research carried on. The difficult part was understanding the significance of near-continuous interracial organizing through discontinuous organizations. For example, the Japanese Mexican Labor Association in Oxnard, probably the first multiracial union in California, lasted a season or two, yet during the height of its dramatic strike against beet growers it sent a Japanese organizer to Los Angeles to assist the still forming Unión Federal Mexicana in 1903. Neither union survived these initial organizing drives. Similarly, the IWW led a free speech fight in Fresno in autumn 1910, during which some of the participants joined the Mexican Revolution in Baja California in spring 1911. After defeat by federal forces loyal to Francsico Madero, the remnants of the combatants stayed in San Diego and fed into the IWW free speech fight there in 1912.

It took me time to figure out how to tell these stories and discover their interconnections. In the end I settled on using affinity to move interracial solidarity to the role of protagonist; its opponents were racism and nationalism as they remain today. I think it is fair to say that the greatest success of the period was the continuity of interracial organizing rather than the effectiveness of any single job action or moment of revolutionary struggle. I also believe that the inclusive organizing practices developing during this period are at least as significant as any single job action or moment of revolutionary struggle.