Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Socialists Vote on Esperanto

Uniĝu, Laboristoj de la Mondo!
In the early twentieth century, many movements that were, or aspired to be, international glommed onto the Esperanto movement. How could you be international without an international language? Further, there was the (never realized) expectation that in the near future, everyone would speak Esperanto. Why would you want to deprive these people of your important message?

World-wide, the socialist movement found uses for Esperanto, particularly in that it allowed workers with different native languages to easily communicate with each other. This was true especially in the United States where the labor movement comprised immigrants from around the world. A 1907 article on coal miners adopting Esperanto noted that the miners spoke a variety of languages.

Many of the early Esperantists were involved in socialism and anarchism. Arthur Baker, the founder of Amerika Esperantisto, translated Marx into Esperanto and eventually left his magazine to publish a socialist one. The Llano Colony in California, and later in Louisiana, had an active Esperanto club. And Charles Horatio Matchett, one of the founders of the Socialist Party and its Presidential candidate for 1896, was also one of the founders (in 1905) of the first Esperanto organization in the United States. It wasn’t just socialists though. Christian groups, particularly those involved in the temperance movement, also endorsed Esperanto. Sara Crafts (the wife of Wilbur Crafts, a clergyman) had recommended Esperanto to the Red Cross and the D.C. Schools.

So it shouldn’t have come to anyone’s surprise that the Socialist Party voted in 1909 to make Esperanto the official language of the party. The New York Sun reported on this on January 14, 1909.
Referendum on Making it the Party’s Official Language.
The national executive committee of the Socialist party, which has been hampered by the difficulty of meeting people of different nationalities, ordered yesterday a referendum vote of its members on the question of the expediency of making Esperanto the official Socialist language of the world. It is proposed by the committee that in the case the vote is in the affirmative the Socialists in the party be instructed to learn Esperanto so that an experiment may be made by making it the official language of the American delegates at the next international congress of the Socialists. The referendum vote is expected within two weeks.

Some of the Socialists here who have learned to speak Esperanto say that it is the easiest of all languages to learn. For that reason they say it would be an ideal universal language for Socialists.
It’s not clear from this article whether the referendum was being taken by the Socialist Party of the United States or some international group, or even (limiting to the United States), which Socialist Party, as in 1909, there were Socialist Labor Party of America and the Socialist Party of America. The Socialist Party of America was formed (says Wikipedia) from a faction of the Socialist Labor Party and the Social Democratic Party of America.

There’s an odd turn of phrase in the article: “the Socialists in the party.” Who else is in the Socialist party but socialists? Was there another group?

However, the attempt at getting the Socialists to unite under the green flag wasn’t going to be an easy one, if the views of the Socialist Labor Party in 1907 are any illustration. In an editorial in the July 10, 1907 Daily People, Daniel de Leon wrote:
Strange as it may seem, the schemes to establish an international lanaguage—Volapuk, Esperanto, or what not—by manufacture has found ardent response among Socialists. This is strange because better things should be expected from Socialist minds, accustomed as these presumably are to the thought of evolution. The bourgeois reformer, the An-Archist, and all such image society can be improved by schemes.
De Leon wrote that a Japanese educator, Baron Kikuchi, had championed English as the international language. De Leon favored Latin, “the most heroic language ever spoken.”

Update: The Washington Times figured it was a done deal. On January 15, 1909, they reported that
They're going to talk nothing but Esperanto at the next international socialist conference. Esperanto movement hasn't been doing very well of late, but really it didn't deserve this.
It seems that some didn't think socialism was good for Esperanto.
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