Hal & Anne Draper

Squatter’s Rights for Socialists

(10 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 19, 10 May 1948, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Editor:

We’ve got an apple to peel with Comrade Barton. His article in the May Day issue, linking the development of California and the development of Marxism since 1848 [1] was very interesting and well done, BUT ... we ask indignantly: how come he omits the most important episode in California history linking the two? In Russia they shoot people for less.

Barton’s counter-revolutionary omission is the story of the Marxist Sequoia Trees, appropriately known also as redwoods. Everybody knows that in the Giant Forest of the Sequoia National Park stands the General Sherman Tree, the oldest and largest living thing in the world, 4,000 years old and over 100 feet around. But does Barton know that its original name was the Karl Marx Tree? Thereby hangs a tale.

In the 1880’s a group of members of Marx’s First International came to America and settled in this region, forming the Kaweah Cooperative Commonwealth Colony; they built a sawmill for fir and pine lumber and, unlike the capitalist lumber interests, vowed never to cut the big trees. They named the biggest for Marx and the other giants after heroes of the Paris Commune and American socialism. These were the first names these trees were given.

Counter-revolution reared its ugly head, the government raised a howl, and in 1890 the Great White Father in Washington declared the region a national park in order to get them out. That’s how the famous Sequoia National Park came into being. Troops were sent in to expel the First Internationalists’ colony, and the volume on California in the American Guide Series says:

“The colonists retreated with what grace they could muster, but their vocabulary was adopted by their neighbors ... The local papers blossomed with phrases like ‘Cossack Terrorism’ and the soldiers were booed in the streets and shot at from abuscades in the forests.”

These White interventionists dug up a rat named Wolverton who swore he had discovered the Karl Marx Tree several years before, and on the strength of this claim the name was changed to General Sherman. Obviously, comrades, the trend to militarization was visible even then.

The California Chamber of Commerce – which in most other respects is the soul of truthfulness, as everybody knows – conceals this skeleton in the closet (the arboreal revolution in California). The last time we were there, we asked the park ranger at Colony Mill who the original founders were; he said he didn’t know – uh huh. A likely story, in view of the fact that these same rangers are well known to be walking encyclopedias on everything from sidehill-winders to wampuses.

The moral of the story, of course, is that all California socialists are duty-bound to raise the transitional slogan: Give the redwoods back to the reds! Down with General Sherman! Tree cheers tor Karl Marx!


Hal and Anne


Note by MIA

1. In the printed edition “1948” – but from the context this is obviously a misprint.

Last updated on 1 March 2018