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February 5: Jack London Speaks at UND

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This week in 1906, students and faculty at the University of North Dakota crowded into the armory to listen to a lecture from famous author and war correspondent Jack London.

London was well known for his wildly popular novel “Call of the Wild.” His book “White Fang” would be published later that year. He had recently worked as a war correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War. He chafed under Japanese censorship rules. True to his heroic and muscular persona, he got arrested three times by Japanese authorities and created an international incident.

Yet, Jack London had not come to the University of North Dakota to talk about wolves, animal rights, or the Japanese threat to Anglo-Saxon supremacy. He had come to UND to talk about a recent trend in politics that was close to his heart – socialism. He was an ardent socialist.

After describing appalling working conditions for child labor, Jack London commented, “The difference between the cave man and the modern man [is that the modern man] has no hostile environment and has increased his producing power a thousand-fold. A few thousands today are able to produce as much as the millions produced comparatively few years ago. Even now our producing power is tremendously increased over that of three generations ago. But in spite of this progress, we find that millions of men are suffering for want of the common necessities.”

London claimed that socialists had “never been accused of going in for graft” and gave “their time and labor with no hope of any [special] reward.” He said, “... with nationalized industries there could be no bribe-taking or bribe-giving, because there would be no franchises to give.”

Among the students who listened that day were those who would found the Nonpartisan League less than a decade later. Although the question of whether the NPL was actually socialist may be debatable, it is quite likely that future governor and U. S. Senator “Wild Bill” Langer was in the audience.

1906 was a time when socialism was an ideology full of hope, a time when no major country had taken on socialism as its banner. So, it would have been easy for young men such as Jack London to imagine socialism favorably.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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