The Socialists of the Prairies

In March 2017, I reviewed Yale Strom’s documentary on Eugene V. Debs for CounterPunch, a work that looked at Red states when they were really Red. I wrote: “Indeed, the IWW and the SP reached the most oppressed members of the working class (fruit pickers, longshoremen, miners, lumberjacks) in the boondocks. Oklahoma, a state most liberals would consider particularly retrograde, was fertile territory for the radical left at the turn of the 20th century.” For those who missed Yale’s documentary at the festival last year or at its brief theater run in April of this year, the good news is that it is available now from iTunes.

And equally good news is the arrival of the Prairie Trilogy at the Metrograph Theater on Friday, July 27th. The trilogy consists of three documentaries made in 1978 by John Hanson and Rob Nilsson about the radical movement in North Dakota during the heyday of the IWW, the Socialist Party, and the Nonpartisan League (NPL). Since the radical movement in North Dakota in the early 1900s was largely made up of homesteaders, the focus is on the Nonpartisan League, a farmer’s movement motivated by the same grievances that fueled the Populist Party in the south.

Hanson and Nilsson also made a narrative film titled “Northern Lights” around the same time that depicts the formation of the NPL. It received the Caméra d’Or prize at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival for best first feature film and is probably worth tracking down based on the stunning…

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