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Guy Lockwood: a Socialist in Southwest Michigan.

As 1912 dawned, the specter of a growing force loomed over the American political scene, The Socialist Party of America had emerged from a jumble of leftist parties in the first years of the 20th century as the largest and most viable. It had elected candidates in a host of municipal elections throughout the nation. Its presidential candidate, Eugene V Debs of Indiana, had even captured nearly six percent of the national popular vote. More gains seemed assured.

Amid this atmosphere, Kalamazooans went to the polls on April 1,1912 to elect five city aldermen. When votes for the seats were tallied, the Socialist Party had captured two. One would belong to Guy Lockwood.

The rise of socialism was a response to the growth of great industrial concerns and to harsh labor conditions in their plants and mills in the mid-19th century. Although socialism first developed in Europe, it soon established roots in America. While some American socialists were homegrown, many emigrated from Europe, often to manufacturing centers in the United States. Large numbers came from Germany, expelled by Chancellor Otto Bismarck's anti-socialist laws. Eastern European Jews as well as Finns and other Scandinavians also brought radicalism to America.

Guy Lockwood came of age during the period of the rise of American socialism. He was born in Minnesota in 1870 and is thought to have embraced the philosophy around 1895.

The dawn of the 20th century found Lockwood employed as an artist and writer by J.A. Wayland, publisher of the Appeal to Reason, a socialist newspaper in Girard, Kansas. The Appeal was for a short time a major force in the radical press, with contributors that included Helen Keller, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and Mother Jones.

Lockwood had a falling out with Wayland in 1904, and was eventually hired to teach at an art school in Kalamazoo. Initially, he seems to have gotten along well with his new employer, who praised his work and prepared a brochure billing him as "Professor Lockwood" to prospective students. Soon, however, he demanded a $5 a week raise and threatened to take his services elsewhere if his demand was not met. The school called his bluff, and Lockwood found himself once again out of work.

Lockwood responded by setting up his own art school in the West Michigan city. The academy was sufficiently prosperous that a 1909 book titled "Labadie's Souvenir of Picturesque Kalamazoo" included a photograph of the owner at the head of a classroom filled with diligently sketching students. Meanwhile, the artist was also becoming known as a socialist. In September 1906, while campaigning unsuccessfully as a Socialist Party candidate for sheriff, he was arrested for disrupting traffic with a political rally at the corner of Rose and Main streets in downtown Kalamazoo.

A Scribe for Socialism

Lockwood's earliest extant writings in the city date from about 1911. The first, a pamphlet called "The Prophet and the Ass," promised to be "a journal of broad thinking and right living." Soon, he changed his publication's name to "The Billy Goat."

J.A. Wayland, Lockwood's boss at the Appeal, had included in his paper homespun commentaries on the evils and failures of capitalism, which he called his "one-hoss" philosophy Lockwood's Billy Goat seems to have been a conscious imitation. On its masthead, he asserted that the Billy Goat "Butts in Every Place--Raises A Stink Wherever It Goes... . Headquarters in KALAMAZOO, MICH.--Hindquarters all over The Country"

As the principal writer for the Billy Goat publications, Lockwood sometimes adopted a folksy style:

"Now you wouldn't think to look at 'im, but the Billy Goat is of an artistic sort of mind--sort 'a leans toward the aesthetic--whatever that I means, it's a term I heard once, and often repeat it because it seems to lend dignity to my otherwise blunt way of saying things."

Lockwood's pamphlets--other titles included "The Priest and The Billy Goat," "The Soldier and The Billy Goat," "The Story of the Giants and Their Tools," "Pa and Young America," and "Unity"--attacked capitalism. All were illustrated with cartoons drawn either by Lockwood or by one of his art students. The graphics often depicted capitalists as overweight, middle-aged men wearing top hats and spats and smoking cigars. Laborers were shabbily dressed, somewhat befuddled and beaten down by life. Occasionally, illustrations portrayed Lockwood himself, with a droopy moustache, a receding hairline, and a genial smile.

Many socialists maintained an antipathy toward Catholicism, and Lockwood seems to have followed suit. In 1911, he engaged in a public dispute with Father John Vismara of Saint Augustine church in Kalamazoo. On August 1 of that year, the Kalamazoo Gazette carried an article titled "Why Catholic Church Is Opposed to Socialism," reporting on a sermon by Vismara. For the next two days, the Gazette ran a response from Lockwood.

He disputed the priest's claim that socialism denied the right to own personal property by declaring that it denied only the right to own property which was "essentially PUBLIC in its nature." This was correct as far as it went, though the Socialist Party's 1912 platform broadly defined such property to include railroads, telegraphs, shipping lines, grain elevators and stockyards, mines, quarries, oil wells, forests, and the entire banking system. Lockwood also disputed Vismara's claim that socialism intended to do away with all "supernatural religion" and was "essentially directed against the church." Religion was a private matter, Lockwood argued, out of the purview of political parties.

In "The Priest and the Billy Goat" (undated but likely published around 1913), Lockwood revisited the topic of the church--this time in relation to the Boy Scouts, then a relatively new organization established in Britain and endorsed by the Catholic hierarchy in America. He repeated his objection to the church weighing in on governmental matters, writing that "when the church enters into the domain of economics and politics, it steps out of its sphere of right action and becomes a danger to the idea of free government." The Boy Scouts, he insisted, were intended merely to furnish "food for cannon" for the armies of the capitalist empires.

Seeking a Seat

Lockwood's writings were intended to educate political novices and to encourage unity within the ranks of the socialist movement. That movement had been plagued by factionalism for decades. In an undated magazine titled "Unity," Lockwood declared:

"I tell you comrades, we don't differ much right now on the ESSENTIALS--it is the fool non-essentials that we are quarreling about, and it's about time we quit our foolishness and realized that the great working-class movement can only sweep to victory through a UNITED EFFORT ON GREAT FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES."

In addition to his writings, Guy Lockwood was active in Socialist Party affairs on multiple levels. After being selected as a delegate to the party's 1912 national convention, he also secured the party's nomination for the position of alderman from Kalamazoo's First Ward. The ward, on the northeast side of town, was situated in a blue-collar neighborhood.

Viewed solely from an ethnic perspective, socialism would not have found much of a base in Kalamazoo. The city at the time was home to significant numbers of Irish and Dutch immigrants and a small African-American community. None of these typically generated many socialist adherents. It was an industrial town, though, and socialism likely resonated with some of its laborer-citizens during this fractious period of American history.

The two Kalamazoo daily newspapers, the Republican-leaning Telegraph-Press and the pro-Democratic Gazette, largely focused on the candidates of their respective parties and ignored third-party possibilities. Nevertheless, when the votes were counted, Lockwood had been elected. The day following the election, the Gazette laconically noted:

"The result of the election showed a complete route [sic] of the G.O.P. so far as its candidate for mayor was concerned.... A surprise came to both Democrats and Republicans in the election of two aldermen by the socialists. The successful candidates of that party being in the First ward, where Guy H. Lockwood carried the day, and in the Fifth ward, where Byron F. Van Blarcom was also successful."

The People's Advocate

While on the council, Lockwood agitated for the creation of more public parks--to provide recreational spaces for all--as well as the development of a farmers' market that would cut out the middle man and enable growers to sell produce directly to consumers.

Another matter on which Lockwood took a position to benefit Kalamazoo's working class was a petition he submitted to permit theaters to open on Sundays. Most laborers worked six days a week, leaving only Sundays for leisure. Lockwood and W.T. Currie, a 1912 Socialist Party candidate for mayor, spoke in favor of the petition. It failed by a 7-3 vote.

In 1913, the Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, perhaps with tongue in cheek, reported that Lockwood, the "Boy Orator of the Arcadia," had urged that all city council proceedings be printed in full in the local newspapers.

Supporting Strikers

Lockwood remained active outside city government. In 1912, the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) struck Kalamazoo Corset, a large factory within walking distance of the alderman's ward. He visited strikers outside that plant and, when a contempt citation was brought against the workers, he declared, "Damn [the] courts" and "damn such laws." Despite Lockwood's oratory and the direct involvement of the ILGWU's national office, the strike failed.

After one term on Kalamazoo's council, Guy Lockwood turned his attention toward seeking a state office. (See sidebar.)

In the years following World War I, he contributed to a short-lived Kalamazoo paper named The People. He also claimed to have authored more than 10,000 poems (including 4,500-plus sonnets) and to have rewritten Shakespeare's comedies, Dante's "Inferno," and a number of classical myths in a working-class idiom. His death was recorded in 1947.

In his adopted hometown, Guy Lockwood is little remembered today. Though his brief term on the city council left no visible imprint upon Kalamazoo, his writings shed light on a tempestuous time in both the city and the country's history.


Guy Lockwood had a lengthy involvement with socialist politics. He claimed to have been present at the convention at which the Socialist Party was created, probably the Chicago 1 898 gathering. He was also a delegate from Michigan to Socialist Party national conventions in Chicago in 1908 and Indianapolis in 1912. Lockwood served as state secretary and "organizer" for the Michigan Socialist Party before his successful 1912 run for the Kalamazoo City Council. He later ran for the Michigan House of Representatives (twice), the state senate, and the governorship--all under the Socialist Party banner and all unsuccessfully. After having voted for the Prohibition Party early in his life, he asserted that he voted a straight Socialist ticket in every subsequent election except for 1936, when he cast a vote for Franklin Roosevelt whom he asserted was the only candidate capable of standing up to fascism.

William J. Braaksma is a native Kalamazooan and currently lives in Portage. He holds degrees from Calvin College and Western Michigan University.
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Author:Braaksma, William J.
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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