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Allen Ruff

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Historian and activist Allen Ruff received his Ph.D. in U.S. History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's written on the history of the American Left, local history and has published one novel. Schooled by decades of activist experience, his primary work now centers on opposition to U.S. interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. He currently hosts a public affairs radio program and is part of the staff collective at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative in Madison, WI.

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"We Called Each Other Comrade": Charles H. Kerr & Company, Radical Publishers
Author: Allen Ruff with a Foreword by Paul Buhle
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-426-7
Published July 2011
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 342 Pages
Subjects: U.S. History, Politics

This is the history of the most significant translator, publisher, and distributor of left-wing literature in the United States. Based in Chicago and still publishing, Charles H. Kerr & Company began in 1886 as a publisher of Unitarian tracts. The company's focus changed after its founder, the son of abolitionist activists, became a socialist at the turn of the century.

Tracing Kerr's political development and commitment to radical social change, "We Called Each Other Comrade" also tells the story of the difficulties of exercising the First Amendment in an often hostile business and political climate. A fascinating exploration in left-wing culture, this revealing chronicle of Charles H. Kerr and his revolutionary publishing company looks at the remarkable list of books, periodicals, and pamphlets that the firm produced and traces the strands of a rich tradition of dissent in America.


“'We Called Each Other Comrade' is a classic work in the history of American media and the American left. Allen Ruff has masterfully told this extraordinary story about a book publisher at the heart of our nation's most important struggles for social justice. This richly nuanced look at the Charles Kerr Company has stood the test of time and deserves your attention." —Robert W. McChesney, co-author, The Death and Life of American Journalism

"Arrestingly told and meticulously researched, this fine history of the world's oldest radical publisher uniquely brings to life the great characters, free speech fights, political struggles, and intellectual ferment of the home-grown revolutionary left in the United States." —David Roediger, University of Illinois, author of How Race Survived U.S. History

“Allen Ruff has written a valuable study of the Chicago publishing house that gave voice to the left wing of American socialism in the two decades before World War I. Guided by founder Charles Kerr's belief that "there could be no socialists without socialist books," the Kerr company used education and agitation in a struggle to transform American institutions and organize a cooperative commonwealth.... This highly readable and well-documented work is a must for labor historians, and would be particularly appropriate for labor history and labor and media classes.” —Labor Studies Journal

“Freelance historian Ruff tells the story of Chicago's Charles H. Kerr & Co. and its importance as the longest-running socialist publisher in the world. Ruff describes Kerr & Co.'s development and its founder's philosophical journey from Unitarianism through Populism to socialism and the revolutionary wing of the movement. Along the way he presents a rich view of turn-of-the-century American political history. This seemingly narrow corporate history sketches the development of labor unions, the formation of American socialism, and its factional infighting before World War I. We view the rise of Chicago and its publishing industry and look behind the scenes at seminal publications of American socialism. Ruff also includes biographical snapshots of the great figures of the Progressive era: Eugene V. Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Clarence Darrow, among others. Recommended for academic and public libraries with comprehensive collections in American history.” —Library Journal

"Occasionally a historian like Allen Ruff is able to discover a hidden diamond, clean off the accumulated dust of the ages and make it shine for all. That is what he did with the Charles Kerr Publishing House, quite one of the most remarkable cultural achievements, produced by organised workers anywhere in the English speaking world." —Phil Katz, Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers and Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, UK.

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What others are saying...

"We Called Each Other Comrade": A Review
By Stefan Christoff
Free City Radio
January 6th, 2015


"We Called Each Other Comrade is a great book to read within the context of contemporary activist discussions on the construction of radical institutions; parallel social, economic and political structures that can challenge dominant systems of power and injustice.

Both an exhaustive study and also including narrative elements, the book, published by PM Press, follows the establishment and nearly century long political trajectory of Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, a Chicago-based publishing house launched in 1886 by printing Unitarian tracts, evolving over decades into a publishing house voicing the radical ideas around the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), continuing to publish progressive books and materials well into the 20th century.

We Called Each Other Comrade is uniquely interesting book as it illustrates a fascinating example of a progressive project adjusting and changing honestly in concert with deepening and complex relationships with social movements..."

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"We Called Each Other Comrade": A Review
Jackson Steet Books on 7th
July 8th, 2011

Allen Ruff's "We Called Each Other Comrade": Charles H. Kerr & Company, Radical Publishers is social history at it's best. The subject of the book is Charles H. Kerr, who began publishing Unitarian tracts and books, starting in 1886, was a pioneer of books published in cheap editions and made accessible for the average man. Kerr (1860-1944) led a very interesting life, filled with ideas with many stops along the way. The books he published reflected an intellectual curiosity and showed his migration from Unitarianism, to Marxism, the Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, and finally to the Proletarian Party, a splinter group of the original Communist Party of America.

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