S.S. Utah – A Banned Book

Source: S.S. Utah, Hoover PS 3531.E2967 S1 1933

Cover of S.S. Utah

Cover of S.S. Utah

Staff Person: Ralph Scott


Mike Pell’s S.S. Utah is an example of the genre of proletarian fiction. Proletarian fiction written in the 1930s and dominated by middle-class authors, typically featured stories from the life of working class people who overcame the oppression of the mass-industrial world. Many of these works were banned because of their political viewpoints, with the S.S. Utah being no exception. Shortly after publication the book was banned in Australia and a number of other industrialized nations. The novel features a cargo ship bound for the Soviet Union with a cast of standard characters: a conservative union member, a Wobbly named “Slim” who converts the crew to communism, and veteran seafarers from Denmark to Alaska. Other more conservative reviewers felt that S.S. Utah was “not a literary work at all, but rather a fictionalized account of a naval mutiny produced as a manual for agitational work by the clandestine maritime apparatus of the Communist International.” Slim’s speeches, which seem out of date today, urge the “American worker…, together with the workers all over the world, [to] take the rifles that the boss-class shoves into our hands and use them, not against…fellow workers, but to set up a Soviet government of our own.” A number of these fictional works are patterned after the Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin. The Utah crew, like the sailors in the film, are essentially “bottom dogs” who revolt against their melancholy and boring world and march proudly into the socialist world of the future.

Pell, Mike. S.S. Utah, New York: International Publishers, 1933.

Hoover PS 3531.E2967 S1 1933