[Cross-posted from Hellraisers Journal at Daily Kos.]
This diary is dedicated to JayRaye, who has rediscovered so many Hellraisers, including Henry O. Morris, radical labor journalist, see, e.g., Hellraisers Journal: Tear-stained Women…Besieged the Bull Pens in Cripple Creek and Victor. JayRaye wrote me a message about Mr. Morris’s novel. The book is available as a free e-book here, except for missing page 17 and the corresponding illustration, which I will give you down below. She thought that as a socialist and a Christian, I might find Morris and his novel worthy of more detailed study. After I started reading it, I thought it would make a good diary, and JayRaye agreed. JayRaye loves it when her research leads to other research. Morris himself remains something of a mystery, as with many labor heroes. His reporting is an important part of the historical record. But it’s also time we pay attention to his fictional hellraising, which we could use more of if we are to get more of the non-fictional type. Our minds may yet be motivated by creative acts.
This is what the opposite of Atlas Shrugged looked like in the late 1890s:
The winter of 1898-’9 has passed and May day has come. …
Oh, Mr. Plutocrat, this first day of May has been a long time coming, but it has dawned at last–the day is here.
As people begin to throng the streets their eyes are greeted on every hand with a mystic symbol …
As the morning drags along the Associated Press bureau begins to receive messages asking if New York can explain the meaning of the sign. Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore are among the first to ask for information, their questions mingling with telephone calls from Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Harlem–all on the same subject.
As the day grows older queries came in rapid succession from Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, New Orleans and all the Southern cities. This announcement comes from San Francisco:
“This city flooded with a peculiar symbol chalked on the sidewalks and printed on billboards. Advices from all over the State say that every town and village is filled with them, every cross-road fence has one or more placards. What do they mean?”
To which New York replies:
“We do not know. New York is also covered with them.” …
[W]hen the grand council of the revolutionists conceived the idea of this symbol, as a means of notifying its members of the day and the hour of the beginning of the conquest, it was considered very improbable that any person outside the revolutionary order could translate the sign, and so far as literal translation went their judgment was correct. But, mingling with this heterogeneous mob of wildly excited people was one who, by a chance begotten of inspiration, solved it. True, only a portion of it, but that portion contained its primary meaning. This individual was not a learned judge, a lynx-eyed detective, nor an alert reporter; but a creature of less than ordinary intelligence–an old woman almost in her dotage. This chance interpreter came shuffling up, elbowing her way to the bulletin board which bore, together with the bulletins, the strange device. Mumbling and grumbling, she wiped her watery eyes with her soiled apron, peered long and earnestly at the inscription, then, turning to the gaping crowd, she burst out into wild shrieks of hysterical laughter:
“Ha! ha! ho! Hooray! The devil fiddles for his imps to dance. It’s sweet music when old Nick plays. Ha, ha! Oho! Hee, hee! Say yer prayers, ye wicked sinners–this means Revolution! Revolution, I say! D’ye hear me?” …
Morris, Henry O. Waiting for the Signal, Ch. XXVI. Chicago: The Schulte Publishing Co. (published 1898, copywright 1897).
Myths can be powerful stuff. During these latest dark days for the worker in the U.S., we logically need to recapture some of the earlier mythic force. But we need to do this mindfully.
The other side is wickedly but brilliantly using populist “outsider” and even anti-banker rhetoric to manipulate fearful “white” workers. They do so to energize their own selfish cause, including right wing GOTV, but also to divert a large segment of the masses from fighting for constructive deep economic change. Although we can debate how to define “the workers,” on some level the true outsiders are everyone who is not part of the 1%. By diverting attention from our commonality as workers, the plutocrats defeat solidarity.
Updating myths to grim facts on the ground may need to begin with revisiting key dreams large numbers of workers at one time carried in our hearts and minds, and which some still do. After all, we need to always remember that under capitalism, things have generally been hard times for the workers. Political power always has been more wishful thinking than achieved, even under FDR. All of these earlier myths were imperfect and even the best of our myths are in constant need of improvement. Some of the myths of the past were rough, embarrassing, unwise, or even partly wrong, but they were real too, because they fictionally responded, however imperfectly, to shared tangible material conditions, in a way that the other side can only dream. Real people are not perfect. Sometimes they share poorly in their desperation. Coping strategies are not pretty. It is hard when your family is hungry to be your brother or sister’s keeper, especially when they look differently. Solidarity knows no boundaries, yet it is difficult to rearrange much less overturn capitalist conditions in a single valley much less a nation state or the world. The plutocrats don’t want us to even try. Alas, sadly when we do try we often carry around prejudices that the universal “we” cannot tolerate, but which “we” must acknowledge in order to address the very real faults without losing the potential for solidarity. Continue reading