Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 26, 2016

Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life

Filed under: racism,workers — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 2.44.42 PM

If you like me appreciate good writing about what it means to be a working stiff, don’t waste any time. Send in a check to subscribe to Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life that is edited by Noel Ignatiev, a long-time revolutionary scholar, journal and activist. A check for how much, you are probably asking. Unlike many journals on the left, particularly the high-toned ones that are peer reviewed, the operating principles for Hard Crackers is—how shall we put it?—socialistic. As they say on the inside cover, “There is no set price for either single issues or subscriptions. Pay what you can. Bulk orders are particularly appreciated.”

Send checks and printed material to:
Hard Crackers, PO Box 28022, Philadelphia, PA 19131
Communications to noelignatiev@gmail.com

There is something decidedly old school about Hard Crackers. There is no website, a gesture that is consistent with the esthetic of the magazine that has the redolence of the factory floor, the billiards parlor, the bowling alley and the saloon whose juke box features Hank Williams and Hank Ballard.

The articles in the premiere issue of Hard Crackers were just the kind that I dote on. They remind me of Harvey Swados’s classic 1957 Bildungsroman “On the Line”, a collection of stories about being an auto worker in the Mahwah Ford Plant. Or Michael Yates’s In and Out of the Working Class. Or even the novels and short stories of Charles Bukowski, who while by no means being a Marxist, conveyed through his fiction the observation made by Karl Marx in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844: “…the worker feels himself only when he is not working; when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working.”

It is not just about the experiences of workers. It is also about what Ignatiev refers to in his Editor’s Introduction: “virtually every article in this issue of Hard Crackers deals directly or indirectly with race—no surprise since race remains a major concern in the U.S.”

As it happens, I cited Race Traitor, the journal that Hard Crackers grew out of, in my review of the new movie “Free State of Jones” since the main character Newton Knight was the ultimate race traitor, a Mississippi farmer who joined with the Union army to break the back of the Confederacy. I had never read Race Traitor but knew enough about Noel Ignatiev to understand that the connection was real. Indeed, so did he, as evidenced by what he wrote in the introduction:

Southern non-slaveholding whites played an important part in bringing about the downfall of the Confederacy, resisting the draft, deserting the army in large numbers and joining the general strike of white and black la-bor. The alliance between those who owned thousands of acres and hundreds of people and those who eked out a hardscrabble existence on the poorest land was unstable and could not endure.

The intersection between working class existence and racial oppression is at the heart of Ignatiev’s own contribution to the first edition of the magazine, a chronicle of one of his factory jobs as a drill press operator titled “Influence”. It deals with the experience he had with a genial old-timer named Mike who was just the kind of white worker who now supports Trump. Mike was a loyal employee all too ready to cooperate with speed-up at the small manufacturing plant, as well as to assert his role in the microcosm of American society on the shop floor:

As I was going over in my mind plans for getting the guy to slow down before he killed the rate on the job (including breaking his other eight fingers if necessary), one of the assemblers, a black man, turned the corner to head into the shop. Mike muttered something.

My mind elsewhere, I didn’t hear him clearly. “What did you say?” I asked.

“Are you from out of state or something?” said Mike. “I called him a nigger. Don’t they use that word where you come from?”

“Well, I don’t,” I said.

“Oh, I forgot, you’re at the University. They’re all liberals there,” he said with a laugh.

Before I could reply, the buzzer sounded, calling us to our devotions.

Now Mike, although brought up in a neighborhood world-famous for its resistance to school integration, lived on a street where the majority of residents were black. In response to questions from whites on the job, he simply explained that he liked living with black people. He got along well with most of the black workers. I wanted to learn more about how he thought. But first, I would have to straighten something out: no one was going to get away with calling me a University liberal. When mid-afternoon break came around, I walked over to Mike’s work station and said, “I want to ask you a question and I want you to think before you answer. I’ve spent twenty years in places like this. Do you real think that a couple of years of college makes that much different in what I am?”

I strongly urge you to take out a subscription to Hard Crackers. It is much closer to the grass roots than some of the other trendy Marxist journals that get fawned over in the NY Times and elsewhere for its millennial bloodlines. Since Ignatiev was born in 1940, he certainly couldn’t be mistaken for one.

If you need any other motivation to take out a sub, you might want to read the editor’s invitation that appeared in CounterPunch in February:

Attentiveness to daily lives is absolutely essential for those who would like to imagine how to act purposefully to change the world. During the 1940’s and 1950’s The New Yorker ran a series of profiles by Joseph Mitchell of characters around New York. Mitchell wrote, “The people in a number of the stories are of the kind that many writers have recently got in the habit of referring to as ‘the little people.’ I regard this phrase as patronizing and repulsive. There are no little people in this book. They are as big as you are, whoever you are.” The profiles are collected in Up in the Old Hotel. A reader will find there hardly a single “political” reference, yet there is no doubt that Mitchell and many of the people he wrote about would have happily adapted to life in an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

There is a need for a publication that focuses on people like the ones Mitchell profiled. It would not compete with publications that analyze developments in the capitalist system and document struggles against it, nor with groups formed on the basis of things their members oppose and things they advocate; still less would it substitute for participation in actual struggles. It would be guided by one principle: that in the ordinary people of this country (and the world) there resides the capacity to escape from the mess we are in, and a commitment to documenting and examining their strivings to do so.

The Internet has its place, but paper carries a permanency and weight no digital form can equal. Before John Garvey and I published the first issue of Race Traitor, we sent a prospectus to everyone we knew, asking those who supported it to send us ideas, articles and money. We were so unsure of the future that we didn’t ask for subscriptions. By the third issue we had attracted a new kind of audience and had become part of the public discourse on race. Thus we were able to publish sixteen issues over the next twelve years—without once having to ask readers for financial contributions. I think something similar is possible today.

Right the fuck on.

UPDATE: There is a website for Hard Crackers as indicated in Noel’s comment below.

3 Comments »

  1. Thanks. I hope you’re not too disappointed in us, but we did bow to pressure and set up a website. (Actually, a friend, unsolicited, offered to set one up for us and we agreed.) The main advantage is that people can order it on line, using paypal. They can also see some articles and comments, and make comments of their own.

    Comment by Noel Ignatiev — July 26, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

  2. Noel is not a revolutionary. He’s a well paid college professor who pushes the kind of racialist identity politics to his middle class graduate student audience that liberal Democrats use to divide and conquer the working class. He claims that race, not class, is the main division in society, and rejects the communist perspective that racism actually comes from class division and the development of capitalism in America. For Noel people like Corey Booker are oppressed victims and poor white workers from Virginia are enemies of liberty who need to re-education.

    Comment by Bruce Crafton — July 27, 2016 @ 6:01 pm

  3. “I want to ask you a question and I want you to think before you answer. I’ve spent twenty years in places like this. Do you real think that a couple of years of college makes that much different in what I am?” Says the man who left industrial work to become a professor. The many middle class radicals (including myself) who went into factory work would like to think that some manual labor would save them from their petty-bourgeois mind set. At best, twenty years of manual work might have made Ignatiev a little more humble about who he was, is and will be, but of course, no, that’s not what happened is it?

    Comment by Rick Atkinson — July 27, 2016 @ 7:47 pm


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