Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Hard Crackers

By Noel Ignatiev

American society is a time-bomb where the big explosion, whatever its form might be, is endlessly hinted at by the more or less horrifying “little” degradations of daily rape, murder, stupid violence of different varieties (perhaps most notably urban gang violence), episodic mass killings (with or without apparent motive), drug and alcohol-induced stupors, drug overdoses, callous health care and classroom teaching, apparently crazy people talking on subway platforms, and so forth.  We “see” these kinds of events in different ways—sometimes up close and personal, other times by reading the local newspapers or the online media or watching cable TV.

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 Mitchellof 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.

The publication will be called Hard Crackers, a song popular among Union soldiers during the Civil War, a takeoff on Stephen Foster’s song, “Hard Times” (the loveliest of Foster’s melodies). The Civil War and Reconstruction, viewed as a single event, was a revolution as great as any in human history, transforming property into strikers, soldiers, citizens, voters and legislators—a sequence unparalleled elsewhere. To get an idea of its radicalism, consider the following from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Has any statement ever captured more succinctly the meaning of revolution? The Lincoln who spoke those words was not the moderate who came to office four years earlier seeking to maintain the Union at almost any cost. Revolution is a process, not an event, and millions, including Lincoln, were changed by it. Although the leaders of that revolution undoubtedly made mistakes and did not realize all their hopes, neither did they disgrace with their own deeds the cause for which they had fought, or leave a stench in the nostrils of later generations, as did many of the revolutionaries of the next century. Hard Crackers identifies with that history, and especially with the experience “on the ground” of those who made it. It will carry a subtitle: “Chronicles of Everyday Life.”

Hard Crackers will be represented by the totality of what it publishes over time. Around 1972 the monthly put out by U.S. Steel Gary Works PR office published an article with a chirpy, upbeat tone about a woman whose husband and children had worked at the mill over a span of thirty years, often on different shifts and sometimes as many as six at a time. After describing a life of washing work clothes and packing lunches, she concluded, “I, too, feel I have worked for U.S. Steel all those years.” We reprinted the article in our little radical sheetwithout changing a word or inserting any editorial comment; there it meant, and was taken to mean, something different from what it meant in the company rag.

While I have overall responsibility for the project, Eula Biss, Geert Dhondt, John Garvey, Mike Morgan, James Murray, Curtis Price, and Jarrod Shanahan have agreed to serve on an advisory editorial board—white boys all, except for Eula, the most accomplished writer among us. We will begin with what we have, do the best we can, and ask only that we be judged by what we produce. If you agree, help.

Send checks and printed material to

Hard Crackers, PO Box 28022, Philadelphia PA 19131

Communications to [email protected]

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