1919 & hysteria: who stole my underwear?

Workers of the world, you have nothing to lose but your daisy chains.

In 1889 a congress of socialists in France, inspired by Samuel Gompers in America, fixed May  1,as the day to pattern an international program of agitation. The congress’s decision passed unnoticed at he time; a time when it would be three years before children under sixteen were to be limited to a ten hour work day and seventeen years before a weekly rest day was decreed for all workers. An international campaign for an eight hour day perhaps sounded so utopian that it was scarcely alarming. However, the response by workers throughout the industrialized West exceeded expectations and the myth of working class internationalism began to look less mythical. The success of the May 1, manifestation  in 1890 naturally led to its renewal in 1891. This time the European bourgeoisie was worried, if not yet seriously frightened.

William Gropper. Youngston Strike. "The painting here demonstrates the violence that was caused by the strikes. The colors used here are very important because the artist’s is expressing the anger and suffering that the people sustained. The black background gives you that depressing look, however, the brightness of their faces was also very eye catching. The facial expressions shown here are also a depiction of the horror they went through. As you can see, the bodies on the ground, and the people throwing fists, and continuing to fight for what they believed. This is not the strike of 1937 but the strike of 1916. However, just a repeat of the strike from 21 years ago. The people in this painting give a survived look; they have lived through such hard times with the strikes and the "great depression". The painting portrays both the workers and their families that protested outside these factories during the strikes, however, after the protest broke out, many people were killed and several were injured." Read More:http://cwcs.ysu.edu/resources/cwcs-projects/culture/paintings-youngstown-strikes


May 1, 1891 unleashed some real revolutionary passion and simultaneously stimulated the repressive zeal of the police. Savage riots broke out in Rome and Florence. In Hungary, furious strikers derailed trains. In the suburbs of Paris workers marching behind a red flag clashed with police and a bloody gun fight ensued. At Fourmies, in the industrial north of France, there was no gunfight, merely a massacre: soldiers firing into an excited but nonviolent crowd of demonstrators killed ten persons including a young girl and an eleven year-old-boy.

Ravachol by Ocatave Mirbeau 1891:Who is it --throughout this endless procession of tortures which has been the history of the human race --who is it that sheds the blood, always the same, relentlessly, without any pause for the sake of mercy? Governments, religions, industries, forced labor camps, all of these are drenched in blood. The murder is weary of their laws, their prayers, and their progress. Again just recently, there were the frenzied butchers who turned Paris into a slaughterhouse as the Commune perished. There were pointless massacres, such as at Fourmies where the bodies of innocent women and little kids tried out the ballistic virtues of the Lebels machine gun for the first time. And there are always the mines in which fifty, a hundred, or five hundred poor devils are suffocated, swallowed in a single moment of horrible destruction, their charred bodies never to see daylight again. And there are also the horrid conquests of distant countries where happy races, unknown and peaceful, groan under the boot of that robber of continents, that filthy rapist of forest communities and virgin lands, the western slave trader. Each footstep taken in this society bristles with privileges, and is marked with a bloodstain; each turn of the government machinery grinds the tumbling, gasping flesh of the poor; and tears are running from everywhere in the impenetrable night of suffering. Facing these endless murders and continuous tortures, what's the meaning of society, this crumbling wall, this collapsing staircase? read more:http://www.spunk.org/texts/fiction/mirbeau/sp001687.html image:http://gowestyoungtex.blogspot.com/2009_05_01_archive.html

To the hard liners of the period, May 1, was much more than an annual demonstration of proletarian society and revolutionary spirit. It was a kind of magic weapon against the bourgeois establishment. In France insurrectionary Marxists like Jules Guesde believed that may 1 was ” the dynamite which will blow up capitalist society.” Energized by the Russian revolution of 1905, the huge May Day demonstrations that followed led a number of European bourgeois to suspect that Guesde was a prophet. As May 1 approached in 1906 both capitalists and capital fled Paris from the impending revolutionary terror. Trains were packed and though guarded by some fifty thousand policemen and troops, the bourgeois who remained in Paris stocked their apartments with food as if for a siege. One wealthy Parisian brought home a live cow and calf, doubtless to make sure that his bifteck and veal roast should not fail, though the heavens fall. Read More:http://www.jstor.org/pss/3787284

Digeo Rivera. ---Benjamin displayed two rival aspects in his utopian project. In his essay "On the Critique of Violence," Benjamin presents the positive utopian framework of his thought. Principally, he did not reject political violence, but analyzed its status and its foundations within the pessimistic context. Accordingly, the struggle between the divine and the mythical serves as the cornerstone for the political struggle and necessarily collides with the law. The law, instead of implementing justice, represents the violence which instituted the law in the first place. However, Benjamin implicitly abandoned the naive revolutionary demand for justice, which is satisfied simply by replacing the present laws with others conceived as being more just. Such a demand appears as a mythical, violent contention, opposing the divine one. ---Read More:http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html image:http://www.myspace.com/socialistalternativeinsea/photos/25483207#{%22ImageId%22%3A25483207}

With the triumphant Bolsheviks setting the tone in Moscow’s Red Square in 1919, the May Day fright in Europe looked even more apocalyptic with the added effect of millions of frshly demobilized veterans adrift. Once again, the exaggerated fears of the capitalist elite, interacting with the irrational hopes and well-founded resentments of the revolutionary masses, exploded into widespread violence. The discovery, just before May Day, of bombs addressed to prominent American radical foes set off a nationwide Red Scare.

In New York, “country boys gaping at the orators in Madison Square,” as F. Scott Fitgerald put it, were brutally ridden down by the police.—Of the so-called “May Day riots” described with such wonderful irony in that story. Fitzgerald said elsewhere that “we didn’t remember anything about the Bill of Rights until Mencken began plugging it, but we did know that such tyranny belonged in the jittery little countries of south Europe. If goose-livered business men had this effect on the government, then maybe we had gone to war for J. P. Morgan’s loans after all.” — Read More:http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/mizener-20s.html .In Paris plastered with tricolor posters announcing La Patrie est en Danger, more than fifty thousand police and soldiers battled with the largest, most aggressive workers demonstration the city had seen since the Commune of 1871. By nightfall two workers lay dead, and there were 428 injured among the law forces alone.

Mizener:This feeling made two courses possible, and they were both followed in the period. These young people with their optimistic belief that the good life was possible in this new and powerful America could either fight to make America what they thought it ought to be or they could—and it was easy in a wealthy period — retire into a small world of their own where they might live as they pleased and let the booboisie go its own benighted way. There were people like Walter Lippmann and Heywood Broun—and. in part, Mencken—who followed the first course, but the majority—“tired,” as Fitzgerald said, “of Great Causes” and alienated by the kind of small-town pettiness that could imagine Prohibition a Great Cause—followed the second course. Mencken is such a key figure for the period because he did both, and did so with a kind of gross and ebullient wit that makes him peculiarly appealing to Americans. Read More:http://fitz

ld.narod.ru/critics-eng/mizener-20s.html image:http://www.qwiki.com/q/#!/First_Red_Scare



Read More:http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~epf/2000/hernandez.html

Mizener:He liked to say ( Mencken), when asked to lecture to Women’s Clubs, “I am seldom out of Baltimore, and when I am, I am never out of my cups.” When he was confronted by that favorite witticism of the stupid, “If you do not like America why do you live in it?” he would say, “Why do men go to zoos?” This was the way intelligent young people, staring confidently out from the privacy of their little would, saw the absurd public and ordinary life of America….

Diego Rivera. Modern Industry. "In contrast, socialists used the opportunity to discredit the escalating hysteria. Although they described the riots much in the same manner as liberals, socialist periodicals again warned about the real purpose behind the disturbances. The suppression of the May Day celebrations told every dissident worker, radical or conservative, that he or she did not have the right to express his or her political views. Since most of the marching workers fought the "war for democracy," Eastman noted, the riots were dangerous, for such acts of violence undermined the principles of liberty and freedom, which they had fought for during the war---Read More:http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~epf/2000/hernandez.html image:http://www.marxists.org/subject/art/visual_arts/painting/exhibits/muralists.htm

…They did so with very considerable political courage and honesty. The fact that they were libertarians interested in private freedom rather than in public equality as liberals are, and that they hardly participated in organized political movements until the Sacco-Vanzeui case in 1927, ought not to blind us to their impertinent defiance of the ruling powers. Mencken was a master of such impertinence, calling the President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, “the heir of Washington. Lincoln, and Chester A. Arthur,” and describing the average well-behaved 101% Rotarian business man as someone “who goes to bed every night with an uneasy feeling that there is a burglar under the bed, and gets up every morning with a sickening fear that his underwear has been stolen.” …

….He talked the same way about issues. In the midst of the Palmer Red Raids, one of those periodic displays of childish hysteria about communism that we Americans regularly disgrace ourselves with, Mencken wrote,

Let a lone Red arise to annoy a barroom full of Michigan lumberjacks, and at once the fire-alarm sounds and the full military and naval power of the nation is summoned to put down the outrage. But how many Americans would the Reds convert to their rubbish, even supposing them free to spout it on every street corner? Probably not enough, all told, to make a day’s hunting for a regiment of militia. The American moron’s mind simply doesn’t run in that direction; he wants to keep his Ford even at the cost of losing the Bill of Rights.

There is a gift here, amounting almost to a kind of genius, for insulting all the conceivable sacred cows of American society at once. But behind Mencken’s delight in stirring up the animals there is a serious attitude that was common to the intelligent young people of his time. It is made up of a love of personal freedom and a respect for the rights of individuals, however wrong one may think them, of a dislike of doctrinaire egalitarianism and a respect for superior intelligence and talent, however annoying it may be, of a dislike of the complacent vulgarity of the majority and the politicians and advertisers who pander to and encourage it and a respect for intellectual dissatisfaction and the artists who represent it. Read More:http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/mizener-20s.html

Read More:http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/mayday/mayday.html

---This is what Fitzgerald’s imagination grasped about American life, that wealth is enormously important to it because as American society is constituted—just possibly as any society is constituted — only wealth provides the conditions that make the full realization of life’s promises possible, and that a preoccupation with material possessions is justified only when those possessions are used for the realization of the finest life an imagination of heightened sensitivity can conceive. This is almost exactly the inverse of George Orwell’s lifelong argument that the essential virtues are simply not possible in a life of grinding poverty, and there is perhaps something characteristic in the fact that Eton’s great secular moralist dwelt characteristically on the evils of poverty and Prince-ton’s on the promises of wealth. We Americans seem to suffer under a peculiar taboo about wealth. By some kind of conspiracy of silence, we work together to persuade ourselves that we think what we call “beautiful homes” — perhaps because they are so often only houses—clubs, schools, universities, cars, clothes, all of which, heaven knows, cost a great deal of money, are nice enough but not necessary to our virtue and happiness. Almost pathetically, tor a business civilization, we even cling to the pretense that wealth is not the foundation of social position. Fitzgerald’s, imagination was somehow freed from this taboo; he recognized clearly, and did not even know he was not supposed to say, that the rich are different from you and me—and luckier in the possibilities of their lives. Thus he was able to perceive without confusion all there was to know about the subtle and complex structure of sentiment and attitude we build up almost from birth around objects and activities that are conspicuously expensive.---Read More:http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/mizener-20s.html image:http://definitivetouch.com/features/scott-fitzgerald-american-icon/

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