American society is a time-bomb where the impending 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 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.
Hard Crackers focuses on people like the ones Mitchell profiled. It does not seek to compete with publications that analyze world developments, nor with groups formed on the basis of things their members oppose and advocate; still less does it consider itself a substitute for political activity. It is 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.
“Hard Crackers” was a song popular among Union soldiers during the Civil War, a takeoff on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times.” 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 a single 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.