We are reprinting here two reviews of Hard Crackers by Louis Proyect, columnist, film reviewer and blogger, one from last week and one from two years ago:
September 28, 2018
The latest issue of Hard Crackers is out, a magazine that is a continuation of “Race Traitor” and the embodiment of editor Noel Ignatiev’s sensibility. Around 25 years ago I bought a copy of his “How the Irish Became White” that now sits on my bookshelf next to Ted Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race” and David Roediger’s “The Wages of Whiteness”. When, to my surprise, I discovered that such books had been written, they became part of my permanent library since they resonated with the observation made by Leon Trotsky in 1933 during his exile in Prinkipo: “But today the white workers in relation to the Negroes are the oppressors, scoundrels, who persecute the black and the yellow, hold them in contempt and lynch them.”
This always struck me as more in tune with American realities than some of the workerist “Black and White, unite and fight” rhetoric that could be heard from those in the CPUSA’s orbit or from the ultra-sectarian Trotskyist groups that split from the SWP over its “adaptation” to Black nationalism. When I was a senior at Bard, I heard Malcolm X speak at a Militant Labor Forum and sympathized with his every word, even if at the time I was a conventional liberal on every other question.
“Hard Crackers” is not your typical leftist magazine (thank god). Instead of writing abstract treatises on racism, it is grounded in the everyday stories of ordinary Americans. On the back cover of each issue and in the “about” page on the magazine’s website, you can read about its orientation:
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.
The Mitchell referred to above was Joseph Mitchell who profiled different people in The New Yorker during the 40s and 50s. Although I’ve never read Mitchell, he seems to have something in common with Harvey Pekar, who when he wasn’t writing about his own mundane life in “American Splendor”, gravitated to the same sort of eccentrics Mitchell wrote about. Before I lost contact with Harvey before he became sick with the lymphoma that would kill him, he told me that his dream was to carry on in the tradition of Studs Terkel who was to Chicago that Mitchell was to New York and Harvey was to Cleveland. You might say that “Hard Crackers” covers the same beat but what makes it must-reading in this period is that it puts a spotlight on the red state boondocks whose long-suffering working class will be the first to struggle uncompromisingly just as they did when they voted for Eugene V. Debs a century or so ago.
In the latest issue, there are three stories that stand out as examples of such reporting. Richard Dixon reports from rural Oklahoma in “Winding Stair Mountain” during bow hunting season. Dixon writes, “You want to find individuals with eccentric bents or outlaws, come down here, this area spawning both Belle Starr and Pretty Boy Floyd”.
Next there is “Heartland Reunion” by Lowell May who describes himself as an Iowa farmhand and 60s radical. May grew up in Hampton, Iowa that is now 30 percent Latino and the epicenter of the debate over “illegal aliens”. Divisions over the new residents were the topic of a NY Times article dated August 12, 2017 but needless to say a home-town boy who is a member of the IWW brings something to the table that the NY Times can’t. He discovers that many of the immigrants are working in CAFO’s, the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations owned by agribusinesses that have devastated the Carolinas. For the immigrants, the foul-smelling and slave-like conditions are tolerable for the simple reason that the jobs pay enough to keep a family together.
Economic necessity also motivated many Crow Indians to vote for Trump in 2016 as reported by Cloee Cooper in “A Coal Miner’s Musings from Crow Nation”. Since the Crow reservation is a major source of coal and gas, the only way the Crows can enjoy a bare-minimum existence is by keeping the coal mines going. So they voted for Trump but were first to arrive at Standing Rock to provide material and spiritual aid to the native peoples protesting there.
Such contradictions exist throughout the USA today and Hard Crackers is indispensable for unraveling them. It cost $6 per issue and is worth far more. I try to keep with left print publications and will only say that as a subscriber to Jacobin and Hard Crackers from the very first issue, it is only the latter that I read from cover to cover each time it arrives. I strongly recommend taking out a sub to Hard Crackers since it will give you insights into the American malaise, for which only the revolutionary struggles of the marginal peoples chronicled in its pages is capable of ending.
July 26, 2016
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 email@example.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 really 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.
Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life