Part 1, Chapter 03 : The Spirit of Pittsburgh

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Part 1, Chapter 03

Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.

3

THE SPIRIT OF PITTSBURGH

I

LIKE A GIGANTIC hive the twin cities jut out on the banks of the Ohio, heavily breathing the spirit of feverish activity, and permeating the atmosphere with the rage of life. Ceaselessly flow the streams of human ants, meeting and diverging, their paths crossing and recrossing, leaving in their trail a thousand winding passages, mounds of structure, peaked and domed. Their huge shadows overcast the yellow thread of gleaming river that curves and twists its painful way, now hugging the shore, now hiding in affright, and again timidly stretching its arms toward the wrathful monsters that belch fire and smoke into the midst of the giant hive. And over the whole is spread the gloom of thick fog, oppressive and dispiriting-the symbol of our existence, with all its darkness and cold.
      This is Pittsburgh, the heart of American industrialism, whose spirit molds the life of the great Nation. The spirit of Pittsburgh, the Iron City! Cold as steel, hard as iron, its products. These are the keynote of the great Republic, dominating all other chords, sacrificing harmony to noise, beauty to bulk. Its torch of liberty is a furnace fire, consuming, destroying, devastating: a country-wide furnace, in which the bones and marrow of the producers, their limbs and bodies, their health and blood, are cast into Bessemer steel, rolled into armor plate, and converted into engines of murder to be consecrated to Mammon by his high priests, the Carnegies, the Fricks.

The spirit of the Iron City characterizes the negotiations carried on between the Carnegie Company and the Homestead men. Henry Clay Frick, in absolute control of the firm, incarnates the spirit of the furnace, is the living emblem of his trade. The olive branch held out by the workers after their victory over the Pinkertons has been refused, The ultimatum issued by Frick is the last word of Cesar: the union of the steel-workers is to be crushed, completely and absolutely, even at the cost of shedding the blood of the last man in Homestead; the Company will deal only with individual workers, who must accept the terms offered, without question or discussion; he, Frick, will operate the mills with nonunion labor, even if it should require the combined military power of the State and the Union to carry the plan into execution. Millmen disobeying the order to return to work under the new schedule of reduced wages are to be discharged forthwith, and evicted from the Company houses.

II

In an obscure alley, in the town of Homestead, there stands a one-story frame house, looking old and forlorn. It is occupied by the widow Johnson and her four small children. Six months ago, the breaking of a crane buried her husband under two hundred tons of metal. When the body was carried into the house, the distracted woman refused to recognize in the mangled remains her big, strong "Jack." For weeks the neighborhood resounded with her frenzied cry, "My husband! Where's my husband?" But the loving care of kindhearted neighbors has now somewhat restored the poor woman's reason. Accompanied by her four little orphans, she recently gained admittance to Mr. Frick. On her knees she implored him not to drive her out of her home. Her poor husband was dead, she pleaded; she could not pay off the mortgage; the children were too young to work; she herself was hardly able to walk. Frick was very kind, she thought; he had promised to see what could be done. She would not listen to the neighbors urging her to sue the Company for damages. "The crane was rotten," her husband's friends informed her; "the government inspector had condemned it." But Mr. Frick was kind, and surely he knew best about the crane. Did he not say it was her poor husband's own carelessness?
      She feels very thankful to good Mr. Frick for extending the mortgage. She had lived in such mortal dread lest her own little home, where dear John had been such a kind husband to her, be taken away, and her children driven into the street. She must never forget to ask the Lord's blessing upon the good Mr. Frick. Every day she repeats to her neighbors the story of her visit to the great man; how kindly he received her, how simply he talked with her. "Just like us folks," the widow says.
      She is now telling the wonderful story to neighbor Mary, the hunchback, who, with undiminished interest, hears the recital for the twentieth time. It reflects such importance to know some one that had come in intimate contact with the Iron King; why, into his very presence! and even talked to the great magnate!
      "'Dear Mr. Frick," says I," the widow is narrating, "'dear Mr. Frick/ I says, 'look at my poor little angels-"'
      A knock on the door interrupts her. "Must be one-eyed Kate," the widow observes. "Come in! Come in!" she calls out, cheerfully. "Poor Kate!" she remarks with a sigh. "Her man's got the consumption. Won't last long, I fear."
      A tall, rough-looking man stands in the doorway. Behind him appear two others. Frightened, the widow rises from the chair. One of the children begins to cry, and runs to hide behind his mother.
      "Beg pard'n, ma'am," the tall man says. "Have no fear. We are Deputy Sheriffs. Read this." He produces an officiallooking paper. "Ordered to dispossess you. Very sorry, ma'am, but get ready. Quick, got a dozen more of-"
      There is a piercing scream. The Deputy Sheriff catches the limp body of the widow in his arms.

III

East End, the fashionable residence quarter of Pittsburgh, lies basking in the afternoon sun. The broad avenue looks cool and inviting: the stately trees touch their shadows across the carriage road, gently nodding their heads in mutual approval. A steady procession of equipages fills the avenue, the richly caparisoned horses and uniformed flunkies lending color and life to the scene. A cavalcade is passing me. The laughter of the ladies sounds joyous and care-free. Their happiness irritates me. I am thinking of Homestead. In mind I see the somber fence the fortifications and cannon; the piteous figure of the widow rises before me, the little children weeping, and again I hear the anguished cry of a broken heart, a shattered brain....
      And here all is joy and laughter. The gentlemen seem pleased; the ladies are happy. Why should they concern themselves with misery and want? The common folk are fit only to be their slaves, to feed and clothe them, build these beautiful palaces, and be content with the charitable crust. "Take what I give you," Frick commands. Why, here is his house! A luxurious place, with large garden, barns, and stable. That stable there,-it is more cheerful and habitable than the widow's home. Ah, life could be made livable, beautiful! Why should it not be? Why so much misery and strife? Sunshine, flowers, beautiful things are all around me. That is life! joy and peace.... No! There can be no peace with such as Frick and these parasites in carriages riding on our backs, and sucking the blood of the workers. Fricks, vampires, all of them-I almost shout aloud-they are all one class. All in a cabal against my class, the toilers, the producers. An impersonal conspiracy, perhaps; but a conspiracy nevertheless. And the fine ladies on horseback smile and laugh. What is the misery of the People to them? Probably they are laughing at me. Laugh! Laugh! You despise me. I am of the People, but you belong to the Fricks. Well, it may soon be our turn to laugh....

Returning to Pittsburgh in the evening, I learn that the conferences between the Carnegie Company and the Advisory Committee of the strikers have terminated in the final refusal of Frick to consider the demands of the millmen The last hope is gone! The master is determined to crush his rebellious slaves.

From : Anarchy Archives

Chronology

February 03, 2017 17:21:23 :
Part 1, Chapter 03 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

May 28, 2017 15:34:32 :
Part 1, Chapter 03 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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