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Resistance, Acquiescence and My Friend J. Edgar Hoover

Posted on Dec 10, 2010

A statue of a Confederate soldier stands before the Lowndes County Courthouse in Columbus, Mississippi.

By Steve Fraser

People are alarmed and demoralized by the results of the midterm elections. They should be. In my case they happened just as I was preoccupied by two other strikingly different experiences. The first had to do with my speaking and writing about the tragic Triangle Waist Factory fire, the 100th anniversary of which will be commemorated this coming March. The second was a trip to Mississippi, a personal commemoration, so to speak, of my time there as a civil rights activist in the summer of 1964 and after.

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The election returns began dribbling in during my interminable flight back north from Jackson, Miss. Those three moments—1911, 1964, now—coming together like that compelled me to think about when and why people resist power, why they acquiesce, and why, sometimes, they may believe they are resisting when they are in truth acquiescing. Also, it all made me wonder about the tenacity and frailty of memory—my own, to be sure which is Swiss cheese-like, but the country’s cultural memory as well, which has displayed a tendency toward amnesia that is and always has been breathtaking.

Even in our United States of Amnesia, we remember the Triangle Fire, in which 146 young immigrant workers, most of them women, working in a garment factory, burned and jumped to their deaths on a March day in New York City in 1911. The shock waves from the catastrophe reverberated around the country. A hundred thousand people filed by the mortuary on “Misery Lane.” Four hundred thousand grieving, angry people marched behind a horse-drawn empty hearse in a solemn funeral procession. Laws were passed to try to prevent such things from happening again.

The Triangle Fire is a landmark moment in the prehistory of the New Deal of the 1930s, especially the legislation it inspired to civilize and democratize the workplace and rein in a savage capitalism. I refer specifically to the Wagner Act, legalizing the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining; the Social Security Act, to minimally protect the elderly against the ravages of the free market; and the Fair Labor Standards Act, establishing some roughly civilized floor for wages and a ceiling for what had been the endless hours of toil, and to end child labor. But the fire itself was not the reason these reforms (and others) were achieved. It was the reason the fire turned out to be such a horrid disaster that tells the tale. Many of the young women might have escaped their immolation, but the exit door on the floor where they were making shirtwaists (women’s blouses) was locked by the factory’s owners in part because they wanted to prevent union organizers from getting in.

Triangle became part of an extraordinary resistance movement against industrial autocracy. That movement lasted a century, from 1870 to 1970 or thereabouts. Just before and just after the Triangle factory burned, the garment workers of New York and dozens of other cities erupted in strikes and demonstrations, some citywide, some violent, some attacked by the police or private thugs, some led by socialists or anarchists or syndicalists, some lasting an hour, some for months. This sort of thing had been happening and would continue to happen for a long time in the coal mines, on the railroads, at steel mills and copper mines, in the cotton fields, on prairie wheat plantations, in lettuce fields and grape arbors, by the docks, on ships at sea, in turpentine swamps and hard timber forests, along telegraph and telephone lines, in cigar-making tenement sweatshops and textile mills both North and South, on horse-drawn trolley tracks and in subway tunnels—everywhere the capitalist production process planted itself. 


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Why shouldn’t these events have happened, one might ask. We all know how bad things were back in those days. This was industrial capitalism’s medieval age. At the time of the fire, 100 people died every single day in industrial accidents of one kind or another. America’s proletariat lived amid appalling squalor and poverty, worked without letup, sent kids off to the factory floor at pathetically tender ages, got sick or maimed or was killed at work, died young anyway or if old lived in penury, was treated like something inanimate or subhuman, was subject to a thousand petty tyrannies and insults and humiliations by bosses and the gauleiters of the shop floor, disappeared into the black box of the factory, a land apart from the land of the free, became Untermenschen in a place where the language of rights and liberties and democracy was written in a hieroglyphic no one in charge was eager to translate.

So of course this mass of the rightless and exploited rose up. But are things really that simple? Would you rebel? Weighed down by all this, exhausted, struggling just to keep yourself and your family alive, confronted at every turn by the coercions of the foreman, the boss, the police, the courts, sometimes even the Army, by the weight of public opinion that holds you in contempt and honors your tormentors, would you rise up? Would you risk your livelihood, not to mention life and limb? It is just as much a great mystery to ponder why the Grand Army of the Triangle, let’s call it, ever found the psychological and emotional strength, the organizational ingenuity, the social courage, to create itself and rebel as it is to ponder why for so very long people bent the knee.

One sign that the mystery remains unsolved is the anguishing predicament we find ourselves in today. I do not refer to the tea party—quite to the contrary! The tea party is, in my view, a genuine social movement of resistance, if a grotesque and dangerous one. More on that later.

Instead I allude to the remarkable and prolonged acquiescence to the rule of our financial and corporate elites by so many whose lives have been seriously damaged by the plutocracy’s self-regard, their delusions, their bankrupt ideas, their immorality, their felonies, their incompetence and the lethal misuse of their power. For a long generation and more the lives of ordinary working people and the social fabric of civilization have remorselessly deteriorated, indeed nearly crashed and burned just recently, and continues downhill. The sweatshop, once considered an ugly aberration, has been the norm for millions of workers for some time now, and is fast becoming the new normal for much of the rest of the economy. What rights the Grand Army of the Triangle once won are lost or are being lost. The downward arc of everyday life stares most people in the face. Imperial bloodletting and cynical lying about why it’s just and necessary eat away at the veneer of our civilization. The presumptuousness of the country’s wealthy and empowered elites and their immunity from hard times and hard knocks are astonishing and repellent. Yet not a peep beyond “change we can believe in” and “yes we can,” inanities that would have embarrassed our ancestors. Why? If it is so self-evident that the Triangle Army was compelled to say “enough is enough” back then and act on that resolve, what has happened now? What happened then? What did we forget?

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By arnold ziffel, December 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Iraq had the largest group of Christians in the Arab world…...until we invaded.  NOw there are very few left.  They were forced out first, and then the Shiites and Suni’s went at it.  But first they cleared out the Christian zones.  Why don’t we hear about that from the Christian Right???

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By Gulam, December 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm Link to this comment

Yes eir, I will go read that long article. In the opening lines it mentions Leibnitz,
and I already am aware that he thought time and space relative, so that does look
promising. As I recall his mother was tried as a witch.

Have a look at this site:

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By Inherit The Wind, December 15, 2010 at 3:37 pm Link to this comment a re-vamped and re-packaged Lyndon LaRouche is the new sage…is this before or after we endorse his Mars mission as the magic cure-all for all our woes?

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By eir, December 15, 2010 at 7:14 am Link to this comment

Yes, Gulam, war is an evil, usually engineered at the sorrowful expense of the many for the immense material benefit of the few.

Here’s Hollywood screen writer, Dalton Trumbo, who had to be locked up in the 1950s for words like these from “Johnny Got his Gun” that he had dared to write down for others to read.  It was best for the kids to stick to The Mouseketeer Club and to learn how to “cooperate” like “Uncle Walt” himself. 

“....That was it he had it he understood it now he had told them his secret and in denying him they had told him theirs.

He was the future he was a perfect picture of the future and they were afraid to let anyone see what the future was like. Already they were looking ahead they were figuring the future and somewhere in the future they saw war. To fight that war they would need men and if men saw the future they wouldn’t fight. So they were masking the future they were keeping the future a soft quiet deadly secret. They knew that if all the little people all the little guys saw the future they would begin to ask questions. They would ask questions and they would find answers and they would say to the guys who wanted them to fight they would say you lying thieving sons-of-bitches we won’t fight we won’t be dead we will live we are the world we are the future and we will not let you butcher us no matter what you say no matter what speeches you make no matter what slogans you write. Remember it well we we we are the world we are what makes it go round we make bread and cloth and guns we are the hub of the wheel and the spokes and the wheel itself without us you would be hungry naked worms and we will not die. We are immortal we are the sources of life we are the lowly despicable ugly people we are the great wonderful beautiful people of the world and we are sick of it we are utterly weary we are done with it forever and ever because we are the living and we will not be destroyed.”

I would encourage you to read more at (larouche pac) where the much despised “Enlightenment” and its tools like Napoleon are examined and exposed in essays like this.

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By Gulam, December 14, 2010 at 2:40 pm Link to this comment

Yes Eir, I agree completely with most of what you say about the British Empire
as the real creator of the problem that Americans paid for. My point was that
wars of “liberation” create human hardship and pain even more than the evils
they claim to create. Yes, slavery was an evil that tainted everyone involved, but  
war was not a useful or necessary way to approach that problem. Slavery was
but an excuse for war profits, career advancement, and pillage, the real reasons
for most wars. The Americans used slavery as an excuse for a massive assault
on and domination of one people by another, and it set the precedent for all
that was to follow. They turned Civil War Veterans like Custer loose on the
tribes of the Great Plains, and they took by force from Mexico, with the military
machine that they had built during the Civil War, the states of California, New
Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and part of Colorado. Later this growing
military machine faked an attack on an American ship in Havana, using that as
an excuse to take over Spain’s remaining colonies; they fought resistance forces
in the Philippines for decades. The pattern goes on and on.

Americans claim to be liberating Afghan women, but as soon as the Americans
occupied Kabul brothels and bars to service the foreign “servicemen” began to
open in Kabul. The press rarely mentions this, but it definitely is a factor in the
minds of the Afghans. When AIDS stalks Asia, bringing in hookers from other
countries into Afghanistan is a war crime. Prostitution was something that one
never encountered anywhere in Afghanistan under the King, Daud, or the
Taliban, and it is something no leaders with any sensitivity to the Muslim
country they were trying to rule would tolerate for minute if they intended to
succeed, but succeeding is not really the point is it? With modern war it is not
whether you win or lose, it’s that you play the game; the contracts get paid in
any case.

Does America have serious problems now, because Vietnam has a Communist
government? The reasons given for wars are usually a fraud, and this pushing
of the Afghan war as a a fight for the freedom of women is the same kind of
twisted propaganda as justifying a war that killed hundreds of thousands and
devastated a wide area, because it liberated black Americans. The end of the
slave trade was a victory for Protestant Christianity, not for Enlightenment
values. Through the nineteenth century Enlightenment science was more
involved in justifying slavery and racism than in opposing it. The racism of the
Nazis and the Zionists grew from Enlightenment roots not religious ones. The
Austrian man who sequestered his own daughter and had children with her
claimed to be protecting her from wild teenage behaviour and drugs. Monsters
usually have justifications for their actions.

It goes on and on once you set the pattern of using Enlightenment ideals to
justify invading other nations. What business do Americans have in making
themselves the moral judge over all the world? Yes, slavery was evil, but that
was the South’s problem, and what goes on in Afghanistan should be the
concern of the Afghans alone.  Outside of America the vast majority of people
do not believe the official accounts of the events of 11 September 2001, but
even the official accounts agree that there were no Afghans involved. It is highly
improbable that there was anything to gain by going to Afghanistan to plan
such a thing. So, the only reason left for the occupation of Afghanistan is the
fraudulent Napoleonic and Lincolnesque claim the they went to war to extend
the domain of human freedom. No, they always go to war for power and
money; they just use the Enlightenment jargon to justify it.

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By Anarcissie, December 14, 2010 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

Ha, ha, reynolds.  Well put.

This is an excellent article, but it seemed like there ought to be more to it at the end.

But my most profound respect to anyone who had the nerve to go to Mississippi and challenge the race system in the early 1960s.  I was there and it was pretty hair-raising even for a non-activist.

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By reynolds, December 14, 2010 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

jefferson spoke most eloquently of crimes he did not
hesitate to commit.

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By eir, December 14, 2010 at 8:04 am Link to this comment


Slavery was imposed upon the colonies by the British Empire as a means of control.  It followed their basic tenet of governance—“divide and conquer.”  Thomas Jefferson recognized this in his original draft of the Declaration of Independece where he accuses king George III…

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people for whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of another.”

With the end of the American Revolution and the War of 1812, unsuccessfully waged open warfare of the British Empire against America were aborted.  As Lyndon LaRouche has noted….

“No longer could any foreign empire conquer, or divide us by force; we could be destroyed only by the corruption which was supplied to us in great abundance from, chiefly, our English-speaking, imperial adversaries in Europe. That corruption from Europe, especially from the British Empire, was, therefore, promptly and persistently supplied.”

“The fundamental turning point in U.S. history concerning restoration of the American System and defeating the British plan to balkanize and forever destroy the United States through its support of the Confederacy, centered on the issues of how to finance the government, and the civil war that was facing Lincoln in December 1861. Lincoln’s policy was outlined in his Dec. 3 “Annual Address to Congress.”

The significance of Lincoln’s Dec. 3, 1861 speech to Congress cannot be overestimated—as the British were well aware. Lincoln had the opportunity as President to sign into law the economic policy he had worked for through the better part of his political life.”

Lincoln’s plan was to free the South by its economic development as much as to free the slave from a tyranny supported by a few, essentially Tory Americans, who operated upon a British Imperial “free trade” system, that was essentially modeled upon Rome and the values of Empire.

Though the cause of American Union prevailed (with much loss of life and sorrow) and though “Great Britain did not achieve the goal of an independent confederacy, but it did realize substantial Civil War benefits from the devastation of the American merchant marine, directly, and indirectly, by Confederate privateers and cruisers.  ‘This destruction was done without England lifting her hand, except in a benediction of the Confederacy for doing her work so thoroughly.’”

That so many suffered and died under this evil is best blamed on the real culprit, The Empire whose game Thomas Jefferson saw through and named.

And yes, the Empire lives on today and its “free trade” values persist both in the North and the South, and across the globe to the detriment of human potential.

It operates chiefly from The City of London and Wall Street.  It continues to divide and conquer and to amass Midas’ wealth for the very few while supporting slavery and promoting human degradation among the many, the chattel.  We, the people.

It is time to once again declare our independence.

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By Inherit The Wind, December 14, 2010 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

You can’t argue with someone determined to defend the treason of the South in 1861 all for the right to legally keep other human beings in bondage.  There was an interesting historical article in the NYT about a SC Senator who initially opposed secession.  He owned 300 slaves. He was known to beat any one nearly to death for the slightest transgression. He raped any of his chattel who excited him, fathering at least a dozen children. And he was a US Senator. He had a GREAT life. He was rich, he was powerful, he could cheat on his wife with any pretty woman he wanted and neither his wife nor his victim could protest. He could torture people who offended him, all without any legal censure or ethical condemnation.

And he and his ilk convinced the 2/3 of the South who didn’t own slaves that it was in THEIR best interest to preserve his wealth and privilege.  The greatest sucker job of the age.  They gave hundreds of thousands of their sons to protect HIS feudal lands.

Today we see the same suckers, being suckered by the same kind of people, the Kochs, the Murdochs, the Bechtels, etc, all for a similar purpose—to enhance and increase the power and wealth of a few at the expense of everyone else.

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By pabbott, December 14, 2010 at 4:47 am Link to this comment


To confuse the causes of the Vietnam War with the Civil War is so bone-crushingly stupid it hardly requires comment.  Read a book.  Honestly.

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By Gulam, December 13, 2010 at 8:17 pm Link to this comment

You are saying that it was morally OK for the Yankees to attack, decimate, and
occupy the South in order to change their social order to be more like that of
the North? Those hundreds of thousands of lives and the enslavement of the
entire South for generations was a morally superior move? America will never
stop going off on stupid adventures like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as long
as their students heads continue to be filled with glowing praise for the atrocity
known as the American Civil War instead of telling them that it was one huge
disaster. The same kind of Napoleonic jargon, the same freedom as an excuse
to invade-and-dominate-others logic was used on the South as on the
Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis. Since the blacks in America were merely shifted
to slave-like conditions in the North, and vast areas in the South that had once
been farms went back into scrub pine for a hundred years, all the good
intentions in the world do not make that into a victory, only a deadly precedent.
All this Enlightenment crap about freedom is just the facade that liberals give to
American actions, so the they can enjoy the same money and power with a clear

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By gerard, December 13, 2010 at 8:09 pm Link to this comment

—“the psychodynamics of resistance and acquiescence” ... a phrase that needs
thinking, acting,  and re-thinking, and then hopefully after that, some further
degree of understanding. 
  Assange didn’t put it this way, but it is implied in his statement of purpose—
if you could only find it anywhere on the Internet.  It was up briefly, but so far
as I can determine, it has been “disappeared.”
  He spoke of his hope that releasing the “leaks”, ordinary citizens would realize
that the Internet provides a new and much enlarged opportunity to find out
hidden facts.  And in learning those facts, ordinary citizens will be enabled to
discover ways to use truth to counteract lies, openness to counteract secrecy,
and thus strength democratic governments worldwide.
  The fact that his statement has not been widely broadcast indicates the threat
it holds for government and corporate activities that cannot survive the light of
day. If it were not so, they would not be on the attack, as they are.
  It is up to us not to allow this light to be buried by false charges, threats,
“surveillance,” “extraordinary renditions” and all the sad claptrap of deceit.
But it it us—not them, or him, or those people over there—but you and me
who are called upon once more to stand and defend liberty, justice and
  There are letters that need to be sent, phone calls that need to be made, 
statements that need to be made.  What have you done today to defend the
freedom of speech and information.?

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By ghostcommander, December 13, 2010 at 7:55 pm Link to this comment

The Tea Party/Brownshirts stole the fire of anger and disgust from “We the People” and used it for the decadent elite of America.

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By tussah, December 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm Link to this comment

A wonderful, insightful article which sees through the mists of time.  It is often difficult to find common ground within our disparate citizenry.  May we all have the opportunity to stand facing each other at a Lomax Cafe and go forward, without violence into our shared future.

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