“But this SMILING SILENCE / Is uncanny” (A People’s History…Ch. 15)

For these things speak



That they do not feel

At HOME in.

The poetry of civil disobedience, a “smiling silence.” Is it not more unsettling than overt violence, the stuff of in-your-face rebellion and revolution? What comes of either effort? Consolidation of old power in a new form? Acceptable concessions to just enough people to re-secure the old establishment?

Examining the labor strikes of the 20s and 30s, Zinn returns to the same disheartening reality in the face of would-be revolution:

The strikes were beaten down by force, and the economy was doing just well enough for just enough people to prevent mass rebellion.

Millions of people were not doing badly – and they could shut out of the picture the others…

There were enough well-off people to push the others into the background. And with the rich controlling the means of dispensing information, who would tell?

But the New Deal’s organization of the economy was aimed mainly at stabilizing the economy, and secondly at giving enough help to the lower classes to keep them from turning a rebellion into a real revolution.

…channel the workers’ insurrectionary energy into contracts, negotiations, union meetings, and try to minimize strikes, in order to build large, influential, even respectable organizations.

The system responded to workers’ rebellions by finding new forms of control – internal control by their own organizations as well as outside control by law and force. But along with new controls came new concessions. These concessions didn’t solve basic problems; for many people they solved nothing. But they helped enough people to create an atmosphere of progress and improvement, to restore some faith in the system.

…it was enough to dull the edge of resentment.

When the New Deal was over, capitalism remained intact. The rich still controlled the nation’s wealth, as well as its laws, courts, police, newspapers, churches, colleges. Enough help had been given to enough people to make Roosevelt a hero to millions, but the same system that had brought depression and crisis – the system of waste, of inequality, of concern for profit over human need – remained.

So when is enough enough?

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