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The Cynosure

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



CONTENTEDLY PEACEFUL THE Monongahela stretches before me, its waters lazily rippling in the sunlight, and softly crooning to the murmur of the woods on the hazy shore. But the opposite bank presents a picture of sharp contrast. Near the edge of the river rises a high board fence, topped with barbed wire, the menacing aspect heightened by warlike watch-towers and ramparts. The sinister wall looks down on me with a thousand hollow eyes, whose evident murderous purpose fully justifies the name of "Fort Frick." Groups of ex cited people crowd the open spaces between the river and the fort, filling the air with the confusion of many voices. Men car rying Winchesters are hurrying by, their faces grimy, eyes bold yet anxious. From the mill-yard gape the black mouths of can non, dismantled breastworks bar the passages, and the ground is strewn with burning cinders, empty shells, oil barrels, bro ken furnace stacks, and piles of steel and iron. The place looks the aftermath of a sanguinary conflict,-the symbol of our in dustrial life, of the ruthless struggle in which the stronger, the sturdy man of labor, is always the victim, because he acts weakly. But the charred hulks of the Pinkerton barges at the landing-place, and the blood-bespattered gangplank, bear mute witness that for once the battle went to the really strong, to the victim who dared.
      A group of workingmen approaches me. Big, stalwart men, the power of conscious strength in their step and bearing. Each of them carries a weapon: some Winchesters, others shotguns. In the hand of one I notice the gleaming barrel of a navy revolver.
      "Who are you?" the man with the revolver sternly asks me.
      "A friend, a visitor."
      "Can you show credentials or a union card?"
      Presently, satisfied as to my trustworthiness, they allow me to proceed.
      In one of the mill-yards I come upon a dense crowd of men and women of various types: the short, broad-faced Slav, elbowing his tall American fellow-striker; the swarthy Italian, heavy-mustached, gesticulating and talking rapidly to a cluster of excited countrymen. The people are surging about a raised platform, on which stands a large, heavy man.
      I press forward. "Listen, gentlemen, listen!" I hear the speaker's voice. "Just a few words, gentlemen! You all know who I am, don't you?"
      "Yes, yes, Sheriff!" several men cry. "Go on!"
      "Yes," continues the speaker, "you all know who I am. Your Sheriff, the Sheriff of Allegheny County, of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
      "Go ahead!" some one yells, impatiently.
      "If you don't interrupt me, gentlemen, I'll go ahead."
      "S-s-sh! Order!"
      The speaker advances to the edge of the platform. "Men of Homestead! It is my sworn duty, as Sheriff, to preserve the peace. Your city is in a state of lawlessness. I have asked the Governor to send the militia and I hope-"
      "No! No!" many voices protest. "To hell with you!" The tumult drowns the words of the Sheriff. Shaking his clenched fist, his foot stamping the platform, he shouts at the crowd, but his voice is lost amid the general uproar.
      "O'Donnell! O'Donnell!" comes from several sides, the cry swelling into a tremendous chorus, "O'Donnell!"
      I see the popular leader of the strike nimbly ascend the platform. The assembly becomes hushed.
      "Brothers," O'Donnell begins in a flowing, ingratiating manner, "we have won a great, noble victory over the Company. We have driven the Pinkerton invaders out of our city-"
      "Damn the murderers!"
      "Silence! Order!"
      "You have won a big victory," O'Donnell continues, "a great, significant victory, such as was never before known in the history of labor's struggle for better conditions."
      Vociferous cheering interrupts the speaker. "But," he continues, "you must show the world that you desire to maintain peace and order along with your rights. The Pinkertons were invaders. We defended our homes and drove them out; rightly so. But you are law-abiding citizens. You respect the law and the authority of the State. Public opinion will uphold you in your struggle if you act right. Now is the time, friends!" He raises his voice in waxing enthusiasm, "Now is the time! Welcome the soldiers. They are not sent by that man Frick. They are the people's militia. They are our friends. Let us welcome them as friends!"
      Applause, mixed with cries of impatient disapproval, greets the exhortation. Arms are raised in angry argument, and the crowd sways back and forth, breaking into several excited groups. Presently a tall, dark man appears on the platform. His stentorian voice gradually draws the assembly closer to the front. Slowly the tumult subsides.
      "Don't you believe it, men!" The speaker shakes his finger at the audience, as if to emphasize his warning. "Don't you believe that the soldiers are coming as friends. Soft words these, Mr. O'Donnell. They'll cost us dear. Remember what I say, brothers. The soldiers are no friends of ours. I know what I am talking about. They are coming here because that damned murderer Frick wants them."
      "Hear! Hear!"
      "Yes!" the tall man continues, his voice quivering with emotion, "I can tell you just how it is. The scoundrel of a Sheriff there asked the Governor for troops, and that damned Frick paid the Sheriff to do it, I say!"
      "No! Yes! No!" the clamor is renewed, but I can hear the speaker's voice rising above the din: "Yes, bribed him. You all know this cowardly Sheriff. Don't you let the soldiers come, I tell you. First they'll come; then the blacklegs. You want 'em?
      "No! No!" roars the crowd.
      "Well, if you don't want the damned scabs, keep out the soldiers, you understand? if you don't, they'll drive you out from the homes you have paid for with your blood. You and your wives and children they'll drive out, and out you will go from these"-the speaker points in the direction of the mills"that's what they'll do, if you don't look out. We have sweated and bled in these mills, our brothers have been killed and maimed there, we have made the damned Company rich, and now they send the soldiers here to shoot us down like the Pinkerton thugs have tried to. And you want to welcome the murderers, do you? Keep them out, I tell you!"
      Amid shouts and yells the speaker leaves the platform.
      "McLuckie! 'Honest' McLuckie!" a voice is heard on the fringe of the crowd, and as one man the assembly takes up the cry, "'Honest' McLuckie! "
      I am eager to see the popular Burgess of Homestead, himself a poorly paid employee of the Carnegie Company. A largeboned, good-natured-looking workingman elbows his way to the front, the men readily making way for him with nods and pleasant smiles.
      "I haven't prepared any speech," the Burgess begins haltingly, "but I want to say, I don't see how you are going to fight the soldiers. There is a good deal of truth in what the brother before me said; but if you stop to think on it, he forgot to tell you just one little thing. The how? How is he going to do it, to keep the soldiers out? That's what I'd like to know. I'm afraid it's bad to let them in. The blacklegs might be hiding in the rear. But then again, it's bad not to let the soldiers in. You can't stand up against 'em: they are not Pinkertons. And we can't fight the Government of Pennsylvania. Perhaps the Governor won't send the militia. But if he does, I reckon the best way for us will be to make friends with them. Guess it's the only thing we can do. That's all I have to say."
      The assembly breaks up, dejected, dispirited.

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