Labor Day, Workhorses and Revolutions

“Standing at the fringe of a crowd watching the men from the slaughterhouse, in blood-stained aprons, struggling to cut away a horse that had collapsed in its tracks while pulling a wagonload of coal,” writes Robert Littell in “The Revolutionist,” Zander thought about companions and relatives who had died in horrific workplace tragedies. “The horse, which had blinders on its head and ribs bulging out of its hide, whinnied and lashed out feebly with a hind leg, catching one of the workmen on a shin. Cursing, he hobbled off. A young fresh-faced policeman bent over the horse and pressed the tip of his revolver to its ear. Most of those watching looked away … The young policeman squeezed the trigger. The pistol jerked in his hand. Blood and foam gushed from the horse's mouth. The animal heaved once and lay still.”(1)

The year was 1917 and Russia was in the throes of a workers' revolution. Zander, who was desperately trying to return to his motherland, Russia, was living and working in the United States. Thinking back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, along with working in mines and ghettoes, he had observed too many cave-ins, explosions and crime sprees that had left people physically, emotionally, mentally and permanently disabled. He had experienced in factories the brutality of private security guards, slashed wages and the permanent pecking order of America's class system. The stench from cockroach infested tenements, including bodily and moral plagues that swept throughout the poor dilapidated, unventilated buildings, caused him to undergo a strange malaise.

Zander did not wear blinders, as the horse did. He understood that idealism was dying in America. It was disappearing every time a peaceful assembly and protest was crushed, or when labor strikes were accused of being riotous and declared illegal, or when another progressive and revolutionary paper was censored by monopolists. After arriving in the United States, Zander also noticed how workers were sandwiched between Wall Street and the Statue of Liberty. It was odd that the Statue of Liberty was facing away from America, its back toward the working classes. In America, he mused, some are more equal than others, especially the wealthy classes and their elite politicians. He thought back to Russia and the Will of the People movement. It had existed to change the lives of the masses who lived in poverty and ignorance.

Zander also recalled a lesson his grandfather had taught him: “History moves slowly and sometimes you have to give it a push.”(2) What had occurred to Zander is that, in capitalist countries, workers are also worked to death and then disposed of while those more lucky and powerful looked away in embarrassment.(3) But Zander did not look away. He had never averted his eyes from the hardship of workers. Instead, he had stared at every living death of each worker. “He memorized factory hands that had collapsed just as the horse had collapsed; seen people incapable of lifting another sack, of taking another step. In this capitalist pogrom, the bosses had not put pistols to their ears; they had simply cut off their pay checks and discarded the workers, like used shoes, in the street-another type of execution.”(4) Zander did not turn away, nor did he blindly accept the same fate.

Zander understood that every serious study of economics must always lead to social and economic equality, even if it meant revolution. He also recognized a failed system and a failed state. Like the stench of the horse's sweat, urine and splattered brains, Zander smelled America's inequalities: the sick who get laid-off; the poor who cannot afford to visit a doctor or buy medicines; the mechanization and dehumanization of the working classes; and, of course, the greed and hoarding of wealth, resources, production, capital and even labor itself, by the ruling classes. As a workhorse living in America, Zander had learned a valuable lesson: “One man dies of fear, another is brought to life by it.”(5)

Even though the year is 2011, this Labor Day, thank a workhorse. And if you have not already done so, you might want to remove the blinders from your eyes and become a revolutionary.


(1) Littell, Robert, “The Revolutionist,” New York, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, p. 9.
(2) Littell, Robert, “The Revolutionist,” New York, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, p. 19.
(3) Littell, Robert, “The Revolutionist,” New York, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, p. 9.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Littell, Robert, “The Revolutionist,” New York, New York: Bantam Books, 1998, p. 20.