wealth inequality

Erich J. Prince: Ignore the empty ‘working people’ rhetoric | Columnists


In the moments just before his execution, as the final preparations were being made, Leon Czołgosz, the man who had assassinated President William McKinley, explained himself: “I killed the president because he was the enemy of the good people — the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime. I am sorry I could not see my father.”

However, when people, very much including said “working people,” learned of what Czołgosz had done, they didn’t seem terribly appreciative. A mob tried to breach his prison cell that very evening to lynch him in retaliation for shooting McKinley, and even his fellow anarchists took pains to distance themselves from what he had done. So, despite Czołgosz’s high-minded rhetoric just before the switch was flipped on the electric chair, the alleged beneficiaries of his martyrdom seemed anything but impressed.

Seven decades later, the radical, militant organization Weather Underground employed similar rhetoric to justify some of its acts of violence, including even the 1974 bombing of Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh. In the minds of the organizers, their activities somehow served the interests of, you guessed it, “working people.” Aside from this claim being, on its face, preposterous, in case there was any doubt, “working people” tended to make clear their disapproval. As the historian Dan Berger notes, “…white working-class youths were more alienated than organized by Weather’s spectacles.” However, for anyone familiar with George Orwell’s early work, particularly “The Road to Wigan Pier,” this would not be surprising: Those whose interests the activists of last century claimed to be championing often wanted little to do with their self-appointed spokespeople — with the spokespeople themselves, or with their ideas.


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