J.R. Johnston

The Centralia Disaster in Retrospect

The Capitalist Class Is Responsible
for Agony of the Miners

(14 April 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 15, 14 April 1947, p. 6.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The mining disaster in Centralia, Ill., coming after the persecution of the miners by the coal operators and the government is a dramatic touchstone of what our society really is:

Labor Action and the Workers Party say again: The system is responsible. Until the men who go down into the pits control every stage at production, until we have a government composed of workers or these whom they chose to represent them, these barbarous conditions of life and labor will continue.

This is not merely a question of a hundred dead men and their sorrowing families and friends. Charity and regrets will not help. The men and their families live with this threat over their heads every day. They live with it from childhood until they are killed or die. What kind of a life is this that when a man leaves home in the morning, neither he nor his wife and children know if he will return?

There is no need for these conditions to exist. There are ways and means whereby they can be reduced to a minimum. If the power of science were devoted to making mining safe, if the elementary precautions known already were taken, we would not have this unnecessary toll of lives and the permanent strain upon the consciousness of millions.

No wonder the miners are bitter and have the supremest contempt for all except their union and those who directly support if. We hope they will rapidly learn that they are marked out to be among the leaders of those who will tear to bits this murderous capitalist society and build a human existence for themselves and all who bear upon their bent backs the expenditures, the crimes, the follies, the greed and the hypocrisy of capitalist society.

Listen to the New York Post:

“We’re sure the miners who died doing their jobs wouldn’t want that kind of memorial.

“What they might want would be some guarantee that government officials, like Governor Green of Illinois, would act in the future when a local union committee complains of dangerous conditions. They also might favor prompt action by the top men in their union – like John L. Lewis – when such warnings get no result. He or his appointees didn’t make any great outcry a year ago, after the appeal to Governor Green produced nothing. They might hope that some pressure would be put on the mine-owners quickly enough to do some good.”

Isn’t that shameful? See how they are protecting capitalist society, white-washing the state, blackened by a century of criminal negligence.

The PM Whitewash

Max Lerner in PM writes an editorial entitled The Enemy: Firedamp. That is a monstrous lie. The enemy is not firedamp. The enemy are the coal owners and the government and all who support them.

To say that the enemy is fire-damp is to be no more than a lackey of the capitalist class. True, later in the editorial, he blames the coal owners and ends with the pious wish that until we have a government like the British Labor government which takes over the mines and runs them, we shall not have responsibility where we can locate it.

This too is hypocrisy and fraud. We leave aside for the moment what exactly the British Labor Government is doing for the miners. But what has Max Lerner done to contribute to the forming of such a government? Has he written a line to the miners telling them that only such a government will help them?

Has he said “I am for such a government. Miners, steel workers, railroad men, rubber workers, to end your trials, you need a labor government. I and my colleagues shall do all that we can to help you form one”? No, he hangs on to Roosevelt’s coattail, then transfers himself to Truman’s. Then he says that Truman’s government is a failure, but the liberals must be careful lest they let the Republicans in by opposing Truman. So he jumps from side to side defending capitalism.

Is the word hypocrite too strong to be applied to Max Lerner? Tell us, please, what other word can be applied to an ex-professor, author of numerous books, and editor of a paper, who writes, as he does, in this editorial:

“It would seem more decent for the spokesmen of the coal operators, instead of attacking john L. Lewis, to accept the stoppage and recognise the grievance, and to join with the miners and the government to make this the last major mine explosion in America.”

In the name of sense and reason, who else but a hypocrite (or a raving lunatic) can ask the spokesmen of the mine owners to join with miners to prevent explosions? The coal owners are the enemy. The government is their ally. Their spokesmen are paid to attack Lewis and cover up the crimes of the mine owners. To ask them to join with the miners is a shameful mockery and could come only from a pen which first and foremost seeks always to defend capitalism. That is the truth about Max Lerner and all his type and we want the miners to know them and remember them and recognize them as soon as they open their mouths.

Brothers and sisters of the mining areas. We cannot claim to appreciate a fraction of the tortures to which capitalism daily and hourly subjects you. We can only claim that you do not detest this monstrous system with a greater hatred than we do. We understand that nothing, nothing can correct its evils but its overthrow by the workers.

We know that in a socialist society you yourselves can organize production so as to produce coal at only a fraction of the cost in suffering, in labor, and in daily fear. Your friends are those who know this and are willing, ready to go step by step with you, in uncompromising resistance to coal owners and government until the time comes when we can say: “Down with capitalism. The workers are ready for the new society.”

Meanwhile in every step that you take to improve your conditions we are with you, always on your side, hating your enemies. And high up On that list are the hypocritical scoundrels who, in the moment of your great trial, are concerned with nothing else but defense of capitalist society and “pressure” upon the criminals who lead it. When we criticise and bitterly criticize your leaders, it is not as the liberals and the labor leaders criticize him. We at times denounce Lewis because he will not understand that this society, capitalism, will never be able to give you a human existence. We criticize him for not leading you politically in an unceasing struggle for the overthrow of the system.

We ask you to read our press, pass it around, tell us what you think of it, knowing that in all your difficulties we are with you, and if we differ with you, it is as comrades and friends who wish only to convince you that the destruction of capitalism is our only solution.

Last updated on 6 January 2022