Response to Hard Crackers Tribute to Noel Ignatiev

By Pekah Wallace

Posted May 9, 2021


We can pay attention to things that beg out empathy, or indulge in personally destructive, narcissistic and attention-seeking behaviors and self-aggrandizement…

The Seventh Edition Hard Crackers Release-Party was celebrated Sunday, October 27, 2019,at Freddie’s Bar and Backroom, Brooklyn, NY. A dive of sorts, and a throwback to times and places in the Boroughs where writers like Eugene O’Neill, surrounded by some of the most motley crew, was inspired to write masterpieces. The Iceman Cometh comes to mind.

If bad weather conditions were any predictor that the event would mark its final publication of Hard Crackers, Chronicles of Every Day Life, the size of the turnout told a different story. We started out for New York plenty early, and what should have easily been a two-hour sprint from Connecticut, became four hazardous, long hours, wrestling a rainstorm out of hell. The wipers never caught a break, neither did our eyes, peeled back, as blinding heavy downpours turned to perilous flooding. At no point did we think we’d make it there. On board were two of the most important pieces of cargo entrusted to my care. Jay, my son, and Noel Ignatiev, founder and chief editor of Hard Crackers. Noel was unusually excited to celebrate yet another publication of Hard Crackers. But foremost in his thoughts was his special invited guest, James Livingston, whom he would be meeting, in person, for the first time. He trusted me to get him there, if not on time, in one piece.

By the time we arrived at the Backroom, weather conditions had just begun to open up. The event was a success, surprisingly well attended, in spite of bad weather! Livingston read from his autobiography, someone played the guitar, and Noel spoke, as the many young aspiring revolutionaries listened, transfixed. Also present were some members of the Board, John Garvey, Mike Morgan and Geert Dhondt. I also recall seeing Matthew Capri. Ignatiev sold many copies of Hard Crackers that day which meant more money for publication of the next edition, and that pleased him very much. Making tbe budget of several thousand dollars, to get each edition of Hard Crackers to press, was hard work,

However, In spite of his illness and doctors’ appointments, sometimes twice a week, Ignatiev needed to make new connections daily and nurture old ones, to assure continued flow of subscriptions to Hard Crackers. He sought and encouraged new writers, reviewed and edited all submissions to Hard Crackers, at the same, worked diligently to finish writing his novel, Acceptable Men, dormant for 20 years. Between times, he practiced his Cello, and any of a number of harmonicas he kept nearby in his desk drawer.

Early to bed and early to rise, Ignatiev maintained a strict routine, a daily constant, steady discipline. He had lost a lot of weight but remained strong and vibrant, often getting ahead of the day, he showered, shaved, dressed, to take himself and Miles for a leisurely walk. At the end of a very busy and productive day, he walked Miles again, took in an occasional movie or a tennis match, checked in on social media happenings, or chatted with a friend, as he settled in for the next 8 to 10 hours, connected to a feeding tube, and a noisy suction pump which swallowed for him. Yet, Ignatiev never complained, hopeful he would swallow again, as he looked forward to his impending corrective surgery.

Clearly, none of this was good enough for Jarrod Shanahan, a so-called comrade and disgruntled former member of the Hard Crackers Board, who, we later learned, spent countless hours begrudgingly trolling Ignatiev’s every move on social media, in an attempt to undermine Ignatiev’s integrity and position as editor in chief.

On November 9, 2019 Ignatiev passed; 13 days after the Hard Crackers Release- Party, and only seven days after arriving in Arizona to visit his grandchildren.  If death did not land the final blow, Shanahan, stabbed Ignatiev in the back, defenseless. Such cowardly act he could not have ventured on his own, without the help of members of the Hard Crackers Board, in particular, his handmaiden and partner in crime, Zhandarka Kurti, Ignatiev’s second most pernicious nemesis. I am not surprised Kurti would aid and abet placing Shanahan’s bellicose pen, front and center of the organization’s attempt to pay tribute to the work and life of Ignatiev.

On at least two occasions, Ignatiev rejected articles Shanahan submitted to Hard Crackers for publication. The first led to Ignatiev quitting the beloved magazine he founded, because of push-back form Shanahan and Kerti. With no discernable leader in place, Ignatiev resumed the role of editor in chief, on condition he hold ultimate authority to decide which articles make it into the magazine and which did not. Too much for Shanahan’s fragile ego, he quit the Board, claiming to avoid arguing with Ignatiev. Nonetheless, he continued to submit articles to Hard Crackers. His final submission bore no identifying markers authentic to Hard Crackers appeal to unite the working class of all races. It was clear to Ignatiev that Shanahan was not writing for Hard Crackers, but himself.  The article was academically obtuse, unwieldy, and its focus undecipherable. Ignatiev again rejected the article, before and after several unsuccessful attempts by other members of the Board to resuscitate it. 

It was around this time Ignatiev discovered that Kerti, unbeknown to Ignatiev, had placed in the archives one of Shanahan’s earlier articles Ignatiev had rejected. Kerti did not return Ignatiev’s call to inquire into her actions and, unceremoniously, Ignatiev removed the article from the archives, and blocked Kerti from future access to the archives.

Ignatiev died a month later. Shanahan and Kerti, unable to bring themselves to the podium at his celebratory memorial, strolled haplessly about, inseparable, claiming no pretentions or humility, conscience or remorse. Judas, a better man, would have run off and killed himself. Immediately thereafter, Kerti assumed the reins of Hard Crackers, James Murray and Curtis Price, resigned the Board, and Shanahan simultaneously resumed his position on the Board. Price went on to found Gasoline and Grits.

Whatever cheap fix Shanahan and Kerti and others may have derived from their impetuous, childish and malicious rants, to now claim themselves “revolutionaries who knew [Ignatiev] best,” is fiction, and an insult to Ignatiev and other revolutionaries everywhere. Shanahan and Kerti violated the golden rule and tried to extract special privileges from Hard Crackers for purposes of personal and professional gain. Failing to have his way, Shanahan blamed Ignatiev for his tortured ego, and set out to undermine Ignatiev’s reputation to others.

I have read the remaining submissions, including those by M. Treloar, Robert Gerst, Justine Johnson, John Strucker, John Bracey, Geert Dhondt, Cloee Cooper, Gary Fields, Don Hamerquist, Avery D’Agostino, Jay Kaspian Kang, John Garvey, and The Left Hook. While I admire Dhondt’s thoughtful inclusion of correspondence, in real time, between Ignatiev and the late Joel Olson his dear friend and comrade, as well as some excerpts from Ignatiev’s novel, Acceptable Men, Dhondt failed to assume greater liberty to countenance the very close, friendship he and his family have shared with Ignatiev over many years. Dhondt seemed to have safely avoided such personal endeavor, that would have otherwise smacked at the heart of the condescending, and hostile diatribe by Shanahan and his alliances. I view this as an opportunity missed.

A prominent, world-renowned historian and revolutionary, Ignatiev’s work speaks for itself. An anthology of his personal writings, essays, interviews, excerpts from his novels, and instructive submissions, would have best served as Tribute to his life and life’s mission.

Pekah Wallace, human rights law enforcement administrator and activist, is the surviving partner of Noel Ignatiev.

Appendix

We are attaching an article by Shanahan that Noel refused to print so readers can judge for themselves how appropriate this text was for Hard Crackers. Contrary to Kerti’s self-serving, moaning about Ignatiev’s heavy editorial hand, as anyone can see this poorly written, pompous gibberish and ad hominem sectarian attacks had no place in Hard Crackers – or any other self-respecting publication, for that matter.

Invisibility and Blindness

By Jarrod Shanahan

Beep beep beep…Since their installation in 2013, the shrill exclamation sounding day and night at Chicago Transit Authority bus stops has injected a subtle yet incessant irritation into the ordinary perturbation of waiting for a bus that may or may not be coming anytime soon. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, to declare this beeping a major annoyance.

Beep beep beep…Thirty times per minute.Where the fuck is my bus?It’s hot. I need not describe the heat in Chicago any more than the cold. The sun catches on a corner of the South Side bus shelter, furnishing a sliver of shade shielding all but an elbow I must today sacrifice to the risk of melanoma some decades down the line.

Beep beep beep…I struggle to hold my focus on some essential classic of critical scholarship, as the author stacks chic buzzwords likethey’re preparing full house in poker, coins needless neologisms of their own, and drops the names of their scholar friends for having first identified social phenomena experienced by hundreds of millions of people in their daily lives.

Beep beep beep…Neoliberal modalities of governance in the affective regime of the spatio-temporal metropole in the biopoliticalanthropocene, qua the biopoliticalanthropocene…Thinking back to when I first encountered sentences like this, and thought myself the hopeless inferior of their author, incapable of ever soaring to such Olympian heights, my face flushes and the page becomes a blur…

Beep beep beep BOOM! With great dramatic flair, a middle-aged black man standing three feet away from me has smashed an empty energy drink can completely flat. With great intent he rubs the aluminummedallion between his hands to inspect the thoroughness of the work. Satisfied, he paces ten steps to the periphery of the concrete. I observe, sipping Starbucks through a metal straw protruding from an otherwise plastic cup, which someone I had a crush on once assured me would spare a duck an untimely death. He reaches the corner of the concrete, where the bus station gives way to grassabutting an embattled woodland adjoining the Metra tracks. Then, with great sobriety, he hurls the disc into this woods.

Beep beep beepFor fuck’s sake!, I mutter, shaking my head conspicuously. He was standing next to a trash can to begin with!How inconsiderate can a person be?

Beep beep beep… The book is hopeless, and I’m not about to morph into Captain Planet and fight with a stranger over a singular piece of litter on a planet likely polluted beyond redemption. Instead I produce a Clif Bar, one of those candy bars for people who think they’re above candy bars. I struggle to keep chocolate off my hands and face as I devour this healthy snack in the midday heat, noting with satisfaction a seal of approval from the Rainforest Alliance on the product’s wrapper. I then promptly deposit the wrapper in a prominent garbage can, two feet from the spot where the man originally crushed the can, and to which he has now returned. I pace back to my precarious refuge from the sun, stare down the block, and note, with a heavy sigh, the absence of an oncoming bus.

“Hey…” the man asks me tentatively,“…is there a trash can there?”

I stare blankly. Having recently relocated from New York City, it has been hard adjusting to social customs of the Midwest, where apparently not everybody who engages you on the street is looking to rip you off or start a fight.

“Oh my god,” he continues, staring intently at the can “there is a trash can there!”

“Yeah, man…” is all I can muster. Is he fucking with me?

“I can’t see!” he exclaims. “Well… I can kind of see it now, that you pointed it out.”

I look into his eyes for the first time. He’s blind! The exact fucking person the beeping is meant for, calling through the darkness like a beacon in an otherwise endless sea.

“Man,” he chuckles.” I do that every day! I never knew there was a trash can there. I like my energy drink before I get on the bus. I used to carry the can with me all the way downtown to throw it away, but I didn’t want to spill it on anyone.”

I notice at once he’s not walking with a cane. How does he get around? I mumble something sufficiently convivial, as the bus approaches at last. I hear it one last time as the doors shut behind me: Beep beep beep

As the driver glides the massive two-part articulated bus gracefully through the tight concrete confines undergirding the Metra tracks and onto Lake Shore Drive, opening the emerald vista of Lake Michigan vanishing into a hazy horizon, my mind wanders to the major story that has consumed the energy of many intelligent people in my social world on this beautiful summer day. Several short videoscherry-picked from a weekend-long conference of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)have become the latest “viral” sensation, on which everybody feels the need to comment. The children of cable news have all become talking heads, fashioning their daily rations of news into spicy hot takes.

In one of these clips, a conference organizer alerts attendees to disabilities among their comrades of which the listener may be unaware – in other words, they are invisible – urging considerate treatment of those who suffer them, and listing the amenities available for people who have a difficult time navigating the environments of a loud and messy national political conference. In another, an angry speaker takes issue with the use of the word “guys” as a generic term used to mean “people,” which in addition to reproducing the stubborn linguistic tendency in English to generalize masculine nouns, can be particularly hurtful to people who struggle in their social and professional lives to not be identified as men. As my friend Rebecca Hill put it: “On the scale of annoying things at meetings, this isn’t that big a deal.” How desperate must the haters be, she added “if this is the worst thing they could dig up for a ‘gotcha’?”

It wasn’t a big deal. But it became one. These short videos were abstracted from an entire weekend of debate and served up with no explanation save for “meanwhile, at the DSA.” By all accounts, over the duration of this conference,the largest and certainly most viable leftist organization in the United States struggled with fundamental questions implied by a deepening social crisis that calls for decisive action, and for which no rival left organization seems to have a better plan. With no mention of the broader conference, theseisolated clips were shared and viewed hundreds of thousands of times. The clips originated, it seems with other leftists eager to mock the organization, but quickly gained traction within the right-wing media, where the moral panic about “political correctness” run amok has simmered for decades, stoked with great alacrity by white male professors of a certain age who blame feminism for their students refusing to sleep with themand “identity politics” for being asked to not use chauvinistic language, or losing out on a job to someone who isn’t a white man.

Once in the hands of the right, these clips were used, as always, to deride and discredit all who seek to build a society according to the principles: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.By this point, the right’s work was largely done for it: the putative leftists sharing these videos had heaped derision in nearly identical terms as the Fox News article the story eventually earned. Leftist enemies of “identity politics” worked organically with reactionaries and outright fascists to reduce the entirety of the discussion surrounding the DSA conference to the content these short clips, and reduce the project of human emancipation to a punchline.

As a denouement of this sad spectacle, the avowednational chauvinist Angela Nagel relished a softball interview on the television program of Tucker Carlson, an avowed enemy of the working class and perhaps the closest mainstream pundit to the white nationalist movement, where the two chuckled together about the idiocy of the socialist left. Nagle, who did not attend the conference, conceded entirely to Carlson defining the convention in the terms of these stray clips, and actually upped the ante by claiming “everycampaign on the left and every organization on the left” to be this way.Nagle then claimed that so-called “invisible disabilities,” meaning any disability the observer cannot immediately discern in a person, do not exist, but are simply “bourgeois narcissism,” a phrase Carlson foundparticularly funny. “I don’t think if I spent a year trying to think of a better description,” Carlson replied gleefully, “I could come up with anything more precise than that.”Nagle’s latest declaration of chauvinism, for which she still has apologists disgracing themselves, is not an isolated case, but only the most prominent case of a hearty cooperative effort by left and right wing reactionaries to mock egalitarian politics in the name of some imagined purity of “class” based organizing.

Let’s be real: Are there people here and there who weaponized fantastic claims to disability for personal gain? Yes, and sometimes that is itself a sign of serious mental health issues. Are middle-class children politicized by radical liberal theory in the comfort of classrooms often irritating, and in need of serious real world experience to temper their righteous – and thoroughly petty bourgeois – indignation? Surely. Will a massive political convention of any group lacking an authoritarian power structure attract idiosyncratic individuals and likely degenerate into a total mess? Of course! That’s partly why most of the people mocking these clips can’t put together five people to start a group of their own.But to use the most outlandish adherents of a political perspective to discredit its intent, and to misinterpret in bad faith the strivings of political organizers to build inclusive spaces, is the stuff of Fox News anti-leftist smear, not serious left analysis. In fact, it’s not much of an analysis at all.

Such smirkingridicule is the stock and trade of a new breed of “socialist” evangelists touting the politics of “class” as somehow distinct from questions of how the class is stratified, and the impact class society has on those it victimizes – whether along the lines of race, gender, dis/ability, or countless other differential experiences one must consider in order to formulate a politics worth of the name emancipatory. This project becomes particularly evil when the most common “left” response to people vocalizing the particularities of their struggles in our cruel and dehumanizing society is derisive laughter – laughter that joins the chorus of fascist derision of the project of human emancipation. 

The is nothing “leftist” about laughing in the face of somebody’s claim to harm by capitalist society. There is nothing egalitarian about claiming to know somebody’s experiences better than they do, and to dismiss them outright.Nor is arguing that the outlandish excesses of “identity politics” are a more serious issue than the problems to which these politics are meant to respond.This is the same old neoconservatism which the Nagle’s of yesteryear have been peddling for decades.The denial of the reality of diverse experiences, no matter how “invisible” they may seem to the superficial observer, is not only bad personal behavior, but a reproduction of the chauvinism that structures our class society, and keeps working people divided while Nagel’s reactionary friends like Tucker Carlson look on smirking.

Chauvinism – especially the sneering, haughty, and derisive form of it that today passes as a serious “class” perspective among a new breed of “socialist” thinkers serving up the old wine of class-reductionism in shiny new jars – has no place in a movement for human emancipation. Chauvinism begins with a willful blindness to the validity of experiences outside one’s immediate perception. It hardens when that blindness becomes a willful ignorance. And thus it becomes something truly evil.

Or, so I thought as my bus slammed to a stop at Jackson Avenue, and the man who crushed the can went tumbling onto a row of seated passengers, apologizing profusely.

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