‘Inferno 1924: The Pennsylvania Iron Region’ by Hugo Gellert from The Liberator. Vol. 7 No. 2. February, 1924.
GREY, birdless skies…Rivers the fish cannot live in…Black stacks vomit black smoke. Black sheds cut each other out of sight. Telegraph poles. White steam covers everything. Endless steel rails run to the east and to the west…
A man knocks the mouth of the blast furnace open. A mighty roar, a blinding flash, and the molten ore breaks forth. It flows through ditches into the waiting ladle. Heavy sulphur fumes rise into the air. The men watch the course of the molten metal. They step across the narrow ditches and hustle to prevent their being clogged. A misstep, and a foot is off; it melts away like snowflakes on a window pane…When the ladle is full they top it with a shovel of coal. A thousand stars shoot into the air as the fine coal touches the golden liquid.
The roaring iron is forced under the roller. A man catches it. Sends it back. The man on the other side…he has the iron. The man on this side…he has it now. Now one…now the other…again…”Quick! Quick!” It is piece work. The heater shoves it back into the furnace. His red body, shining with sweat. “Quick! Quick!” Under the roller…One, two…one, two…the iron is stretching…”Not too quick…If we spoil the plate, there’ll be no pay for the work.”
A glass case stands at the entrance of the mills with the following inscription: “Every article is made of our tin plates”…Ladies’ powder boxes…boxes for sweets, painted. Pictures of pretty flowers and birdies on them.
Heavily laden trucks roll across the steel bridge. I feel it rise and sink under the weight. The elastic steel stretches and contracts as the bridge swings gently from side to side.
Laces, the finest of them, seem stupid to me. It irritates me to think of the effort wasted on them. Patient, accurate work that can be put to better use.
The bridge teaches me to appreciate lace-lace of steel. Heavy threads of steel interlocking and interchaining. Black steel lace against the light of the sky.
Flat bottomed barges float at the river bank. Great electric shovels suspended on cranes swoop down and bite into their cargo. Huge magnets lift a half dozen of the two-hundred-pound pigs of iron and dispose of them at will. Freight cars are hoisted into mid-air, turned over and emptied, then placed back on the rail. Steam hammers work busily up and down, shaping the iron like butter. Machines make wire and sheets of steel-and machines make machines…
Machine: living architecture. The miracle of Man. Created by him to make himself master of the earth, the waters and the skies.
Three shifts. Men rising in the grey dawn…Men rising when the Sun is high…Men rising at midnight…Men crawling home from work. A few drinks…An occasional movie show…An occasional leg show…
Dingy holes,- workers call them their homes. III smelling kitchens…Stuffy bedrooms…Unkempt women…Unhappy children…
Dead trees stretch their withered arms toward the bird less sky…Rivers the fish cannot live in… Man is the only animal who could live in this country.
The Liberator was published monthly from 1918, first established by Max Eastman and his sister Crystal Eastman continuing The Masses, was shut down by the US Government during World War One. Like The Masses, The Liberator contained some of the best radical journalism of its, or any, day. It combined political coverage with the arts, culture, and a commitment to revolutionary politics. Increasingly, The Liberator oriented to the Communist movement and by late 1922 was a de facto publication of the Party. In 1924, The Liberator merged with Labor Herald and Soviet Russia Pictorial into Workers Monthly. An essential magazine of the US left.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/culture/pubs/liberator/1924/02/v7n02-w70-feb-1924-liberator-hr.pdf