The “Opposable Thumb” Will Be Celebrated In Downtown Los Angeles

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March 1, 2011 · Posted in Commentary 


When I was in my early teens in the 1950s in Long Beach I learned where human wealth really comes from.

There was this fellow named Dr. Fitzgibbon who was doing top secret research on dolphins for the U.S. Navy who used to come over to my parents’ house. He wasn’t supposed to talk about his work because it was regarded as top secret. But he was consumed with excitement over the knowledge that dolphins had bigger and he believed more powerful brains than humans and their language had much more complex syntax.

Later in life, I learned that while dolphins might be smarter than us, they are missing something much more valuable. We have the opposable thumb, from where all wealth truly springs.

It was Frederich Engels, I believe, who made the point that it was because of the opposable thumb human beings can grab tools, and build printing presses and museums and schools and pass on knowledge through a culture that evolves on its own separately from the evolution of our brains. Dolphin parents have to teach their offspring orally, without written words or television, each and every generation. This puts them at an enormous disadvantage.

Marxists say that wealth came not from pieces of printed paper or bits of information on a bank’s computer but from human labor. That’s the real source of human labor.

Whether it’s an incredible coincidence or something more, the class struggle between those who use their opposable thumbs to create wealth and those who own the means of production has come full circle.

You can easily argue that the evidence on the prowess of Marx and Engel’s predictions about the inevitability of socialism were at best mixed, but their analysis of capitalism has proven spot on. You can see it now as the world is evolving. We have a new level of class struggle today, shaking not only the Middle East but the American Midwest.

Now after runs in the Atwater and Hollywood and San Pedro areas of Los Angeles, what I choose to call the “Opposable Thumb” event otherwise known as the “LA Timesbomb, 4th Edition,” moves to downtown at 727 S. Spring St. at 7 p.m. It is only a few blocks away from where the Los Angeles Times was blown up on Oct. 1, 1910, resulting in the death of more than 20 workers.

Today, you have a governor in Wisconsin named Scott Walker, backed up by the billionaire “Koch brothers” from Texas, who admitted considering planting agent provocateurs in the enormous crowds of working people to prevent them from putting up an effective campaign to save collective bargaining. Walker and other Republican governors have made no bones of their desire to kill off unions, which have been weakened for many years anyway because of the notorious Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 which again was meant to destroy the effectiveness of unions.

Over time, it did so – and with it, the percentage of wealth created by working people has declined and the owners of the means of production have gorged themselves.

Now Walker and others want to drive the final spike into the heart. If they are successful, the Democratic Party will collapse.

Walker has manufactured a fiscal crisis. He did so by first giving further tax breaks to corporations, which has resulted in lost revenue about equal to what he claims the shortfall is.

Then he blamed the pensions of teachers and firefighters and other workers on the fact they used collective bargaining to get them. Yet most of the pension funds are in trouble today because of the high crimes perpetrated by Walker’s pals on Wall Street, which destroyed much of their value.

Walker, et al, are not unlike General Otis, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times who probably helped blow up his own building as the ultimate act of agent provocateuring in 1910. Through the notoriously anti-labor detective William Burns, he ran the whole operation which blew up his building.

Otis was a control freak. Los Angeles was known as Otistown. He ran the banks and the merchants associations. He conducted incredible real estate scams using the taxpayers dollars, a story documented in the movie “Chinatown.” He controlled the police, because he needed anti-union goons, just as the paper grew its circulation by using thugs to destroy copies of its competition. He used thugs to destroy any one trying to organize, who did everything from killing to maiming his opponents.

Class struggle was very real in 1910. It was the day and age of robber barons, of which General Otis was just one.

It’s hard to know where Otis intense hatred of labor unions came from. As a young man he was something of a war hero in fighting the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was an abolitionist and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator.

But he became a bully and a killer in part because he was a stubborn man.

He was the general who led the forces that killed hundreds of women and children and old men during America’s invasion of the Philippines.

His hatred of labor may have come from his profession. He was originally a printer, and in the old days printers were stubborn men.

Nowadays editors do the work of printers on computers, but before that was the case, editorial had to take its orders to “the back shop” where the printers were. Sometimes the printers would refuse to do those changes for one reason or another, often very whimsical reasons because the printers liked to show who’s boss.

When there was a printers strike in Los Angeles, Otis reacted sullenly to the perfidy of his former coworkers, and brought in scabs to break the union.

Back in Los Angeles, he sat at the publisher’s desk of the Times surrounded by hundreds of rifles and soldiers at the ready. He drove around in a car that had a cannon mounted on it. He lived in a house he proudly called “The Bivouac.”

General Otis made no bones about his belief in class struggle. Needless to say, he was not on the side of the working man. And nowadays, it’s happening all over again.


Lionel Rolfe will be part of the event in downtown on March 17 and is also co-author of “Bread and Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles,” which tells much of the story of the Times bombing. He is also the author of several other books including “Literary L.A.,” “Fat Man on the Left: Four Decades in the Underground,” “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather” and “The Menuhins,” all of which are available electronically at Amazon’s Kindle store.



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