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An idealist Jimmie Higgins gets involved with the socialist movements which had begun to spread in Europe and the United States in the early 1900s. Jimmie Higgins is hired by German socialists and later joins the army to fight European imperialism, and finally ends up in Archangel in the Siberian Arctic to be introduced to Bolsheviks during the little known U.S. Attempt to restore the czarists to power.
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 Sovereign
All Rights Reserved.
JIMMIE HIGGINS MEETS THE CANDIDATE
“Jimmie,” said Lizzie, “couldn’t we go see the pictures?”
And Jimmie set down the saucer of hot coffee which he was in the act of adjusting to his mouth, and stared at his wife. He did not say anything; in three years and a half as a married man he had learned that one does not always say everything that comes into one’s mind. But he meditated on the abysses that lie between the masculine and feminine intellects. That it should be possible for anyone to wish to see a movie idol leaping into second-story windows, or being pulled from beneath flying express trains, on this day of destiny, this greatest crisis in history!
“You know, Lizzie,” he said, patiently, “I’ve got to help at the Opera-house.”
“But you’ve got all morning!”
“I know; but it’ll take all day.”
And Lizzie fell silent; for she too had learned much in three years and a half of married life. She had learned that working men’s wives seldom get all they would like in this world; also that to have a propagandist for a husband is not the worst fate that may befall. After all, he might have been giving his time and money to drink, or to other women; he might have been dying of a cough, like the man next door. If one could not have a bit of pleasure on a Sunday afternoon—well, one might sigh, but not too loud.
Jimmie began telling all the things that had to be done that Sunday morning and afternoon. They seemed to Lizzie exactly like the things that were done on other occasions before meetings. To be sure, this was bigger—it was in the Opera-house, and all the stores had cards in the windows, with a picture of the Candidate who was to be the orator of the occasion. But it was hard for Lizzie to understand the difference between this Candidate and other candidates—none of whom ever got elected! Lizzie would truly rather have stayed at home, for she did not understand English very well when it was shouted from a platform, and with a lot of long words; but she knew that Jimmie was trying to educate her, and being a woman, she was educated to this extent—she knew the way to hold on to her man.
Jimmie had just discovered a new solution of the problem of getting the babies to meetings; and Lizzie knew that he was tremendously proud of this discovery. So long as there had been only one baby, Jimmie had carried it. When there had come a second, Lizzie had helped. But now there were three, the total weight of them something over sixty pounds; and the street-car line was some distance away, and also it hurt Jimmie in his class-consciousness to pay twenty cents to a predatory corporation. They had tried the plan of paying something to a neighbour to stay with the babies; but the first they tried was a young girl who got tired and went away, leaving the little ones to howl their heads off; and the second was a Polish lady whom they found in a drunken stupor on their return.
But Jimmie was determined to go to meetings, and determined that Lizzie should go along. It was one of the curses of the system, he said, that it deprived working-class women of all chance for self-improvement. So he had paid a visit to the “Industrial Store”, a junk-shop maintained by the Salvation Army, and for fifteen cents he had obtained a marvellous broad baby-carriage for twins, all finished in shiny black enamel. One side of it was busted, but Jimmie had fixed that with some wire, and by careful packing had shown that it was possible to stow the youngsters in it—Jimmie and Pete side by side, and the new baby at the foot.
The one trouble was that Jimmie Junior couldn’t keep his feet still. He could never keep any part of him still, the little jack-in-the-box. Here he was now, tearing about the kitchen, pursuing the ever-receding tail of the newest addition to the family, a half-starved cur who had followed Jimmie in from the street, and had been fed into a semblance of reality. From this treasure a bare, round tail hung out behind in tantalizing fashion; Jimmie Junior, always imagining he could catch it, was toddling round and round and round the kitchen-table, clutching out in front of him, laughing so that after a while he sat down from sheer exhaustion.
And Jimmie Senior watched enraptured. Say, but he was a buster! Did you ever see a twenty-seven months’ old kid that could get over the ground like that? Or make a louder noise? This last because Jimmie Junior had tried to take a short cut through the kitchen range and failed. Lizzie swooped down, clasping him to her broad bosom, and pouring out words of comfort in Bohemian. As Jimmie Senior did not understand any of these words, he took advantage of the confusion to get his coat and cap and hustle off to the Opera-house, full of fresh determination. For, you see, whenever a Socialist looks at his son, or even thinks of his son, he is hotter for his job of propagandist. Let the world be changed soon, so that the little fellows may be spared those sufferings and humiliations which have fallen to the lot of their parents!
“Comrade Higgins, have you got a hammer?” It was Comrade Schneider who spoke, and he did not take the trouble to come down from the ladder, where he was holding up a streamer of bunting, but waited comfortably for the hammer to be fetched to him. And scarcely had the fetcher started to climb before there came the voice of a woman from across the stage: “Comrade Higgins, has the Ypsel banner come?” And from the rear part of the hall came the rotund voice of fat Comrade Rapinsky: “Comrade Higgins, will you bring up an extra table for the literature?” And from the second tier box Comrade Mary Allen spoke: “While you’re downstairs, Comrade Higgins, would you mind telephoning and making sure the Reception Committee knows about the change in the train-time?”
So it went; and Jimmie ran about the big hall with his face red and perspiring; for this was midsummer, and no breeze came through the windows of the Leesville Opera-house, and when you got high up on the walls to tie the streamers of red bunting, you felt as if you were being baked. But the streamers had to be tied, and likewise the big red flag over the stage, and the banner of the Karl Marx Verein, and the banner of the Ypsels, or Young People’s Socialist League of Leesville, and the banner of the Machinists’ Union, Local 4717, and of the Carpenters’ Union, District 529, and of the Workers’ Co-operative Society. And because Comrade Higgins never questioned anybody’s right to give him orders, and always did everything with a cheerful grin, people had got into the habit of regarding him as the proper person for tedious and disagreeable tasks.
He had all the more on his hands at present, because the members of this usually efficient local were half-distracted, like a nest of ants that have been dug out with a shovel. The most faithful ones showed a tendency to forget what they were doing, and to gather in knots to talk about the news which had come over the cables and had been published in that morning’s paper. Jimmie Higgins would have liked to hear what the rest had to say; but somebody had to keep at work, for the local was in the hole nearly three hundred dollars for to-night’s affair, and it must succeed, even though half the civilized world had gone suddenly insane. So Jimmie continued to climb step-ladders and tie bunting.
When it came to lunch-time, and the members of the Decorations Committee were going out, it suddenly occurred to one of them that the drayman who was to bring the literature might arrive while there was nobody to receive it. So Comrade Higgins was allowed to wait during the lunch hour. There was a plausible excuse—he was on the Literature Committee; indeed, he was on every committee where hard work was involved—the committee to distribute leaflets announcing the meeting, the committee to interview the labour unions and urge them to sell tickets, the committee to take up a collection at the meeting. He was not on those committees which involved honour and edification, such as, for example, the committee to meet the Candidate at the depot and escort him to the Opera-house. But then it would never have occurred to Jimmie that he had any place on such a committee; for he was just an ignorant fellow, a machinist, undersized and undernourished, with bad teeth and roughened hands, and no gifts or graces of any sort to recommend him; while on the Reception Committee were a lawyer and a prosperous doctor and the secretary of the Carpet-weavers’ Union, all people who wore good clothes and had education, and knew how to talk to a Candidate.
So Jimmie waited; and when the drayman came, he opened up the packages of books and pamphlets and laid them out in neat piles on the literature tables, and hung several of the more attractive ones on the walls behind the tables; so, of course, Comrade Mabel Smith, who was chairman of the Literature Committee, was greatly pleased when she came back from lunch. And then came the members of the German Liederkranz, to rehearse the programme they were to give; and Comrade Higgins would have liked first rate to sit and listen, but somebody discovered the need of glue, and he chased out to find a drug-store that was open on Sunday.
Later on there was a lull, and Jimmie realized that he was hungry. He examined the contents of his pockets and found that he had seventeen cents. It was a long way to his home, so he would step round the corner and have a cup of coffee and a couple of “sinkers” at “Tom’s”. He first conscientiously asked if anybody needed anything, and Comrade Mabel Smith told him to hurry back to help her put out the leaflets on the seats, and Comrade Meissner would need help in arranging the chairs on the stage.
When you went from the Leesville Opera-house and turned West in Main Street, you passed Heinz’s Cafe, which was a “swell” eating-place, and not for Jimmie; and then the “Bijou Nickelodeon”, with a mechanical piano in the entrance; and the “Bon Marche Shoe Store”, which was always having a fire-sale or a removal sale or a bankruptcy clearing-out; and then Lipsky’s “Picture Palace”, with a brown and yellow cowboy galloping away with a red and yellow maiden in his arms; then Harrod’s “Fancy Grocery” on the corner. And in each of these places there was a show-card in the window, with a picture of the Candidate, and the announcement that on Sunday evening, at eight o’clock, he would speak at the Leesville Opera-house on “War, the Reason and the Remedy”. Jimmie Higgins looked at the cards, and a dignified yet joyful pride stirred in his bosom; for all of them were there because he, Jimmie, had interviewed the proprietors and obtained their more or less reluctant consent.
Jimmie knew that on this Sunday, in cities all over Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and England, the workers were gathering by millions and tens of millions, to protest against the red horror of war being let loose over their heads. And in America too—a call would go from the new world to the old, that the workers should rise and carry out their pledge to prevent this crime against mankind. He, Jimmie Higgins, had no voice that anybody would heed; but he had helped to bring the people of his city to hear a man who had a voice, and who would show the meaning of this world-crisis to the working-people.
It was the party’s Candidate for President. At this time only congressional elections were pending, but this man had been Candidate for President so often that every one thought of him in that role. You might say that each of his campaigns lasted four years; he travelled from one end of the land to the other, and counted by the millions those who heard his burning, bitter message. It had chanced that the day which the War-lords and Money-lords of Europe had chosen to drive their slaves to slaughter was the day on which the Candidate had been scheduled to speak in the Leesville Opera-house. No wonder the Socialists of the little inland city were stirred!
Jimmie Higgins turned into “Tom’s Buffeteria”, and greeted the proprietor, and seated himself on a stool in front of the counter, and called for coffee, and helped himself to “sinkers”—which might have been called “life-preservers”, they were blown so full of air. He filled his mouth, at the same time looking up to make sure that Tom had not removed the card announcing the meeting; for Tom was a Catholic, and one of the reasons that Jimmie went to his place was to involve him and his patrons in arguments over exploitation, unearned increment and surplus value.
But before a discussion could be started, it chanced that Jimmie glanced about. In the back part of the room were four little tables, covered with oil-cloth, where “short orders” were served; and at one of those tables a man was seated. Jimmie took a glance at him, and started so that he almost spilled his coffee. Impossible; and yet—surely—who could mistake that face? The face of a medieval churchman, lean, ascetic, but with a modern touch of kindliness, and a bald dome on top like a moon rising over the prairie. Jimmie started, then stared at the picture of the Candidate which crowned the shelf of pies. He turned to the man again; and the man glanced up, and his eyes met Jimmie’s, with their expression of amazement and awe. The whole story was there, not to be misread—especially by a Candidate who travels about the country making speeches, and being recognized every hour or so from his pictures which have preceded him. A smile came to his face, and Jimmie set down the coffee-cup from one trembling hand and the “sinker” from the other, and rose from his stool.
Jimmie would not have had the courage to advance, save for the other man’s smile—a smile that was weary, but candid and welcoming. “Howdy do, Comrade?” said the man. He held out his hand, and the moment of this clasp was the nearest to heaven that Jimmie Higgins had ever known.
When he was able to find his voice, it was only to exclaim, “You wasn’t due till five-forty-two!”
As if the Candidate had not known that! He explained that he had missed his sleep the night before, and had come on ahead so as to snatch a bit during the day. “I see,” said Jimmie; and then, “I knowed you by your picture.”
“Yes?” said the other, patiently.
And Jimmie groped round in his addled head for something really worth while. “You’ll want to see the Committee?”
“No,” said the other, “I want to finish this first.” And he took a sip from a glass of milk, and a bite out of a sandwich, and chewed.
So utterly rattled was Jimmie he sat there like a num-skull, unable to find a word, while the man finished his repast. When it was over, Jimmie said again—he could do no better—”You want to see the Committee?”
“No,” was the reply, “I want to sit here—and perhaps talk to you, Comrade—Comrade—?”
“Higgins,” said Jimmie.
“Comrade Higgins—that is, if you have time.”
“Oh, sure!” exclaimed Jimmie. “I got all the time there is. But the Committee—”
“Never mind the Committee, Comrade. Do you know how many Committees I have met on this trip?”
Jimmie did not know; nor did he have the courage to ask.
“Probably you never thought how it is to be a Candidate,” continued the other. “You go from place to place, and make the same speech every night, and it seems as if you slept in the same hotel every night, and almost as if you met the same Committee. But you have to remember that your speech is new to each audience, and you have to make it as if you had never made it before; also you have to remember that the Committee is made up of devoted comrades who are giving everything for the cause, so you don’t tell them that they are just like every other committee, or that you are tired to death, or maybe have a headache—”
Jimmie sat, gazing in awe-stricken silence. Not being a man of reading, he had never heard of “the head that wears a crown”. This was his first glimpse into the soul of greatness.
The Candidate went on: “And then, too, Comrade, there’s the news from Europe. I want a little time. I can’t bring myself to face it!”
His voice had grown sombre, and to Jimmie, gazing at him, it seemed that all the sorrows of the world were in his tired grey eyes. “Perhaps I’d better go,” said Jimmie.
“No no,” replied the other, with quick self-recovery. He looked and saw that Jimmie had forgotten his meal. “Bring your things over here,” he said; and the other fetched his cup and saucer and plate, and gulped the rest of his “sinkers” under the Candidate’s eyes.
“I oughtn’t to talk,” said the latter. “You see how hoarse I am. But you talk. Tell me about the local, and how things are going here.”
So Jimmie summoned his courage. It was the one thing he could really talk about, the thing of which his mind and soul were full. Leesville was a typical small manufacturing city, with a glass bottle works, a brewery, a carpet-factory, and the big Empire Machine Shops, at which Jimmie himself spent sixty-three hours of his life each week. The workers were asleep, of course; but still you couldn’t complain, the movement was growing. The local boasted of a hundred and twenty members, though of course, only about thirty of them could be counted on for real work. That was the case everywhere, the Candidate put in—it was always a few who made the sacrifice and kept things alive.
Then Jimmie went on to tell about to-night’s meeting, the preparations they had made, the troubles they had had. The police had suddenly decided to enforce the law against delivering circulars from house to house; though they allowed Isaac’s “Emporium” to use this method of announcement. The Leesville Herald and Evening Courier were enthusiastic for the police action; if you couldn’t give out circulars, obviously you would have to advertise in these papers. The Candidate smiled—he knew about American police officials, and also about American journalism.
Jimmie had been laid off for a couple of days at the shop, and he told how he had put this time to good use, getting announcements of the meeting into the stores. There was an old Scotchman in a real estate office just across the way. “Git oot!” he said. “So I thought I’d better git oot!” said Jimmie. And then, taking his life into his hands, he had gone into the First National Bank. There was a gentleman walking across the floor, and Jimmie went up to him and held out one of the placards with the picture of the Candidate. “Would you be so good as to put this in your window?” he inquired; and the other looked at it coldly. Then he smiled—he was a good sort, apparently. “I don’t think my customers would patronize your business,” he said; but Jimmie went at him to take some tickets and learn about Socialism—and would you believe it, he had actually shelled out a dollar! “I found out afterwards that it was Ashton Charmers, the president of the bank!” said Jimmie. “I’d a’ been scared, if I’d a’ known.”
He had not meant to talk about himself; he was just trying to entertain a tired Candidate, to keep him from brooding over a world going to war. But the Candidate, listening, found tears trying to steal into his eyes. He watched the figure before him—a bowed, undernourished little man, with one shoulder lower than the other, a straggly brown moustache stained with coffee, and stumpy black teeth, and gnarled hands into which the dirt and grease were ground so deeply that washing them would obviously be a waste of time. His clothes were worn and shapeless, his celluloid collar was cracked and his necktie was almost a rag. You would never have looked at such a man twice on the street—and yet the Candidate saw in him one of those obscure heroes who are making a movement which is to transform the world.
“Comrade Higgins,” said the Candidate, after a bit, “let’s you and me run away.”
Jimmie looked startled. “How?”
“I mean from the Committee, and from the meeting, and from everything.” And then, seeing the dismay in the other’s face: “I mean, let’s take a walk in the country.”
“Oh!” said Jimmie.
“I see it through the windows of the railroad-cars, but I don’t set foot on it for months at a time. And I was brought up in the country. Were you?”
“I was brought up everywhere,” said the little machinist.
They got up, and paid each their ten cents to the proprietor of the “Buffeteria.” Jimmie could not resist the temptation to introduce his hero, and show a pious Catholic that a Socialist Candidate had neither hoofs nor horns. The Candidate was used to being introduced for that purpose and had certain spontaneous and cordial words which he had said not less than ten thousand times before; with the result that the pious Catholic gave his promise to come to the meeting that night.
They went out; and because some member of the Committee might be passing on Main Street, Jimmie took his hero by an alley into a back street; and they walked past the glass-factory, which to the outsider was a long board fence, and across the Atlantic Western railroad tracks, and past the carpet-factory, a huge four-story box made of bricks; after which the rows of wooden shacks began to thin out, and there were vacant lots and ash-heaps, and at last the beginning of farms.
The Candidate’s legs were long, and Jimmie’s, alas, were short, so he had almost to run. The sun blazed down on them, and sweat, starting from the Candidate’s bald head stole under the band of his straw hat and down to his wilting collar; so he took off his coat and hung it over his arm, and went on, faster than ever. Jimmie raced beside him, afraid to speak, for he divined that the Candidate was brooding over the world-calamity, the millions of young men marching out to slaughter. On the placards which Jimmie had been distributing in Leesville, there were two lines about the Candidate, written by America’s favourite poet:
As warm heart as ever beat
Betwixt here and judgement seat.
So they went on for perhaps an hour, by which time they were really in the country. They came to a bridge which crossed the river Lee, and there the Candidate suddenly stopped, and stood looking at the water sliding below him, and at the vista through which it wound, an avenue of green trees with stretches of pasture and cattle grazing. “That looks fine,” he said. “Let’s go down.” So they climbed a fence, and made their way along the river for a distance, until a turn of the stream took them out of sight of the road.
There they sat on a shelving bank, and mopped the perspiration from their foreheads and necks, and gazed into the rippling current. You couldn’t exactly say it was crystal clear, for when there is a town every ten miles or so along a stream, with factories pouring various kinds of chemicals into it, the job becomes too much for the restoring forces of Mother Nature. But it would take a dirty stream indeed not to look inviting in midsummer after a four-mile walk. So presently the Candidate turned to Jimmie, with a mischievous look upon his face. “Comrade Higgins, were you ever in a swimmin’ hole?”
“Sure I was!” said Jimmie.
“Everywhere. I was on the road off an’ on ten years—till I got married.”
“Well,” said the Candidate, still smiling, “what do you say?”
“I say sure!” replied Jimmie.
He was almost beside himself with awe, at this unbelieveable strange fortune, this real comradeship with the hero of his dreams. To Jimmie this man had been a disembodied intelligence, a dispenser of proletarian inspiration, a supernatural being who went about the country standing upon platforms and swaying the souls of multitudes. It had never occurred to Jimmie that he might have a bare body, and might enjoy splashing about in cool water like a boy playing “hookey” from school. The saying is that familiarity breeds contempt, but for Jimmie it bred rapture.
They walked home again, more slowly. The Candidate asked Jimmie about his life, and Jimmie told the story of a Socialist—not one of the leaders, the “intellectuals”, but of the “rank and file”. Jimmie’s father was a working man out of a job, who had left his family before Jimmie had joined it; Jimmie’s mother had died three years later, so he did not remember her, nor could he recall a word of the foreign language he had spoken at home, nor did he even know what the language was. He had been taken in charge by the city, and farmed out to a negro woman who had eight miserable starvelings under her care, feeding them on gruel and water, and not even giving them a blanket in winter. You might not think that possible—
“I know America,” put in the Candidate.
Jimmie went on. At nine he had been boarded with a woodsaw man, who worked him sixteen hours a day and beat him in addition; so Jimmie had skipped out, and for ten years had lived the life of a street waif in the cities and a hobo on the road. He had learned a bit about machinery, helping in a garage, and then, in a rush-time, he had got a job in the Empire Machine Shops. He had stayed in Leesville, because he had got married; he had met his wife in a brothel, and she had wanted to quit the life, and they had taken a chance together.
“I don’t tell that to everybody,” said Jimmie. “You know—they mightn’t understand. But I don’t mind you knowin’.”
“Thank you,” replied the Candidate, and put his hand on Jimmie’s shoulder. “Tell me how you became a Socialist.”
There was nothing special about that, was the answer. There had been a fellow in the shop who was always “chewing the rag”; Jimmie had laughed at him—for his life had made him suspicious of everybody, and if there was any sort of politician, it was just another scheme of somebody to wear a white collar and live off the workers. But the fellow had kept pegging away; and once Jimmie had been laid off for a couple of months, and the family had near starved, and that had given him time to think, and also the inclination. The fellow had come along with some papers, and Jimmie had read them, and it dawned upon him that here was a movement of his fellow-workers to put an end to their torments.
“How long ago was that?” asked the Candidate, and Jimmie answered three years. “And you haven’t lost your enthusiasm?” This with an intensity that surprised Jimmie. No, he answered, he was not that kind. Whatever happened, he would keep pegging away at the task of freeing labour. He would not see the New Day, perhaps, but his children would see it; and a fellow would work like the devil to save his children.
So they came to the city; and the Candidate pressed Jimmie’s arm. “Comrade,” he said, “I want to tell you how much good this little trip has done me. I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“Me?” exclaimed Jimmie.
“You have given me fresh hope and courage, and at a time when I felt beaten. I got into town this morning, and I’d had no sleep, and I tried to get some in the hotel and couldn’t, because of the horror that’s happening. I wrote a dozen telegrams and sent them off, and then I was afraid to go back to the hotel-room, because I knew I’d only lie awake all afternoon. But now—I remember that our movement is rooted in the hearts of the people!”
Jimmie was trembling. But all he could say was: “I wish I could do it every Sunday.”
“So do I,” said the Candidate.
They walked down Main Street, and some way ahead they saw a crowd gathered, filling the pavement beyond the kerb. “What is that?” asked the Candidate, and Jimmie answered that it was the office of the Herald. There must be some news.
The other hastened his steps; and Jimmie, striding alongside, fell silent again, knowing that the gigantic burden and woe of the world was falling upon his hero’s shoulders once more. They came to the edge of the crowd, and saw a bulletin in front of the newspaper office. But it was too far away for them to read. “What is it?” they asked.
“It says the Germans are going to march into Belgium. And they’ve shot a lot of Socialists in Germany.”
“WHAT?” And the Candidate’s hand clutched Jimmie’s arm.
“That’s what it says.”
“My God!” exclaimed the man. And he began pushing his way into the crowd, with Jimmie in his wake. They got to the bulletin, and stood reading the typewritten words—a bare announcement that more than a hundred leading German Socialists had been executed for efforts to prevent mobilization. They continued staring, until people pushing behind them caused them to draw back. Outside the throng they stood, the Candidate gazing into space, and Jimmie gazing at the Candidate, both of them dumb. It was a fact that they could not have been more shocked if the news had referred to the members of Local Leesville of the Socialist Party of America.
The pain in the Candidate’s face was so evident that Jimmie groped about in his head for something comforting to say. “At least they done what they could,” he whispered.
The other suddenly burst forth: “They are heroes! They have made the name Socialist sacred for ever!” He rushed on, as if he were making a speech-so strong becomes a life-time habit. “They have written their names at the very top of humanity’s roll of honour! It doesn’t make any difference what happens after this, Comrade—the movement had vindicated itself! All the future will be changed because of this event!”
He began to walk down the street, talking more to himself than to Jimmie. He was borne away on the wings of his vision; and his companion was so thrilled that he honestly did not know where he was. Afterwards, when he looked back upon this scene, it remained the most wonderful event of his life; he told the story, sooner or later, to every Socialist he met.
Presently the Candidate stopped. “Comrade,” he said, “I must go to the hotel. I want to write some telegrams. You explain to the Committee—I’d rather not see anyone till time for the meeting. I’ll find the way myself.”
JIMMIE HIGGINS HEARS A SPEECH
In the Opera-house were gathered Comrade Mabel Smith and Comrade Meissner and Comrade Goldstein, the secretary of the Ypsels, and the three members of the Reception Committee—Comrade Norwood, the rising young lawyer, Comrade Dr. Service, and Comrade Schultze of the Carpet-weavers’ Union. To them rushed the breathless Jimmie. “Have you heard the news?”
“What is it?”.
“A hundred Socialist leaders shot in Germany!”
“Herr Gott!” cried Comrade Schultze, in horror; and everyone turned instinctively, for they knew how this came home to him—he had a brother who was a Socialist editor in Leipzig, and who was liable for the mobilization.
“Where did you see it?” cried Schultze; and Jimmie told what he knew. And then the clamour broke forth! Others were called from the back part of the hall, and came running, and there were questions and cries of dismay. Here, too, it was as if the crime had been committed against Local Leesville—so completely did they feel themselves one with the victims. In a town where there was a brewery, needless to say there were German workers a-plenty; but even had this not been so, the feeling would have been the same, for the Socialists of the world were one, the soul of the movement was its internationalism. The Candidate discovering that Jimmie was a Socialist had asked and received no further introduction, but had been instantly his friend; and so it would have been with a comrade from Germany, Japan, or the heart of Africa—he might not have known another word of English, the word “Socialist” would have sufficed.
It was a long time before they thought of any other matter; but finally someone referred to the trouble which had fallen upon the local—the Candidate had not showed up. And Jimmie exclaimed, “Why, he’s here!” And instantly all turned upon him. Where? When? How?
“He came this morning.”
“And why didn’t you let us know?” It was Comrade Dr. Service of the Reception Committee who spoke, and with a decided sharpness in his tone.
“He didn’t want anybody to know,” said Jimmie.
“Did he want us to go to the train and think he had failed us?”
Sure enough, it was after train-time! Jimmie had entirely forgotten both the train and the committee, and now he had not the grace to hide his offence. All he could do was to tell his story—how he had spent the afternoon walking in the country with the Candidate, and how they had gone swimming, and how they had got the news from the bulletin board, and how the Candidate had acted and what he had said. Poor Jimmie never doubted but that his own thrill was shared by all the others; and at the next regular meeting of the local, when Comrade Dr. Service sat down on some proposition which Jimmie had ventured to make, the little machinist had not the faintest idea what he had done to deserve the snub. He was lacking in worldly sense, he did not understand that a prosperous physician, who comes into the movement out of pure humanitarianism, contributing his prestige and his wealth to the certain detriment of his social and business interests, is entitled to a certain deference from the Jimmie Higginses, and even from a Candidate.
You might have thought that Jimmie would be tired; but this was a day on which the flesh had no claims. First he helped Comrade Mabel in depositing upon every seat a leaflet containing a letter from the local candidate for Congress; then he rushed away to catch a street-car, and spent his last nickel to get to his home and keep his engagement with Lizzie. He would not make with her the mistake he had made with the Committee, you bet!
He found that Lizzie had faithfully carried out her part of the bargain. The three babies were done up in bright-coloured calico dresses; she had spent the morning in washing and ironing these garments—also her own dress, which was half-red and half-green, and of generous, almost crinoline proportions. Lizzie herself was built on that scale, with broad hips and bosom, big brown eyes and heavy dark hair. She was a fine strong woman when she had shed her bedraggled house gown, and Jimmie was proud of his capability as a chooser of wives. It was no small feat to find a good woman, and to recognize her, where Jimmie had found Lizzie. She was five years older than he, a Bohemian, having been brought to America when she was a baby. Her former name—you could hardly call it her “maiden” name, considering the circumstances—was Elizabeth Huszar, which she pronounced so that for a long time Jimmie had understood it to be Eleeza Betooser.
Jimmie snatched a bite of bread and drank a cup of metallic tasting tea, and packed the family into the baby-carriage, and trudged the mile and half to the centre of the city. When they arrived, Lizzie took the biggest child, and Jimmie the other two, and so they trudged into the Opera-house. On this hot night it was like holding three stoves in your arms, and if the babies woke up and began to cry, the parents would have the painful choice of missing something, or else facing the disgusted looks of everyone about them. In Belgium, at the “People’s House”, the Socialists maintained a creche, but the American movement had not yet discovered that useful institution.
Already the hall was half-full, and a stream of people pouring in. Jimmie got himself and family seated, and then turned his eager eyes proudly to survey the scene. The would-be-congressman’s circulars which he had placed in the seats were now being read by the sitters; the banners he had so laboriously hung were resplendent on the walls; there was a pitcher of ice water on the speaker’s table, and a bouquet of flowers and a gavel for the chairman; the seats in the rear of the platform for the Liederkranz were neatly ranged, most of them already occupied by solid German figures topped by rosy German faces: to each detail of which achievements Jimmie had lent a hand. He had a pride of possession in this great buzzing throng, and in the debt they owed to him. They had no idea of it, of course; the fools, they thought that a meeting like this just grew out of nothing! They paid their ten cents—twenty-five cents for reserved seats—and imagined that covered everything, with perhaps even a rake-off for somebody! They would grumble, wondering why the Socialists persisted in charging admission for their meetings—why they could not let people in free as the Democrats and Republicans did. They would go to Democratic and Republican meetings, and enjoy the brass band and the fireworks, pyrotechnical and oratorical—never dreaming it was all a snare paid for by their exploiters!
Well, they would learn about it to-night! Jimmie thought of the Candidate, and how he would impress this man and that. For Jimmie knew scores who had got tickets, and he peered about after this one and that, and gave them a happy nod from behind his barricade of babies. Then, craning his neck to look behind him, suddenly Jimmie gave a start. Coming down the aisle was Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville; and with him-could it be possible?—old man Granitch, owner of the huge Empire Machine Shops where Jimmie worked! The little machinist found himself shaking with excitement as these two tall forms strode past him down the aisle. He gave Lizzie a nudge with his elbow and whispered into her ear; and all around was a buzz of whispers—for, of course, everybody knew these two mighty men, the heads of the “invisible government” of Leesville. They had come to find out what their subjects were thinking! Well, they would get it straight!
The big hall was full, and the aisles began to jam, and then the police closed the doors—something which Jimmie took as part of the universal capitalist conspiracy. The audience began to chafe; until at last the chairman walked out upon the stage, followed by several important persons who took front seats. The singers stood up, and the leader waved his wand, and forth came the Marseillaise: a French revolutionary hymn, sung in English by a German organization—there was Internationalism for you! With full realization of the solemnity of this world-crisis, they sang as if they hoped to be heard in Europe.
And then rose the Chairman—Comrade Dr. Service. He was a fine, big figure of a man, with grey moustache and beard trimmed to a point; his swelling chest was covered by clean white linen and tight-fitting broad-cloth, and he made a most imposing chairman, reflecting credit on the movement. He cleared his throat, and told them that they had come that evening to listen to one of America’s greatest orators, and that therefore he, the Chairman, would not make a speech; after which he proceeded to make a speech. He told them what a grave hour this was, and how the orator would tell them its meaning, after which he proceeded to tell most of the things which the orator would tell. This was a weakness of Comrade Dr. Service—but one hesitated to point it out to him, because of his black broad-cloth suit and his imposing appearance, and the money he had put up to pay for the hall.
At last, however, he called on the Liederkranz again, and a quartet sang a German song and then an encore. And then came Comrade Gerrity, the hustling young insurance-agent who was organizer for the local, and whose task it was to make a “collection speech.” He had humorous ways of extracting money—”Here I am again!” he began, and everybody smiled, knowing his bag of tricks. While he was telling his newest funny story, Jimmie was unloading the littlest infant into Lizzie’s spare arm, and laying the other on the seat with its head against her knee, and getting himself out into the aisle, hat in hand and ready for business; and as soon as the organizer ceased and the Liederkranz resumed, Jimmie set to work gathering the coin. His territory was the reserved-seat section up in front, where sat the two mighty magnates. Jimmie’s knees went weak, but he did his duty, and was tickled to see each of the pair drop a coin into the hat, to be used in overthrowing their power in Leesville!
The hats were taken to the box-office and emptied, and the collection-takers and the Liederkranz singers resumed their seats. An expectant hush fell—and then at last there strode out on the stage the Candidate. What a storm broke out! Men cheered and clapped and shouted. He took his seat modestly; but as the noise continued, he was justified in assuming that it was meant for him, and he rose and bowed; as it still continued, he bowed again, and then again. It had been the expectation of Comrade Dr. Service to come forward and say that, of course, it was not necessary for anyone to introduce the speaker of the evening; but the audience, as if it had read the worthy doctor’s intention, kept on applauding, until the Candidate himself advanced, and raised his hand, and began his speech.
He did not stop for any oratorical preliminaries. This, he said—and his voice trembled with emotion—was the solemnest hour that men had ever faced on earth. That day on the bulletin-board of their local newspaper he had read tidings which had moved him as he had never been moved in his life, which had almost deprived him of the power to walk upon a stage and address an audience. Perhaps they had not heard the news; he told it to them, and there sprang from the audience a cry of indignation.
Yes, they might well protest, said the speaker; nowhere on all the bloody pages of history could you find a crime more revolting than this! The masters of Europe had gone mad in their lust for power; they had called down the vengeance of mankind upon their crowned and coronetted heads. Here to-night he would tell them—and the speaker’s hoarse and raucous voice mounted to a shout of rage—he would tell them that in signing the death-warrant of those heroic martyrs, they had sealed the doom of their own order, they had torn out the foundation-stones from the structure of capitalist society! The speaker’s voice seemed to lift the audience from its seats, and the last words of the sentence were drowned in a tumult of applause.
Silence fell again, and the man went on. He had peculiar mannerisms on the platform. His lanky form was never still for an instant. He hurried from one end of the stage to the other; he would crouch and bend as if he were going to spring upon the audience, a long, skinny finger would be shaken before their faces, or pointed as if to drive his words into their hearts. His speech was a torrent of epigram, sarcasm, invective. He was bitter; if you knew nothing about the man or his cause, you would find this repellent and shocking. You had to know what his life had been—an unceasing conflict with oppression; he had got his Socialist education in jail, where he had been sent for trying to organize the wage-slaves of a gigantic corporation. His rage was the rage of a tender-hearted poet, a lover of children and of Nature, driven mad by the sight of torment wantonly inflicted. And if ever he had seemed to you an extremist, too angry to be excused, here to-night he had his vindication, here to-night you saw him as a prophet. For now the master-class had torn the mask from its face, and revealed to the whole world what were its moral standards! At last men saw their rulers face to face!
They have plunged mankind into a pit of lunacy. “They call it war,” cried the speaker; “but I call it murder.” And he went on to picture to them what was happening in Europe at that hour—he brought the awful nightmare before their eyes, he showed them homes blown to pieces, cities given to the flames, the bodies of men pierced by bullets or torn to fragments by shells. He pictured a bayonet plunged into the abdomen of a man; he made you see the ghastly deed, and feel its shuddering wickedness. Men and women and children sat spellbound; and for once no man could say aloud or feel in his heart that the pictures of a Socialist agitator were overdrawn—no, not even Ashton Chalmers, president of the First National Bank of Leesville, or old Abel Granitch, proprietor of the Empire Machine Shops!
And what was the cause of this blackest of calamities? The speaker went on to show that the determining motive was not racial jealousy, but commercial greed. The fountain-head of the war was world-capitalism, clamouring for markets, seeking to get rid of its surplus products, to keep busy its hordes of wage-slaves at home. He analysed the various factors; and now, with the shadow of the European storm over their heads—now at last men and women would listen, they would realize that the matter concerned them. He warned them—let them not think that they were safe from the hoofs of this war-monster, just because they were three thousand miles away! Capitalism was a world phenomenon, and all the forces of parasitism and exploitation which had swept Europe into this tragedy were active here in America. The money-masters, the profit-seekers, would leap to take advantage of the collapse over the seas; there would be jealousies, disputes—let the audience understand, once for all, that if world-capitalism did not make this a world-war, it would be only because the workers of America took warning, and made their preparations to frustrate the conspiracy.
This was what he had come for, this was the heart of his message. Many of those who listened were refugees from the old world, having fled its oppressions and enslavements. He pleaded with them now, as a man whose heart was torn by more suffering than he could bear—let there be one part of the fair garden of earth into which the demons of destruction might not break their way! Let them take warning in time, let them organize and establish their own machinery of information and propaganda—so that when the crisis came, when the money-masters of America sounded the war-drums, there might be—not the destruction and desolation which these masters willed, but the joy and freedom of the Co-operative Commonwealth!
“How many years we Socialists have warned you!” he cried. “But you have doubted us, you have believed what your exploiters have told you! And now, in this hour of crisis, you look at Europe and discover who are the real friends of humanity, of civilization. What voice comes over the seas, protesting against war? The Socialist voice, and the Socialist voice alone! And to-night, once more, you hear it in this hall! You men and women of America, and you exiles from all corners of the world, make this pledge with me—make it now, before it is too late, and stand by it when the hour of crisis comes! Swear it by the blood of our martyred heroes, those slaughtered German Socialists—swear that, come what will, and when and how it will, that no power on earth or in hell beneath the earth shall draw you into this fratricidal war! Make this resolution, send this message to all the nations of the earth—that the men of all nations and all races are your brothers, and that never will you consent to shed their blood. If the money-masters and the exploiters want war, let them have it, but let it be among themselves! Let them take the bombs and shells they have made and go out against one another! Let them blow their own class to pieces—but let them not seek to lure the working-people into their quarrels!”
Again and again, in answer to such exhortations, the audience broke out into shouts of applause. Men raised their hands in solemn pledge; and the Socialists among them went home from the meeting with a new gravity in their faces, a new consecration in their hearts. They had made a vow, and they would keep it—yes, even though it meant sharing the fate of their heroic German comrades!
—And then in the morning they opened their papers, looking eagerly for more details about the fate of the heroic German comrades, and they found none. Day after day, morning and afternoon, they looked for more details, and found none. On the contrary, to their unutterable bewilderment, they learned that the leaders of the German Social-Democracy had voted for the war-budgets, and that the rank and file of the movement were hammering out the goose-step on the roads of Belgium and France! They could not bring themselves to believe it; even yet they have not brought themselves to realize that the story which thrilled them so on that fatal Sunday afternoon was only a cunning lie sent out by the German war-lords, in the hope of causing the Socialists of Belgium and France and England to revolt, and so give the victory to Germany!
JIMMIE HIGGINS DEBATES THE ISSUE
The grey flood of frightfulness rolled over Belgium; and every morning, and again in the afternoon, the front page of the Leesville newspaper was like the explosion of a bomb. Twenty-five thousand Germans killed in one assault on Liege; a quarter of a million Russians massacred or drowned in the swamps of the Masurian Lakes; so it went, until the minds of men reeled. They saw empires and civilizations crumbling before their eyes, all those certainties upon which their lives had been built vanishing as a mist at sunrise.
Hitherto, Jimmie Higgins had always refused to take a daily paper. No capitalist lies for him; he would save his pennies for the Socialist weeklies! But now he had to have the news, and tired as he was after the day’s work, he would sit on his front porch with his ragged feet against a post, spelling out the despatches. Then he would stroll down to the cigar-stand of Comrade Stankewitz, a wizened-up little Roumanian Jew who had lived in Europe, and had a map, and would show Jimmie which was Russia, and why Germany marched across Belgium, and why England had to interfere. It was good to have a friend who was a man of travel and a linguist—especially when the fighting became centred about places such as Przemysl and Przasnyaz!
Then every Friday night would be the meeting of the local. Jimmie would be the first to arrive, eager to hear every word the better informed comrades had to say, and thus to complete the education which Society had so cruelly neglected.
Before the war was many weeks old, Jimmie’s head was in a state of utter bewilderment; never would he have thought it possible for men to hold so many conflicting opinions, and to hold them with such passionate intensity! It seemed as if the world-conflict were being fought out in miniature in Leesville.
At the third meeting after the war began, the prosperous Dr. Service arose, and in his impressive oratorical voice moved that the local should send a telegram to the National Executive Committee of the party, requesting it to protest against the invasion of Belgium; also a telegram to the President of the United States, requesting him to take the same action. And then what pandemonium broke loose! Comrade Schneider, the brewery-worker, demanded to know whether Local Leesville had ever requested the National Executive Committee to protest against the invasion of Ireland. Had the Socialist party ever requested the President of the United States to protect Egypt and India from oppression?
Comrade Dr. Service, who had remained on his feet, began a passionate denunciation of the outrages perpetrated by the German army in Belgium; at which Comrade Schneider’s florid face turned purple. He demanded whether all men did not know that France had first invaded Belgium, and that the Belgians had welcomed the French? Weren’t all the Belgian forts turned toward Germany? Of course! answered the doctor. But what of that? Was it a crime for a man to know who was going to attack him?
The purple-faced brewer, without heeding this question, demanded: Did not all the world know that the French had begun the war with an aeroplane bombardment of the German cities? The Comrade Doctor, his face also purpling, replied that all the world knew this for a tale sent out by the German propaganda machine. HOW did all the world know it? roared Schneider. By a cable-censorship controlled by British gold?
Jimmie was much exicted by this dispute. The only trouble was that he found himself in agreement with both sides, and with an impulse to applaud both sides. And also he applauded the next speaker, young Emil Forster, a pale, slender, and fair-haired youth, a designer in the carpet-factory. Emil was one who seldom raised his voice in the meetings, but when he did, he was heard with attention, for he was a student and a thinker; he played the flute, and his father, also a member of the local, played the clarinet, so the pair were invaluable on “social evenings”. In his gentle, dispassionate voice he explained how it was not easy for people in America to understand the dilemma of the German Socialists in the present crisis. We must remember that the Germans were fighting, not merely England and France, but Russia; and Russia was a huge, half-civilized land, under perhaps the most cruel government in the world. How would Americans feel if up in Canada there were three hundred millions of people, ignorant, enslaved, and being drilled in huge armies?
All right, retorted Dr. Service. But then why did not the Germans fight Russia, and let France and Belgium alone?
Because, answered Emil, the French would not permit that. We in America thought of France as a republic, but we must remember that it was a capitalist republic, a nation ruled by bankers; and these bankers had formed an alliance with Russia, the sole possible aim of which was the destruction of Germany. France had loaned something like four billions of dollars to Russia.
And then Schneider leaped up. Yes, and it was that money which had provided the cannon and shells that were now being used in laying waste East Prussia, the land of Schneider’s birth!
The temper of both sides was rising higher and higher, and the neutrals made efforts to calm the dispute. Comrade Stankewitz, Jimmie’s cigar-store friend, cried out in his shrill eager voice: Vy did we vant to git mixed up vit them European fights? Didn’t we know vat bankers and capitalists vere? Vat difference did it make to any vorking man vether he vas robbed from Paris or Berlin? “Sure, I know,” said Stankewitz, “I vorked in both them cities, and I vas every bit so hungry under Rothschild as I vas under the Kaiser.”
Then Comrade Gerrity, organizer of the local, took his turn. Whatever they did, said Gerrity, they must keep their neutrality in this war; the one hope of the world just now was in the Socialist movement—that it would preserve the international spirit, and point a war-torn world back to peace. Especially just now in Local Leesville they must keep their heads, for they were beginning the most important move in their history, the establishment of a weekly paper. Nothing must get in the way of that!
Yes, said Comrade Service, but they would have to determine the policy of the paper, would they not? Were they going to protest against injustice at home, and pay no attention to the most flagrant act of international injustice in the history of the world? Was a working man’s paper to say nothing against the enslavement of the working men of Europe by the Kaiser and his militarist crew? He, Dr. Service, would wash his hands of such a paper.
And then the members of the local gazed at one another in dismay. Every man and woman of them knew that the prosperous doctor had headed the list of subscribers for the soon-to-be-born Leesville Worker with the sum of five hundred dollars. The thought of losing this munificent contribution brought consternation even to the Germans!
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