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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter12,part1)

2006-08-28 23:39

    CHAPTER 12

    From The New Catechism

    Question: What is the whole duty of man?

    Answer: To succeed.

    Q. What is success? A. Success is being a Captain of Industry. Q. How may one become a Captain of Industry? A. By stacking in his barns the hay made by others while the sun shines. Q. But is this not theft? A. Not if done legally and respectably on a large scale. It is high finance. THE REBEL AND THE UNDESIRABLE CITIZEN TALK TREASON. THE HERO HAS PRIVATE CONVERSE WITH A GREAT PIONEER OF CIVILIZATION

    PART 1

    Jeff never for a day desisted from his fight to win back for the people the self rule that had been wrested from them for selfish purposes by corporate greed. "Government by the people" was the watchword he kept at the head of his editorial column. Better a bad government that is representative than a good one emanating from the privileged few, he maintained with conviction.

    To his office came one day Oscar Marchant, the little, half- educated Socialist poet, coughing from the exertion of the stairs he had just climbed. He had come begging, the consumptive presently explained.

    "Remember Sobieski, the Polish Jew?"

    Jeff smiled. "Of course. Philosophical anarchy used to be his remedy."

    "Starvation is the one he's trying now," returned Marchant grimly. "He's had typhoid and lost his job. The rent's due and they'll be turned out tomorrow. He's got a wife and two kids."

    Farnum asked questions briefly and pulled out his check book. "Tell

    Sobieski not to worry," he said as he handed over a check. "I'll send a reporter out there and we'll make an appeal through the _World_. Of course his own name won't be used. No one will know who it really is. We'll look out for him till he's on his feet again."

    Marchant gave him the best he had. "You're a pretty good Socialist, even though you don't know it."

    "Am I?"

    "But you're blind as a bat. The things you fight for in the _World_ don't get to the bottom of what ails us."

    "We've got to forge the tools of freedom before we can use them, haven't we?"

    "You're all for patching up the rotten system we've got. It will never do."

    "Great changes are most easily brought about under the old forms. Men's minds in the mass move slowly. They can see only a little truth at a time."

    "Because they are blinded by ignorance and selfishness. Get at bottom facts, Farnum. What's the one great crime?"

    Without a moment's hesitation Jeff answered. "Poverty. All other crimes are paltry beside that."

    Marchant cocked himself up on the window seat with his legs doubled under him tailor fashion. "Why?"

    "Because it stamps out hope and love and aspiration, all that is fine and true in life."

    "Exactly. Men ought to love their work. But how can they

    ove that which is always associated in their minds with a denial of justice? Is it likely that men will work better under a system whereby they are condemned in advance to failure than under one standing rationally for a just and fair division of the fruits of labor? I tell you, Farnum, under present conditions the Juggernaut of progress is forever wasting humanity."

    "I've always thought it a pity that the mainsprings of work should be fear and greed instead of hope and love," Jeff agreed.

    "Why is it that poverty coexists with wealth increasing so rapidly?

    Why is it that productive power has been so enormously developed without lightening the burdens of labor?"

    Marchant's eyes were starlike in their earnestness. He had a passion for humanity that neither want nor disease could quench, and with it a certain gift of expression street oratory had brought out. Even in private conversation he had got into the way of declaiming. But Jeff knew he was no empty talker. All that he had he literally gave to the poor.

    "Because the whole spirit of business life is wrong," Farnum responded.

    "Of course it's wrong. It's a survival of the law of the jungle, of tooth and fang. Its motto is dog eat dog. We all work under the rule of get and grab. What's the result of this higgledypiggledy system? One man starves and another has indigestion. That's the trouble with Verden to-day. Some of us haven't enough and others have too much. They take from us what we earn. That's the whole cause of poverty. The Malthusian theory is all wrong. It's not nature, but man that is to blame."

    Farnum knew the little Socialist was right so far. Here in Verden, under the forms of freedom, was the very essence of slavery. All the product of labor was taken from it except enough to sustain a mere animal existence. Something was wrong in a world where a man begs in vain for work to support his family. Given proper conditions, men would not rise by trampling each other down, but by lending a hand to the unfortunate. The effect of efficiency would be to make things easier for the weak. The reward of service would be more service.

    "The principle of the old order is dead," Marchant went on, wagging his thin forefinger at Jeff. "The whole social fabric is made up of lies, compromises, injustice. The only reason it has hung together so long is that people have been trained to think along certain lines like show animals. But they're waking up. Look at Germany. Look at England. What the plutocrats call the menace of Socialism is everywhere. Now that every worker knows he is being robbed of what he earns, how long do you think he will carry the capitalistic system on his back? From the beginning of the world we have tried it. With what result? An injustice that is staggering, a waste that is appalling, an inhumanity that is deadening."

    Jeff let a hand fall lightly on his shoulder. "Of course it's all wrong. We know that. But can you show me how to make it right, except out of the hearts of men growing slowly wiser and better?"

    "Why slowly?" demanded Marchant. "Why not to-day while we're still alive to see the smiles of men and women and children made glad? You always want to begin at the wrong end. I tell you that you can't change men's hearts until you change the conditions under which they live."

    "And I tell you that you can't change the conditions until you change men's hearts," Jeff answered with his wistful smile.

    "Rubbish! The only way to change the hearts of most plutocrats is to hit them over the head with a two-by-four. Smug respectability is in the saddle, and it knows it's right. We'll get nowhere until we smash this iniquitous system to smithereens."

    "So you want to substitute one system for another. You think you can eliminate by legal enactment all this fatty degeneration of greed and selfishness that has incased our souls. I'm afraid it will be a slower process. We must free ourselves from within. I believe we are moving toward some sort of a socialistic state. No man with eyes in his head can help seeing that. But we'll move a step at a time, and only so fast as the love and altruism inside us can be organized into external law."

    "No. You'll wake up some morning and find that this whole capitalistic organization has crumbled in the night, fallen to pieces from dry rot."

    Jeff might not agree with him, but he knew that Marchant, dreamer and incoherent poet, his heart aflame with zeal for humanity, was far nearer the truth of life than the smug complacent Pharisees that fattened from the toil of the helpless many who could do nothing but suffer in dumb silence.

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