Includes a part from Ragnar Redbeard's "Might is Right."
Machinists’ Monthly Journal, Chicago January 1899
The conditions and environments surrounding the human race to-day are as unsatisfactory as it is possible to conceive. Was Lucifer the almighty ruler, and was his sole object the blasting of our happiness and the propagation of injustice, he could not find more consistent means than the social system to-day represents.
Looking at it from any point, we find the same deplorable aspect.
The wealthy suffer from their unnatural condition of living, as well as the poor.
Nature's penalty for the breaking of her laws has entered every household without regard to station or class.
While the rich do not fear poverty and have power over the poor, they have other troubles which do not appear on the surface. The strain on the mind of the business man as he endeavors to reduce expenses here and expand business there; the schemes without number that he is compelled to resort to in order to hold his own with his competitors; the helplessness and despair that he invariably shows when reverses bring him down to depend on his own labor; the nervous tread and sleepless nights all go to show that the spoliation of his fellow-man has not brought the happiness that was expected.
Was this all the suffering that exists from our system, the matter could be dismissed without a second thought, as they were suffering for their own crimes; but a hundred families must exist in garrets and hovels, in darkened streets and filthy atmospheres that one family may live in a palace and have their own private grounds. Hundreds of pale-faced, ragged children must daily go to their dens of toil that one man's children may have unnatural luxuries. A hundred families must exist in squalid misery and daily drag themselves from damp cellars or filthy attics where year after year, huddled together like vermin, they welter, sicken and die, that one family may live an indolent and useless life. A hundred families must live in ignorance that one family may be accomplished and educated, not for the use they expect to make of it, but for the pleasure to be derived.
In short, that one family may be free to enjoy all that earth can give, a hundred families must live in shame and slavery; ignorant, knowing nothing of the true joys of life, from the day when their eyes look out upon the busy world to the day when they sink to a youthful grave. Old before their time! Victims of a system that protects one family in splendor at the expense of the health, comfort and happiness of a hundred less fortunate ones.
What a hollow world this is for them; living in ignorance, in riot and stench. From the moment these human logs drag themselves from their beds, to the time they crawl back again, they never live one minute of real happiness. Brought up in a life where they must beg, steal and slave in order to get a bare existence, selfishness becomes second nature, friendship, love, or sympathy they know not the meaning of; their hearts never warm to a touch of real ambition or hope to rise to what nature intended.
Their's is, indeed, a hard lot. First they are plundered by their employers, who pay as little as possible for their labor; then the landlord gets all he can, charging, not for the value of the building or improvements, but for the value that the people's settlement has given to that location. Then the storekeeper gets his pound of flesh, charging, not for his labor in distributing the earth's products to the consumer, but all that a high tariff, trusts, combines and other artificial means of obstruction to trade will allow him. Then the saloonkeeper finishes the work of plunder and leaves the victim not only penniless, but generally brainless; and should the victim then lose his work, we see the pawn-brokers, money lenders, and other usurers hovering near to fleece him of the rags that he has left.
He knows not what music is except by listening to that which is played for the rich. He knows not what flowers arc except by looking at those cultivated for the rich. He gets no justice except what the rich man's court gives him; in fact, he eats, wears, enjoys, and lives in just what the rich man allows him.
Forests are destroyed to fill the pockets of these men. Mines are worked or left idle, as they please. Sugar and oil refineries now run and now shut down, to suit the pleasure of a few of these autocrats. The price of wheat and other agricultural products is rising higher and higher one day and the next it drops down to the bottom, just as these rulers are inclined.
The will or necessities of the people are never consulted if it will force a few more drops of sweat from the brow of the worker, a few more shekels from his pockets into the pockets of his rulers, that is all that is considered.
What matters the cries, tears and groans of humanity?
What matters the hunger, despair and wretchedness of the people, if only these individuals and their families have their desires?
What matters it that this miner or other worker who has trod the streets incessantly for months looking for employment becomes disheartened and seeks rest beneath the waters of the river?
Nothing! nothing is looked at but the insatiable selfishness of our rulers.
Is it any wonder that thousands sneak from their dens of misery into the warmth and excitement of the saloon, there to drown for a time their condition in the maddening liquor and feel for a few minutes that they live?
Is it any wonder that our penitentiaries are filled with robbers, swindlers, and criminals, who, finding the chances of earning an honest living hopeless, are driven, partly through want and partly through ignorance, into stealing and other crimes?
Can we blame the harlot for deserting the hovel, and the hardships of a life of toil for one of shameless enjoyment?
The only wonder is that humanity has not descended deeper into darkness than it has.
The horse in his stall feeds on the corn, hay and grain contentedly; nature has provided food and shelter for the “birds of the air and beasts of the field” and they live the contented life that nature intended, but man, poor, egotistical, free, sovereign man, with all his power and knowledge, “knows not where to lay his head.”
What does it matter that science has advanced; that new highways have been opened; that railways, telegraphs, electricity and labor-saving machines have taken the hard work off our shoulders, and large farms and factories turn out more and better necessaries of life?
What avails it, that the people of the equator may taste the coolness and luxuries of the poles, the east of the west, the north of the south?
What matters it that the wheels of industry daily turn quicker and shorter and better methods of production are adopted, if it does not lessen the toil and misery of the masses?
What matters it that we are free, politically, that the nobility exist but in name, when that freedom does not help our condition and we cannot get the benefit of these advances; when there is not work for all that want it and all improvements are used for the benefit of a privileged minority?
What matters it that our rulers are elected, when their rule is just as grinding and their laws as unjust, as formerly existed?
Wealth has accumulated and the splendor and magnificence of our palaces and buildings has reached a point never before equaled, but of what benefit is it, when poverty and ignorance still exist among the “hewers of wood and drawers of water?”
The youth to-day graduates from college. His father has seen the trials that the uneducated have to suffer, and has scraped enough money together to educate his boy. The youth has bright hopes; he has studied hard and now will come into the world and give the people the benefit of his knowledge and make for himself a name and fortune. He feels that his merits will bring their reward and so has no fears for the future. Poor boy! A few years teaches him that every avenue of life is filled with struggling aspirants and thousands more are at the gate asking admittance. He finds that here, too, money is the “sesame” and not merit.
How long will suffering humanity keep its eyes closed to its condition? How long will they allow the accident of birth or opportunity to deprive them of their natural rights? How long will they allow nature's stores to be appropriated and controlled by men who never saw a square inch of wheat or other farm land in their lives, to know it, and who never performed a useful deed or did anything of service to the world? When will outraged nature destroy mankind for their perversion of its laws?
Look at nature m every stage: mineral life, plant life and animal life. See every atom and insect helping its fellow; each depending on some other dependent; receiving, helping and relieving. What would the vine or bird do but for the tree that affords a support for one and a home for the other? What would the tree do but for the rain and the air? In no other case but man's do we find any kind living at the expense of its own or occupying and using any more or less of nature's store than it needs. “Everywhere is harmony, but man's eye is dim, it cannot see; man's heart is dead, it cannot feel.”
The cause for all this suffering, confusion, abuses and inequalities is not hard to find. It can be summed up in one sentence. We have allowed the customs of the past to rule the present. The wants of the people have not increased as fast as their means of production; and instead of dividing the labor and products with our fellow, every man is trying to do and get all he can, thereby denying another willing and perhaps hungry worker the opportunity to earn a living.
If we would gain and retain our freedom and manhood, we must not permit ourselves to be rocked asleep forever by the deceiving lullabies of barbarous ages. We must question and demand proof for everything. Truth need not fear investigation. Before none of custom's idols must we bend the knee, no dogma must influence our decision. Humility and submissiveness must be banished. Too long have we been subjected to environments which have coerced our understanding with degenerate views of duty. Too long the dead hand has been allowed to sterilize living thought. Too long right and wrong, good and evil have been inverted by false teachers. Too long creed and code have ruled our lives from the cradle to the grave. Right and wrong change as ages and people change and it is the duty of every people at every time to decide what is right for themselves instead of trusting to politicians and priests to decide for them. A man might keep the ten commandments and yet be a fool all his life; he may observe the golden rule and still remain a dependent and a failure until his death.
You may ask what “Ism” am I attempting to propose as a remedy for human ills. After criticising dogmas and creeds, what particular creed would I have you believe? My answer is none in particular, but all in general. Everything that tends to better the condition or erase the persecution of even one mortal should be propagated. The millennium will not come in a lifetime, nor is it to be found in any one reform. It can come only through co-operation of those who will benefit by it. It cannot be brought about by voting for men whose very position in life would force them, for their own security, to oppose what would benefit the masses. It cannot be done by pleading or by praying, nor by dreaming or hoping! But it must come through active and aggressive means.
No change was ever brought about by anyone other than the parties to be benefited and they did not do it by servilely obeying their opposer's will. The one remedy or means that today is helping us in our struggle, that has accomplished anything, is the trade union. Through the aggressive and defensive means used by the trade union we have accomplished what has been done, and what legislation has been attempted the trade union is responsible. All reforms agree that the hours of labor must be shortened, but the trade union is the only one that is making an effort to accomplish it. Through its mighty power when exerted properly we have seen the richest corporations succumb, but it was not by going to their homes and starving, like good union men, that these victories were ours. It was not by waiting for Spain to come to this country that we won our fight, and our cause will never be won except by “riding to power o’er our foemen's necks, and thereby proving our right!”
Behind all kings and presidents.
All government and law,
Are army corps and cannoneers,
To hold the world in awe.
And sword-strong races own the earth,
And ride the conqueror's car.
And Liberty has ne'er been won
Except by deed of war.
Ragnar Redbeard "Might is Right."