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Chapter 5

JIMMIE HIGGINS HELPS THE KAISER

I

Jimmie Higgins regarded with the utmost resentment the determination of the war to come to Leesville, in spite of all his labours to keep it out. Take the most preposterous thing you could imagine--the most idiotic thing on the face of the earth--take German spies! When Jimmie heard people talking about German spies, he laughed in their faces, he told them they were a bunch of fools, they belonged in the nursery; for Jimmie classed German spies with goblins, witches and sea-serpents. And here suddenly the bewildered little man found himself in the midst of a German spy mania, the like of which he could never have dreamed!

Everybody seemed to take it for granted that the Empire Machine Shops had been burned by German agents; they just knew it, and by the time the fire was out they had a hundred various stories to support their conviction. The fire had leaped from place to place in a series of explosions; the watchman, who had passed through the building only two minutes before, had rushed back and seen blazing gasolene, and had almost lost his life in the sweep of the flames. And next morning the Leesville Herald was out with letters half a foot high, telling these tales and insisting that the plant had been full of German agents, disguised as working men.

Before the day was by the police had arrested a dozen perfectly harmless German and Austrian labourers; at least that was the way it seemed to Jimmie, because of the fact that two of the men were members of the Socialist local. Somebody told Mrs. Meissner that all the Germans in Leesville were to be arrested, and the poor woman was trembling with terror. She wanted her husband to run away, but Jimmie persuaded them that this would be the worst possible course; so Meissner stayed in the house, and Jimmie kept his mouth shut for three whole days--an extraordinary feat for him, and a trial more severe than being in gaol.

He had lost his job--for ever, he thought. But in this again he misjudged the forces which had taken his life in their grip--the power of the gold which had come to Leesville by way of Russia. The day after the fire he received word to report for work again; old man Granitch was so anxious to keep his workers out of the clutches of the Hubbard Engine Company that he put them all, skilled and unskilled, at the job of clearing away the debris of the fire! And five days later came the first carloads of new material, brought on motor-trucks, and the rebuilding of the Empire Shops began. Would you believe it--some of the machinery which had not been damaged too much in the fire was fixed up, and at the end of a couple of weeks was starting up again, covered by a temporary canvas shelter, and with the walls of the new building rising round it!

That was the kind of thing which made America the marvel of the world. It had made old man Granitch young again, people said; he worked twenty hours a day in his shirt-sleeves, and the increase in his profanity was appalling. Even Lacey Granitch, his dashing son, quitted the bright lights of Broadway and came home to help the old man keep his contracts. The enthusiasm for these contracts became as it were the religion of Leesville; it spread even to the ranks of labour, so that Jimmie found himself like a man in a surf, struggling to keep his feet against an undertow.

II

The plans for the Worker were delayed, for the reason that when Comrade Mary Allen, the Quaker, went to look for Jerry Coleman the day after the fire, that dispenser of ten dollar bills had mysteriously disappeared. It was a week before he showed up again; and meantime fresh events had taken place, both in the local and outside. To begin with the latter, as presumably the more important, an English passenger liner, the pride of the Atlantic fleet, loaded to the last cabin with American millionaires, was torpedoed without warning by a German submarine. More than a thousand men, women and children went down, and the deed sent a shudder of horror through the civilized world. At the meeting of Local Leesville, which happened to take place the evening afterward, it proved a difficult matter to get business started.

The members stood about and argued. What could you say about a government that ordered a crime like that? What could you say about a naval officer who would carry out such an order? Thus Comrade Norwood, the young lawyer; and Schneider, the brewer, answered that the German government had done everything that any reasonable man could ask. It had published a notice in the New York papers, to the effect that the vessel was subject to attack, and that anyone who travelled on her would do so at his peril. If women and children would ride on munition-ships--

"Munition-ships?" cried Norwood; and then Schneider pointed to a news-dispatch, to the effect that the Lusitania had had on board a shipment of cartridge-cases.

"A fine lot of munitions!" jeered the lawyer.

Well, was the reply, what were cartridge-cases for, if not to kill Germans? The Germans had been attacked by the whole world, and they had to defend themselves. When you looked at Comrade Schneider, you saw a man who felt himself attacked by the whole world; his face was red up to the roots of his hair, and he was ready to defend himself with any weapon he could get hold of.

Comrade Koeln, a big glass-blower, broke into the discussion. The German government was authority for the statement that the Lusitania had been armed with guns. And when Norwood hooted at this, every German in the room was up in arms. What did he have to disprove it? The word of the British government! Was not "perfidious Albion" a byword!

"The thing that beats me," declared the young lawyer, "is the way you Germans stand up for the Kaiser now, when before the war you couldn't find enough bad things to say about him."

"What beats me," countered Schneider, "is how you Americans stand up for King George. Every newspaper in Wall Street howling for America to go into the war--just because some millionaires got killed!"

"You don't seem to realize that the greater number of the men who lost their lives on that ship were working men!"

"Ho! Ho!" hooted Comrade Stankewitz. "Vall Street loves so the vorking men!"

Comrade Mary Allen, who loved all men, took up the argument. If those working men had been killed in a mine disaster, caused by criminal carelessness and greed for profits; if they had died of some industrial disease which might easily have been prevented; if they had been burned in a factory without fire-escapes--nobody in Wall Street would have wanted to go to war. And, of course, every Socialist considered this was true; every Socialist saw quite clearly that the enormity of the Lusitania sinking lay in the fact that it had reached and injured the privileged people, the people who counted, who got their names in the papers and were not supposed to be inconvenienced, even by war. So it was possible for Jimmie Higgins, even though shocked by what the Germans had done, to be irritated by the fuss which the Wall Street newspapers made.

Young Emil Forster spoke, and they listened to him, as they always did. It was a quarrel, he said--and as usual in quarrels, both sides had their rights and wrongs. You had to balance a few English and American babies against the millions of German babies which the British government intended to starve. It was British sea-power maintaining itself--and of course controlling most of the channels of publicity. It appealed to what it called "law"--that is to say, the customs it had found convenient in the past. British cruisers were able to visit and search vessels, and to take off their crews; but submarines could not do that, so what the British clamour about "law" amounted to was an attempt to keep Germany from using her only weapon. After all, ask yourself honestly if it was any worse to drown people quickly than to starve them slowly.

And then came "Wild Bill". This wrangling over German and British gave him a pain in the guts. Couldn't they see, the big stiffs, that they were playing the masters' game? Quarrelling among themselves, when they ought to be waking up the workers, getting ready for the real fight. And wizened-up little Stankewitz broke in again--that vas vy he hated var, it divided the vorkers. There was nothing you could say for var. But "Wild Bill" smiled his crooked smile. There were several things you could say. War gave the workers guns, and taught them to use them; how would it be if some day they turned these guns about and fought their own battles?

III

Comrade Gerrity now took the chair and made an effort to get things started. The minutes of the last meeting were read, new members were voted on, and then Comrade Mary Allen rose to report for the Worker committee. The fund had been completed, the first number of the paper was to appear next week, and it was now up to every member of the local to get up on his toes and hustle as never in his life before. Comrade Mary, with her thin, eager face of a religious zealot, made everyone share her fervour.

All save Lawyer Norwood. Since the retirement of Dr. Service he was the chief pro-ally trouble-maker, and he now made a little speech. He had been agreeably surprised to learn that the money had been raised so quickly; but then certain uncomfortable doubts having occurred to him, he had made inquiries and found there was some mystery about the matter. It was stated that the new paper was to demand a general strike in the Empire; and of course everybody knew there were powerful and sinister forces now interested in promoting strikes in munition factories.

"Wild Bill" was on his feet in an instant. Had the comrade any objection to munition workers demanding the eight hour day?

"No," said Norwood, "of course not; but if we are going into a fight with other people, we surely ought to know who they are and what their purpose is. I have been informed--there seems to be a little hesitation in talking about it--that a lot of money has been put up by one man, and nobody knows who that man is."

"He's an organizer for the A. F. of L.!" The voice was Jimmie's. In his excitement the solemn pledge of secrecy was entirely forgotten!

"Indeed!" said Norwood. "What is his name?"

Nobody answered.

"Has he shown his credentials?" Again silence.

"Of course, I don't need to tell men as familiar with union affairs as the comrades here that every bona-fide organizer for a union carries credentials. If he does not produce them, it is at least occasion for writing to the organization and finding out about him. Has anybody done that?"

Again there was silence.

"I don't want to make charges," said Norwood--

"Oh, no!" put in "Wild Bill". "You only want to make insinuations!"

"What I want to do is merely to make sure that the local knows what it is doing. It is no secret anywhere in Leesville that money is being spent to cause trouble in the Empire. No doubt this money has passed through a great many hands since it left the Kaiser's, but we may be sure that his hands are guiding it to its final end."

And then what an uproar! "Shame! Shame!" cried some; and others cried, "Bring your proofs!" The "wild" members shouted, "Put him out!" They had long wanted to get rid of Norwood, and this looked to be their chance.

But the young lawyer stood his ground and gave them shot for shot. They wanted proofs, did they? Suppose they had learned of a capitalist conspiracy to wreck the unions in the city; and suppose that the Leesville Herald had been clamouring for "proofs"--what would they have thought?

"In other words," shouted Schneider, "you know it's true, yust because it's Yermany!"

"I know it's true," said Norwood, "because it would help Germany to win the war. One doesn't have to have any other evidence--if a certain thing will help Germany to win the war, one knows that thing is being done. All you Germans know that, and what's more, you're proud of it; it's your efficiency that you boast."

Again there was a cry of "Shame! Shame!" But the cry came from Comrade Mary, the Quaker lady, and it was evident that she had expected a chorus, and was disconcerted at being alone.

Young Norwood, who knew his Germans, laughed scornfully. "Just now your government is selling bonds in America, supposed to be for the benefit of the families of the dead and wounded. Some of those bonds have been taken in this city, as I happen to know. Does anybody really believe the money will reach the families of the dead and wounded?"

This time the Germans answered. "I belief it!" roared Comrade Koeln. "And I! And I!" shouted others.

"That money is staying right here in Leesville!" proclaimed the lawyer. "It is preparing a strike in the Empire!"

A dozen men wanted the floor at once. Schneider, the brewer, got it, for the reason that he could outbellow anyone else. "What does the comrade want?" he demanded. "Is he not for the eight hour day?"

"Has he got any of the old man Granitch's money?" shrilled "Wild Bill". "Or maybe he doesn't know that Granitch is spending money to get smart young lawyers to help keep his munition slaves at work?"

IV

Norwood, having thrown the fat into the fire, sat down for a while and let it blaze. When the Germans taunted him with being afraid to say what he really meant--that the local should oppose the demand for the eight hour day--he merely laughed at them. He had wanted to make them show themselves up, and he had done it. Not merely were they willing to do the work of the Kaiser--they were willing to take the Kaiser's pay for doing it!

"Take his pay?" cried "Wild Bill". "I'd take the devil's pay to carry on Socialist propaganda!"

Old Hermann Forster rose and spoke, in his gentle sentimental voice. If it were true that the Kaiser was paying money for such ends, he would surely find he had bought very little. There were Socialists in Germany, one must remember--

And then came a shrill laugh. Those tame German Socialists! It was Comrade Claudel, a Belgian jeweller, who spoke. Would any rabbit be afraid of such revolutionists as them? Eating out of the Kaiser's hand--having their papers distributed in the trenches for government propaganda! Talk to a Belgian about German Socialists!

So you saw the European national lines splitting Local Leesville in two: on the one side, the Germans and the Austrians, the Russian Jews, the Irish and the religious pacifists; on the other side, two English glass-blowers, a French waiter, and several Americans who, because of college-education or other snobbish weakness, were suspected of tenderness for John Bull. Between these extreme factions stood the bulk of the membership, listening bewildered, trying to grope their way through the labyrinth.

It was no easy job for these plain fellows, the Jimmie Higginses. When they tried to think the matter out, they were almost brought to despair. There were so many sides to the question--the last fellow you met always had a better argument than anyone you had heard before! You sympathized with Belgium and France, of course; but could you help hating the British ruling classes? They were your hereditary enemies--your school-book enemies, so to speak. And they were the ones you knew most about; since every American jack-ass that got rich quick and wanted to set himself up above his fellows would proceed to get English clothes and English servants and English bad manners. To the average plain American, the word English stood for privilege, for ruling class culture, the things established, the things against which he was in rebellion; Germany was the I. W. W. among the nations--the fellow who had never got a chance and was now hitting out for it. Moreover, the Germans were efficient; they took the trouble to put their case before you, they cared what you thought about them; whereas the Englishman, damn him, turned up his snobbish nose, not caring a whoop what you or anybody might think.

Moreover, in this controversy the force of inertia was on the German side, and inertia is a powerful force in any organization. What the Germans wanted of American Socialists was simply that they should go on doing what they had been doing all their lives. And the Socialist machine had been set up for the purpose of going on, regardless of all the powers on earth, in the heavens above the earth, or in hell beneath. Ask Jimmie Higgins to stop demanding higher wages and the eight hour day! Wouldn't anybody in his senses know what Jimmie would answer to that proposition? Go chase yourself!

V

But, on the other hand, it must be admitted that Jimmie was staggered by the idea that he might be getting into the pay of the Kaiser. It was true that the traditions of the Socialist movement were German traditions, but they were German anti-Government traditions: Jimmie regarded the Kaiser as the devil incarnate, and the bare idea of doing anything the Kaiser wanted done was enough to make him stop short. He could see also what a bad thing it would be for the movement to have any person believe that it was taking the Kaiser's money. Suppose, for example, that a report of this evening's discussion should reach the Herald! And with the public inflamed to madness over the Lusitania affair!

After the discussion had proceeded for an hour or so, Norwood made a motion to the effect that the Worker committee should be instructed to investigate thoroughly the sources of all funds contributed, and to reject any that did not come from Socialists, or those in sympathy with Socialism. The common sense of the meeting asserted itself, and even the Germans voted for this motion. Sure, let them go ahead and investigate! The Socialist movement was clean, it had always been clean, it had nothing to conceal from anyone.

But then came another controversy. Claudel moved that Norwood should be made a member of the committee; and this, of course, was bitterly opposed by the radicals. It was an insult to the integrity of the committee. Then, too, suggested Baggs, an Englishman, perhaps Norwood might really find out something! The Jimmie Higginses voted down the motion--not because they feared any disclosures, but because they felt that a quiet, sensible fellow like Gerrity, their organizer, might be trusted to protect the good faith of the movement, and without antagonizing anybody or making a fuss.

The investigation took place, and the result of it was that the money which Jerry Coleman had contributed for the Worker was quietly returned to him. But the difference was at once made up by the Germans in the local, who regarded the whole thing as a put-up job, an effort to block the agitation for a strike. These comrades took no stock whatever in the talk about "German gold"; but on the other hand they were keenly on the alert for the influence of Russian gold, which they knew was being openly distributed by old Abel Granitch. And so they put their hands down into their pockets and dug out their scanty wages, so that the demand for social justice might be kept alive in Leesville.

The upshot of the whole episode was that the local rejected the Kaiser's pay, but went on doing what the Kaiser wanted without pay. This could hardly be considered a satisfactory solution, but it was the best that Jimmie Higgins was able to work out at this time.

VI

The first issue of the Worker appeared, with Jack Smith's editorial spread over the front page, calling upon the workers of the Empire to take this occasion to organize and demand their rights. "Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for play!" proclaimed Comrade Jack; and the Herald and the Courier, stung to a frenzy by the appearance of a poacher on their journalistic preserves, answered with broadsides about "German propaganda". The Herald got the story of what had happened in the local; also it printed a picture of "Wild Bill", and an interview with that terror of the West, who declared that he was for war on the capitalist class with the aid of any and every ally that came along--even to the extent of emery powder in ball-bearings and copper nails driven into fruit trees.

The Herald charged that the attitude of the Socialists toward "tainted wealth" was all a sham. What had happened was simply that the German members of the local were getting German money, and making it "Socialist money" by the simple device of passing it through their consecrated hands. As this had been hinted by Norwood in the local, the German comrades now charged that Norwood had betrayed the movement to the capitalist press. And so came another bitter controversy in the local. The young lawyer laughed at the charge. Did they really believe they could take German money in Leesville, and not have the fact become known?

"Then you think we are taking German money?" roared Schneider; and he clamoured furiously for an answer. The other would not answer directly, but he told them a little parable. He saw a tree, sending down its roots into the ground, spreading everywhere, each tiny rootlet constructed for the purpose of absorbing water. And on the top of the ground was a man with a supply of water, which he poured out; he poured and poured without stint, and the water seeped down toward the rootlets, and every rootlet was reaching for water, pushing toward the places where water was likely to be. "And now," said Norwood, "you ask me, do I believe that tree has been getting any of that water?"

And here, of course, was the basis of a bitter quarrel. The hot-heads would not listen to subtle distinctions; they declared that Norwood was accusing the movement of corruption, he was making out his anti-war opponents to be villains! He was providing the capitalist press with ammunition. For shame! for shame! "He's a stool-pigeon!" shrieked "Wild Bill". "Put him out, the Judas!"

The average member of the local, the perfectly sincere fellow like Jimmie Higgins, who was wearing himself out, half-starving himself in the effort to bring enlightenment to his class, listened to these controversies with bewildered distress. He saw them as echoes of the terrible national hatreds which were rending Europe, and he resented having these old world disputes thrust into American industrial life. Why could he not go on with his duty of leading the American workers into the co-operative commonwealth?

Because, answered the Germans, old man Granitch wanted to keep the American workers as munition-slaves; and to this idea the overwhelming percentage of the membership agreed. They were not pacifists, non-resistants; they were perfectly willing to fight the battles of the working-class; what they objected to was having to fight the battles of the master-class. They wanted to go on, as they had always gone, opposing the master-class and paying no heed to talk about German agents. Jimmie Higgins believed--and in this belief he was perfectly correct--that even had there been no German agents, the capitalist papers of Leesville would have invented them, as a means of discrediting the agitators in this crisis. Jimmie Higgins had lived all his life in a country in which his masters starved and oppressed him, and when he tried to help himself, met him with every weapon of treachery and slander. So Jimmie had made up his mind that one capitalist country was the same as another capitalist country, and that he would not be frightened into submission by tales about goblins and witches and sea-serpents and German spies.


Upton Sinclair

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