Chapter 10: Some Working Class Leaders

WE bring this series of notes on the American phase of the working-class movement to a close with a short account of some of the people whom we met in the States. This account will include brief reminiscences of Henry George, the Sinaloa folk, certain of the Woman Suffrage advocates, nessrs. Hinton, Schevitch, Black, Morgan, Vrooman.

Henry George.--To English readers it is not necessary to give any description of George or of his views. It is far more important to show how he and they have been modified by the movement that forced them both to the front in November, 1886. We met Henry George late in September (the 29th). He was already nominated for Mayor of New York, and the election was due on November 2nd, whilst we were leaving New York on October 2nd for eleven weeks of agitation tour. At such a time, under such circumstances, he and ourselves holding our respective positions, it will be understood that our talk was on momentous matters, and, for the greater freedom on either side, was understood at the outset to be a private conversation. As since that day we have had no opportunity of again meeting Henry George, our notes upon him and his utterances must be understood as limited to opinions and expressions, to whose publication we have reason to believe he would have and could have no objection.

Henry George is a little man, with exceedingly clear blue eyes that seem exceedingly honest, a straight-cut mouth, red beard, and bald head. In manner he is sharp, quick but not abrupt, and outspoken. He believes--his books are expressive of his creed--that the land question is at the bottom of everything. Solve that, he seems to think, and the evils of society will lessen and vanish. He does not, like the Socialist, regard the mode of the production and distribution of commodities, with its private property in the means of which land is but one, of that production and distribution, as the basis of modern society, and therefore of the ills of that organisation. And he does not see how, from our point of view, this idea of his is especially untenable in America--the country to which the capitalist method came ready made, and where it now exists in its most brutal and uncompromising form--the country in which, at the same time, there is the largest area of land as yet unclaimed or uncultivated, and the country in which, probably, peasant proprietorship will hold out longest.

But from this, as we think, economic error in regard to the basis of our present system and the necessity of attacking the land question first, it must not be imagined that Henry George recognises no other evils than those connected with the holding of land and desires no other remedies than those that concern land tenure. His answer, dated August 26th, 1886, to the Conference of Labour Associations, when they asked him if he would stand for Mayor, is evidence on this point. Here are one or two quotations thence. "Those general conditions which, despite the fact that labour is the producer of all wealth, make the term working man synonymous with poor man....The party that shall do for the question of industrial slavery what the Republican party did for the question of chattel slavery must ... be a working-man's party.... I have seen the promise of the coming of such a party in the growing discontent of Labour with unjust social conditions. ... The wrongs of our social system.... There is and there can be an idle class only where there is a disinherited class."

In these quotations there is something more than condemnation of the land system. "General conditions," "industrial slavery," " unjust social conditions," "the wrongs of our social system," are the terms used. Clearly, Henry George recognises that society is wrong, and nowhere in this letter does he refer to the land as the basis of this wrong. Indeed, the word "land" never on e occurs in the letter. Unfortunately, clear as is George's recognition of the rottenness of our social, i.e., our capitalist system, he does not anywhere in this document state clearly what he believes to be the root of this rottenness. Only in one passage does he give even a hint at this. "The foundation of our system is in our local governments." It is in these "local governments" that our capitalist or commercial system appears in its most concentrated, mediate, and concrete form.

As to the immediate remedy, Henry George, not unnaturally as the potential candidate for the Mayorship of New York, is more definite. This is political action. "I have long believed that the Labour movement could accomplish little until carried into politics," and "the increasing disposition to pass beyond the field of trades associations into the larger sphere of political action," are two phrases from the letter already utilised.

Now, whilst as to the immediate remedy the opinions just quoted of George became confirmed more and more strongly as the electoral contest went on, his opinions as to the actual cause of the "unjust social conditions" also took more definite shape. Brought into close and constant contact with the men and women that were the life of the movement known in New York by his name, men and women who were, as we have said, really Socialists, this man, a drop of spray on the momentary crest of the vast and gathering wave of an immense popular movement, was consciously or unconsciously forced into ever clearer and more clear declarations as to the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. These declarations are to be found throughout his speeches during September and October, and in his open letters to Abram Hewitt, the capitalist candidate; and their number and definiteness increased as the time for the Mayoralty election drew near. We have not space to quote all of these--and to quote only a part of them would be of little value; but from them and from the result of the contest on November 2nd, and from the course of events since, we venture upon a prophecy as to the political future of Henry George. Like the Knights of Labour, he will come to the parting of the ways, one of which goes onwards and the other backwards. How near he even now is to that trenchant point he, better than all other men, should know. Paradoxical as it may seem, he possibly does not know better than all other men what his decision will be. But the decision will have to be made. Will he go forward with the labour party resolved on nationalisation, not of land alone, but of raw material, machinery, means of credit, capital, or fall back towards the ranks of the old parties and be absorbed of them?

The question is answered by the events of the Syracuse Convention, and by Mr. George himself, in his own paper, the Standard. Henry George declared against Socialism in the Standard of August 6th, 1887, in a series of articles betraying the most astounding ignorance of that against which he declared. By doing this he took the sea-end of the two steps which we said he must take, and took beyond all power of retracing. As far as a real working-class movement is concerned, he is a ruined man.

The Sinaloa Folk.--These are a company of men and women who have obtained possession of the State of Sinaloa in Mexico, call themselves the Credit Foncier Company, have planned and built a city and propose living therein as in a sort of Zoar among the cities of the plain. The Chairman is Albert K. Owen, who is no relation or connection of Robert Owen; the Treasurer, John W, Lovell; the Attorney, Lewis H. Hankins; the Secretary, Davitt D. Chidester; the Representative in Mexico City, Ignacio Pombo. Departments of Deposits, Surveying, Law, Motors, Police, Transportation, Diversification, Education, Farming, Pharmacy, each have a head. Amongst these "heads" are Edward and Marie Howland, two of our earliest visitors in America, and two of those who left on us the deepest impression of sincerity and earnestness. The intention is to form another of the "communities" of which America has already seen not a few, with a combination of the communistic life within and the capitalist life without. Such a combination is, as it seems to us, but, one more of those attempts at a compromise between the anti-social system of to-day and the social system of to-morrow that are fore-doomed by their intrinsic nature.

This then is an attempt of the Fourier and Saint Simon order, and will probably meet with the same fate as is encountered by all undertakings of this kind. The establishing of small islands of more or less incomplete communism in the midst of the present sea of capitalist method of living, only ends in the overwhelming of the islands by the sea. The necessary smallness of the scale upon which such an experiment must be made handicaps its success. It is true that the whole scheme of the Sinaloa community is on broader and longer lines than, perhaps, any other that has yet been started. Yet, the riddle of modern society is not likely to be solved in this way. The success of an experiment of the kind, assuming that it is attained, would be an encouragement, possibly even an example, to the workers. Hut probably the final solution of the riddle will be by the conquering of political power in every country by the proletarian party, by their subsequent conquest of economic power, and by the abolition of private property in the means of production and distribution, leading to a communistic society commensurate with the whole of the nation. Let it he added, nevertheless, that if earnestness of purpose, integrity, high sense of honour and of the beauty of life could insure success in such an undertaking, that of the Sinaloa community, judging from the members of it with whom we came into personal relations, is assured.

It was at the house of the Treasurer of the Sinaloa community, John Lovell, that we me Henry George, and also one of the representative Woman-Suffrage women of America, Mrs. Devereux Blake. With another of these, Mrs. Isabella Beecher Hooker, sister of the late Henry Ward Beecher and of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, we spent perhaps the most happy and assuredly the most peaceful hours of our stay in America. A word or two may be said here upon our experience of the American women who are in the front of the battle for the extension of the suffrage to their sex.

They appear to be like and yet unlike their English sisters labouring in the same field. They are like them in their non-understanding of the fact that the woman question is one of economics and not of mere sentiment. The present position of women rests, as everything in our complex modern society rests, upon an economic basis. The woman question is one of the organisation of society as a whole. American female woman-suffragists are like the English in the fact that they are, as a rule, well-to-do. And they are like them in that they make no suggestion for change that is outside the limits of the society of to-day.

But the American woman-suffragists differ from the English in one very important particular. They are ready and willing to listen to the ideas of other schools of thought whose shibboleth is not identical with theirs. They are beginning to understand that this special question is only part of a much larger one. They are beginning to understand that it can only be answered satisfactorily and completely when the great economic problem is solved. The two women above mentioned, and others of the same school as they, eagerly listened to any attempt at a statement as to the method of solution of that problem, and were ready to engage in the more far-reaching struggle for the emancipation of the workers as well as in that for the emancipation of their own sex. And in this wider view of the contest for liberty there is of course no narrowing of the view as to the woman question especially; nor does any one lose the woman-like in the larger mind.

Another difference between the American and English "advanced" women is that the former are much more outspoken. They call things honestly by their names, and are not like the English, afraid of being thought "improper." When the Pall Mall Gazette and Mr. Stead were dealing with certain questions that assuredly concern women at least as much as they concern men, a very plain-speaking letter on the subject was drawn up, and a number of well-known "advanced" women in England were all aflame to sign it at first. But the fear of that member of their sex whose name is Grundy came upon them, and they nearly all with one accord began to make excuse. Not that they had altered their opinions; they were only afraid to make them public. Among the advanced women of America such cowardice as this would be impossible.

Colonel Richard J. Hinton.--A New York visitor, earlier even than the Howland husband and wife, and a man as sincere and earnest as they. English born and Chartist bred, Hinton came over to America on the right side in things political, and has been upon it and in the forefront of it ever since. He was all through the Civil War, and took out from Boston the first corps of newspaper fighters and writers for the North. He was close friend of Ossawatomie Brown--John Brown, as the English know him--and there were almost as many and as large offers made for his head as were made for that of his friend. Since the war ended Hinton has worked at journalism; and when the Labour Bureaus were started, he held, and still holds, official position under them. But he has never ceased to fight as well as to write. Since the battle for the negro slaves was won, he has been engaged in that on behalf of the wage slaves. Always active with pen and with tongue in any movement, small or large, for the greater freedom of any class, he has never lost sight of that largest of all movements that is destined to swallow up all others, as Aaron's rod the magicians'. No man or woman in America is more clear than he as to the hearing of all the various struggles here and there, now and than, upon the one great struggle between the working class and the possessing. And, whatever form that struggle assumes during the many years that we hope, for man's sake, Hinton may live, it is certain that he will be in the thick of it, and that his energy, enthusiasm, and bravery will be, of incalculable value. Equally certain is it that his wife, a beautiful-faced, beautiful-natured Irish woman, will be by his side, strengthening him and their cause.

Sergius Schevitch.--A cosmopolitan of the cosmopolitans. Russian by birth, this remarkable man speaks and writes perfectly German, French, English, and American, and, for aught we know, half a dozen other languages. He can conduct a newspaper and address a meeting in any one of five tongues, counting American and English as two. He not only speaks and writes American,--he thinks it. He has as clear an understanding of the conditions of society in the States, of the political situation there, of the position of the working-class movement, as Hinton himself; and this intimate knowledge of the land of his present adoption is accompanied by a knowledge not less intimate of the general European movement and its details in different countries. For a long time Schevitch was editor of the New Yorker Volkszeitung, the most important German labour paper in America. This post he only resigned to take that of editor of the The Leader, a journal started just before the November elections of 1886 on behalf of Henry George in his candidature for the mayorship of New York. After the elections the payer was continued as an organ of the working classes, and both Hinton and Schevitch held positions on it, the latter still at the head of affairs. Physically, Schevitch is as remarkable as he is mentally. He is of magnificent physique, and very handsome face; his voice is singularly strong and sweet. His wife, an actress of considerable power, was Helena von Rackovitz, the heroine of the duel that ended in the death of Ferdinand Lassalle, and the heroine of George Meredith's "Tragic Comedians," a book whose indebtedness to Helena von Rackovitz' own Memoirs has been hardly sufficiently acknowledged by its distinguished author.

Captain William Black.--Another physical and mental giant, but this time pure American. His name has gone out into all the earth as the advocate for the Chicago Anarchists, and to him, more than to all the rest of the world put together perhaps, they owed the long remission of their sentence, and will owe any commutation of it, should that commutation ultimately come. It was in their prison that one of us first met Black. On the one side of the iron grating in Cook County Gaol were eight men, seven under sentence of death and one of penal servitude for fifteen years. On our side were a few men-visitors and two women. One of the latter was Mrs. Neebe, wife of the eighth prisoner. She is dead since. The other was Mrs. Black, a bright, energetic, fresh little woman. She and her husband scarcely ever missed paying at least once in the day a visit to the men, either at 9.30 a.m. or at 4 p.m. The presence of both of them, even when they were not talking to one of the prisoners or intertwining a little finger with one of theirs through the grating (the only shaking hands possible), must have been a great solace. Her cheerful courage and enthusiastic faith in the ultimate getting of justice done were, without a doubt, of much help to the condemned men. But even more helpful, if possible, must have been the presence of her husband. It was easy to pick him out from among those present. Fully six feet in height, and built in perfect proportions, with long, quite white hair, a darker moustache and imperial, and very strong, keen eyes, such as only the kings and queens among men have.

Only a few hours later he and his indomitable little wife were with us, and during our four days' stay in Chicago hardly one went by without a visit from them although, according to Mrs. Black's statement, her husband was anything but "calling" man. Fortunately for us the five or ten minutes of his average stay anywhere became hours with us and hours among the most memorable of all that made up our American time. We found the wife bitten with the amiable variety of Anarchism that attacks those by whom neither the history nor the economics of the question has been studied, and who, seeing men unjustly treated because they are called by a particular name, straightway label themselves in the same fashion. But the husband was quite "sound." He defended his clients as men unfairly treated. He was in full accord with their Socialist speeches at the trial, but not with the Anarchist ones ascribed to them before it. He fully recognised the need for an education, an organisation, a political programme, as well as the not less necessary agitation; and so, for the matter of that, did his wife.

Nothing was more interesting than to see how in Black the enthusiast and the practical man were blended and yet distinct. He would discuss the future of the working-class movement with a contagious fire; the next moment, if you asked him a question as to the Chicago trial and the appeals he was then prosecuting, he was the calm, contained judicial lawyer, upon whose purely legal opinion you could depend as confidently as upon his unswerving fidelity to any cause in which he believed.

Black also had been through the war, and his tales of that time of trial were as delightful as the "Arabian Nights." And most delightful of all was the singing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic by our two friends. Many a time he had sung it on the march, when his men passed the word up to him for a song; and he sang it in our hotel rooms with a swing and a ring in his voice as if he were marching along at the head of a company. If only some Chicago "drummer" (Anglice, commercial traveller) had looked into our room at 10 o'clock that November morning and seen Black thundering out the Battle Song of the North, his wife singing "seconds," two other people listening, and, I think, four with tears in their eyes, what a quartette of asses he would have thought us !

William Morgan.--Another Chicago friend; working man in the stock sense of the word, and a very typical example of the best type. A Birmingham artisan originally, this man is physically a curious antithesis to Black. He is considerably below middle height, and of the generally stunted growth that generations of artisan heredity often produce; but mentally he ranks with Hinton and Black in our remembrance. An open and avowed Socialist and a thoroughly dependable man, he never disguised his opinions, never denied his principles, never truckled to man or to party. Yet he held a good position in some railway works, we fancy; and such was his influence among his fellow-workmen that on more than one occasion they had, upon his advice, abandoned a useless strike, whilst on others he had conducted similar movements to a successful issue. To Morgan, more than to any one else singly was due the excellent organisation of the working-class movement in Chicago that realised 25,000 votes in November 1886, and frightened the Democrats and Republicans into an alliance, offensive and defensive, against the new third party. And Morgan's courage is not less than his integrity. He kept his head cool and clear all through the time of terror after the bombthrowing and police-killing in May 1886, by degrees got others round him, cool and clear-headed, and with their help stayed the unreasoning panic. And when we held the public meeting in Chicago that, according to the Chicago Tribune and Times, was to be proclaimed beforehand and then broken up by the police, with "threatenings and slaughter" as to arrests and imprisonment and hanging for all the principals, it was Morgan who took the chair. But, when we write thus of this one earnest, single-souled, faithful worker for Socialism, we remember that he himself would be the first to point out that there are scores and hundreds like him in America. It is impossible now to recall every one of the number of thorough men and women, with true hearts and shrewd heads, in the movement, whom we met in every town we visited; but some of the names, for our own satisfaction, we should like to place on record. Only it must be remembered that just such another list--and a much longer one--might be made of men and women, as earnest and reliable, had we space and our readers patience. In Chicago Morgan has, besides other helpers, Warner and Krüger; away out West in Kansas city are Teske and Ruf (cigar-makers, who make their own men Socialists); and Trautwein (" ein ganz gew
hnlicher Schneider") ; in Cincinnati, Walster (editor of the Zeitung), Borckhauser, and Fritz; in Springfield, Mass., Mielliez, Mache, Nagler; in its namesake Ohio, the Hruzas, man and wife; Brown of Boston; Mueller of St. Paul's; and the trio, Nymanover, Evers, Blumenberg, at Minneapolis; Harris in Brooklyn; Seller and Busche the Bridgeport and Newhaven co-workers; Winter of St. Louis; Nicolai of Louisville; Paul of Davenport; Eberding of Bloomington; Dorn of Baltimore; Grahamer of Wiliamsport; Osborne Warde and Heidemann of Washington; and the Blatz family of Milwaukee. Many names, especially those of working men, we omit in memory of the black list.

We should like to describe in full one whose name is given in this fragment of a list. But trying to make anybody who has not known Otto Walster understand what manner of man this rare soul is, needs a George Meredith at least, if not a Heine or a Balzac, or these two last in one. There are two aspects of the poetry of a movement like that of Socialism. The one is furnished by the genuine proletariat, by their sufferings, their awakening, their feeling after hope, their aspiration, their understanding, their resolve and their victory, and of this song only the earlier verses are as yet sung confusedly. The clear voice of these, and yet more, the full clarion of battle and the paen of triumph are not yet sounded.

But the other aspect of the poetry of the working-class movement is already more definite and distinct in form. It is yielded by the artistic souls that, famishing in the desert of to-day, are making for the promised land beyond, and mark the way thither by their singing. Of such of these is Walster. Poet, dramatist, novelist, an artist to his soul's core, he descends into the common ways of men so that he may help to lead men from them. He makes the path out of the desert at once plainer and more smooth. He goes along it apparently carelessly, with a sort of devil-may-care swing; but he misses no flower that may be noted by the way; nay, he plants many himself, and for the less favoured souls gladdens all the journey with an eternal geniality and with hashes of an exquisite and pathetic humour.

When he was not at work on his paper, he was slouching about with his hands plunged far down into the outer pockets of his long great-coat, and his slouch hat on the back of his head, devouring chestnuts, showing us everything, and commenting on all that he showed with infinite wit, unforced, unobtrusive. He took us to panoramas, to dime museums, to saloons, to cafes chantants, to theatres. Was it not at one of these last that his attention was distracted from the stage by a lady and gentleman before us, of whom the representative of the ungentler sex had the very largest and most projecting ears ever fastened on to human head? They were like the sails of a windmill; and Walster watched them through most of one act. Then, still regarding them stonily, he said, as if to himself, "Und sie liebt ihn!"

The Vrooman Boys.--Let us end with a description more within compass than that of Walster, and whose objects are of not less moment in the American movement. The youthfulness of many of the working-class agitators and writers is, in so young a country, very much in keeping. At Cincinnati two boys came to see us, and said, quite as a matter of course, that they Here the editors of an American labour paper in that city. But the most interesting instance of this juvenility in work was in Kansas city. We were speaking at a private meeting on Sunday night there, before the public one on the Tuesday, from which over five hundred people were turned away at the door, and at which forty new members of the American section of the Socialist Labour Party were enrolled. A very young and eager face on the left stood out from all others at the preliminary private meeting. Later on, we were introduced to its owner, Waiter Vrooman, the boy-orator. He was then only seventeen, but was well known as a public speaker on labour questions, and an immensely popular one. He had been "run in" several times for open air speeches, and on one occasion the police had to let him out of the gaol by the back way, or the crowd, angry at his arrest, would have had him out by the front or burned the prison down. Yet the lad's head was by no means turned by all this, as one little thing showed significantly. On the Tuesday night, when our speaking as done, the crammed and jammed audience of something getting on for 2,000 people shouted for the boy. He rose and spoke two sentences only in spout twice as many seconds.

Walter and his brother Harry were the editors of the American labour paper of Kansas city,--The Labour Inquirer. Harry, nineteen years of age, had contributed to the Bureau of Labour for Kansas State a most valuable set of facts and statistics on the Labour movement. Both boys we found frank, open-hearted, delightful; quite boys still and with a keen sense of fun, as their elder brother, a Unitarian clergyman, and not yet a Socialist, found out, for they chaffed him good-humouredly, but mercilessly. A fourth boy, fifteen years of age, they announced as "coming on," and sure to work with them before long. Walter has, since our visit, gone to New York and created a huge sensation there by his really wonderful speaking, while more recently Harry has also gone East upon the war-path. Probably we shall hear them in England one of these days.

Such a phenomenon as the Vrooman boys would be impossible in any other country than America. But its occurrence there, as well as the various nationalities of the names we have given in these pages,--e.g., Black, Morgan, Mielliez, Macdonald, McGuire, Hruza, Trautwein, Vrooman,--show the universality of the Socialist movement in America, and tell of the certainty of its ultimate triumph.