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Industrial Discontent
by [?]


THE time seems to have come when the two antagonistic elements of American society should, and could afford to, throw off their disguise and frankly declare their principles and purposes. But what, it may be asked, are the two antagonistic elements? Dividing lines parting the population into two camps more or less hostile may be drawn variously; for example, one may be run between the law-abiding and the criminal class. But the elements to which reference is here made are those immemorable and implacable foes which the slang of modern economics roughly and loosely distinguishes as “Capital” and “Labor.” A more accurate classification–as accurate a one as it is possible to make–would designate them as those who do muscular labor and those who do not. The distinction between rich and poor does not serve: to the laborer the rich man who works with his hands is not objectionable; the poor man who does not, is. Consciously or unconsciously, and alike by those whose necessities compel them to perform it and those whose better fortune enables them to avoid it, manual labor is considered the most insufferable of human pursuits. It is a pill that the Tolstois, the “communities” and the “Knights” of Labor can not sugarcoat. We may prate of the dignity of labor; emblazon its praise upon banners; set apart a day on which to stop work and celebrate it; shout our teeth loose in its glorification–and, God help our fool souls to better sense, we think we mean it all!

If labor is so good and great a thing let all be thankful, for all can have as much of it as may be desired. The eight-hour law is not mandatory to the laborer, nor does possession of leisure entail idleness. It is permitted to the clerk, the shopman, the street peddler–to all who live by the light employment of keeping the wolf from the door without eating him–to abandon their ignoble callings, seize the shovel, the axe and the sledge-hammer and lay about them right sturdily, to the ample gratification of their desire. And those who are engaged in more profitable vocations will find that with a part of their incomes they can purchase from their employers the right to work as hard as they like in even the dullest times.

Manual labor has nothing of dignity, nothing of beauty. It is a hard, imperious and dispiriting necessity. He who is condemned to it feels that it sets upon his brow the brand of intellectual inferiority. And that brand of servitude never ceases to burn. In no country and at no time has the laborer had a kindly feeling for the rest of us, for everywhere and always has he heard in our patronising platitudes the note of contempt. In his repression, in the denying him the opportunity to avenge his real and imaginary wrongs, government finds its main usefulness, activity and justification. Jefferson’s dictum that governments are instituted among men in order to secure them in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is luminous nonsense. Governments are not instituted; they grow. They are evolved out of the necessity of protecting from the handworker the life and property of the brain worker and the idler. The first is the most dangerous because the most numerous and the least content. Take from the science and the art of government, and from its methods, whatever has had its origin in the consciousness of his ill-will and the fear of his power and what have you left? A pure republic–that is to say, no government.

I should like it understood that, if not absolutely devoid of preferences and prejudices, I at least believe myself to be; that except as to result I think no more of one form of government than of another; and that with reference to results all forms seem to me bad, but bad in different degrees. If asked my opinion as to the results of our own, I should point to Homestead, to Wardner, to Buffalo, to Coal Creek, to the interminable tale of unpunished murders by individuals and by mobs, to legislatures and courts unspeakably corrupt and executives of criminal cowardice, to the prevalence and immunity of plundering trusts and corporations and the monstrous multiplication of millionaires. I should invite attention to the pension roll, to the similar and incredible extravagance of Republican and Democratic “Houses”–a plague o’ them both! If addressing Democrats only, I should mention the protective tariff; if Republicans, the hill-tribe clamor for free coinage of silver. I should call to mind the existence of prosperous activity of a thousand lying secret societies having for their sole object mitigation of republican simplicity by means of pageantry and costumes grotesquely resembling those of kings and courtiers, and titles of address and courtesy exalted enough to draw laughter from an ox.