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The man had gone back to a seat upon the platform, and Jurgis realized
that his speech was over. The applause continued for several minutes; and
then some one started a song, and the crowd took it up, and the place
shook with it. Jurgis had never heard it, and he could not make out the
words, but the wild and wonderful spirit of it seized upon him—it
was the "Marseillaise!" As stanza after stanza of it thundered forth, he
sat with his hands clasped, trembling in every nerve. He had never been so
stirred in his life—it was a miracle that had been wrought in him.
He could not think at all, he was stunned; yet he knew that in the mighty
upheaval that had taken place in his soul, a new man had been born. He had
been torn out of the jaws of destruction, he had been delivered from the
thraldom of despair; the whole world had been changed for him—he was
free, he was free! Even if he were to suffer as he had before, even if he
were to beg and starve, nothing would be the same to him; he would
understand it, and bear it. He would no longer be the sport of
circumstances, he would be a man, with a will and a purpose; he would have
something to fight for, something to die for, if need be! Here were men
who would show him and help him; and he would have friends and allies, he
would dwell in the sight of justice, and walk arm in arm with power.
The audience subsided again, and Jurgis sat back. The chairman of the
meeting came forward and began to speak. His voice sounded thin and futile
after the other's, and to Jurgis it seemed a profanation. Why should any
one else speak, after that miraculous man—why should they not all
sit in silence? The chairman was explaining that a collection would now be
taken up to defray the expenses of the meeting, and for the benefit of the
campaign fund of the party. Jurgis heard; but he had not a penny to give,
and so his thoughts went elsewhere again.
He kept his eyes fixed on the orator, who sat in an armchair, his head
leaning on his hand and his attitude indicating exhaustion. But suddenly
he stood up again, and Jurgis heard the chairman of the meeting saying
that the speaker would now answer any questions which the audience might
care to put to him. The man came forward, and some one—a woman—arose
and asked about some opinion the speaker had expressed concerning Tolstoy.
Jurgis had never heard of Tolstoy, and did not care anything about him.
Why should any one want to ask such questions, after an address like that?
The thing was not to talk, but to do; the thing was to get bold of others
and rouse them, to organize them and prepare for the fight! But still the
discussion went on, in ordinary conversational tones, and it brought
Jurgis back to the everyday world. A few minutes ago he had felt like
seizing the hand of the beautiful lady by his side, and kissing it; he had
felt like flinging his arms about the neck of the man on the other side of
him. And now he began to realize again that he was a "hobo," that he was
ragged and dirty, and smelled bad, and had no place to sleep that night!
And so, at last, when the meeting broke up, and the audience started to
leave, poor Jurgis was in an agony of uncertainty. He had not thought of
leaving—he had thought that the vision must last forever, that he
had found comrades and brothers. But now he would go out, and the thing
would fade away, and he would never be able to find it again! He sat in
his seat, frightened and wondering; but others in the same row wanted to
get out, and so he had to stand up and move along. As he was swept down
the aisle he looked from one person to another, wistfully; they were all
excitedly discussing the address—but there was nobody who offered to
discuss it with him. He was near enough to the door to feel the night air,
when desperation seized him. He knew nothing at all about that speech he
had heard, not even the name of the orator; and he was to go away—no,
no, it was preposterous, he must speak to some one; he must find that man
himself and tell him. He would not despise him, tramp as he was!
So he stepped into an empty row of seats and watched, and when the crowd
had thinned out, he started toward the platform. The speaker was gone; but
there was a stage door that stood open, with people passing in and out,
and no one on guard. Jurgis summoned up his courage and went in, and down
a hallway, and to the door of a room where many people were crowded. No
one paid any attention to him, and he pushed in, and in a corner he saw
the man he sought. The orator sat in a chair, with his shoulders sunk
together and his eyes half closed; his face was ghastly pale, almost
greenish in hue, and one arm lay limp at his side. A big man with
spectacles on stood near him, and kept pushing back the crowd, saying,
"Stand away a little, please; can't you see the comrade is worn out?"
So Jurgis stood watching, while five or ten minutes passed. Now and then
the man would look up, and address a word or two to those who were near
him; and, at last, on one of these occasions, his glance rested on Jurgis.
There seemed to be a slight hint of inquiry about it, and a sudden impulse
seized the other. He stepped forward.
"I wanted to thank you, sir!" he began, in breathless haste. "I could not
go away without telling you how much—how glad I am I heard you. I—I
didn't know anything about it all—"
The big man with the spectacles, who had moved away, came back at this
moment. "The comrade is too tired to talk to any one—" he began; but
the other held up his hand.
"Wait," he said. "He has something to say to me." And then he looked into
Jurgis's face. "You want to know more about Socialism?" he asked.
Jurgis started. "I—I—" he stammered. "Is it Socialism? I
didn't know. I want to know about what you spoke of—I want to help.
I have been through all that."
"Where do you live?" asked the other.
"I have no home," said Jurgis, "I am out of work."
"You are a foreigner, are you not?"
The man thought for a moment, and then turned to his friend. "Who is
there, Walters?" he asked. "There is Ostrinski—but he is a Pole—"
"Ostrinski speaks Lithuanian," said the other. "All right, then; would you
mind seeing if he has gone yet?"
The other started away, and the speaker looked at Jurgis again. He had
deep, black eyes, and a face full of gentleness and pain. "You must excuse
me, comrade," he said. "I am just tired out—I have spoken every day
for the last month. I will introduce you to some one who will be able to
help you as well as I could—"
The messenger had had to go no further than the door, he came back,
followed by a man whom he introduced to Jurgis as "Comrade Ostrinski."
Comrade Ostrinski was a little man, scarcely up to Jurgis's shoulder,
wizened and wrinkled, very ugly, and slightly lame. He had on a
long-tailed black coat, worn green at the seams and the buttonholes; his
eyes must have been weak, for he wore green spectacles that gave him a
grotesque appearance. But his handclasp was hearty, and he spoke in
Lithuanian, which warmed Jurgis to him.
"You want to know about Socialism?" he said. "Surely. Let us go out and
take a stroll, where we can be quiet and talk some."
And so Jurgis bade farewell to the master wizard, and went out. Ostrinski
asked where he lived, offering to walk in that direction; and so he had to
explain once more that he was without a home. At the other's request he
told his story; how he had come to America, and what had happened to him
in the stockyards, and how his family had been broken up, and how he had
become a wanderer. So much the little man heard, and then he pressed
Jurgis's arm tightly. "You have been through the mill, comrade!" he said.
"We will make a fighter out of you!"
Then Ostrinski in turn explained his circumstances. He would have asked
Jurgis to his home—but he had only two rooms, and had no bed to
offer. He would have given up his own bed, but his wife was ill. Later on,
when he understood that otherwise Jurgis would have to sleep in a hallway,
he offered him his kitchen floor, a chance which the other was only too
glad to accept. "Perhaps tomorrow we can do better," said Ostrinski. "We
try not to let a comrade starve."
Ostrinski's home was in the Ghetto district, where he had two rooms in the
basement of a tenement. There was a baby crying as they entered, and he
closed the door leading into the bedroom. He had three young children, he
explained, and a baby had just come. He drew up two chairs near the
kitchen stove, adding that Jurgis must excuse the disorder of the place,
since at such a time one's domestic arrangements were upset. Half of the
kitchen was given up to a workbench, which was piled with clothing, and
Ostrinski explained that he was a "pants finisher." He brought great
bundles of clothing here to his home, where he and his wife worked on
them. He made a living at it, but it was getting harder all the time,
because his eyes were failing. What would come when they gave out he could
not tell; there had been no saving anything—a man could barely keep
alive by twelve or fourteen hours' work a day. The finishing of pants did
not take much skill, and anybody could learn it, and so the pay was
forever getting less. That was the competitive wage system; and if Jurgis
wanted to understand what Socialism was, it was there he had best begin.
The workers were dependent upon a job to exist from day to day, and so
they bid against each other, and no man could get more than the lowest man
would consent to work for. And thus the mass of the people were always in
a life-and-death struggle with poverty. That was "competition," so far as
it concerned the wage-earner, the man who had only his labor to sell; to
those on top, the exploiters, it appeared very differently, of course—there
were few of them, and they could combine and dominate, and their power
would be unbreakable. And so all over the world two classes were forming,
with an unbridged chasm between them—the capitalist class, with its
enormous fortunes, and the proletariat, bound into slavery by unseen
chains. The latter were a thousand to one in numbers, but they were
ignorant and helpless, and they would remain at the mercy of their
exploiters until they were organized—until they had become
"class-conscious." It was a slow and weary process, but it would go on—it
was like the movement of a glacier, once it was started it could never be
stopped. Every Socialist did his share, and lived upon the vision of the
"good time coming,"—when the working class should go to the polls
and seize the powers of government, and put an end to private property in
the means of production. No matter how poor a man was, or how much he
suffered, he could never be really unhappy while he knew of that future;
even if he did not live to see it himself, his children would, and, to a
Socialist, the victory of his class was his victory. Also he had always
the progress to encourage him; here in Chicago, for instance, the movement
was growing by leaps and bounds. Chicago was the industrial center of the
country, and nowhere else were the unions so strong; but their
organizations did the workers little good, for the employers were
organized, also; and so the strikes generally failed, and as fast as the
unions were broken up the men were coming over to the Socialists.
Ostrinski explained the organization of the party, the machinery by which
the proletariat was educating itself. There were "locals" in every big
city and town, and they were being organized rapidly in the smaller
places; a local had anywhere from six to a thousand members, and there
were fourteen hundred of them in all, with a total of about twenty-five
thousand members, who paid dues to support the organization. "Local Cook
County," as the city organization was called, had eighty branch locals,
and it alone was spending several thousand dollars in the campaign. It
published a weekly in English, and one each in Bohemian and German; also
there was a monthly published in Chicago, and a cooperative publishing
house, that issued a million and a half of Socialist books and pamphlets
every year. All this was the growth of the last few years—there had
been almost nothing of it when Ostrinski first came to Chicago.
Ostrinski was a Pole, about fifty years of age. He had lived in Silesia, a
member of a despised and persecuted race, and had taken part in the
proletarian movement in the early seventies, when Bismarck, having
conquered France, had turned his policy of blood and iron upon the
"International." Ostrinski himself had twice been in jail, but he had been
young then, and had not cared. He had had more of his share of the fight,
though, for just when Socialism had broken all its barriers and become the
great political force of the empire, he had come to America, and begun all
over again. In America every one had laughed at the mere idea of Socialism
then—in America all men were free. As if political liberty made wage
slavery any the more tolerable! said Ostrinski.
The little tailor sat tilted back in his stiff kitchen chair, with his
feet stretched out upon the empty stove, and speaking in low whispers, so
as not to waken those in the next room. To Jurgis he seemed a scarcely
less wonderful person than the speaker at the meeting; he was poor, the
lowest of the low, hunger-driven and miserable—and yet how much he
knew, how much he had dared and achieved, what a hero he had been! There
were others like him, too—thousands like him, and all of them
workingmen! That all this wonderful machinery of progress had been created
by his fellows—Jurgis could not believe it, it seemed too good to be
That was always the way, said Ostrinski; when a man was first converted to
Socialism he was like a crazy person—he could not' understand how
others could fail to see it, and he expected to convert all the world the
first week. After a while he would realize how hard a task it was; and
then it would be fortunate that other new hands kept coming, to save him
from settling down into a rut. Just now Jurgis would have plenty of chance
to vent his excitement, for a presidential campaign was on, and everybody
was talking politics. Ostrinski would take him to the next meeting of the
branch local, and introduce him, and he might join the party. The dues
were five cents a week, but any one who could not afford this might be
excused from paying. The Socialist party was a really democratic political
organization—it was controlled absolutely by its own membership, and
had no bosses. All of these things Ostrinski explained, as also the
principles of the party. You might say that there was really but one
Socialist principle—that of "no compromise," which was the essence
of the proletarian movement all over the world. When a Socialist was
elected to office he voted with old party legislators for any measure that
was likely to be of help to the working class, but he never forgot that
these concessions, whatever they might be, were trifles compared with the
great purpose—the organizing of the working class for the
revolution. So far, the rule in America had been that one Socialist made
another Socialist once every two years; and if they should maintain the
same rate they would carry the country in 1912—though not all of
them expected to succeed as quickly as that.
The Socialists were organized in every civilized nation; it was an
international political party, said Ostrinski, the greatest the world had
ever known. It numbered thirty million of adherents, and it cast eight
million votes. It had started its first newspaper in Japan, and elected
its first deputy in Argentina; in France it named members of cabinets, and
in Italy and Australia it held the balance of power and turned out
ministries. In Germany, where its vote was more than a third of the total
vote of the empire, all other parties and powers had united to fight it.
It would not do, Ostrinski explained, for the proletariat of one nation to
achieve the victory, for that nation would be crushed by the military
power of the others; and so the Socialist movement was a world movement,
an organization of all mankind to establish liberty and fraternity. It was
the new religion of humanity—or you might say it was the fulfillment
of the old religion, since it implied but the literal application of all
the teachings of Christ.
Until long after midnight Jurgis sat lost in the conversation of his new
acquaintance. It was a most wonderful experience to him—an almost
supernatural experience. It was like encountering an inhabitant of the
fourth dimension of space, a being who was free from all one's own
limitations. For four years, now, Jurgis had been wondering and blundering
in the depths of a wilderness; and here, suddenly, a hand reached down and
seized him, and lifted him out of it, and set him upon a mountain-top,
from which he could survey it all—could see the paths from which he
had wandered, the morasses into which he had stumbled, the hiding places
of the beasts of prey that had fallen upon him. There were his Packingtown
experiences, for instance—what was there about Packingtown that
Ostrinski could not explain! To Jurgis the packers had been equivalent to
fate; Ostrinski showed him that they were the Beef Trust. They were a
gigantic combination of capital, which had crushed all opposition, and
overthrown the laws of the land, and was preying upon the people. Jurgis
recollected how, when he had first come to Packingtown, he had stood and
watched the hog-killing, and thought how cruel and savage it was, and come
away congratulating himself that he was not a hog; now his new
acquaintance showed him that a hog was just what he had been—one of
the packers' hogs. What they wanted from a hog was all the profits that
could be got out of him; and that was what they wanted from the
workingman, and also that was what they wanted from the public. What the
hog thought of it, and what he suffered, were not considered; and no more
was it with labor, and no more with the purchaser of meat. That was true
everywhere in the world, but it was especially true in Packingtown; there
seemed to be something about the work of slaughtering that tended to
ruthlessness and ferocity—it was literally the fact that in the
methods of the packers a hundred human lives did not balance a penny of
profit. When Jurgis had made himself familiar with the Socialist
literature, as he would very quickly, he would get glimpses of the Beef
Trust from all sorts of aspects, and he would find it everywhere the same;
it was the incarnation of blind and insensate Greed. It was a monster
devouring with a thousand mouths, trampling with a thousand hoofs; it was
the Great Butcher—it was the spirit of Capitalism made flesh. Upon
the ocean of commerce it sailed as a pirate ship; it had hoisted the black
flag and declared war upon civilization. Bribery and corruption were its
everyday methods. In Chicago the city government was simply one of its
branch offices; it stole billions of gallons of city water openly, it
dictated to the courts the sentences of disorderly strikers, it forbade
the mayor to enforce the building laws against it. In the national capital
it had power to prevent inspection of its product, and to falsify
government reports; it violated the rebate laws, and when an investigation
was threatened it burned its books and sent its criminal agents out of the
country. In the commercial world it was a Juggernaut car; it wiped out
thousands of businesses every year, it drove men to madness and suicide.
It had forced the price of cattle so low as to destroy the stock-raising
industry, an occupation upon which whole states existed; it had ruined
thousands of butchers who had refused to handle its products. It divided
the country into districts, and fixed the price of meat in all of them;
and it owned all the refrigerator cars, and levied an enormous tribute
upon all poultry and eggs and fruit and vegetables. With the millions of
dollars a week that poured in upon it, it was reaching out for the control
of other interests, railroads and trolley lines, gas and electric light
franchises—it already owned the leather and the grain business of
the country. The people were tremendously stirred up over its
encroachments, but nobody had any remedy to suggest; it was the task of
Socialists to teach and organize them, and prepare them for the time when
they were to seize the huge machine called the Beef Trust, and use it to
produce food for human beings and not to heap up fortunes for a band of
pirates. It was long after midnight when Jurgis lay down upon the floor of
Ostrinski's kitchen; and yet it was an hour before he could get to sleep,
for the glory of that joyful vision of the people of Packingtown marching
in and taking possession of the Union Stockyards!