“Blessed are the meek”
Really, when the matter is considered, perhaps one of the strangest and most paradoxical phenomena in the present strange and paradoxical social system is the excessive and irritating humility that pervades the majority of the workers. Here you have a numerous army of men and women engaged in producing all the wealth of society—everything that is necessary to mankind, every article of use, aye, and of luxury, emanates from the working class. And yet, instead of insisting upon reaping the fruits of their sowing, the workers meekly allow a small section in society calmly to appropriate to itself all that is produced; further, meekly; allow themselves to be insulted, mocked and jeered at by the very people in whose interest and for whose benefit they work day after day, year after year, through, a life-time of degrading toil and hopelessness. All their lives through they meet with nothing but covert or open insult.
Take the following instance :
A Labourer, we will say, applies at a mill or factory for a job. He is seen by the manager or some other functionary of capitalism (himself usually a working man, but in this case standing as the embodiment of the employer), and something like the following dialogue ensues :
Manager : Well ?
Labourer : I’ve just called, sir, to see if you’ve got anything for me.
Manager : What’s your name ?
Labourer : John Smith.
Manager : Age ?
Labourer : Forty-two.
Manager : Umph ! You’re rather old for our class of work. We want young, strong men.
Labourer : I’m strong enough, sir. Not afraid of work.
Manager (sceptically) : You don’t look very strong. Married, I suppose?
Labourer : Yes, sir. Any family ? Three children.
Manager : How long have you been out of work?
Labourer : About three months
Manager : What have you been doing in the meantime ? Living with relatives or what ?
Labourer : Well, my wife has done a bit of work and my eldest boy brings in a shilling or two a week.
Manager: I suppose your hands are pretty soft by now ?
The Labourer, without speaking, holds out his hands, palms upwards, and they are looked at critically by the manager.
His references are then examined, and if it is found that he has been honest, sober, industrious, and has left his previous situation through no fault of his own, his name and address are probably taken down. The dialogue ends :
Manager : If we find there is an opening, we will let you know.
Labourer : Thank you, sir. Good morning, sir
Manager : Good day.
An impartial onlooker might perhaps think that the above colloquy would be likely to touch, however softly, some hidden spring of self-respect in the workman. But such, seldom seems to be the case. The treatment meted out to the workers on their applying for situations appears usually to be accepted by them as quite natural and inevitable. For generations past the priest, the politician, and the pressman have done their best—and their best has been wonderfully successful—to instil a self-abasement and a slavish humility into the working-class mind. The brutal and impertinent questions asked are taken as being “all in the day’s work.”
But what would happen, one wonders, if the tables were suddenly turned and the workman began to ask similar questions of potential employers—such, for instance, as to the financial stability of the firm, the social standing and the domestic affairs of the shareholder or owners of the company, or as to whether the morals of the chairman of the board (if, as is now generally the case, the company should be a joint stock company) were as irreproachable as his linen.
It is not, however, only within the actual industrial portion of capitalism that this kind of thing obtains. All over our present vicious system there is this same contempt on the one hand and humility on the other. Take the following instance, chosen at random :
Dr. Jansen, of the Charity Hospital in Stockholm, reported as follows on the 12th of May, 1891, in a lecture to the Medical Society at Stockholm :
“When I began my experiments with black small-pox, I should, perhaps, have chosen animals for the purpose. But the most fit subjects, calves, were obtainable only at a considerable cost. There was, besides, the cost of their keep, so I concluded to make my experiments upon the children of the Foundlings’ House, and obtained, kind permission to do so from the head physician, Professor Medin.
“I selected fourteen children, who were inoculated day after day. Afterwards I discontinued them and used calves. … I did not continue my experiments on calves long, once because I despaired of gaining my ends within a limited period, and again because the calves were so expensive. I intend, however, to go back to my experiments in the Foundling Asylum at some future time.”
Any working man or woman of a mathematical turn of mind, who happens to be a father or a mother, may perhaps from, the above be able to calculate the value of his or her children—in the eyes of the kindly Dr. Jensen and his confreres—in comparison with the calves, which “were obtainable only at a considerable cost.”
Or take the case of the notorious Dr. Neisser. This distinguished member of the medical profession, who in June of this year was invited by the West London Medico-Cherurgical Society to deliver the Cavendish Lecture on the Evolution of the Modern Treatment of Syphilis, at Kenington Town Hall, London, and presented with the gold medal of the society for “distinguished work in medical science,” has openly boasted of the fact that at the University Hospital of Breslau, he has frequently experimented upon children with the virus of syphilis. Several young girls of the poorer class were inoculated under his instructions, some of whom were admittedly known to have contracted this loathsome disease in consequence. Neither the parents nor the patients themselves were aware that they were being experimented upon. But even had they known, would they have dared to raise a protest ?
In a certain book very much in vogue among theologians we are told that: “Blessed are the meek : for they shall inherit the earth.” But so far from this being true, so far from any blessings accruing by reason of the exercise of this Christian virtue, the workers, if anyone, should know by now that their lot under capitalism is not the inheritance of the earth, or any portion of it, but rather of life-long toil and degradation and suffering. The above aphorism might very well, from a working-class standpoint, be revised to read: “Blessed are the strong and those who have pride in the realisation of their strength, for they shall inherit all the glorious intellectual and physical possibilities of life which only freedom from wage-slavery can give.”
F. J. WEBB