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Chapter X

Where the Evil Really Lies

GEISNER was betimes at his appointment in the Domain. It was still the dinner hour, and though it was Sunday there were few to be seen on the grass or along the paths. So Ned saw him afar off, pacing up and down before the Art Gallery like a sentinel, an ordinary looking man to a casual passer-by, one whom you might pass a hundred times on the street and not notice particularly, even though he was ugly. Perhaps because of it.

Neither of them cared to stroll about, they found. Accordingly they settled down at a shady patch on a grassy slope, the ground already dried from the night's rain by the fierce summer sunshine of the morning. Stretched out there, Geisner proceeded to roll a cigarette and Ned to chew a blade of grass.

Below them a family were picnicking quietly. Dinner was over; pieces of paper littered the ground by an open basket. The father lay on his side smoking, the mother was giving a nursing baby its dinner, one little child lay asleep under a tree and two or three more were playing near at hand.

“That reminds me of Paris,” remarked Geisner, watching them.

“I suppose you are French?”

“No. I've been in France considerably.”

“It's a beautiful country, isn't it?”

“All countries are beautiful in their way. Sydney Harbour is the most beautiful spot I know. I hardly know where I was born. In Germany I think.”

“Things are pretty bad in those old countries, aren't they?”

“Things are pretty bad everywhere, aren't they?”

“Yes,” answered Ned, meditatively. “They seem to be. They're bad enough here and this is called the workingman's paradise. But a good many seem glad enough to get here from other countries. It must be pretty bad where they come from.”

“So it is. It is what it is here, only more so. It is what things will be in a very few years here if you let them go on. As a matter of fact the old countries ought to be more prosperous than the new ones, but our social system has become so ill-balanced that in the countries where there are most people at

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work those people are more wretched than where there are comparatively few working.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, this way. The wealth production of thickly settled countries is proportionately greater than that of thinly settled countries. Of course, there would be a limit somewhere, but so far no country we know of has reached it.”

“You don't mean that a man working in England or France earns more than a man working in Australia?” demanded Ned, sitting up. “I thought it was the other way.”

“I don't mean he gets more but I certainly mean that he produces more. The appliances are so much better, and the sub-division of labour, that is each man doing one thing until he becomes an expert at it, is carried so much further by very virtue of the thicker population.”

“That's to say they have things fixed so that they crush more to the ton of work.”

“About that. Taking the people all round, and throwing in kings and queens and aristocrats and the parsons that Ford loves so, every average Englishman produced yesterday more wealth—more boots, more tools, more cloth, more anything of value—than every average Australian. And every average Belgian produced yesterday, or any day, more wealth than every average Englishman. These are facts you can see in any collection of statistics. The conservative political economists don't deny them; they only try to explain them away.”

“But how does it come? Men produce more there than we do here and earn less. How's that?”

“Simply because they're robbed more.”

“Look here, Mr. Geisner!” said Ned, gathering his knees into his arms. “That's what I want to know. I know we're robbed. Any fool can see that those who work the least or don't work at all get pretty much everything, but I don't quite see how they get it. We're only just beginning to think of these things in the bush, and we don't know much yet. We only know there's something wrong, but we don't know what to do except to get a union and keep up wages.”

“That's the first step, to get a union,” said Geisner. “But unless unionists understand what it's all about they'll only be able to keep up wages for a little while. You see, Ned, this is the difficulty: a man can't work when he likes.”

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“A man can't work when he likes!”

“No; not the average man and it's the average man who has to be considered always. Let's take a case—yourself. You want to live. Accordingly, you must work, that is you must produce what you need to live upon from the earth by your labour or you must produce something which other working men need and these other men will give you in exchange for it something they have produced which you need. Now, let's imagine you wanting to live and desiring to start to-morrow morning to work for your living. What would you do?”

“I suppose I'd ask somebody.”

“Ask what?”

“Well, I'd have to ask somebody or other if there was any work.”

“What work?”

“Well, if they had a job they wanted me to do, that I could do, you know.”

“I don't ‘You know’ anything. I want you to explain. Now what would you say?”

“Oh! I'd kind of go down to the hut likely and see the boys if 'twas any use staying about and then, perhaps, or it might be before I went to the hut, that would be all according, I'd see the boss and sound him.”

“How sound him?”

“Well, that would be all according, too. If I was pretty flush and didn't care a stiver whether I got a job or not I'd waltz right up to him just as I might to you to ask the time, and if he came any of his law-de-dah squatter funny business on me I'd give him the straight wire, I promise you. But it stands to reason—don't it?—that if I've been out of graft for months and haven't got any money and my horses are played out and there's no chance of another job, well, I'm going to humour him a bit more than I'd like to, ain't I?”

Geisner laughed “You see it all right, Ned. Suppose the first man you sounded said no?”

“I'd try another.”

“And if the other said no?”

“Well, I'd have to keep on trying.”

“And you'd get more inclined to humour the boss every time you had to try again.”

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“Naturally. That's how they get at us. No man's a crawler who's sure of a job.”

“Then you might take lower wages, and work longer hours, after you'd been out of work till you'd got thoroughly disheartened than you would now.”

“I wouldn't. Not while there was—I might have to, though I say I'd starve or steal first. There are lots who do, I suppose.”

“Lots who wouldn't dream of doing it if there was plenty of work to be had?”

“Of course. Who'd work for less than another man if he needn't, easily? There isn't one man in a thousand who'd do another fellow out of a job for pure meanness. The chaps who do the mischief are those who're so afraid the boss'll sack them, and that another boss won't take them on, that they'd almost lick his boots if they thought it would please him.”

“Now we're coming to it. It is work being hard to get that lowers wages and increases hours, and makes a workman, or workwoman either, put up with what nobody would dream of putting up with if they could help it?”

“Of course that's it.”

“Now! Is the day's work done by a poorly-paid man less than that done by a highly-paid one?”

“No,” answered Ned. “I've seen it more,” he added.

“How's that?”

“Well, when a man's anxious to keep a job and afraid he won't get another he'll often nearly break his back bullocking at it. When he feels independent he'll do the fair thing, and sling the job up if the boss tries to bullock him. It's the same thing all along the line, it seems to me. When you can get work easily you get higher wages, shorter hours, some civility, and only do the fair thing. When you can't, wages come down, hours spin out, the boss puts on side, and you've got to work like a nigger.”

“Then, roughly speaking, the amount of work you do hasn't got very much to do with the pay you get for it?”

“I suppose not. It's not likely a man ever gets more than his work is worth. The boss would soon knock him off and let the work slide. I suppose a man is only put on to a job when it's worth more than the boss has to pay for getting it done. And I reckon the less a man can be got to do it for the better it is for the fellow who gets the job done.”

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“That's it. Suppose you can't get work no matter how often you ask, what do you do?”

“Keep on looking. Live on rations that the squatters serve out to keep men travelling the country so they can get them if they want them or on mutton you manage to pick up or else your mates give you a bit of a lift. You must live. It's beg or steal or else starve.”

“I think men and women are beginning to starve in Australia. Many are quite starving in the old countries and have been starving longer. That's why the workers are somewhat worse off there than here. The gold rushes gave things a lift here and raised the condition of the workers wonderfully. But the same causes that have been working in the old countries have been working here and are fast beating things down again.”

“A gold rush!” exclaimed Ned. “That's the thing to make wages rise, particularly if it's a poor man's digging.”

“What's that?”

“Don't you know? An alluvial field is where you can dig out gold with a pick and shovel and wash it out with a pannikin. You don't want any machines, and everybody digs for himself, or mates with other fellows, and if you want a man to do a job you've got to pay him as much as he could dig for himself in the time.”

“I see. ‘Poor man's digging,’ you call it, eh? You don't think much of a reefing field?”

“Of course not,” answered Ned, smiling at this apparent ignorance. “Reefing fields employ men, and give a market, and a few strike it, but the average man, as you call him, hasn't got a chance. It takes so much capital for sinking and pumping and crushing, and things of that sort, that companies have to be formed outside, and the miners mostly work just for wages. And when a reefing field gets old it's as bad as a coal-field or a factory town. You're just working for other people, and the bigger the dividends the more anxious they seem to be to knock wages.”

“Then this is what it all amounts to. If you aren't working for yourself you're working for somebody else who pays as little as he can for as much as he can get, and rubs the dirt in, often, into the bargain.”

“A man may not earn wages working for himself,” answered Ned.

“You mean he may not produce for himself as much value as men around him receive in wages for working for somebody else.

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Of course! You might starve working on Mount Morgan or Broken Hill with a pick and pannikin, though on an alluvial your pick and pannikin would be all you needed. That's the kernel of the industrial question. Industry has passed out of the alluvial stage into the reefing. We must have machinery to work with or we may all starve in the midst of mountains of gold.”

“I don't quite see how you mean.”

“Just this. If every man could take his pick on his shoulders and work for himself with reasonable prospect of what he regarded as a sufficient return he wouldn't ask anybody else for work.”

“Not often, anyway.”

“But if he cannot so work for himself he must go round looking for the man who has a shaft or a pump or a stamping mill and must bargain for the owner of machinery to take the product of his labour for a certain price which of course isn't it's full value at all but the price at which, owing to his necessities, he is compelled to sell his labour.

“Things are getting so in all branches of industry, in squatting, in manufacturing, in trading, in ship-owning, in everything, that it takes more and more capital for a man to start for himself. This is a necessary result of increasing mechanical powers and of the economy of big businesses as compared to small ones. For example, if there is a great advantage in machine clipping, as a friend of mine who understands such things tells me there is, all wool will some day be clipped that way. Then, the market being full of superior machine-clipped wool, hand-clipped would have little sale and only at lower price. The result would be that all wool-growers must have machines as part of their capital, an additional expense, making it still harder for a man with a small capital to start wool-growing.

“All this means,” continued Geisner, “that more and more go round asking for work as what we call civilisation progresses, that is as population increases and the industrial life becomes more complicated. I don't mean in Australia only. I'm speaking generally. They can only work when another man thinks he can make a profit out of them, and there are so many eager to be made a profit on that the owner of the machine has it pretty well his own way. This system operates for the extension of its own worst feature, the degradation of the working masses. You see, such a vast amount of industrial work can be held over that employers, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately, hold

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work over until times are what they call ‘more suitable,’ that is when they can make bigger profits by paying less in wages. This has a tendency to constantly keep wages down, besides affording a stock argument against unionist agitations for high wages. But, in any case, the fits of industrial briskness and idleness which occur in all countries are enough to account for the continual tendency of wages to a bare living amount for those working, as many of those not working stand hungrily by to jump into their places if they get rebellious or attempt to prevent wages going down.”

“That's just how it is,” said Ned. “But we're going to get all men into unions, and then we'll keep wages up.”

“Yes; there is no doubt that unions help to keep wages up. But, you see, so long as industrial operations can be contracted, and men thrown out of work, practically at the pleasure of those who employ, complete unionism is almost impracticable if employers once begin to act in concert. Besides, the unemployed are a menace to unionism always. Workmen can never realise that too strongly.”

“What are we to do then if we can't get what we want by unionism?”

“How can you get what you want by unionism? The evil is in having to ask another man for work at all—in not being able to work for yourself. Unionism, so far, only says that if this other man does employ you he shall not take advantage of your necessity by paying you less than the wage which you and your fellow workmen have agreed to hold out for. You must destroy the system which makes it necessary for you to work for the profit of another man, and keeps you idle when he can't get a profit out of you. The whole wage system must be utterly done away with.” And Geisner rolled another cigarette as though it was the simplest idea in the world.

“How? What will you do instead?”

“How! By having men understand what it is, and how there can be no true happiness and no true manliness until they overthrow it! By preaching socialistic ideas wherever men will listen, and forcing them upon them where they do not want to listen! By appealing to all that is highest in men and to all that is lowest—to their humanity and to their selfishness! By the help of the education which is becoming general, by the help of art and of science, and even of this vile press that is the incarnation

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of all the villainies of the present system! By living for the Cause, and by being ready to die for it! By having only one idea: to destroy the Old Order and to bring in the New!” Geisner spoke quietly, but in his voice was a ring that made Ned's blood tingle in his veins.

“What do you call the Old Order?” asked Ned, lying back and looking up at the sky through the leaves.

“Everything that is inhuman, everything that is brutal, everything which relies upon the taking advantage of a fellow-man, which leads to the degradation of a woman or to the unhappiness of a child. Everything which is opposed to the idea of human brotherhood. That which produces scrofulous kings, and lying priests, and greasy millionaires, and powdered prostitutes, and ferret-faced thieves. That which makes the honest man a pauper and a beggar, and sets the clever swindler in parliament. That which makes you what you are at 24, a man without a home, with hardly a future. That which tries to condemn those who protest to starvation, and will yet condemn them to prison here in Australia as readily as ever it did in Europe or Russia.

“You want to know what makes this,” he went on. “Well, it is what we have been talking of, that you should have to ask another man for work so that you may live. It doesn't matter what part of the world you are in or under what form of government, it is the same everywhere. So long as you can't work without asking another man for permission you are exposed to all the ills that attend poverty and all the tyranny that attends inordinate power and luxury. When you grip that, you understand half the industrial problem.”

“And the other half, what's that?” asked Ned.

“This, that we've got over the alluvial days, if they ever did exist industrially, and are in the thick of reefing fields and syndicates. So much machinery is necessary now that no ordinary single man can own the machinery he needs to work with as he could in the old pick and pannikin days. This makes him the slave of those who do own it for he has to work to live. Men must all join together to own the machinery they must have to work with, so that they may use it to produce what they need as they need it and will not have to starve unless some private owner of machinery can make a profit out of their labour. They must pull together as mates and work for what is best for all,

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not each man be trying only for himself and caring little whether others live or die. We must own all machinery co-operatively and work it co-operatively.”

“How about the land? Oughtn't that to be owned by the people too?”

“Why, of course. The land is a part of the machinery of production. Henry George separates it but in reality it is simply one of the means by which we live, nowadays, for no man but an absolute savage can support himself on the bare land. In the free land days which Henry George quotes, the free old German days when we were all barbarians and didn't know what a thief was, not only was the land held in common but the cattle also. Without its cattle a German tribe would have starved on the richest pastureland in Europe, and without our machinery we would starve were the land nationalised to-morrow. At least I think so. George's is a scheme by which it is proposed to make employers compete so fiercely among one another that the workman will have it all his own way. It works this way. You tax the landowner until it doesn't pay him to have unused land. He must either throw it up or get it used somehow and the demand for labour thus created is to lift wages and put the actual workers in what George evidently considers a satisfactory position. That's George's Single Tax scheme.”

“You don't agree with it?” asked Ned.

“I am a Socialist. Between all Socialists and all who favour competition in industry, as the Single Tax scheme does, there is a great gulf fixed. Economically, I consider it fallacious, for the very simple reason that capitalism continues competition, not to selling at cost price but to monopoly, and I have never met an intelligent Single Taxer, and I have met many, who could logically deny the possibility of the Single Tax breaking down in an extension of this very monopoly power. Roughly, machinery is necessary to work land most profitably, profitably enough even to get a living off it. Suppose machine holders, that is capitalists, extend their organisation a little and ‘pool’ their interests as land users, that is refuse to compete against one another for the use of land! Nellie was telling me that at one land sale on the Darling Downs in Queensland the selectors about arranged matters among themselves beforehand. The land sold, owing to its situation, was only valuable to those having other land near and so was all knocked down at the upset price though worth

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four times as much. It seems to me that in just the same way the capitalists, who alone can really use land remember, for the farmer, the squatter, the shopkeeper, the manufacturer, the merchant, are nowadays really only managers for banks and mortgage companies, will soon arrange a way of fixing the values of land to suit themselves. But apart from that, I object to the Single Tax idea from the social point of view. It is competitive. It means that we are still to go on buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. It is tinged with that hideous Free Trade spirit of England, by which cotton kings became millionaires while cotton spinners were treated far worse than any chattel slaves. There are other things to be considered besides cheapness, though unfortunately, with things as they are we seem compelled to consider cheapness first.”

They lay for some time without speaking.