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Chapter XI

“It Only Needs Enough Faith”

“YOU think land and stock and machinery should be nationalised, then?” asked Ned, turning things over in his mind.

“I think land and machinery, the entire means and processes of the production and exchange of wealth, including stock, should be held in common by those who need them and worked cooperatively for the benefit of all. That is the socialistic idea of industry. The State Socialists seek to make the State the co-operative medium, the State to be the company and all citizens to be equal shareholders as it were. State Socialism is necessarily compulsory on all. The other great socialistic idea, that of Anarchical Communism, bases itself upon voluntaryism and opposes all organised Force, whether of governments or otherwise.”

“Then Anarchists aren't wicked men?”

“The Anarchist ideal is the highest and noblest of all human ideals. I cannot conceive of a good man who does not recognise that when he once understands it. The Anarchical Communists simply seek that men should live in peace and concord, of their own better nature, without being forced, doing harm to none, and being harmed by none. Of course the blind revolt against oppressive and unjust laws and tyrannical governments has become associated with Anarchy, but those who abuse it simply don't know what they do. Anarchical Communism, that is men working as mates and sharing with one another of their own free will, is the highest conceivable form of Socialism in industry.”

“Are you an Anarchist?”

“No. I recognise their ideal, understand that it is the only natural condition for a community of general intelligence and fair moral health, and look to the time when it will be instituted. I freely admit it is the only form of Socialism possible among true Socialists. But the world is full of mentally and morally and socially diseased people who, I believe, must go through the school of State Socialism before, as a great mass, they are true Socialists and fit for voluntary Socialism. Unionism is the drill

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for Socialism and Socialism is the drill for Anarchy and Anarchy is that free ground whereon true Socialists and true Individualists meet as friends and mates, all enmity between them absorbed by the development of an all-dominant Humanity.”

“Mates! Do you know that's a word I like?” said Ned. “It makes you feel good, just the sound of it. I know a fellow, a shearer, who was witness for a man in a law case once, and the lawyer asked him if he wasn't mates with the chap he was giving evidence for.

“‘No,’ says Bill, ‘we ain't mates.’

“‘But you've worked together?’ says the lawyer. ‘Oh, yes!’ says Bill.

“‘And travelled together?’

“‘Oh, yes!’

“‘And camped together?’

“‘Oh, yes!’

“‘Then if you're not mates what is mates?’ says the lawyer in a bit of a tear.

note “‘Well, mister,’ says Bill, ‘mates is them wot's got one pus. If I go to a shed with Jack an' we're mates an' I earn forty quid and Jack gets sick an' only earns ten or five or mebbe nothin' at all we puts the whole lot in one pus, or if it's t'other way about an' Jack earns the forty it don't matter. There's one pus no matter how much each of us earns an' it b'longs just the same to both of us alike. If Jack's got the pus and I want half-a-crown, I says to Jack, says I, “Jack, gimme the pus.” An' if Jack wants ten quid or twenty or the whole lot he just says to me, “Bill,” says he “gimme the pus.” I don't ask wot he's goin' to take and I don't care. He can take it all if he wants it, 'cos it stands to reason, don't it, mister?’ says Bill to the lawyer, ‘that a man wouldn't be so dirt mean as to play a low-down trick on his own mate. So you see, mister, him an' me warn't mates 'cos we had two pusses an' mates is them wot's got one pus.’”

Geisner laughed with Ned over the bush definition of “mates.”

“Bill was about right,” he said, “and Socialism would make men mates to the extent of all sharing up with one another. Each man might have a purse but he'd put no more into it than his mate who was sick and weak.”

“We'd all work together and share together, I take it,” said Ned. “But suppose a man wouldn't work fairly and didn't want to share?”

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“I'd let him and all like him go out into the bush to see how they could get on alone. They'd soon get tired. Men must co-operate to live civilised.”

“Then Socialism is co-operation?” remarked Ned.

“Co-operation as against competition is the main industrial idea of Socialism. But there are two Socialisms. There is a socialism with a little ‘s’ which is simply an attempt to stave off the true Socialism. This small, narrow socialism means only the state regulation of the distribution of wealth. It has as its advocates politicians who seek to modify the robbery of the workers, to ameliorate the horrors of the competitive system, only in order to prevent the upheaval which such men recognise to be inevitable if things keep on unchanged.”

“But true Socialism? I asked Nellie last night what Socialism was, but she didn't say just what.”

“What did she say?”

“Well! We were coming through the Domain last night, this morning I mean. It was this morning, too. And on a seat in the rain, near a lamp, was a poor devil of a woman, a regular hard-timer, you know, sleeping with her head hung over the back of the seat like a fowl's. I'd just been asking Nellie what Socialism was when we came to the poor wretch and she stopped there. I felt a bit mean, you know, somehow, but all at once Nellie bent her head and kissed this street-walking woman on the cheek, softly, so she didn't wake her. ‘That's Socialism,’ says Nellie, and we didn't speak any more till we got to her place, and then she told me to ask you what Socialism was.” Ned had shifted his position again and was sitting now on his heels. He had pulled out his knife and was digging a little hole among the grass roots.note

Geisner, who hardly moved except to roll cigarettes and light them, lay watching him. “I think she's made you a Socialist,” he answered, smiling.

“I suppose so,” answered Ned, gravely. “If Socialism means that no matter what you are or what you've been we're all mates, and that Nellie's going to join hands with the street-walker, and that you're going to join hands with me, and that all of us are going to be kind to one another and have a good time like we did at Mrs. Stratton's last night, well, I'm a Socialist and there's heaps up in the bush will be Socialists too.”

“You know what being a Socialist means, Ned?” asked Geisner, looking into the young man's eyes.

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“I've got a notion,” said Ned, looking straight back.

“There are socialists and Socialists, just as there is socialism and Socialism. The ones babble of what they do not feel because it's becoming the thing to babble. The others have a religion and that religion is Socialism.”

“How does one know a religion?”

“When one is ready to sacrifice everything for it. When one only desires that the Cause may triumph. When one has no care for self and does not fear anything that man can do and has a faith which nothing can shake, not even one's own weakness!”

There was a pause. “I'll try to be a Socialist of the right sort,” said Ned.

“You are young and hopeful and will think again and again that the day of redemption is dawning, and will see the night roll up again. You will see great movements set in and struggle to the front and go down when most was expected of them. You will see in the morning the crowd repent of its enthusiasm of the night before. You will find cowards where you expected heroes and see the best condemned to the suffering and penury that weaken the bravest. Your heart will ache and your stomach will hunger and your body will be bent and your head gray and then you may think that the world is not moving and that you have wasted your life and that none are grateful for it.”

“I will try not,” said Ned.

“You will see unionism grow, the New Unionism, which is simply the socialistic form of unionism. You will see, as I said before, penal laws invoked against unionism here in Australia, under the old pretence of ‘law and order.’ You will see the labour movement diverted into political action and strikes fought and lost and won at the polling booths.”

“Will it not come then?”

“How can it come then? Socialism is not a thing which can be glued like a piece of veneering over this rotten social system of ours. It can only come by the utter sweeping away of competition, and that can only come by the development of the socialistic idea in men's hearts.”

“Do you mean that unions and political action and agitations don't do any good?”

“Of course they do good. A union may make an employer rob his men of a few shillings weekly less. An act of Parliament may prevent wage-slaves from being worked sixteen hours a

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day. An act of Parliament, granted that Parliament represented the dominant thought of the people, could even enforce a change of the entire social system. But before action must come the dominant thought. Unions and Parliaments are really valuable as spreading the socialistic idea. Every unionist is somewhat socialist so far as he has agreed not to compete any longer against his fellows. Every act of Parliament is additional proof that the system is wrong and must go before permanent good can come. And year after year the number of men and women who hold Socialism as a religion is growing. And when they are enough you will see this Old Order melt away like a dream and the New Order replace it. That which appears so impregnable will pass away in a moment. So!” He blew a cloud of smoke and watched it disappear circling upwards.

“Listen!” he went on. “It only needs enough Faith. This accursed Competitivism of ours has no friends but those who fear personal loss by a change of system. Not one. It has hirelings, Pretorian guards, Varangians, but not a devoted people. Its crimes are so great that he is a self-condemned villain who knowing them dreams of justifying them. There is not one man who would mourn it for itself if it fell to-morrow. A dozen times this century it has been on the verge of destruction, and what has saved it every time is simply that those who assailed it had not a supreme ideal common among them as to how they should re-build. It is exactly the same with political action as with revolutionary movements. It will fail till men have faith.”

“How can they get it?” asked Ned, for Geisner had ceased speaking and mused with a far-off expression on his face.

“If we ourselves have it, sooner or later we shall give it to others. Hearts that this world has wounded are longing for the ideal we bring; artist-souls that suffering has purified and edged are working for the Cause in every land; weak though we are we have a love for the Beautiful in us, a sense that revolts against the unloveliness of life as we have it, a conception of what might be if things were only right. In every class the ground is being turned by the ploughshare of Discontent; everywhere we can sow the seed broadcast with both hands. And if only one seed in a thousand springs up and bears, it is worth it.”

“But how can one do it best?”

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“By doing always the work that comes to one's hand. Just now, you can go back to your union and knowing what the real end is, can work for organisation as you never did before. You can help throw men together, tie the bushmen to the coastmen, break down narrow distinctions of calling and make them all understand that all who work are brothers whether they work by hand or brain. That is the New Unionism and it is a step forward. It is drill, organisation, drill, and we need it. Men must learn to move together, to discuss and to decide together. You can teach them what political action will do when they know enough. And all the time you can drive and hammer into them the socialistic ideas. Tell them always, without mincing matters, that they are robbed as they would probably rob others if they had a chance, and that there never can be happiness until men live like mates and pay nothing to any man for leave to work. Tell them what life might be if men would only love one another and teach them to hate the system and not individual men in it. Some day you will find other work opening out. Always do that which comes to your hand.”

“You think things will last a long time?” asked Ned, reverting to one of Geisner's previous remarks.

“Who can tell? While Belshazzar feasted the Medes were inside the gate. Civilisation is destroying itself. The socialistic idea is the only thing that can save it. I look upon the future as a mere race between the spread of Socialism as a religion and the spread of that unconditional Discontent which will take revenge for all its wrongs by destroying civilisation utterly, and with it much, probably most, that we have won so slowly and painfully, of Art and Science.”

“That would be a pity,” said Ned. He would have spoken differently had he not gone with Nellie last night, he thought while saying it.

“I think so. It means the whole work to be done over again. If Art and Science were based on the degradation of men I would say ‘away with them.’ But they are not. They elevate and ennoble men by bringing to them the fruition of elevated and noble minds. They are expressions of high thought and deep feeling; thought and feeling which can only do good, if it is good to become more human. The artist is simply one who has a little finer soul than others. Mrs. Stratton was saying last night before

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you came that Nellie is an artist because she has a soul. But it's only comparative. We've all got souls.”

“Mrs. Stratton is a splendid woman,” began Ned, after another pause.

“Very. Her father was a splendid man, too. He was a doctor, quite famed in his profession. The misery and degradation he saw among the poor made him a passionate Communist. Stratton's father was a Chartist, one of those who maintained that it was a bread-and-butter movement.”

For some few minutes neither spoke.

“One of the most splendid men I ever knew,” remarked Geisner, suddenly, “was a workman who organised a sort of co-operative housekeeping club among a number of single fellows. They took a good-sized ‘flat’ and gradually extended it till they had the whole of the large house. Then this good fellow organised others until there were, I think, some thirty of them scattered about the city. They had cards which admitted any member of one house into any other of an evening, so that wherever a man was at night he could find friends and conversation and various games. I used to talk to him a great deal, helping him keep the books of an evening when he came home from his work. He had some great plans. Those places were hotbeds of Socialism,” he added.

“What became of him?”

Geisner shrugged his shoulders without answering.

“Isn't it a pity that we can't co-operate right through in the same way?” said Ned.

“It's the easiest way to bring Socialism about,” answered Geisner. “Many have thought of it. Some have tried. But the great difficulty seems to be to get the right conditions. Absolute isolation while the new conditions are being established; colonists who are rough and ready and accustomed to such work and at the same time are thoroughly saturated with Socialism; men accustomed to discuss and argue and at the same time drilled to abide, when necessary, by a majority decision; these are very hard to get. Besides, the attempts have been on small scales, and though some have been fairly successful as far as they went, have not pointed the great lesson. One great success would give men more Faith than a whole century of talking and preaching. And it will come when men are ready for it, when the times are ripe.”

They were silent again.

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“We would be free under Socialism?” asked Ned.

“What could stop us, even under State Socialism. The basis of all slavery and all slavish thought is necessarily the monopoly of the means of working, that is of living. If the State monopolises them, not the State ruled by the propertied classes but the State ruled by the whole people, to work would become every man's right. Nineteen laws out of twenty could then be dropped, for they would become useless. We should be free as men have never been before, because the ideal of the State would be toleration and kindness.”

“Let's go and hear the speaking,” he added, jumping up. “I've talked quite enough for once.”

“You couldn't talk too much for me,” answered Ned. “You ought to come up to a shed and have a pitch with the chaps. They'd sit up all night listening. I've to meet Nellie between five and six at the top of the steps in the garden,” he added, a little bashfully. “Have we time?”

“Plenty of time,” said Geisner, smiling. “You won't miss her.”