Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
The Great Strike (From Happy Humanity)
By Frederik van Eeden
(The Dutch physician, poet and novelist has here told for American readers a personal experience in the labor struggles of his own country)
ABOUT forty of us were sent as delegates to different towns to lead and encourage the strikers there. The password was given and a date and hour secretly appointed. On Monday morning, the sixth of April, 1903, no train was to run on any railway in the Netherlands.
Sunday evening I set out, as one of the forty delegates, on the warpath. I took leave of my family, filled a suitcase with pamphlets and fly-leaves, and arrived in the middle of the night at the little town of Amersfoort, an important railway junction, to bring my message from headquarters that a strike would be declared that night in the whole country. Expecting the Government to be very active and energetic and not unlikely to arrest me, I took an assumed name, and was dressed like a laborer.
I stayed a week in that little town, living in the houses of the strikers, sharing their meals and their hours of suspense and anxiety. There was a dark, dingy meeting-room where they all preferred to gather, rather than stay at home. The women also regularly attended these meetings, sometimes bringing their children, and they all sought the comfort of being in company, talking of hopes and fears, cheering each other up by songs, and trying to raise each others spirits during the long days of inaction. I addressed them, three or four times a day, trying to give them sound notions on social conditions and preparing them for the defeat which I soon knew to be inevitable. I may say, however, that, though I was of all the forty delegates the least hopeful of ultimate success, my little party was the last to surrender and showed the smallest percentage of fugitives.
I saw in those days of strife that of the two contending parties, the stronger, the victorious one, was by far the least sympathetic in its moral attitude and methods. The strikers were pathetically stupid and ignorant about the strength of their opponents and their own weakness. If they had unexpectedly gained a complete victory they would have been utterly unable to use it. If the political power had shifted from the hands of the Government to those of the leading staff of that general strike, the result would have been a terrible confusion. There was no mind strong enough, no hand firm enough among them to rule and reorganize that mass of workers, unaccustomed to freedom, untrained to self-control, unable to work without severe authority and discipline. Yet the feelings and motives of that multitude were fair and justthey showed a chivalry, a generosity, an idealism and an enthusiasm with which the low methods of their powerful opponents contrasted painfully.
Every striker had to fight his own fight at home. Every evening he had to face the worn and anxious face of his wife, the sight of his children in danger of starvation and misery. He had to notice the hidden tears of the woman, or to answer her doubts and reproaches, with a mind itself far from confident. He had to fight in his own heart the egotistical inclination to save himself and give up what he felt to be his best sentiment, solidarity, the faith towards his comrades.
I believe no feeling man of the leisure class could have gone through a week in those surroundings and taken part in a struggle like this without acquiring a different conception of the ethics of socialism and class war.
For on the other side there were the Government, the companies, the defendants of existing order, powerful by their wealth, by their routine, by their experience, and supported by the servility of the great public and the army. They had not to face any real danger (the strikers showed no inclination to deeds of violence), and the arms they used were intimidation and bribery. The only thing for them to do was to demoralize the striker, to make him an egoist, a coward, a traitor to his comrades. And this was done quietly and successfully.
Demoralizing the enemy may be the lawful object of every warthe unavoidable evil to prevent a greater wrong; yet in this case, where the method of corruption could be used only on one side, it showed the ugly character of the conflict. This was no fair battle with common moral rules of chivalry and generosity; it was a pitiful and hopeless struggle between a weak slave and a strong usurper, between an ill-treated, revolting child and a brutal oppressor, who cared only for the restoration of his authority, not for the morals of the child.