Farewell of a Socialist
April 8, 9, 10, 1919 — Miller’s Hall, La Touraine Hall, the East Side Labor Lyceum, Buffalo NY
I would not if I could have one day different on hour unlived, one deed undone, one word unspoken. I have nothing to regret, nothing to retract, nothing for which to apologize. I am wiling to leave my life as I have lived it and let the future judge between me and my judges.
For eighteen months the very atmosphere of the nation has been surcharged with the roaring, shrieking shouts of Americanism, then in a single day a thunderous silence descended upon us, and we felt the stunned scene of unreality that fell upon the soldiers in the trenches when the signing of the armistice suddenly stopped the roar and bedlam of war.
Like the toper suddenly separated from his bottle, or the “coke”field from his “snuff,”we felt a growing desire for the exhilaration of the intoxicant of rampant Americanisms. We resented the gray, colorless, sordid aspects of the life robbed of the rosy glow of patriotism. When the armistice spread the black pall of silence over fervid oratory and burning editorials, we felt a deep sense of personal loss; something was missing from our lives.
And there is another cry — vague, and shrouded in mystery. Sometimes used to express the superlative of disorder and lawlessness – sometimes to indicate in a mild and academic way, a hoped for refuge from the social tornado — the word “Socialism.”
And, as the word “Americanism” goes into eclipse, and the word “Socialism” no longer evokes terror, comes another word — “Bolshevism.”
Max Eastman, one of the foremost writers and teachers of the country, went to Fargo, North Dakota, to deliver a lecture on “Democracy.” A great crowd evidently interested in the thing we were fighting to make the world safe for, gathered in the court to listen to what he had to say. A drunken mob, led by a judge and a “very respectable” attorney, invaded the “temple of justice” and would have murdered Max Eastman but from the sublime heroism and unflinching courage of a woman. An attempted murder of Max Eastman was flaunted as an exhibition of the spirit of Americanism.
During the time when “Americansm” was so very rampant, I went to Erie, Pennsylvania, to deliver a lecture on “Christ Before Pilate.” As I sat at the dinner table in the hotel, a dining room girl, shaking with fear and hysterical with excitement, came to me and begged that I would not leave the hotel that evening and would not attempt to do my work. When I pressed her for a reason, she gave me a copy of the Erie Times, and a box on the front page, in glaring type, was an invitation for all good Americans to be at the court house at eight o’clock that evening with their guns to murder me, as proof of their burning “Americanism.”
Then there was written into the history of our country the most shameful story of abject cowardice on the part of elected officials that has ever blackened the pages of human history — the s-called “espionage act. ”In the future our grandchildren will read in their school histories the names of the men responsible for that law with exactly the same feeling that we school children felt when we read the name of Judge Taney, of the Dred Scott decision fame.
Was this Americanism?
By the enactment of certain parts of this one act a way was opened by which we as people lost rights secured by hundreds of years of ceaseless struggle, rights that had been bought ad paid for in the blood and suffering of our fathers, religious liberty, the very ideal that sent the Puritan forefathers to this savage land, was destroyed overnight. IN the land whose constitution guarantees religious liberty by the misuse of this act, scores of men were sent to prison for ten and twenty years for circulating a book that stated in the mildest, gentlest language that wars were contrary to the teaching of Jesus. Thousands of young men whose religious convictions made it impossible for them to bear arms or kill their fellow men were forced by the most brutal methods into uniforms, dragged like felons to raining camps, subjected to tortures that vie with the horrors of the Inquisition, and that sent many of them to an untimely grave.
Free Speech Crushed
In all modern history there has never been such a flagrant violation of the very spirit of free speech. Not even in Russia under the bloody czars were such brutal laws enacted to curb natural expression of opinions, and not even by the czar’s henchmen were they so ruthlessly and unfairly enforced. Under the operation of the “espionage act”it was not necessary to really commit the crime of having an opinion of the administration it was not necessary to do anything at all, or to be responsible for any results. Hundreds of people are not behind prison bars whom the administration never charged with any overt act; they merely were found guilty for having an “intent,”and that “intent”was sufficient to call down upon their heads punishment far more severe than is dealt out of thieves, bank wreckers, white slaves and murderers. No white slaver who has made traffic in human flesh for the profits of vice in this country has ever been sentenced to five, ten or twenty years in prison, as Rose Pastor Stokes, Eugene V. Debs and others have been sentenced for having an “intent” that never accomplished any purposes whatever.
Jailed for “Intent”
And an “intent” need not be proven, if such a thing could be. All that was necessary to draw a long prison sentence was to have a reputation in the labor movement for loyalty and service to the working class, a couple of nondescript witnesses and a jury hand picked by the “Council of Defense”and the trick was done. I saw in the tombs in New York City a tiny, half-starved scrap of girlhood that should have been in a grade school, who was sentenced to twenty years at hard labor for saying that President Wilson was a hypocrite, and that girl is now serving this monstrous sentence with Stars and Stripes the emblem of freedom, justice, and democracy, flying over the hell-hole in which se is imprisoned.
Hypocritical Cry of “Disloyalty”
Then all over this country came a reign of terror, a prostitution of courts and a violation of constitutional rights by elected officials for which our children and our children’s children will blush in shame. Soon the country was overrun by spies, seeking not German vandals but Americans who held ideas and beliefs differing from the administration. Soon every vicious element in our society was hot on the trail of every man or woman who had ever stood for social justice and industrial democracy, and found it an easy matter to railroad them to prison. It was only necessary to cry “disloyal” seditious,”pro-German, “Un-American,” and like the witches of old the leaders of the working class were hounded, imprisoned and murdered.
The New World “Bolshevism”
What is the strange, new force that is sweeping over the world — this fearsome Bolshevism?
If we place the slightest dependence on the truthlessness of our newspapers and other censored sources of public information, we well might shudder before its dangers and fear the Bolshevist reign of terror, its orgy of rapine, lusty free-love, robbery, bloodshed, and wholesale murder. But, in spite of all the shouts and groans and cries of the “press,”we remain quite calm, serene and unafraid. We have learned by long and bitter experience that when the “kept press”assails a thing, that it must be something very beneficial to the working class; that when the newspapers slander and vilify, an individual or movement may be serving the masses and endangering the privileged classes.
Bolshevism is a new word, but the charges brought against it and its supporters have a strangely familiar sound — we seem to remember them of old. Privilege is so sterile of ideas; so barren of imagination, that it has not been able to think of one new lie; to concoct one fresh slander, to turn one new trick or say one new thing about Bolshevism that has not already been worn to tatters in the assaults upon abolition of slavery, trade unionism, woman’s suffrage, Socialism, the Non-Partisan League and the I.W.W.
The scarecrows that it dangles before our eyes have ceased to alarm us; familiarity ahs bred contempt. Bolshevism may cause the goose-flesh of abject terror to prickle the spine of the “powers that prey,”but it has no terrors foe the working class. We know that robbery, rapine, free-love, and murder have just as much relation to Bolshevism as mob violence, thuggery, and murder have to Americanism.
Socialism Hastened by World War
Socialism is coming, and it seems poetic justice that it should be thrust upon the world by its most bitter enemies. Industrial and political autocracy run mad plunged the whole world into war, and then the world, in order to save itself from utter destruction, was compelled to turn to Socialism for salvation. The warring nations did not make the long strides towards industrial democracy because they loved the Socialists, or wanted Socialism, but because it is the only thing that can meet the situation and save the world from utter chaos and ruin.
For twenty years the Socialists have been trying vainly to give you ‘great’American sovereign voting kings — Socialism. We tried so hard to make you understand — we wanted you to take Socialism in peace and intelligence, by the sane, sober use of your ballots, but you would have none of it. You were good Democrats or Republicans and we were a lot of crazy fanatics, ad you refused to take Socialism in peace, by lawful, constitutional means.
Now, you dear old mossbacks, rock-ribbed, hidebound Democrats and Republicans have had a little Socialism thrust into you on the end of a bayonet and it wasn’t a Socialist bayonet, either. Well, f you like it better that way, we must be content. We did our best, and if you have been compelled to learn your lesson and take your Socialism in the bloodshed and agony, the hell and horror of ward, you and you alone are to blame.
Danger of Insane Revolt
Friends! I know and you now, if you have the moral courage to face the facts, that we are on the verge of social revolution. A social revolution that is coming, not because Socialists have preached the gospel of industrial democracy, but because you have turned a deaf ear to it. The streets of this city, and of every other city may run red with the blood spilled in mad revolt – in wild, unrestrained and insane revolution, before the snow fall again — unless there is more breadth of vision, more real statesmanship displayed by our elected officials than has yet been displayed.
And that red revolution will not be stayed by a Supreme Court decision that sends a thousand Socialists to prison by sustaining the “espionage” act. That decision of the United States Supreme our handed down on the third day of March, 1919, may be but another Dred Scott decision, that decides nothing but the sublime stupidity of the ruling class. Judge Taney and his associates, by that memorable decision in 1857, sent one poor, humble negro back to slavery, but he also sent one million of the pick and flower of American manhood to death on the battlefields of the Civil War, and he sent three million negroes to final freedom.
That red revolution that threatens will not be stayed by passing laws making it a crime to display a red flag. Revolution can come under a pink flag, or a green one, or a blue, or under the Stars and Stripes, or under no flag at all. The want of a biscuit, a beefsteak and a job has caused more revolutions than all the flags that ever waved, and when red revolution comes in this country, it will not be because of the bitter want for bread, meat, labor and love.
Has No Regrets
Comrades, I am closing now. This may be the last message that I shall ever give you, for in a few short days I, too, will be one of the political prisoners shut behind steel bars.
For myself I have no regrets, and only a deep sense of humility and thankfulness if I may be counted worthy to take my place at the very bottom of that illustrious list of those who have died for the love of their fellow men.
Looking back over twenty years, I am content. I gave to the service of the working class all that I had and all that I was, and no one can do more. I gave my girlhood, my young womanhood, my wifehood and my motherhood. I have taken babies unborn into the thick of the class war; I have served in the trenches with a nursing baby at my breast; I leave my children now without my care and protection, but I know that I have only done my duty.
I would not, if I could, have one day different; one hour unlived, one deed undone; one word unspoken. I have nothing to regret, nothing to retreat, nothing for which to apologize. I am willing to leave my life as I have lived it; and let the future judge between me and my judges.
I want you to know that I am calm, serene and unafraid, and face my ordeal without hate in my heart and without fear for the future. Nothing That I may find behind prison walls can injure me. I can and will rise above it all. And I will not be idle there; my work will not end; there is a bigger and more urgent work for me to do in prison than I ever found outside. I have tried to serve the workers because I felt they needed service, but the thousands of helpless victims of our stupid, outwork penal system need me more. If there is any institution in our social organism which needs the light of intelligent study, rational understanding and sane revolution, it is our criminal laws; their administration and systems of punishment.
When I go to prison, I leave four children outside: a boy of fifteen, a girl of twelve, and twins, boys ten years of age.
And to my children, I know no one can take a mother’s place, but they, too, come of good fighting stock, and they will face the loss of their mother with courage worthy of their ancestry. When they are old enough to understand, they will rather have had a mother inside prison walls true to her ideals and principles, than outside, a craven coward who dared not protect when our rights were wrested from us and when grievous wrongs were thrust upon us.
It is not my fate or the fate of my children that I tremble for, it is the fate of my country. It is not a prison cell that I dread, but blind, insane, unintelligently directed revolution. It is not the nightmare of gray stone walls that fills my dreams, but the picture of gutters of our cities running red with the blood of our people.
Source: Oakland World, April 25, 1919.
Also: Kate Richards O’Hare: Selected Writings and Speeches, ed. Philip S. Foner, Sally M. Miller (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press), 1982, pp. 194-201.