They Speak of Mercy

O U Rube, in The Workers’ Republic, 3rd March 1923

“It is by the goodness of God, that in our country we have those three precious things: Freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and the wisdom to never practice either of them” – Mark Twain.

Fatty Arbuckle committed his sin against the Decalogue and against the honour of Man. He was released. He had cash. And in the sunshine of California twelve boys, our boys, have committed sin against the status quo. They in a quod. [prison.]

Two members of the IWW were arrested last summer under the Criminal Syndicalism Laws. The onus on proving, that the IWW doesn’t advocate violence, was thrown on the defence. Charlotte Anita Whitney testified that in all her experience she had heard none of the boys preach violence. Her testimony was refused on the grounds that “she was not a member of the organisation.” Thereupon ten of the boys, loyal to the ideals and their comrades, went into the witness box and swore to being members. They were arrested after giving evidence and arraigned on the same charge as their comrades. Now, after lying through the heat of a California summer in the bull pen, they are sentenced to fourteen years apiece. Peter Beasley, a young San Franciscan; La Rae, a sailor; Edwards and ‘Whitey’ Anderson, lumberjacks; Kaylor and Zangler, hayseeds; O’Meara, organiser, “who has sold more wobbly papers under the snouts of the bulls than ever can be counted”; Wal Smith, a member of the General Executive Board; “who has already done a jolt for the organisation, who will in all probability leave his worn-out carcase behind the bars”; Rutherford, plumber, and “Ole Jack Nash”. You might think that having slept in hay mows, rode the rods, or eating the grub of the dirt camps (railroad construction), a little rest at the public expense would be welcome to these boys. But it won’t. It’s awful hard to think that apes in blue uniform are ordering these old rebels about. That’s the real tragedy of it all.

In Ireland here Secretary Supple is in quod because he played square. The gombeen men are hoping, praying, that the State will provide a cell for Our Jim when he comes. In Italy, the Fascists Federation of Labour, tired of the antics of the gunmen, are joining the General Federation of Labour, the workers’ organisation. In consequence we hear of more terrorism. Wal Hannington, the Unemployed Organiser in Britain, is due for a frame-up. Why repeat?

Isn’t it queer, Paddy boy, that if you blow a balloon too hard it will bust? Isn’t it strange that Ireland, loaded down with British taxes and Tans had an incorrigible habit of rising? And those Hindoos can’t seem to understand that the British Raj and Tommy Atkins are in India by the order of God. One hundred and seventy-two of them are sentenced to death merely to impress the native that bibles and rum, the civilizing agents of Black and Tannia are preferable to halters and hoosegows. Yet those damm niggers are queuing up outside the jails trying to get in. And, after all, isn’t it peculiar that the working class all over the globe is producing rebels, fools who in spite of all the terrorism are willing to have a smack at the ‘anointed of the Lord’, our masters. Isn’t it awful to Paddy, that these wicked Communists and Rebels are talking, hoping, waiting patiently for the Day.

We hear of Justice, of Mercy, of the beauty of Humanity as a whole. We look to our masters for the beauty, and we see people whose outlook on life is that of a hog, who are dead to all the finer feelings, which in the abstract we call Humanity. We look to them for mercy, we earn their contempt. We speak of Justice, and we are handed the bullet, the bomb, the noose, the lynch mobs, and the cell. When are we to learn of the values of either Mercy or Justice? Of what can we learn but of the inevitability of Brute Force.

The ten boys in the ice-box now in California, Supple, and Connolly and Larkin, those peasants under sentence of death now in India, the Rand boys and the Spartacans are to us the heroes of our class, an inspiration to us to carry on. But you known, Paddy, I’ve an idea that when the day does come these boys will mean something quite different. It’s probable that they, in life or death, will be the judges of the Tribunals. At least they know what Justice and Mercy mean. But all the same, I’ll be sorry for the bosses, and in my heart there will be pity for them. They may need it.

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