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  • Lizzie Holmes

What We Can’t Forget

Excerpt From 1889:

We all agree that the earth is for man; without it he must die. His birthright is as much of the natural elements as he needs; and when he is robbed of these and made to toil for his necessary share, he is robbed of so much of his life. We know that human labour applied to nature’s resources alone creates wealth. We know that the labourer is wronged when in every land he is poor, helpless, dependent, duped and enslaved, instead of being in the enjoyment of his productions, walking upright and free before his fellow-creatures. We know that his deplorable condition is due to established and lawful systems in society, continuous methods, ever increasing in disproportionate results, recognised and accepted ways and means of production and distribution. We know that the present standard of right, which does not recognise every man’s need and right to the land, nor to the full results of his labour, is working most terrible suffering among the human race, when there is literally no excuse for poverty on the face of the bountiful earth. We all know, but we do not realise it, that all the boasted advantages of civilisation are obtained at a fearful cost of human suffering.

And this is what we ought never to forget.

If we are comfortable-shut up in cosy rooms away from wan and hungry faces, we can easily discuss tweedledee and tweedledum. The bricks of houses do not show the drops of blood from little children’s rasped arms that carried them. The coal that burns so cheerily in the grates bears no mark of the drudgery and agony of men and women’s lives, the wasted youth of hopeless children; nor do the ghosts of the dead, sacrificed in its procuring, peer out from the blue dancing flames. The comfortable clothing we wear carries no stain of the tears dropped from weary eyes at midnight, the stitches tell no tales of the worn lives and faded youth sewn into the seams.

Our cosy tea-table bears no mark of the gambler’s art; the crisp loaves tell no story of the farmer’s unrequited toil, his mortgaged farm, nor of the bursting elevators and full bank vaults of “brokers,” manipulators of the world’s food. Sitting quietly at home, we realise nothing of the many men wandering homeless, hopeless, friendless; of the uncared youth, to whom no pathway is open but the road to crime and prison life; of the hungry children, whose wan pleading faces seem asking why they were born to suffer so.

But, bringing these dismal facts home to ourselves, I do not mean that we should be charitable-go out and feed a few hungry people, or save one or two boys from jail; if we did this we but make room for more. The causes beneath the surface of society continuously produce such results; the seething pool of injustice and corruption is constantly making wrecks of human beings, and casting them up as mere driftwood. The whole of societary arrangements must be changed, and soon, or civilisation will go backward. While we are philosophising, the most terrible suffering is going on; the degraded are becoming more degraded, the poor poorer, and the ruling classes wealthier and more greedy.

It is well enough to cry “Patience!” when you are not in the fire. One can wait for the slow growth of better conditions if one is never hungry; but how can we look out upon the gaunt, woeful, hardening faces that peer at us from the highways and byways, from dark cellars, from factory doors, and from frightful mining shafts, and still cry “Patience!” How can we feel “patient,” when knowing that this repressed, smothered, smoothed-over crater of wrong, suffering, and discontent, must burst forth into more terrible ebullitions than anything the world has ever seen if the present course is pursued?

The only hope there is, is that a general sense of ”danger” may be infused among intelligent people; there is little time for waiting, for patience, or for philosophising. Not that I would stop the discussion of economic subjects, be they discussed ever so mildly and politely; but I would urge upon the already converted the necessity of more determination, more zeal for work, more of the spirit of self-sacrifice, less regard for respectable and conventional observances, and more for the truth, and a keener sense of the importance of the vital question.


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