“Then you think we are taking German money?” roared Schneider; and he clamoured furiously for an answer. The other would not answer directly, but he told them a little parable. He saw a tree, sending down its roots into the ground, spreading everywhere, each tiny rootlet constructed for the purpose of absorbing water. And on the top of the ground was a man with a supply of water, which he poured out; he poured and poured without stint, and the water seeped down toward the rootlets, and every rootlet was reaching for water, pushing toward the places where water was likely to be. “And now,” said Norwood, “you ask me, do I believe that tree has been getting any of that water?”
And here, of course, was the basis of a bitter quarrel. The hot-heads would not listen to subtle distinctions; they declared that Norwood was accusing the movement of corruption, he was making out his anti-war opponents to be villains! He was providing the capitalist press with ammunition. For shame! for shame! “He’s a stool-pigeon!” shrieked “Wild Bill”. “Put him out, the Judas!”
The average member of the local, the perfectly sincere fellow like Jimmie Higgins, who was wearing himself out, half-starving himself in the effort to bring enlightenment to his class, listened to these controversies with bewildered distress. He saw them as echoes of the terrible national hatreds which were rending Europe, and he resented having these old world disputes thrust into American industrial life. Why could he not go on with his duty of leading the American workers into the co-operative commonwealth?
Because, answered the Germans, old man Granitch wanted to keep the American workers as munition-slaves; and to this idea the overwhelming percentage of the membership agreed. They were not pacifists, non-resistants; they were perfectly willing to fight the battles of the working-class; what they objected to was having to fight the battles of the master-class. They wanted to go on, as they had always gone, opposing the master-class and paying no heed to talk about German agents. Jimmie Higgins believed—and in this belief he was perfectly correct—that even had there been no German agents, the capitalist papers of Leesville would have invented them, as a means of discrediting the agitators in this crisis. Jimmie Higgins had lived all his life in a country in which his masters starved and oppressed him, and when he tried to help himself, met him with every weapon of treachery and slander. So Jimmie had made up his mind that one capitalist country was the same as another capitalist country, and that he would not be frightened into submission by tales about goblins and witches and sea-serpents and German spies.
JIMMIE HIGGINS GOES TO JAIL
Every evening now the party held its “soap-box” meetings on a corner just off Main Street. Jimmie, having volunteered as one of the assistants, would bolt his supper in the evening and hurry off to the spot. He was not one of the speakers, of course—he would have been terrified at the idea of making a speech; but he was one of those whose labours made the speaking possible, and who reaped the harvest for the movement.