Bohemian Buddhist Review

The Silent War

More than one hundred years ago, Mitchell decried the war of callous American capitalists on their woebegone workers. Sound familiar?
The Great Socialist
Painting by Wm. Balfour Ker
This polemical novel, published in 1906 by Life Publishing in New York,  might seem an odd choice for BoBuReview, but I must confess to a family interest in the matter.  
It came to my attention because my grandfather, William Balfour Ker -- an avowed socialist (and vegetarian) -- did the viscerally-impactful original illustrations.  (See pix below.)
Far from being the dirty word it it these days, socialism was then seen as a panacea, a cure for society's ills and injustices, which were, if possible, even more egregious than today's. 
"The Silent War" was  written by J. A. Mitchell for the early version of Life magazine.  It's an inflammatory story, so critical of capitalism, especially the "captains of industry" who would be our modern-day CEO's, that it might have trouble finding a contemporary commercial publisher -- either that, or shoot right to the top of the dissident best-seller lists.
The story itself is woven around a philanthropic millionaire, Billy Chapman (whose wealth in relative terms would be equivalent to today's billionaires).  Chapman inherits several large fortunes from different sides of his family.  But at least he's kind-hearted:  "Never having known want, he is generous."
As a young man studying at Cambridge (Harvard), he gives some pocket  money to a man named John Wilson who has just been released from prison for the murder of a "human hog" named Rufus Dickson. Chapman even congratulates Wilson on his actions.  "Bully for you!  'Twas a mighty good thing.  Everybody thought so . . . "  (Dickson was evidently a large-scale swindler, presumably of widows and orphans, probably on the order of a Bernie Maddoff.)
Twenty years pass.  A People's League forms a fanatical Committee of Seven which is determined to redress the wrongs of a system that "makes war on the poor to enrich the rich."  (Sub-prime mortgages, anyone?)
"You reap without sowing," says a lawyer named Tucker.  "Instead of helping the poor man, you not only swindle him whenever you get a chance, but you do it openly and with no shame . . . you would corner the air he breathes if only you knew how." (They obviously hadn't thought of water or plant seeds yet.) The financiers snigger as they await the arrival of one of their cohorts, who is unaccountably late.  They discover, after a lot more rebukes from lawyer Tucker, that their colleague has been murdered by the Committee of Seven.
Said group has drawn up a list of the top 100 millionaires in America and dunned them each for a donation of two hundred thousand dollars.  "So that we may buy Senators as freely as do you," one of their members explains.  But if the targeted millionaire refuses to pay up, the penalty is death.
This is all for a doubly good cause, so to speak -- to prevent armed revolution on the part of the abused workers of America,  something the Committee of Seven is sure will come soon because the disparity of income has become so woeful and so widespread.   

The People's League wants to raise enough money to achieve their objectives -- fair and decent living standards for American workers -- by peaceable means.  "You think our methods brutal,"  Wilson continues.  "We have no choice.  The American magnate disregards the law, for he owns it.  He has no fear of public opinion, for he owns the press.  As for the United States Senate . . . those gilded patriots bear the same relation to Wall Street as a yellow dog to a butcher's cart."
How relevant and real-time can we get?
There probably is no such thing as a perfect poltical system and I am in no way an apologist for socialism or its horrors under Stalin, but I honor J. A. Mitchell and my grandfather William Balfour Ker for their keen sense of outrage at what unchecked and irresponsible capitalism does to its workers. 
From a Buddhist perspective, we will never find a solution as long as we look at the world in terms of dualistic black and white, i.e., capitalism = good, socialism = bad.  Starting with the basics, the genuine welfare and freedom from basic wants of the general populace, surely there are elements of both systems that are beneficial to the public weal.  Don't wisdom, compassion and painful experience demand that we explore the middle ground? 
-- Paki S. Wright