From The Jungle
The man had gone back to a seat upon the platform, and Jurgis
realized that his speech was over. The applause continued for
several minutes; and then some one started a song, and the crowd
took it up, and the place shook with it. Jurgis had never heard
it, and he could not make out the words, but the wild and
wonderful spirit of it seized upon him--it was the
"Marseillaise!" As stanza after stanza of it thundered forth, he
sat with his hands clasped, trembling in every nerve. He had
never been so stirred in his life--it was a miracle that had been
wrought in him. He could not think at all, he was stunned; yet
he knew that in the mighty upheaval that had taken place in his
soul, a new man had been born. He had been torn out of the jaws
of destruction, he had been delivered from the thraldom of
despair; the whole world had been changed for him--he was free,
he was free! Even if he were to suffer as he had before, even if
he were to beg and starve, nothing would be the same to him; he
would understand it, and bear it. He would no longer be the
sport of circumstances, he would be a man, with a will and a
purpose; he would have something to fight for, something to die
for, if need be! Here were men who would show him and help him;
and he would have friends and allies, he would dwell in the sight
of justice, and walk arm in arm with power.
The audience subsided again, and Jurgis sat back. The chairman
of the meeting came forward and began to speak. His voice
sounded thin and futile after the other's, and to Jurgis it
seemed a profanation. Why should any one else speak, after that
miraculous man--why should they not all sit in silence? The
chairman was explaining that a collection would now be taken up
to defray the expenses of the meeting, and for the benefit of the
campaign fund of the party. Jurgis heard; but he had not a penny
to give, and so his thoughts went elsewhere again.
He kept his eyes fixed on the orator, who sat in an armchair, his
head leaning on his hand and his attitude indicating exhaustion.
But suddenly he stood up again, and Jurgis heard the chairman of
the meeting saying that the speaker would now answer any
questions which the audience might care to put to him. The man
came forward, and some one--a woman--arose and asked about some
opinion the speaker had expressed concerning Tolstoy. Jurgis had
never heard of Tolstoy, and did not care anything about him. Why
should any one want to ask such questions, after an address like
that? The thing was not to talk, but to do; the thing was to get
bold of others and rouse them, to organize them and prepare for
the fight! But still the discussion went on, in ordinary
conversational tones, and it brought Jurgis back to the everyday
world. A few minutes ago he had felt like seizing the hand of
the beautiful lady by his side, and kissing it; he had felt like
flinging his arms about the neck of the man on the other side of
him. And now he began to realize again that he was a "hobo,"
that he was ragged and dirty, and smelled bad, and had no place
to sleep that night!
And so, at last, when the meeting broke up, and the audience
started to leave, poor Jurgis was in an agony of uncertainty.
He had not thought of leaving--he had thought that the vision must
last forever, that he had found comrades and brothers. But now
he would go out, and the thing would fade away, and he would
never be able to find it again! He sat in his seat, frightened
and wondering; but others in the same row wanted to get out, and
so he had to stand up and move along. As he was swept down the
aisle he looked from one person to another, wistfully; they were
all excitedly discussing the address--but there was nobody who
offered to discuss it with him. He was near enough to the door
to feel the night air, when desperation seized him. He knew
nothing at all about that speech he had heard, not even the name
of the orator; and he was to go away--no, no, it was
preposterous, he must speak to some one; he must find that man
himself and tell him. He would not despise him, tramp as he was!
So he stepped into an empty row of seats and watched, and when
the crowd had thinned out, he started toward the platform. The
speaker was gone; but there was a stage door that stood open,
with people passing in and out, and no one on guard. Jurgis
summoned up his courage and went in, and down a hallway, and to
the door of a room where many people were crowded. No one paid
any attention to him, and he pushed in, and in a corner he saw
the man he sought. The orator sat in a chair, with his shoulders
sunk together and his eyes half closed; his face was ghastly
pale, almost greenish in hue, and one arm lay limp at his side.
A big man with spectacles on stood near him, and kept pushing
back the crowd, saying, "Stand away a little, please; can't you
see the comrade is worn out?"
So Jurgis stood watching, while five or ten minutes passed. Now
and then the man would look up, and address a word or two to
those who were near him; and, at last, on one of these occasions,
his glance rested on Jurgis. There seemed to be a slight hint of
inquiry about it, and a sudden impulse seized the other. He
"I wanted to thank you, sir!" he began, in breathless haste. "I
could not go away without telling you how much--how glad I am I
heard you. I--I didn't know anything about it all--"
The big man with the spectacles, who had moved away, came back at
this moment. "The comrade is too tired to talk to any one--" he
began; but the other held up his hand.
"Wait," he said. "He has something to say to me." And then he
looked into Jurgis's face. "You want to know more about
Socialism?" he asked.
Jurgis started. "I--I--" he stammered. "Is it Socialism? I
didn't know. I want to know about what you spoke of--I want to
help. I have been through all that."
"Where do you live?" asked the other.
"I have no home," said Jurgis, "I am out of work."
"You are a foreigner, are you not?"
The man thought for a moment, and then turned to his friend.
"Who is there, Walters?" he asked. "There is Ostrinski--but he
is a Pole--"
"Ostrinski speaks Lithuanian," said the other. "All right, then;
would you mind seeing if he has gone yet?"
The other started away, and the speaker looked at Jurgis again.
He had deep, black eyes, and a face full of gentleness and pain.
"You must excuse me, comrade," he said. "I am just tired out--I
have spoken every day for the last month. I will introduce you
to some one who will be able to help you as well as I could--"
The messenger had had to go no further than the door, he came
back, followed by a man whom he introduced to Jurgis as "Comrade
Ostrinski." Comrade Ostrinski was a little man, scarcely up to
Jurgis's shoulder, wizened and wrinkled, very ugly, and slightly
lame. He had on a long-tailed black coat, worn green at the
seams and the buttonholes; his eyes must have been weak, for he
wore green spectacles that gave him a grotesque appearance.
But his handclasp was hearty, and he spoke in Lithuanian, which
warmed Jurgis to him.
"You want to know about Socialism?" he said. "Surely. Let us go
out and take a stroll, where we can be quiet and talk some."
And so Jurgis bade farewell to the master wizard, and went out.
Ostrinski asked where he lived, offering to walk in that
direction; and so he had to explain once more that he was without
a home. At the other's request he told his story; how he had
come to America, and what had happened to him in the stockyards,
and how his family had been broken up, and how he had become a
wanderer. So much the little man heard, and then he pressed
Jurgis's arm tightly. "You have been through the mill, comrade!"
he said. "We will make a fighter out of you!"
Then Ostrinski in turn explained his circumstances. He would
have asked Jurgis to his home--but he had only two rooms, and had
no bed to offer. He would have given up his own bed, but his
wife was ill. Later on, when he understood that otherwise Jurgis
would have to sleep in a hallway, he offered him his kitchen
floor, a chance which the other was only too glad to accept.
"Perhaps tomorrow we can do better," said Ostrinski. "We try not
to let a comrade starve."
Ostrinski's home was in the Ghetto district, where he had two
rooms in the basement of a tenement. There was a baby crying as
they entered, and he closed the door leading into the bedroom.
He had three young children, he explained, and a baby had just
come. He drew up two chairs near the kitchen stove, adding that
Jurgis must excuse the disorder of the place, since at such a
time one's domestic arrangements were upset. Half of the kitchen
was given up to a workbench, which was piled with clothing, and
Ostrinski explained that he was a "pants finisher." He brought
great bundles of clothing here to his home, where he and his wife
worked on them. He made a living at it, but it was getting
harder all the time, because his eyes were failing. What would
come when they gave out he could not tell; there had been no
saving anything--a man could barely keep alive by twelve or
fourteen hours' work a day. The finishing of pants did not take
much skill, and anybody could learn it, and so the pay was
forever getting less. That was the competitive wage system; and
if Jurgis wanted to understand what Socialism was, it was there
he had best begin. The workers were dependent upon a job to
exist from day to day, and so they bid against each other, and no
man could get more than the lowest man would consent to work for.
And thus the mass of the people were always in a life-and-death
struggle with poverty. That was "competition," so far as it
concerned the wage-earner, the man who had only his labor to
sell; to those on top, the exploiters, it appeared very
differently, of course--there were few of them, and they could
combine and dominate, and their power would be unbreakable. And
so all over the world two classes were forming, with an unbridged
chasm between them--the capitalist class, with its enormous
fortunes, and the proletariat, bound into slavery by unseen
chains. The latter were a thousand to one in numbers, but they
were ignorant and helpless, and they would remain at the mercy of
their exploiters until they were organized--until they had become
"class-conscious." It was a slow and weary process, but it would
go on--it was like the movement of a glacier, once it was started
it could never be stopped. Every Socialist did his share, and
lived upon the vision of the "good time coming,"--when the
working class should go to the polls and seize the powers of
government, and put an end to private property in the means of
production. No matter how poor a man was, or how much he
suffered, he could never be really unhappy while he knew of that
future; even if he did not live to see it himself, his children
would, and, to a Socialist, the victory of his class was his
victory. Also he had always the progress to encourage him;
here in Chicago, for instance, the movement was growing by leaps and
bounds. Chicago was the industrial center of the country, and
nowhere else were the unions so strong; but their organizations
did the workers little good, for the employers were organized,
also; and so the strikes generally failed, and as fast as the
unions were broken up the men were coming over to the Socialists.
Ostrinski explained the organization of the party, the machinery
by which the proletariat was educating itself. There were
"locals" in every big city and town, and they were being
organized rapidly in the smaller places; a local had anywhere
from six to a thousand members, and there were fourteen hundred
of them in all, with a total of about twenty-five thousand
members, who paid dues to support the organization. "Local Cook
County," as the city organization was called, had eighty branch
locals, and it alone was spending several thousand dollars in the
campaign. It published a weekly in English, and one each in
Bohemian and German; also there was a monthly published in
Chicago, and a cooperative publishing house, that issued a
million and a half of Socialist books and pamphlets every year.
All this was the growth of the last few years--there had been
almost nothing of it when Ostrinski first came to Chicago.
Ostrinski was a Pole, about fifty years of age. He had lived in
Silesia, a member of a despised and persecuted race, and had
taken part in the proletarian movement in the early seventies,
when Bismarck, having conquered France, had turned his policy of
blood and iron upon the "International." Ostrinski himself had
twice been in jail, but he had been young then, and had not
cared. He had had more of his share of the fight, though, for
just when Socialism had broken all its barriers and become the
great political force of the empire, he had come to America, and
begun all over again. In America every one had laughed at the
mere idea of Socialism then--in America all men were free. As if
political liberty made wage slavery any the more tolerable! said
The little tailor sat tilted back in his stiff kitchen chair,
with his feet stretched out upon the empty stove, and speaking in
low whispers, so as not to waken those in the next room. To
Jurgis he seemed a scarcely less wonderful person than the
speaker at the meeting; he was poor, the lowest of the low,
hunger-driven and miserable--and yet how much he knew, how much
he had dared and achieved, what a hero he had been! There were
others like him, too--thousands like him, and all of them
workingmen! That all this wonderful machinery of progress had
been created by his fellows--Jurgis could not believe it, it
seemed too good to be true.
That was always the way, said Ostrinski; when a man was first
converted to Socialism he was like a crazy person--he could not'
understand how others could fail to see it, and he expected to
convert all the world the first week. After a while he would
realize how hard a task it was; and then it would be fortunate
that other new hands kept coming, to save him from settling down
into a rut. Just now Jurgis would have plenty of chance to vent
his excitement, for a presidential campaign was on, and everybody
was talking politics. Ostrinski would take him to the next
meeting of the branch local, and introduce him, and he might join
the party. The dues were five cents a week, but any one who
could not afford this might be excused from paying. The
Socialist party was a really democratic political
organization--it was controlled absolutely by its own membership,
and had no bosses. All of these things Ostrinski explained, as
also the principles of the party. You might say that there was
really but one Socialist principle--that of "no compromise,"
which was the essence of the proletarian movement all over the
world. When a Socialist was elected to office he voted with old
party legislators for any measure that was likely to be of help
to the working class, but he never forgot that these concessions,
whatever they might be, were trifles compared with the great
purpose--the organizing of the working class for the revolution.
So far, the rule in America had been that one Socialist made
another Socialist once every two years; and if they should
maintain the same rate they would carry the country in
1912--though not all of them expected to succeed as quickly as
The Socialists were organized in every civilized nation; it was
an international political party, said Ostrinski, the greatest
the world had ever known. It numbered thirty million of
adherents, and it cast eight million votes. It had started its
first newspaper in Japan, and elected its first deputy in
Argentina; in France it named members of cabinets, and in Italy
and Australia it held the balance of power and turned out
ministries. In Germany, where its vote was more than a third of
the total vote of the empire, all other parties and powers had
united to fight it. It would not do, Ostrinski explained,
for the proletariat of one nation to achieve the victory, for that
nation would be crushed by the military power of the others;
and so the Socialist movement was a world movement, an organization
of all mankind to establish liberty and fraternity. It was the
new religion of humanity--or you might say it was the fulfillment
of the old religion, since it implied but the literal application
of all the teachings of Christ.
Until long after midnight Jurgis sat lost in the conversation of
his new acquaintance. It was a most wonderful experience to
him--an almost supernatural experience. It was like encountering
an inhabitant of the fourth dimension of space, a being who was
free from all one's own limitations. For four years, now, Jurgis
had been wondering and blundering in the depths of a wilderness;
and here, suddenly, a hand reached down and seized him, and
lifted him out of it, and set him upon a mountain-top, from which
he could survey it all--could see the paths from which he had
wandered, the morasses into which he had stumbled, the hiding
places of the beasts of prey that had fallen upon him. There
were his Packingtown experiences, for instance--what was there
about Packingtown that Ostrinski could not explain! To Jurgis
the packers had been equivalent to fate; Ostrinski showed him
that they were the Beef Trust. They were a gigantic combination
of capital, which had crushed all opposition, and overthrown the
laws of the land, and was preying upon the people. Jurgis
recollected how, when he had first come to Packingtown, he had
stood and watched the hog-killing, and thought how cruel and
savage it was, and come away congratulating himself that he was
not a hog; now his new acquaintance showed him that a hog was
just what he had been--one of the packers' hogs. What they
wanted from a hog was all the profits that could be got out of
him; and that was what they wanted from the workingman, and also
that was what they wanted from the public. What the hog thought
of it, and what he suffered, were not considered; and no more was
it with labor, and no more with the purchaser of meat. That was
true everywhere in the world, but it was especially true in
Packingtown; there seemed to be something about the work of
slaughtering that tended to ruthlessness and ferocity--it was
literally the fact that in the methods of the packers a hundred
human lives did not balance a penny of profit. When Jurgis had
made himself familiar with the Socialist literature, as he would
very quickly, he would get glimpses of the Beef Trust from all
sorts of aspects, and he would find it everywhere the same;
it was the incarnation of blind and insensate Greed
. It was a
monster devouring with a thousand mouths, trampling with a
thousand hoofs; it was the Great Butcher--it was the spirit of
made flesh. Upon the ocean of commerce it sailed as a
pirate ship; it had hoisted the black flag
and declared war upon
civilization. Bribery and corruption were its everyday methods.
the city government was simply one of its branch
offices; it stole billions of gallons of city water openly, it
dictated to the courts the sentences of disorderly strikers, it
forbade the mayor to enforce the building laws against it. In
the national capital it had power to prevent inspection of its
product, and to falsify government reports; it violated the
rebate laws, and when an investigation was threatened it burned
its books and sent its criminal agents out of the country.
In the commercial world it was a Juggernaut car; it wiped out
thousands of businesses every year, it drove men to madness and
suicide. It had forced the price of cattle so low as to destroy
the stock-raising industry, an occupation upon which whole states
existed; it had ruined thousands of butchers who had refused to
handle its products. It divided the country into districts, and
fixed the price of meat in all of them; and it owned all the
refrigerator cars, and levied an enormous tribute upon all
poultry and eggs and fruit and vegetables
. With the millions of
dollars a week that poured in upon it, it was reaching out for
the control of other interests, railroads and trolley lines, gas
and electric light franchises--it already owned the leather and
the grain business of the country. The people were tremendously
stirred up over its encroachments, but nobody had any remedy to
suggest; it was the task of Socialists
to teach and organize
them, and prepare them for the time when they were to seize the
huge machine called the Beef Trust
, and use it to produce food
for human beings and not to heap up fortunes for a band of
pirates. It was long after midnight when Jurgis lay down upon
the floor of Ostrinski's kitchen; and yet it was an hour before
he could get to sleep, for the glory of that joyful vision of the
people of Packingtown
marching in and taking possession of the
The Jungle Chapter 30