Tubal Cain

Some mourn a time of golden glamor
When men knew naught of iron bands.
Knew not our rugged craft with hands,
Nor aught of workman’s sudden clamor.
Thine iron hand, they say, hath stung
To restlessness our world, and flung
A quivering race beneath thy hammer.
What though a feeble folk may rage?
We feel the ardors of our age —
The pulse of time in blows that rain
From thy hammered hand, great Tubal Cain.

— Tubal Cain: An Ode to Labor.

SOME fifteen years ago one might have read rather widely of a proposal to erect in Pittsburg a colossal statue of iron to the artificer of Bible-story, Tubal Cain. Stirred to emulation by the great figure of silver that Colorado had cause to be raised to her own glory, some iron-master had visions of this titanic figure dominating the city of iron and steel. Erected at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where the smoke of the altars of industry never ceases, and where daily thousands upon thousands of cars of coal and iron pass in endless procession, it should, like some tutelary divinity of old, show forth our praise.

As one of the very few symbolic ideas which it has entered into our hearts to conceive, this monument to the glory of labor seems indeed, worthy of consideration. Into that heroic figure what national faith, what sturdy idealism, should there not be wrought! One had visions of it taking its place beside the Statue of Liberty, and if not enlightening the world, at least teaching it our one great truth — the unity of brain and hand, and the dignity of toil.

Alas for the ironical years! The statue was never erected, and the enthusiasms thus recalled are now as remote as the national ideals that called them forth. It all belongs to another world — to that far-off time when we could still speak of the ‘dignity of labor’ without risking the comic, and when on the posters of political parties one might still see the sturdy, smiling workman with the Thor-like hammer in his hand!


In the light of the revealing years the statue of Tubal Cain would, indeed, have been an unbearable irony. Who knows but that, had it been erected, some McNamara, a little more imaginative than his fellows, and with an excess of that mordant humor which characterizes the workman of the present, would have smilingly placed a charge of dynamite at its feet? Certainly the workman of to-day scorns the whole conception for which it stands. The same explosions that wrecked the monumental products of our industry doubtless gave the last push to the crumbling idol of our laborious democracy, but for a long time it has been the workman himself who has been jabbing viciously at its feet of clay. The idol’s fall has been but the final revelation of our great incapacity and our great sadness — the inability of our industrial civilization to dignify and glorify its inmost principle and force. ‘The World’s Work’ — that is our loudest shibboleth, but it rings hollow because of the great schism of hand and brain.

Into all the causes of the workman’s disillusionment and hardness of heart it would be idle to enter. It suffices that he does not recognize the fancy picture you have drawn of him in the faces, the forms, and gait of the human products of Steel Trust, and Beef Trust. In his own way, he is as realistic as the next one. The very ‘properties’ in which we have dressed him up he indignantly spurns. The education of the machine is a thorough one, and the realities of fire and iron he does not find favorable to illusions. For him the ‘muck-rake’ and the reports of congressional committees have really never been necessary.

Perhaps the dignity of labor has never been anything more than an idol of forum and market-place; so, at least, the cynical and disillusioned would tell us. In any case, while you have been clothing him with a pretended dignity and honor, the workman himself is at last convinced that these attributes do not exist. At last he accepts the frightful paradox of modern industry: Thou must increase, I must decrease! He knows that, while industry requires a development of intellect, as never before, this intellect can accomplish its perfect work only by taking the soul from the workman and reducing him to a machine; that, while the processes of labor are tremendous and heroic as never before, the laborer himself must ever grow less and less. Whether rightly or wrongly, he accepts as an accomplished fact the schism between hand and brain and believes it to be growing deeper day by day. It has all been not unlike the fairy story of old. We have pretended that he was beautifully clothed, and now at last he himself, with an almost childish simplicity, has cried out, ‘Yes, but I have nothing on!’

As the laborer thus refuses longer to share our illusions, so at last he has come to disdain our sentiment. It has, indeed, been easy for us all to wax sentimental over him and to cry, —

Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Having felt the ecstasy of Tolstoï’s glorification of labor in his picture of the reapers, we have with him cried out against the ‘diabolical invention of the division of labor,’ and weakly cursed the giants of machinery and capital under our breath. But the period of sentimentalism with regard to labor, in its sympathetic as well as its laudatory form, has passed. Instead, labor itself has entered into a new stadium that sternly forbids both. Manual labor has always been at the bottom of the scale, this sad Atlas carrying a world of luxury and refinement on his back. Now the great Atlas shrugs his shoulders, reverses the hierarchical pyramid, and you find yourself in another world where your ideals and your tears alike are out of place.

It is this that, would have made Tubal Cain an anachronism, this that would have made the image as unbearable as, let us say, the absurdities of the Sieges-Allee. But it is this also that is giving reality to an art in which the soul of labor is increasingly finding expression.

Nothing so proves the fundamental cultural meaning of the labor-movement as the rapidity with which it has found expression in literature, philosophy, and, above all, in art. Doubtless, at present labor is itself in no way to raise statues; but revolted labor, the schismatic labor of the hand, finds itself in an heroic mood, and if it is as yet but barely articulate, there has not been lacking an art that, feeling its way up from beneath, has revealed to us the workman’s soul. In the ‘Black Country’ of collieries and pastures, Meunier found the workmen stunted and deformed and stamped with a tragic depression, but he also found in them a silent heroism and a primitive energy that turned pity into admiration. The more he watched these dogged sons of Cain fulfilling their sinister destiny, the more his Miner, his Hammerman, and his Puddler revealed themselves, not as suppliants, but as conquerors; not merely as humanity, ‘betrayed, plundered, and profaned, and fraught with menace to the universe,’ but as that humanity fashioned to have joy in its labor and to know itself as part of the deeper creative will to life itself!


It is, I fancy, this new mood, heroic as well as sullen and brutal, which, as much as anything else, makes mockheroics of the idealisms of the past. That it is sullen and brutal, who can deny? The brutal jaw has, indeed, been loosened and let down, but it is becoming fixed and firm again with a new resolve. The brow is slanted back, but it is again alight, if not with intellect, at least with emotion and passsion. Certainly, for the workman, the time of wistfulness and self-pity has passed; the period of passionate and heroic self-consciousness has come. Out of the deeps of the great schism of hand and brain have come schismatic morals and religion, a separatist poetry, philosophy, and art. Thus it is that, though unwilling, we must at last attend. For if that movement is to be feared that generates its own songs, so also is that movement to be welcomed that creates its own loyalties and nobilities, its own heroisms and obligations.

Schism is always brutal. Separatism in any form has something of the diabolical. Not without a shiver does one realize the hardness and remoteness of the worker’s soul! That he should believe that he has ‘nothing to lose and everything to gain’! That he should sing, in the International, ‘We have been naught, we shall be all’! Yet one would do well to recall the remark of a labor leader in England at the time of the great transportation strike: ‘You say we don’t care for your food-supply. We don’t care any more for your food-supply when we are on strike than you cared for our food-supply when we were at work!’

This is brutal enough, perhaps, but it is nothing to the sinister paraphrase of this sentiment which, when raised to the tone of Him who said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’ constitutes the underlying philosophy of Syndicalism and of the International. ‘We do not care,’ you complain, ‘for your beautiful products of intellect and civilization. We care no more for the ideals of your civilization, now that we are making our own world, than you cared for our minds and hearts when we ourselves were “monstrous, empty, and soul-quenched! ” . . . Disinherited of the things you have found good, we shall create good things of our own. Instead of a morality of exploiter and consumer, we shall have a morality of worker and producer. Instead of the ideals of humanity, brotherhood, and patriotism, to which you yourselves have given but the service of the lips, but which, to us believing them in our hearts, have been the ministers of weakness and death — instead of these, we shall restore the stronger virtues, the virtues of the worker, the primitive valor, the heroism, and the sacrifice, that lie concealed in the heart of the mob.’

Thus, slowly but surely, there has been growing up a morality of the Underman, as there has been also, alas, a morality of the Overman. Who that has known the latter for what it is — as no mere intellectual’s dream, but the expression of fundamental forces, can be surprised that it has generated its opposite? Who that knows the reality of the ‘will to power,’ can wonder at the cries of ‘Wille zur Arbeit’ and ‘Elan ouvrier’? As the massing of capital has compelled the massing of labor, so the morals of the Overman have, by the same inevitable necessity, created those of the Underman. Above all, then, it is upon this new morality of the Underman that we must fix our eyes. If at many points it is brutal and callous, it also has its own heroisms and loyalties, its mysteries and ecstasies, and we do well to recognize them when we see them! The heroic self-sacrifices, the tremendous loyalties of which the labor movement continuously and increasingly gives proof, are not merely a protest but a prophecy, not merely the passionate lightnings of a dumb rebellion, but the steady fire of an increasing purpose.


All this you will find at its fullest in Syndicalism; for if labor is finding an art of its own, it is also coming into the possession of a philosophy. ‘Syndicalism,’ says a French writer, ‘has disengaged the philosophy of labor’; and it cannot be denied that, in his Réflexions sur la Violence, his Illusions du Progrès, and his Evolution Créatrice, modeled after Bergson’s famous book, M. Sorel has given us a philosophy of an almost lyrical virulence, and of a peculiarly rugged beauty not without kinship with the lines of the Miner, the Hammerman, and the Puddler.

Indeed this philosophy ‘of the hands and not of the head,’ as its exponents call it, this philosophy of an engineer who disdains thought except in so far as it is an instrument of invention and production, claims to give us the soul of the workman as it is, or is forming in the deeps, far below the conventional self of the thoughts and feelings inherited from the past: it claims to give us a proletarian truth, a morale, and a religion, wrung by these same miners, hammermen, and puddlers, from the very heart of things, in the dark recesses of their unremitting toil.

Could anything be more absurd? Yet as we read, we have an uncanny feeling of sullen moods, of which we have long been partly aware, at last settled into hard and relentless dogmas; of confused and darkened dreams of labor which we have dimly known, flashing at last the revealing lightnings of the vivid truth. Thus, the growing disillusionment of the workman, and his indifference to our ideals which he himself can hardly share, has become, for M. Sorel, a reasoned belief in the degenerat ion of our democratic morals, and in their utter incapacity for nobility and justice. The instinctive search for new ideals and virtues, so real a part of the labor movement, has become a self-conscious and reasoned faith that does not hesitate to speak of violence and martyrdom.

Not the least forbidding thing in Syndicalism is its final acceptance of the complete schism of hand and brain and all the consequences that entails. Awakened from his dogmatic slumber by the ideals of democracy and intellectualism, the Syndicalist disdains the reasonings of economist, moralist, and politician, and falls back on the ‘ proletarian truth ’ of instinct and passion. Despairing of the virtues of peace, he seeks to restore heroism, sacrifice, and all the virtues of war! He preaches the twentieth-century crusade of the General Strike! Direct action! That, for the Syndicalist is no mere last mad recourse to the argument of the fist; it is rather a disdainful challenge to the political indirections, even of a social democracy itself. The General Strike! That is no mere addition of a thousand petty strikes, often ‘pennywise and pound-foolish’; it is rather a fruitful ‘motor-idea’ in which the blind strivings of the workers shall find at last a meaning and a goal.

In such powerful ‘motor-ideas,’ in such ‘myths,’ if you will, for he does not disdain the name, the Syndicalist sees not only the solidification of the workman’s will, but also the salvation of his soul. To such ‘ up-rushings from below’ this interpreter of the dreams of Labor looks for the regeneration of the world. Not to thought, for it has proved its impotency, but to passion, of which, at least, we know not the end! Not to utopias of the intellect, but to myths fashioned in the depths of instinct and will! Does he seek for congenial images of the past? It is to the dreams and heroisms of the early Christians that he turns his eyes. Does he seek for novel concepts wherewith to express his overpowering sense of truth? It is to the pragmatic and intuitive philosophies of a James and a Bergson that he appeals. Intellect is but the servant of instinct and will. All creative evolution comes from the deeper self below the reason. And for him that deeper self is the soul of the mob. How one rubs his eyes and catches his breath as he comes upon this extraordinary peroration of M. Sorel: ‘The violence of the proletariat would then appear as a beautiful and heroic thing; it is in the service of the primordial interests of society. We salute the revolutionaries as the Greeks saluted the Spartan heroes who defended Thermopylæ and contributed to the maintenance of light in the ancient world.’


Prodigious and paradoxical philosophy! And according to our temper we shall doubtless either revile it or laugh it to scorn. But is it any more prodigious, more paradoxical, than the horrid paradox of industry that gave it birth? True, it is the complete antithesis of all that the heroic figure of Tubal Cain was to symbolize and show forth. Community of interest, the solidarity of civilization and culture, the dignity of labor, of muscle, and brawn, dominated and made sacred by intellect and spirit — all these it scorns and sets at naught. Instead — this dream of a new and unheard-of nobility, of dark and sullen obligations, of heroisms we cannot share, and of a creed of violence which, when stripped of its philosophy, seems but some dream of Molly Maguire, Hooligan, or Apache!

Yet, even so, the dream is being dreamed. And if in that dream there is something of prodigious portent, if in the dark chambers of the underworld, dread words are whispered, it is well that the dream should be interpreted, that the words should be spoken openly in philosophy and art.

Myths have a way of growing underground. Have you forgotten that curious, ironical picture which Anatole France has drawn of those gentlemen of the Roman Empire amusing themselves over the grotesque and childish stories and images of the early Christians? What is growing up in the soul of the workman? Do you know? ‘Motor-ideas’ are springing up all round us. Capital, labor, the strike, — compare their emotional connotation now with that of fifteen years ago. Already they loom as giants, and in some socialist ‘Sunday school’ a modernized Jack the Giant-Killer may yet be written for the delight and edification of on-coming generations.

After all, it is the inner side of labor that we must learn to know — not merely statistics of strikes, wages, and conditions of living. In the last analysis these are worthless, not so much because they lie, as because they do not tell us what we wish to know. There are, indeed, conditions to be scientifically studied, but much more is there a great world-will to be ethically appreciated. Above all, then, I say, it is upon this ‘new morality’ of the Underman that we must fix our eyes. Surely it needs not the eloquence of philosophy and art to persuade us that through this new morality he dreams, though incoherently, ever of an impending good; through it, though oft unknowing, he is really the brute bearer of new spiritual forces.

True, these forces have not come as we could have wished them to come. The heroic self-sacrifices and tremendous loyalties of which, I repeat, the labor movement is continuously and increasingly able to give proof, and which deeply ethical and religious men look upon with mingled feelings of admiration and doubt, are bound up with a class-consciousness which we cannot but deplore. They involve the breaking of loyalties to employer, to the community, and to the state — even to civilization itself— which must fill us with fear.

Yet it is to be remembered that these other and more ancient loyalties were already weakened, if not wholly destroyed, before the new ones appeared. For the dissociations between master and workman, between laborer and laborer; for the increasing distance between the workman and the completed product of his labor and the consumer, and his consequent loss of the ancient obligations, — in short for his fading sense of his place in the totality of civilization, — for all this, surely, the workman himself is not responsible. The giants of machinery and capital have long worked their sovereign and impersonal will. It is not merely that they know neither night nor day, neither sleeping nor waking, neither birth nor death, neither childhood nor old age; nor indeed any of the major or minor rhythms of life. They also know neither persons nor pieties. They respect neither the roots of life, nor its flower and fruit in a thousand personal intimacies and loyalties. If then, from the ruins of manhood and womanhood, the chief victims of our blindness seek to build their life anew; if, after violent separations and dissociations, they seek new forms of association and communal life, — yes, even new loyalties, new virtues, and new heroisms, — can we really affect to be surprised?

Yet it is precisely this inner side of labor that it is the fate of the merely ‘reasonable’ man to overlook. For him it is all merely a struggle for elemental and outer conditions of life. This it is, and indeed must be; but in the last analysis, it is also a struggle for the restoration of old human values in a new form, for the creation of the cultural conditions necessary for a ‘productive society.’ It is this insight that is to be welcomed above knowledge, — even if, to find it, we must go to the Songs of Labor of an Ada Negri, to the Proletariat of a Sombart, or to the paradoxes of a Sorel.


What then shall we say? To those of us who have ever dreamed the old dream of Tubal Cain, these newer dreams cannot but be dark and abhorrent. To those who, whether by the kindly offices of religion, of philosophy, or of art, have ever had the merest glimpse of the mystical unity which underlies all reality, such a philosophy cannot be other than a prodigious paradox. Yet it is precisely those who will neither laugh nor revile. For they will know it for what it really is — a philosophy of immense exigencies, of exigencies such, perhaps, as the world has rarely seen.

To the belief in the solidarity of all industry we must indeed hold fast, though master and workman, capital and labor, both work to tear it apart. To our faith in the larger unities of civilization and culture we must cling, though all the forces of life should seem to rend the seamless garment, woven of intellect and instinct, by brain and by hand. Against these rival abstractions, it is above all things necessary to maintain the profound identity of genius and of creative labor in all its aspects, the equality of all its manifestations. Against all partial moralities, all partial truths and nobilities, the rival moralities of master and slave, of intellectualist and producer, we must set our face. But if this is our task, — and I believe that this schism between brain and brawn, between head and hand, is but one form of the great schism that rends our modern culture, — we shall be enabled to meet it only when we realize that these separations and abstractions are the product of no willful vice or blindness, but of dire compulsions and sullen necessities; the sign of no temporary maladjustment, but rather the prelude to a great reconstruction of life, the meaning and end of which we may, perhaps, hope some time to see and understand.

We are of an age which is compelled to think in paradoxes, but what are paradoxes but the fruit of great convulsions of the soul? That men should think for a moment, of reversing the age-old order of experience and value; that they should put the hand before the head; that they should call truth, truth, only when it leads to practice; should think to discover reality only when they turn their backs upon intellect, and to find the good only when they fall back upon primal instincts — what is all this but a confession of crises in culture, of lesions in life as portentous as they are novel? And the ‘will to labor,’ the ‘élan ouvrier’ of the Syndicalist— what is this but violence engendered by other willful and morbid valuations: but the confession of our great impasse, that impasse, believe me, to which the ‘diabolical division of labor,’ the slow but insidious estrangement. of head and hand, of intellect and instinct, have been driving us with immitigable fate? There is something that for the moment fails us all — the sense for the whole, the faith in the transcendental unity of all life’s values. Life is doubtless a totality, but men can live, alas, only in such wholes as they may see and feel. The roots of loyalty, as of reasonableness also, are, we may well believe, in the absolute and in the ‘whole,’ but they flower, it must always be remembered, only in personal relations. In the great struggle for a new spiritual content of life, — the real goal of all our striving, — the labor movement, with all its violence and paradox, is in its own way but a primordial, if sometimes sullen and subterranean, part. He who sees it otherwise must hold our common humanity cheap indeed!


It is not easy to hold to the unities of the faith. Yet we are not left, wholly without comfort. In the deeper insights that transcend the divisions of the moment we may still feel where we cannot see.

In art itself, in art where indeed the impulses of revolt and separation have found their most insistent expression, there also another impulse has been at work, one that is the very sold of art, and one which the true artist cannot escape even in his most intense, narrow, and individual moments. Millet and Meunier have indeed given labor the precious baptism of art, but it is, after all, with the sense of the broad, the universal, and the wholly human, that they have enveloped it. Through the marbles of Rodin and Max Klinger, the terrible powers of thought, of genius, and of creative will, shine forth as never before; yet here also it is their universality and humanity that give them strength. Before Millet’s peasants, or the miners and puddlers of Meunier, does even the manual laborer himself experience merely the passions and sorrows of his class? No; he is simply and sorrowfully stirred, as indeed is every one; and, if he feels his corporate will strengthened, yet the tears that come to his eyes are, after all, simply human tears. And, on the other hand, as one stands before Max Klinger’s Beethoven, or the Balzac and the Penseur of Rodin, is it merely an intellectual joy, merely the power of intellect, that one feels? No; rather does one feel the spirit and genius of man triumphing over matter, and rejoice in that long struggle of the race wherein hand and brain have always been as one.

It is before such deeper insights as these that one feels how odious, if for the moment inevitable, is the schism of the hand and the head. Doubtless, in sheer necessity, labor has created its own heroisms and loyalties, even its mysteries and ecstasies, and we do ill to deny them. Doubtless intellect as well knows its own obligations and pieties. But just as the Overman will learn, in the words of Nietzsche himself, that it ‘is an illusion to think that he has really transcended good and evil, that free thinking is itself a moral action as honesty and valor, as justice and love,’ so also to the Underman at last must come the truth that he, too, can never really go beyond these ultimate things. In the end both must learn that the major morals, the great human values, are in their essence one and eternal, and the greater qualities of men are independent, at the last, of the temporary doctrines and ideas for which a man may sacrifice himself. Both must learn, that of these things it is eternally true that, though we take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, behold they are there, and though we descend into the depths — into the very deeps of the underworld, into the darkest recesses of unremitting toil, — lo, there are they also to sustain and to uphold!

Of all this the deeper insight of art itself makes us aware; and nowhere, perhaps, shall we be more completely convinced than before Meunier’s Glorification of Labor. Here is the real ‘dignity of labor.’ That which an empty idealism, with its false nobility of gesture, cannot do, the love of truth and reality achieves. As one studies the four bas-reliefs, arranged in a semicircle, one sees in epitome the artist’s numerous studies of those cyclopean creatures, more like ancient troglodytes than human beings, his miners and iron-workers, stripped to the waist and dripping with sweat. Through the heavy but supple rhythms of their bodies, upon which he had so long and patiently gazed, the whole soul of Labor shines forth. Tragic depression, passionate protest, and threatening stillness — all are there; nothing of reality is lost. But over it all there rests an ennobling dignity, a serenity of spirit, in which one is aware of something new. For the source of this sense of power and hope, in spite of struggle and suffering, one has but to raise his eyes to the colossal figure of the Sower, which dominates the whole, and to the statues of the Ancestor and of Maternity about the base. In the solemn tranquillity of these figures, symbolic of the eternal realities, — of life, of labor, and of love, — one reads anew assurances that beyond the temporal is the immemorial, beneath the local and the partial is the everlasting whole.

So much for the comforting insights and prophecies of art. Yet it must be confessed, they do not help us much. Art is timeless; and in the meantime the songs of the workmen increase in depth and bitterness. In our American ears also, they sound ever louder and more hoarse, bringing with them images and emotions which rudely shatter the lingering dream of Tubal Cain. The statue itself was, it is true, never erected; and for that we may be truly glad. But the great iron-master of Pittsburg has caused to be painted on the walls of his temple to the industrial arts a glorification of labor which may, perhaps, take its place beside the monument of Meunier. Before these idealizations of Alexander what shall we say? Is our feeling here also predestined to be one of unbearable irony — the burden of Nineveh, of Egypt, or of Rome? — or is it to be a feeling rather of exultation, as before one of those rarer prophecies of art which have at last come true? Who shall say?