For Instance--Paul Zonbor

Unless we take seriously to heart the education of . . . the foreign-born, we shall sooner or later suffer the consequences.

GENERAL JOHN J. PERSHING.

I

PAUL ZONBOR, son of a Hungarian laborer, was born in a small village near the town of Temesvar, where German is the common tongue.

In his childhood, Paul went to the village school, where, as he saw it in after years, the chief subject of enlightenment was, in general, the greatness and glory of the reigning families of the Austro-Hungarian kingdoms, and, in particular, the names of each and every prince, duke, and baron of the Hapsburg Empire, their titles, their great services to the country, their still greater service to the world at large. Supermen, these all, as Paul and his mates were taught: gods on earth, to be feared and venerated.

At the age of twelve, Paul, taken from school, was sent into the fields, where, with other laborers, he worked for a wage that barely bought food enough to maintain life, leaving the acquisition of clothing to kindly hazard.

As to the fields themselves, they belonged to a wealthy baron. His name the laborers knew, but not his face. What, indeed, should such a fine gentleman do, in a place so barbarous, so outlandish as this his estate on the Temes?

Still, it appeared he had need of whatever they could possibly make for him. So they went to work at sunrise. And when the sun stood over their heads, they stopped to eat their midday meal. And when the sun sank low, they stumbled home, dog-tired, to their rest, only to rise with the morrow’s sun for another day like the last. The sky was their only clock, its moods their only variety.

Thus the years passed, until the time drew near when Paul must follow his brothers and his friends into the army, to serve his two years of compulsory training.

Now, the chief conscious grievance among the peasant inhabitants of the Temes district was that their sons were forced to give two years out of their young lives for this same military training; forced to give two precious years to learn to defend with their own blood the lands of their princes and dukes; to learn to fight for their task-master’s sake, whenever their task-master’s lands or privileges might be endangered.

Further, the men conscripted from the Temes district must join a regiment officered by Austrians, who neither understood their men nor were in the least concerned about their lives or comforts. ‘Hungarian dogs,’ their expression ran, ‘what are they fit for but cannon-fodder in case of need! Everything to its use.’

Then, when the young men came back to the village, the two years done, invariably they brought tales of brutal floggings undergone, of long sentences served in unspeakable prisons, of prodigious cruelties wantonly inflicted for offenses that, in the eyes of humane officers, would have passed unrecognized as offenses at all. Many wore disfiguring scars — the marks of willful blows from Austrian officers. And so, as the time came near when Paul must stand his turn, his ever-present under-horror became a constant obsession, and his nightly dreams were of conscription, of Austrian officers striking him with swords, of hideous black dungeons in which he fought for his food, fought for his life, fought for his reason, against battalions of rats.

Then came a Sunday afternoon when an uncle visited the Zonbors’ mean little cottage, bringing a letter from his son, Paul’s cousin, who had dared the unknown and crossed the sea. The letter spoke of a new land of promise — of a country of the free, where men earned more than a mere existing wage; a country where men were men, not mere slaves to the earth.

Thus it was that Paul Zonbor first heard of the United States of America. And from that very Sunday he determined to leave to the Austrian officers one man less to maltreat — to follow his bold cousin and to try his luck in the Country of the Free.

II

It was in the spring of the year 1906, to be exact, that a ship crowded with emigrants from Southeastern Europe, entering New York Harbor, brought as an atom among the horde this son of a Hungarian laborer, from the little village near Temesvar.

Once ashore, the atom shared a common lot — he was caught by one of the swarm of mercenary employment agents, who are always alert and eager to clutch any ignorant victim, to suck out his all.

These labor agencies are often owned and staffed by men born in Central Europe — men who, when first they set foot in America, were themselves helpless atoms in a helpless mass, and who themselves fell easy prey to the sharks. But, their own sufferings outlived, they draw from their scars no lesson of compassion — nothing but a sinister shrewdness in doing as they were done by. Posing as friends of the stranger in the land, they exploit the ignorance of their own countrymen, and make a cannibal livelihood by skinning them alive.

But Paul Zonbor knew nothing of these things. And now, whether for good or for evil, he had arrived in the Promised Land. To-day, years later, — a point which should be borne well in mind throughout this account, — today, years later, Paul Zonbor, looking back on these his first experiences, entirely forgets the nationality of those who skinned him, remembering only that it was in America, the Land of the Free, the Promised Land, that he was so skinned.

The job that he got from the cannibals took him into a night bakery, in the colossal city. Here again his mothertongue, German, greeted him — was the only language either spoken or understood; and during the period that followed, he not only worked, but lived, moved, had his entire being among a German-speaking, German-thinking population. Never did it occur to him — never was it suggested to him — to try to learn something about the strange country that he had so newly made his home. His work left him stupefied. He seemed to have neither will nor energy nor imagination, when it was done, to reach out beyond into the true meaning, whatever that might be, of the Promised Land. He did not even suspect that it had another aspect than that in which he slaved. To all intents, he was living in Hungary, under Austrian influences still.

But even to-day he does not realize this. He still thinks that America, the Promised Land, of her own deliberate greed and inhumanity shoved him into that hole.

Yet, through the haze in his dull brain, one longing did arise and grow — a great and greater longing for open air. After the big skies of Central Europe, the long nights in an underground bakery, so suddenly assumed, were soon intolerable; and, after he had taken his necessary amount of sleep, the rag of daylight that remained was not enough. So, after a few months of stifling, the emigrant, bestirring himself, made shift for breath, and changed his vocation to that of laborer for a contracting company. You can see the like of him, any hour of any day, in any big city, handling a pick or shovel in the excavation for a new sky-scraper. And so, with no wider change, his life wound on.

But one morning came an incident: the man at the control carelessly pushed the wrong lever. Bang! Crash! A cry — a moan — silence. The crane had dropped its load. And two men who, a moment before, had been active bread-winners, lay motionless, crushed to death. The boss came along to gather the story, while the dead men lay at his feet.

’Oh, well — they ’re only Hunkies!’ he exclaimed, prefacing his orders with that one phrase of relief.

Paul Zonbor caught the words, and, by a perverse chance, he understood them every one. Through the fogs in his brain they took on life and glowed dully, with an evil fire. And they made his first clear picture of the concept that he was finally to call America.

America, he perceived, was a place where ‘Hunkies’ did not matter, alive or dead. American bosses, then, were merely Austrian officers in another guise. ‘Only Hunkies’ and ‘cannonfodder’ were synonyms.

The laborers had no right under the crane?

The incident was an exceptional one?

Not more than one boss in a thousand is like the man that Paul heard speak?

True, true, true; and that thousandth boss was probably born anywhere on earth except under the Eagle of Liberty.

All true. Yet Paul Zonbor, living in the Promised Land, to this day thinks of that early boss of his as a typical American, and believes the typical American boss to be a cold-blooded slave-driver.

To be sure, he himself has since had bosses who have treated him in a humane and friendly way; but these, he is certain, must be the exceptions that prove the rule, as the only ones that he hears of aside from his own experience are described as slave-drivers and brutes.

Next, while Paul was working with the spade, came an opportunity to go to Pittsburgh, at better wages. He went. Once arrived in the great iron centre, again he found whole communities living the only life he knew, speaking the only tongue he understood, and being the only things he imagined men to be. Here again, it was as if a piece of the Hapsburg Empire had been transplanted into the heart of the United States. Here, to such a community he naturally gravitated, and was at once submerged. Here, too, he met the woman he made his wife — a woman differing in no degree or habit from the one he would have married had he never left his native land.

By and by bad times came to Pittsburgh — strikes and riots, want and misery. Men were tossed about, pawns in a game they did not understand. Thus we find Paul Zonbor, with a handful of his countrymen, again casting loose and moving with all their possessions — this time to Buffalo.

Here Paul locates in a section of the city where he is able to buy all the necessities of life from stores owned by his countrymen; where the Austrians, the Southern Europeans, the Germans, have their own saloons, their own banks and clubs; where they never come into contact with English-speaking Americans outside their laboring hours.

And again Paul is swallowed up in a little Central Europe, under the spray of Niagara Falls !

III

Nevertheless, what with the passing of years, what with the evolution of natural character, Paul, for all the tightness of the shell in which he has lived, has grown. He has a certain quality now — and a heightened value. He can command steady work. In fact, he actually spent eight years under the same roof, in the great Buffalo plant that employed him. He has climbed upward in the respect of his community; has become a leader, well-liked and trusted; is the elected chairman of the club.

Moreover, he has learned, or so he believes, about America. If now you were to ask Paul any sort of questions about present-day politics, you would find that he possesses an amazing familiarity with things about which he knows nothing whatever. His knowledge to-day includes a great deal more than the history of the Hapsburg dynasty. He is ready and glib in discussing Bolshevism, Atheism, Darwinism, Marxism; Prohibition, John Brown, or the Mayflower. The names of labor leaders the world over are common to his memory, and he can dilate on the particular creed and preaching of each one.

Where did he gain all this knowledge? In America?

Yes, surely, since the laborer of the Temes knew nothing of it.

From Americans?

Most emphatically, no! America has not concerned herself with the mental processes of Paul Zonbor. Using his hands as vital tools, teaching him at most a little English in order to direct these tools, she has taken no cognizance of his mental processes beyond those used in shop practice.

It appears, however, that some sort of power exists, has existed, that does see a use for Paul’s mentality. This power manifests itself in several shapes. For example, it supplies Paul Zonbor with weekly newspapers printed in the language he best understands — German. It supplies him also with whatever books he may desire to read, all written in that same language. That those books heavily tend to certain main lines, are chosen with purpose, and that his desires are guided toward them; that his judgment is distorted by them, is not apparent to Paul. His horizon affords so restricted a vision, that variety of conditions and comparison of values can play little part there as disputants of any systematic invader. And the actual invader is systematic indeed!

As has already been stated, Paul presides over a club. This club has a very considerable number of members, for Paul’s class is large in the manufacturing city by the Falls. But the whole organization has not one real American member, and it would be strange to hear an English word spoken within its walls. It is, however, an exceedingly live and active centre. It has endless inner societies for all sorts of ends. But beyond that, it has an amazing lot of debates, meetings, lectures, concerts, where the proceedings, it seems, are stimulated by, and infused with a steady and consistent current from without.

Nothing that is done here in any way relates to America’s America. Whether it be in songs, discussions, or teaching, the underlying trend is very strong and is always the same.

All the lecturers are ‘sent’ from some mysterious elsewhere. All lecture in German, and the majority of them state either that they are Russians or that they have been in Russia quite recently. Russia and Labor in that and other distant parts are, almost exclusively, the subjects of their talk. And never do they miss a chance to quicken their hearers’ hatred against the employing classes of any country in the world.

Always they affirm that the laborers of other countries are ready to rise and salute Bolshevism, if only they can be sure that in the United States a majority will follow them. They tell how prosperous the Russians are, under their present rulers; how every man has to work for a living, — labor for a living, — explaining that thus none has to work for more than six hours a day. They tell how, in Russia, all profits are shared, and thus all alike are wealthy; and how more schools have been built by the régime of the last order than were built in a generation of Tsardom. And above all, always they beseech, nay, order, their audiences not to believe one word that is printed in the American press.

‘All that it says is lies, damned, deliberate lies,’ the speaker repeats, with a fire and an eloquence that drives his words deep. ‘America the land of the free? Bah! Russia is the only free country on the face of the earth to-day. It is the only country that has rid itself of the High Capitalist — the gorging, wine-bibbing High Capitalist. He is your true enemy, with his wines and his women — as bad, and a hundred times worse than the officers that you thought abused you in the old days at home. Why, look at the hugeness of the thing: the men you see around you — the plant managers, the foremen and whatnots— are scarcely better off, in principle, than you are yourselves. They are only the tools of the High Capitalist. They are only slave-gang bosses, who have to drive you in order to keep their jobs. Pity them. The High Capitalists are nothing else than blood-sucking vampires, forever bleeding every man under their control, from the first down, in order to make a few more dollars to keep their palaces of wickedness.

But our day is coming, mind you. Our plans are laid, our hour is close at hand. When the moment arrives, we shall strike in every country at the same time. Russia has already set us our example. Germany is on our side. Italy, Canada, France, and England will rise as one man when our leaders give the signal. Here in the United States we are well organized; but remember that each one of you has to spread our doctrine each hour of every day. So our victory is assured.’

What response does this teaching, preached day by day, year by year, awaken in Paul Zonbor and the like of him? Keep sight of the fact that Paul Zonbor, — now confessedly a Bolshevik, — like nearly all Bolsheviki and I.W.W.’s, was born in an environment of hate. In his earliest childhood he saw his parents and all their world hating, bitterly hating, the rulers, the rich men, the officials of his native land. And he, in his turn and on his own account, grew up to hate them as bitterly.

Then, being perhaps something more virile than the rest, he left his native land to escape the exploiter of ‘cannonfodder,’ taking refuge in the Land of the Free. He had expected much of this Promised Land. He had been taught, and had taught himself, to regard it most truly as heaven on a new earth, where men were paid fabulous sums for half the work that on the Temes barely bought food enough to maintain life. Were not the dollars huge weekly, nay, daily, fortunes when translated into his native currency?

Yet once in the Promised Land, what had he found? Was it not the term ‘cannon-fodder’ giving place, when the crane drops its load, to ‘only a Hunkie,’ while the mill grinds on over the dead?

Then other things happened — things that, in the dim light of the world in which he groped, nobody interpreted to him — nobody, until ‘they’ hunted him out with the doctrine that gives fresh direction to the old, fierce faculty of hate. So that, as the New World increasingly disappointed him, as the beauties of the Old World gradually blotted out, in his memory, the grievances that drove him across the sea, he transferred his hatred, strengthened with the strength of his full maturity, to objects chosen by the only teachers that came his way.

‘ Who are the High Capitalists?’ you ask him now. ‘Is the head of this plant one?’

‘He? No. He works himself. You can see that. He is only a slave, driven like the rest of us.’

‘Is the president of the corporation one?’

Paul hesitates. ‘I don’t know. I should have to see how much stock he owns. But I can find out. In two days’ time. Do you want to know?’

And so you find that the ‘High Capitalist’ actually has no other name, no definite identity in Paul’s mind, but is, in fact, merely an imaginary figure conjured behind mists by paid revolutionary agitators.

IV

What is the cure for this prodigious ignorance that is so genuinely misleading a great part of the foreign-born labor in America to-day?

As for those who make their livelihood by preaching a foul and destructive doctrine, — those who defile the world for greed and defilement’s sake,— they are best left alone, with rope enough to hang themselves, since hang they will, if given time and space.

But as for those who are honestly deceived and misguided, like Paul Zonbor, they, surely, have a just claim on men of better understanding to be shown the truth, the way to right thinking and right living by the code of the Golden Rule.

If a right-thinking man sees a forest on fire, he will immediately take steps to quench that fire, no matter to whom the forest may belong. Yet many men who do themselves see outbreakings of the flame started in Russia and smouldering the world over, instead of jumping to help smother it, turn their heads away, either because they believe it to be none of their business, or because they are too self-occupied to care for the world at large.

That is to say, they will wait until their neighbors have been destroyed and the flames have reached their own doors, before they will stir in their common duty.

When the Reds of Buffalo were arrested, at the beginning of last year, Paul Zonbor was overlooked. Paul had been pro-German in his sympathies all through the war, although not at that time an actively dangerous man. Since the Armistice, however, the multiplied weight of Bolshevist propaganda directed upon him as a key man, influencing the thought of his fellows, had had its cumulative effect. He was now in the condition where any spark might incite him to translate his theories into bloody facts. Yet Paul was overlooked, in the arrests of the Reds, although many of his friends and followers went to jail; whence, after two weeks in the cells, they were released, to spread with increased vigor their horrible creed, with all the rage of martyrs to a cause.

The authorities of the plant in which Paul had worked for eight years, having got wind of his tendencies, determined, however, to act for themselves. He was an undesirable — a spreader of discontent among his fellow workmen. They would quietly dismiss him without any words as to the cause. They did not want to fan red coals.

Accordingly, one morning, the foreman of the department informed No. 1896, Paul Zonbor, that another man would take over his job.

‘Why? Don’t I give satisfaction?’ asked Paul.

Paul, by the way, was one of the most valuable men in his line. He carried a string of numbers in his mind running into the thousands, was accurate, trustworthy, and in times of special pressure had scarcely an equal, in his own way, among the plant’s personnel.

‘Satisfaction? Oh, yes,’ replied the foreman; ‘ but we have decided that the job is only worth seventy cents an hour, and you are getting seventy-five. You can go into the cleaning-room. They ’re a man short there.’

Now the cleaning-room was the worst place in the whole plant, while the job that Paul held was by no means a bad one. In fact, he ran a sort of small department of his own, with two men under him.

‘That’s not the real reason you are canning me,’ said Paul. ‘Tell me the truth straight out. What’s the matter with me?’

‘I tell you that’s all there is to it,’ repeated the foreman.

‘Then I want to see the manager.’

So Paul saw the manager, only to hear the same statement, unelaborated.

Therefore, hot with rage, believing himself the victim of a great injustice, he went his way, and actually got a better-paying job on the following Monday in a neighboring but different concern.

There, to-day, with an increased following, he carries on his crusade of revolution with increased vigor.

To-day Paul Zonbor is indeed a dangerous man. He is personally honest. He has no weakening vices. He does not drink to excess. He loves his wife and children and is good to them. Unlike the mass of his fellows, he is not now foul-mouthed, whatever he may once have been. He is thrifty, decent, likeable, square. And he uses his brains to the best of the only light that has ever been given him. It comes from Russia and it is Red. It may one day burst into an awful flame.

This is no attempt to answer great questions with a general panacea. It is just the story — the literally true story — of one man — an obscure but, as it happens, a no longer quite negligible or insignificant man.

Perhaps it would have profited the corporation if, instead of allowing his mind to remain polluted with damnable lies, they had expended time, trouble, and money to show him how, step by step, he has been deceived and then deceived again, until nothing but blackness shows in front of him, and a Red light, beyond — a Red light whose gospel he now preaches to his hungrily listening, deeply trusting fellow workers, as the Gospel of Salvation.

Many labor agencies in New York have changed since 1906, although some of them are still of the type that exploited Paul. He could now be shown in that field great and sincere efforts at improvement. He could be shown Ellis Island’s schools, concerts, Americanization lectures, and the like. He could be shown the true value of the Workmen’s Compensation laws, which he now distrusts. He could be taught the meaning and sincerity of the many legislative measures passed for the prevention of accidents. If done in the right spirit, a course in economics could be so presented that even the one-time laborer on an Austrian baron’s estate, who has since learned to think, could be persuaded that capital is as necessa ry as labor. Wholesome changes could certainly be wrought in that perverted mind; and because Paul Zonbor is honest at heart, is true, lovable, square, and decent-minded, the truth would strike root in his brain.

But, difficult as it might be to attain, there is one conceivable short cut that would be a thousand times more rapid and effective than all this. If the corporation, instead of handling No. 1896, Paul Zonbor, as it did, — kicking him out, furious, ready for any revenge, — had spent $2000 in sending him to Russia, it would have been repaid many times over. There let him see the actual want, misery, slavery, brutality to-day rampant in that unhappy country. There let him realize that in America he has suffered, not from Americanism, but merely from the carrying out, in America, by Europeans, of European abuses, to-day in Russia pushed to their utmost worst. And then bring him straight back to the plant again, where, after such an experience, he would be the greatest curative force, the greatest, force of true Americanism that the corporation could possibly secure for a lessened labor turn-over and industrial peace.

Employers complain that the cost of production is greatly increased by the yearly labor turn-over, often 120 per cent. And nobody can dispute the fact. But it is equally indisputable that, in spite of any improved labor conditions, in spite of the most liberal welfare work, more will have to be done by the majority of employers, as well as by the government, — more and deeper thought given, more intelligent and further-reaching measures taken, more present profits devoted to the effective enlightenment of their human material, — if the labor turn-over is to be perceptibly reduced, and if the Red activities more and more permeating the personnel are to be overcome.