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Eyes Left! | The Nation

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Eyes Left!

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He has a plan for establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, but how does the proletariat feel about it?

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Warren Harding may have shouldered most of the blame, but in the biggest scandal of the 1920s, it's clear a lot of well-connected people were drinking from the teapot.

My old friend and enemy, Mr. William Z. Foster, who joins himself to Mr. Eugene V. Debs and Mr. Big Bill Haywood in vigorously but vainly apprising the Daughters of the American Revolution that our greatest outstanding American radicals are amazingly inclined to be of pure indigenous 100 per cent American birth, was in Washington for a few moments the other day and indulged himself in a few amiable comments on the American so-called labor movement.

Mr. Foster, I guess, has spread more alarm in our dovecotes than any other native or imported bird of prey since the days of the human eagle who called himself the Tin-Toothed Terror of Tennessee and sent innumerable creeping thrills of agreeable horror down the spines of the patrons of yellow book-stalls in my early boyhood.

Mr. Foster tells me that he still believes with all his might in the "dictatorship of the proletariat." When Bill says such things, he seems to freeze the gizzards of some people. These people must surely be of some recent immigration quota within the ports of this country. As for myself, when Bill says such things, I hasten to reflect on my noble ancestors who lay in taverns on the hills of Vermont meditating their wrongs until they burst forth and confiscated all the property of their affluent neighbors and condemned it to the use of the Continental Congress and of the Eternal Jehovah and became numbered among the immortal (with a "t" in it) Boys of the Green Mountains, and I gulp a couple of times and say to Bill:

"See here, I don't know how it came about, seeing that we both derive from the New England soil; but somehow you seem to have got to be a proletarian while I'm still a bourgeois; but I want to tell you by the Continental Eternal that even if I am only a bourgeois I don't have to run to any court in Michigan to make you stop saying you're rougher than I am. I tell you I'm rougher than you, whenever you start."

The truth is it looks more or less easy to be rougher than Bill, except that his eye is so clean and clear and his smile is so bland and blithe that a certain suspicion is aroused that here in Bill Foster we may have a typical specimen of that standard American type: the gentle-mannered slow-spoken hair-trigger "bad man."

It happens, however, that Bill is not interested in fire-arms. In twenty-two years of reporting I have found hundreds of notable conservatives who were interested in fire-arms. As an American of respectable stock, I am scandalized contrariwise by the lack of interest shown in fire-arms by American notable radicals. A. Mitchell Palmer and I on this point have had the same experience. Out of all his raids on reds he got enough guns and cartridges to justify the beholder in believing that he had committed perhaps one raid on one third-rate week-end club of claypigeon shooters.

I have met two radicals of importance who had thoughts on guns. Years ago, I observed Victor Berger in profound contemplation of the idea that some day there might be an outright war between the classes; and so, accordingly, like Frank Simonds, he read books on strategy, I think he told me. More lately I have had Senator Brookhart tell me that if he had me in his school of rifle practice at Camp Perry in September of each year, he would make me stop smoking. He thinks it silly to smoke when by not smoking (so he says) one can shoot straighter.

I am deeply impressed by the fact, however, that neither Victor Berger nor Senator Brookhart seems to have the slightest intention, really, of going in for Bill Foster's "dictatorship of the proletariat." It is too bad. Berger could sit in the midnight tent and ponder but the strategy and be the general staff &mdash Brookhart could grasp the rifle in the early dawn and go over the top and be the army. Without them, however, I do not see how this "dictatorship of the proletariat" can be pulled off. I have discussed this difficulty with Bill. I have asked him how his fellows are going to overcome my fellows when his are not only fewer than mine but have about five million fewer rifles and revolvers.

Bill in reply seems to be only slenderly interested in this point. The fact is that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a long way ahead for Bill. It comes after a lot of other things. Bill &mdash in a certain streak of him &mdash is quite sane. He does not belong to the Communist Party or to the Workers' Party or to any other political party for accomplishing the "dictatorship of the proletariat." His fault is that he associates with almost everybody. He has "bored from within" in the American Federation of Labor, and he went to that meeting of members of the Communist Party and of the Workers' Party in Michigan and "bored from within" there until he almost got himself through a wall into a cell.

He will go anywhere to make converts. I will say he needs them. His idea of arriving at the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is about as follows:

First, he leaves all political parties alone. Next, he persuades Mr. Gompers to divide all life into ten or twelve basic industries and to appoint a committee in each industry to organize the workers in it into one union. Then, having persuaded Mr. Gompers, he proceeds in each industry to persuade the union workers to leave their separate unions and join the one union. Then, having persuaded the union workers, he persuades the non-union workers. Then, having persuaded all the workers in each industry to belong to one union in that industry, he persuades all the workers in all industries to belong to one union for all industries put together. Then he thereafter &mdash or, at any rate, along about that time &mdash begins to tackle the problem of how to persuade all the rest of us to retire from the government and from the electorate and let the unionized workers do all the voting and all the ruling all by themselves while we bring in our armaments and lay them gladly at the feet of our demanding fellow-citizens.

I think there ought to be a law forbidding Bill to do all these things unless he gets them done by the year 2137. I think also, however, that we ought to let Bill go ahead with the first two or three hundred years of his work &mdash which will be the peaceful part of it &mdash and then be all ready to close in on him when he approaches that "dictatorship" part, when he is likely to have to draw a gun.

I am going to leave it in my will to have my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson shoot Bill Foster.

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