Funny things show up as you rummage through your family’s past. In the most recent dig, my mother came across What’s So and What Isn’t, by John M. Work. It’s a socialist publication originally printed in 1905 (this one is the special illustrated collector’s edition of 1927, the one that came with the Marxist-Leninist trading cards and a stick of bubblegum). I don’t really know who in my family owned it, or where it came from, or why it was kept, but there it was in one of the dozens of dusty boxes hauled out of a storage locker, a communist-red hardcover printed on suitably proletariat pulp-paper.
In an era of our neighbours to the south talking up a storm about “socialized” medicine, and the furious fear they often display toward anything approaching a public system for the care and welfare of their fellow Americans, it’s interesting to look at the attempts that people were making a century ago to change the country in which they lived.
In flipping through this particular book, a few things become very clear. The first is that the author (Mr. “Work”) really believes that the complete application of socialist principals will solve war, famine, crime, poverty, fashion faux-pas, and dandruff. It will make the entire world a utopia. He also believes that it will improve broad, liberal education, further science, and build more reliable agricultural systems. And he believes that humanity will naturally trend toward socialism because it is in the best interest of its survival.
“The struggle between human beings,” it says, “for a bare animal existence is not necessary for progress. It is a great barrier to progress.”
While I’m not convinced that we should all don our Mao jackets and start shouting catchy slogans against the bourgeoisie (“No one likes the bourgeoisie! It’s spelled with too much difficulty!”), I can at least appreciate Mr. Work’s desire for change. I imagine that he really did see some kind of hope in a truly socialist society. From the way that he wrote, I think he really believed that it would happen in his lifetime, and that it would be a radical and beautiful benefit to his society.
I don’t know why so many Americans hate the thought of being responsible for each other. I’ve lived there before, a long time ago, and in my experience I could not tell you that there is any real fundamental difference between the average American and Canadian citizen in terms of goodness or grace. I do know that here, in Canada, I have never had to pay money to address any illness or injury I have ever had, be it physical or mental, and I thank God for that every time that I hear about the medical bills that millions of Americans receive every day.
For all of his crackpot, unrealistic rambling, John M Work did have something prophetic to say about the nature of patriotism in an increasingly global society.
“Some people think that socialists are unpatriotic because they unsparingly criticise the evils of their day. But he is the best patriot who confronts the evils, lays them bare, and proceeds to remedy them.”