J. Felix, "Jesus of Mammon?," supplement to American Pauperism and the Abolition of Poverty, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1904, 217-230.
JESUS OR MAMMON?
BY J. FELIX
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord."
Crying aloud against the blasphemy of those who devour the exploited laborer, and for a pretense make long prayers and give alms in His name! Crying bitterly from a wilderness of contradictions against a society which, teaching the young in the doctrines of the Redeemer that it is more blessed to serve than be served, to give than to receive, vet supports a system under which those who will not devour must chose to be devoured! Crying piteously to those who profess His religion of love to come boldly forth and help make the paths straight, that love may walk without brutality and lead humanity to that
You want to know what all this means ? You demand something more definite than passionate exclamations? You shall have it. At the bottom of all this wilderness of contradictions and inconsistencies of our social fabric there is a primal cause. That cause is to be found in the desperate effort to cling to a worn out system of morals and economic ethics. With our advance in the mechanical arts and improvement of the means of production, unparalleled in the. history of the world, the system of law governing the relations of man to mall and regulating the award and distribution of the said production have remained practically at a standstill. Instead of keeping pace with the advance on the one hand in the art of production, by adapting the system governing the producer to that of the changed conditions, we are stubbornly refusing to recognize that which may have been of social and political economy under former conditions have become the most damnable lies. Political equality has become a dead letter. In place of chattel slavery a system of exploitation has sprung into existence and shelters itself under a system of laws originally intended to guarantee the rights of the individual. The result is that the condition of the large mass of productive toilers is one in which they suffer all the evils of chattel slavery without any of the mitigating advantages of that institution. It is not merely the assertion of a fanatical devotee of an ism to say that the foregoing statement is a fact. One has only to have the very common experience of being compelled to seek or hold the employment necessary to earn daily bread for self and dependents, to learn how bitterly true it is that those who live by the sweat of the brow are the victimized creatures of him who holds the purse strings. This being a fact, what wonder that the worship of Mammon is the only one which enlists serious devotees? Time was when a man willing to work could take his little kit of tools and go out into the world with the assurance that at least a fairly equitable portion of what he produced would be his. Nor did the worker need dread that for the chance to work, to produce, he would have to bargain away not only the greater part of his product but even his personal freedom. Little by little the cunning of the workman and even his physical strength became less and less a factor of importance in production. The introduction of labor-saving machinery constantly reduces the percentage cost of manual labor and increases that of plant and machinery. Now, while it is an undisputable fact that labor-saving machinery results in improving the material condition of the people at large, it is equally indisputable that under the present system of exploitation it gives the employing, the capitalistic element, enormously increased power. There is no doubt that a large percentage of the people, even the wage-working people, enjoy material conveniences and even luxuries unthought of before the extensive introduction of labor-saving devices. There is also no doubt that the percentage of product retained by the producer has suffered great decrease from the same cause. This condition leads to so-called over production and those periods of industrial depression are commonly known as Panics. A panic is not the result of over production. Panics and hard times are the direct result of a gradual withdrawing of the purchasing power from the producing masses. As an illustration we will suppose that, through the improvement in machinery a man receiving two dollars per day is able to produce ten dollars worth of shoes, he has added to the supply ten dollars worth but is only able to purchase two dollars worth. If millions of people produce more than they can purchase in the same proportion and the residue is absorbed by a small non-producing minority, the time must come at more or less regular intervals when both the product and the purchasing medium will be concentrated, a few hands will possess all, with the many impoverished. Then comes the so-called slack in the market. Money becomes cheap because industries are at a standstill. This piling up of produce and idleness of capital is not the result of over-production. If there was real over-production and just social distribution there would be no want and starvation. Want and starvation are rampant at times when the product of labor finds no ready market. When corporations declare the greatest dividends and the capitalist talks about prosperity based on enormous profits, then a panic is near at hand. This must be so because the larger the percentage of profits, the less is the percentage of purchasing power left in the hands of the producer, who is also the consumer. Now, at the bottom of this lies the fact that the introduction of machinery has compelled the producer to join with many of his fellows in the use of expensive equipment which in turn is controlled by private individuals who have all the power of life and death without any of the responsibilities to which even the veriest despot of a potentate must yield consideration. All of this enormous advantage depends on a man's having money. It is not wonderful then that men will go any length to obtain that which gives them a chance to exploit, i. e., eat up their fellows instead of being eaten and exploited by them? Yet the very fact that the getting of wealth is only a choice of dilemmas makes it impossible for the possessor of wealth to be happy. No sooner does a man accumulate large wealth and proceed to use it for the purpose of exploiting his fellows, than he in turn becomes the object of universal attack. To defend himself against the onslaughter and keep possession of his power he must brutalize himself (if he has not already done so in the getting), and his fear and suspicion of his fellows destroys all chance of happiness. We see by all this that we have arrived at a high stage of productive advancement, but that our system of social distribution is entirely wanting in serving the best interests of humanity, rich and poor alike. The poor are compelled to compromise themselves and harden their hearts in order to live and even partially respond to the claims of those dependent on them. The rich likewise must steel themselves against every human impulse and choke off every high aspiration lest they be thrown back among the poor. How little chance is offered by such conditions to practice the love law of Jesus Christ, those who have conscientiously tried to do so, can best make answer. If, therefore, conditions are such as to make a consistent Christian life a practically impossible life, ought not every Christian bestir himself to remedy the evil?
You ask how can this be done? In the first place, you and I, dear brother, must clear our minds of all prejudice. We must take on a spirit of unselfishness. We must look upon things through the eyes of earnest, devoted love for the truth. We must try to see things and not without fear as they are, as He saw them and not as we have become accustomed to see them. We must learn to distinguish between might and right. We must learn to look through the laws of conventionalities of man and see the law of God, of Nature, of Love! They are one and the same. Having done this, what do we see? We see the law of God made of no effect. We see that the advance of civilization has brought with it also a great forward stride in the methods of Mammon. The very truths upon which all advancement is based have been cunningly construed to blind the masses and make their victimization easier. The "divine" right of rulers feudal and paternal institutions, chattel slavery and all other crude devices of former ages by which the few sought to live upon and tyrannize the many, have been ripened and developed into the perfectly effective modern Giant Capitalist. The sacred (?) fetishes of the rights of property, usury, capital, have developed into a perfect system of exploitation such as only modern civilization could produce. Under a system of laws which seeks to establish the right to get by whatever means is available and which makes sacred the right of the getter to keep what he has, regardless of the common weal, Mammon has indeed become king, and to be poor in possessions is to be worthless of consideration. This is, if ye will hear it, the short reign of that Father of liars which the Master said must come. The cure for this state of affairs, the defeat of this Mammon of unrighteousness, the freeing of humanity must come through the abolition of private ownership of the means of production. The means of production must be returned to the people. The product of labor must be assured to the producer. In other words, if we would make material conditions and social environment such as to permit of the consistent following out of the precepts of the Christ, if we would make the natural law of love a possible practice of daily life, if we would do away with the present rule of envy, conflict and Mammon, we must bring about the introduction of Socialism. We have too long stood aloof; we have been befooled too long by those who wrongly think their interests at stake, to think that Socialism is a form of anarchism, the fruit of abnormal brains equally wedded to a destruction of religion, law and order. This is far from the truth. If you will take the time and trouble to impartially study the principles of Socialism and the declarations of its authoritative expounders, you will find, as I have, that they have an abhorrence of all violence. You will be surprised to learn (it is surprising that you read the daily papers without learning) that the lawlessness is on the side of Mammon, of private ownership, of arrogant cooperative power. You will find that the principal grievance of the true Socialist is that the law can not, under present conditions, be enforced. You will also find that the enemies of Socialism, the ones who make every effort to misrepresent and malign Socialism, recognize no law save self-interest. You will find that enemies of Socialism are the real anarchists in that they never hesitate to violate the law when their interests are at stake, while they put forth every effort to defeat any popular advancement. For the most part you will find that they succeed because money is power and they have money. It is true that many of the leaders in this new thought are of foreign birth and that, owing to the depraved ideals with which the word religion and Christianity has ever been associated in their native lands, they avow themselves as abhorrent of any form of institutional religion. In their minds all institutional religion must necessarily stand only for tyranny of the worst sort. But if you will look at the principles advocated by these men without prejudice you will soon see that there is no antagonism in principle toward what you and I, under more fortunate surroundings, recognize as Christianity. Even if it were true that up to the present this idea had been principally championed by those who are not of the household of faith, is that a reason why we should refuse to see the truth? Did our forefathers refuse political freedom because some of its stoutest and most effective advocates gloried in being called infidels? Certainly not. Even in our time we have seen no good Republican minister of the gospel refuse to vote his ticket because the redoubtable Bob Ingersol voted the same. It is therefore not a question of what other kind of people vote and work for Socialism or what they expect to gain by its introduction. The fact which we have to consider is that Christian ethics and the present social and industrial economy are antagonistic and at variance. As Christians we must seek to change this. Mammon sits enthroned. As Christians we want to enthrone Jesus. If Socialism will do this every true Christian must become a Socialist. Come see for yourselves. As a brother, I say it will. You need not take my word. Read, work, love. You will surely come. You cannot be neutral. We do not need "Christian Socialism," we need Socialism in order to live as Christians should live. Therefore, I know it will come because I believe in Jesus. Now it is: Jesus or Mammon. Jesus is bound to win. When He wins do you want to come with Jesus into power through Socialism or with Mammon dethroned, in spite of Capitalism? You must decide, my brother. Whatever you decide do it quickly. Time is precious for both sides. Jesus or Mammon?