: The Iron Heel
When it came time for Ernest and me to go to Washington, father did not
accompany us. He had become enamoured of proletarian life. He looked
upon our slum neighborhood as a great sociological laboratory, and
he had embarked upon an apparently endless orgy of investigation. He
chummed with the laborers, and was an intimate in scores of homes.
Also, he worked at odd jobs, and the work was play as well as learned
tion, for he delighted in it and was always returning home with
copious notes and bubbling over with new adventures. He was the perfect
There was no need for his working at all, because Ernest managed to earn
enough from his translating to take care of the three of us. But father
insisted on pursuing his favorite phantom, and a protean phantom it was,
judging from the jobs he worked at. I shall never forget the evening he
brought home his street pedler's outfit of shoe-laces and suspenders,
nor the time I went into the little corner grocery to make some purchase
and had him wait on me. After that I was not surprised when he tended
bar for a week in the saloon across the street. He worked as a night
watchman, hawked potatoes on the street, pasted labels in a cannery
warehouse, was utility man in a paper-box factory, and water-carrier
for a street railway construction gang, and even joined the Dishwashers'
Union just before it fell to pieces.
I think the Bishop's example, so far as wearing apparel was concerned,
must have fascinated father, for he wore the cheap cotton shirt of the
laborer and the overalls with the narrow strap about the hips. Yet one
habit remained to him from the old life; he always dressed for dinner,
or supper, rather.
I could be happy anywhere with Ernest; and father's happiness in our
changed circumstances rounded out my own happiness.
"When I was a boy," father said, "I was very curious. I wanted to know
why things were and how they came to pass. That was why I became a
physicist. The life in me to-day is just as curious as it was in my
boyhood, and it's the being curious that makes life worth living."
Sometimes he ventured north of Market Street into the shopping and
theatre district, where he sold papers, ran errands, and opened cabs.
There, one day, closing a cab, he encountered Mr. Wickson. In high glee
father described the incident to us that evening.
"Wickson looked at me sharply when I closed the door on him, and
muttered, 'Well, I'll be damned.' Just like that he said it, 'Well, I'll
be damned.' His face turned red and he was so confused that he forgot to
tip me. But he must have recovered himself quickly, for the cab hadn't
gone fifty feet before it turned around and came back. He leaned out of
"'Look here, Professor,' he said, 'this is too much. What can I do for
"'I closed the cab door for you,' I answered. 'According to common
custom you might give me a dime.'
"'Bother that!' he snorted. 'I mean something substantial.'
"He was certainly serious--a twinge of ossified conscience or something;
and so I considered with grave deliberation for a moment.
"His face was quite expectant when I began my answer, but you should
have seen it when I finished.
"'You might give me back my home,' I said, 'and my stock in the Sierra
"What did he say?" I questioned eagerly.
"What could he say? He said nothing. But I said. 'I hope you are happy.'
He looked at me curiously. 'Tell me, are you happy?'" I asked.
"He ordered the cabman to drive on, and went away swearing horribly. And
he didn't give me the dime, much less the home and stock; so you see, my
dear, your father's street-arab career is beset with disappointments."
And so it was that father kept on at our Pell Street quarters, while
Ernest and I went to Washington. Except for the final consummation, the
old order had passed away, and the final consummation was nearer than
I dreamed. Contrary to our expectation, no obstacles were raised to
prevent the socialist Congressmen from taking their seats. Everything
went smoothly, and I laughed at Ernest when he looked upon the very
smoothness as something ominous.
We found our socialist comrades confident, optimistic of their strength
and of the things they would accomplish. A few Grangers who had been
elected to Congress increased our strength, and an elaborate programme
of what was to be done was prepared by the united forces. In all of
which Ernest joined loyally and energetically, though he could not
forbear, now and again, from saying, apropos of nothing in particular,
"When it comes to powder, chemical mixtures are better than mechanical
mixtures, you take my word."
The trouble arose first with the Grangers in the various states they had
captured at the last election. There were a dozen of these states, but
the Grangers who had been elected were not permitted to take office. The
incumbents refused to get out. It was very simple. They merely charged
illegality in the elections and wrapped up the whole situation in the
interminable red tape of the law. The Grangers were powerless. The
courts were in the hands of their enemies.
This was the moment of danger. If the cheated Grangers became violent,
all was lost. How we socialists worked to hold them back! There were
days and nights when Ernest never closed his eyes in sleep. The big
leaders of the Grangers saw the peril and were with us to a man. But
it was all of no avail. The Oligarchy wanted violence, and it set
its agents-provocateurs to work. Without discussion, it was the
agents-provocateurs who caused the Peasant Revolt.
In a dozen states the revolt flared up. The expropriated farmers
took forcible possession of the state governments. Of course this was
unconstitutional, and of course the United States put its soldiers into
the field. Everywhere the agents-provocateurs urged the people on. These
emissaries of the Iron Heel disguised themselves as artisans, farmers,
and farm laborers. In Sacramento, the capital of California, the
Grangers had succeeded in maintaining order. Thousands of secret agents
were rushed to the devoted city. In mobs composed wholly of themselves,
they fired and looted buildings and factories. They worked the people
up until they joined them in the pillage. Liquor in large quantities was
distributed among the slum classes further to inflame their minds. And
then, when all was ready, appeared upon the scene the soldiers of the
United States, who were, in reality, the soldiers of the Iron Heel.
Eleven thousand men, women, and children were shot down on the streets
of Sacramento or murdered in their houses. The national government took
possession of the state government, and all was over for California.
And as with California, so elsewhere. Every Granger state was ravaged
with violence and washed in blood. First, disorder was precipitated by
the secret agents and the Black Hundreds, then the troops were called
out. Rioting and mob-rule reigned throughout the rural districts. Day
and night the smoke of burning farms, warehouses, villages, and cities
filled the sky. Dynamite appeared. Railroad bridges and tunnels were
blown up and trains were wrecked. The poor farmers were shot and hanged
in great numbers. Reprisals were bitter, and many plutocrats and army
officers were murdered. Blood and vengeance were in men's hearts. The
regular troops fought the farmers as savagely as had they been Indians.
And the regular troops had cause. Twenty-eight hundred of them had been
annihilated in a tremendous series of dynamite explosions in Oregon,
and in a similar manner, a number of train loads, at different times and
places, had been destroyed. So it was that the regular troops fought for
their lives as well as did the farmers.
As for the militia, the militia law of 1903 was put into effect, and the
workers of one state were compelled, under pain of death, to shoot down
their comrade-workers in other states. Of course, the militia law did
not work smoothly at first. Many militia officers were murdered, and
many militiamen were executed by drumhead court martial. Ernest's
prophecy was strikingly fulfilled in the cases of Mr. Kowalt and Mr.
Asmunsen. Both were eligible for the militia, and both were drafted to
serve in the punitive expedition that was despatched from California
against the farmers of Missouri. Mr. Kowalt and Mr. Asmunsen refused to
serve. They were given short shrift. Drumhead court martial was their
portion, and military execution their end. They were shot with their
backs to the firing squad.
Many young men fled into the mountains to escape serving in the militia.
There they became outlaws, and it was not until more peaceful times that
they received their punishment. It was drastic. The government issued a
proclamation for all law-abiding citizens to come in from the mountains
for a period of three months. When the proclaimed date arrived, half a
million soldiers were sent into the mountainous districts everywhere.
There was no investigation, no trial. Wherever a man was encountered, he
was shot down on the spot. The troops operated on the basis that no
man not an outlaw remained in the mountains. Some bands, in strong
positions, fought gallantly, but in the end every deserter from the
militia met death.
A more immediate lesson, however, was impressed on the minds of the
people by the punishment meted out to the Kansas militia. The great
Kansas Mutiny occurred at the very beginning of military operations
against the Grangers. Six thousand of the militia mutinied. They had
been for several weeks very turbulent and sullen, and for that reason
had been kept in camp. Their open mutiny, however, was without doubt
precipitated by the agents-provocateurs.
On the night of the 22d of April they arose and murdered their officers,
only a small remnant of the latter escaping. This was beyond the scheme
of the Iron Heel, for the agents-provocateurs had done their work too
well. But everything was grist to the Iron Heel. It had prepared for the
outbreak, and the killing of so many officers gave it justification for
what followed. As by magic, forty thousand soldiers of the regular army
surrounded the malcontents. It was a trap. The wretched militiamen found
that their machine-guns had been tampered with, and that the cartridges
from the captured magazines did not fit their rifles. They hoisted the
white flag of surrender, but it was ignored. There were no survivors.
The entire six thousand were annihilated. Common shell and shrapnel were
thrown in upon them from a distance, and, when, in their desperation,
they charged the encircling lines, they were mowed down by the
machine-guns. I talked with an eye-witness, and he said that the nearest
any militiaman approached the machine-guns was a hundred and fifty
yards. The earth was carpeted with the slain, and a final charge of
cavalry, with trampling of horses' hoofs, revolvers, and sabres, crushed
the wounded into the ground.
Simultaneously with the destruction of the Grangers came the revolt
of the coal miners. It was the expiring effort of organized labor.
Three-quarters of a million of miners went out on strike. But they
were too widely scattered over the country to advantage from their own
strength. They were segregated in their own districts and beaten into
submission. This was the first great slave-drive. Pocock* won his spurs
as a slave-driver and earned the undying hatred of the proletariat.
Countless attempts were made upon his life, but he seemed to bear a
charmed existence. It was he who was responsible for the introduction
of the Russian passport system among the miners, and the denial of their
right of removal from one part of the country to another.
* Albert Pocock, another of the notorious strike-breakers of
earlier years, who, to the day of his death, successfully
held all the coal-miners of the country to their task. He
was succeeded by his son, Lewis Pocock, and for five
generations this remarkable line of slave-drivers handled
the coal mines. The elder Pocock, known as Pocock I., has
been described as follows: "A long, lean head, semicircled
by a fringe of brown and gray hair, with big cheek-bones and
a heavy chin, . . . a pale face, lustreless gray eyes, a
metallic voice, and a languid manner." He was born of
humble parents, and began his career as a bartender. He
next became a private detective for a street railway
corporation, and by successive steps developed into a
professional strikebreaker. Pocock V., the last of the line,
was blown up in a pump-house by a bomb during a petty revolt
of the miners in the Indian Territory. This occurred in 2073
In the meantime, the socialists held firm. While the Grangers expired in
flame and blood, and organized labor was disrupted, the socialists
held their peace and perfected their secret organization. In vain the
Grangers pleaded with us. We rightly contended that any revolt on our
part was virtually suicide for the whole Revolution. The Iron Heel, at
first dubious about dealing with the entire proletariat at one time, had
found the work easier than it had expected, and would have asked nothing
better than an uprising on our part. But we avoided the issue, in spite
of the fact that agents-provocateurs swarmed in our midst. In those
early days, the agents of the Iron Heel were clumsy in their methods.
They had much to learn and in the meantime our Fighting Groups weeded
them out. It was bitter, bloody work, but we were fighting for life and
for the Revolution, and we had to fight the enemy with its own weapons.
Yet we were fair. No agent of the Iron Heel was executed without a
trial. We may have made mistakes, but if so, very rarely. The bravest,
and the most combative and self-sacrificing of our comrades went into
the Fighting Groups. Once, after ten years had passed, Ernest made a
calculation from figures furnished by the chiefs of the Fighting Groups,
and his conclusion was that the average life of a man or woman after
becoming a member was five years. The comrades of the Fighting Groups
were heroes all, and the peculiar thing about it was that they were
opposed to the taking of life. They violated their own natures, yet they
loved liberty and knew of no sacrifice too great to make for the Cause.*
* These Fighting groups were modelled somewhat after the
Fighting Organization of the Russian Revolution, and,
despite the unceasing efforts of the Iron Heel, these groups
persisted throughout the three centuries of its existence.
Composed of men and women actuated by lofty purpose and
unafraid to die, the Fighting Groups exercised tremendous
influence and tempered the savage brutality of the rulers.
Not alone was their work confined to unseen warfare with the
secret agents of the Oligarchy. The oligarchs themselves
were compelled to listen to the decrees of the Groups, and
often, when they disobeyed, were punished by death--and
likewise with the subordinates of the oligarchs, with the
officers of the army and the leaders of the labor castes.
Stern justice was meted out by these organized avengers, but
most remarkable was their passionless and judicial
procedure. There were no snap judgments. When a man was
captured he was given fair trial and opportunity for
defence. Of necessity, many men were tried and condemned by
proxy, as in the case of General Lampton. This occurred in
2138 A.D. Possibly the most bloodthirsty and malignant of
all the mercenaries that ever served the Iron Heel, he was
informed by the Fighting Groups that they had tried him,
found him guilty, and condemned him to death--and this,
after three warnings for him to cease from his ferocious
treatment of the proletariat. After his condemnation he
surrounded himself with a myriad protective devices. Years
passed, and in vain the Fighting Groups strove to execute
their decree. Comrade after comrade, men and women, failed
in their attempts, and were cruelly executed by the
Oligarchy. It was the case of General Lampton that revived
crucifixion as a legal method of execution. But in the end
the condemned man found his executioner in the form of a
slender girl of seventeen, Madeline Provence, who, to
accomplish her purpose, served two years in his palace as a
seamstress to the household. She died in solitary
confinement after horrible and prolonged torture; but to-day
she stands in imperishable bronze in the Pantheon of
Brotherhood in the wonder city of Serles.
We, who by personal experience know nothing of bloodshed,
must not judge harshly the heroes of the Fighting Groups.
They gave up their lives for humanity, no sacrifice was too
great for them to accomplish, while inexorable necessity
compelled them to bloody expression in an age of blood. The
Fighting Groups constituted the one thorn in the side of the
Iron Heel that the Iron Heel could never remove. Everhard
was the father of this curious army, and its accomplishments
and successful persistence for three hundred years bear
witness to the wisdom with which he organized and the solid
foundation he laid for the succeeding generations to build
upon. In some respects, despite his great economic and
sociological contributions, and his work as a general leader
in the Revolution, his organization of the Fighting Groups
must be regarded as his greatest achievement.
The task we set ourselves was threefold. First, the weeding out from our
circles of the secret agents of the Oligarchy. Second, the organizing
of the Fighting Groups, and outside of them, of the general secret
organization of the Revolution. And third, the introduction of our own
secret agents into every branch of the Oligarchy--into the labor castes
and especially among the telegraphers and secretaries and clerks, into
the army, the agents-provocateurs, and the slave-drivers. It was slow
work, and perilous, and often were our efforts rewarded with costly
The Iron Heel had triumphed in open warfare, but we held our own in the
new warfare, strange and awful and subterranean, that we instituted.
All was unseen, much was unguessed; the blind fought the blind; and
yet through it all was order, purpose, control. We permeated the
entire organization of the Iron Heel with our agents, while our own
organization was permeated with the agents of the Iron Heel. It was
warfare dark and devious, replete with intrigue and conspiracy, plot
and counterplot. And behind all, ever menacing, was death, violent and
terrible. Men and women disappeared, our nearest and dearest comrades.
We saw them to-day. To-morrow they were gone; we never saw them again,
and we knew that they had died.
There was no trust, no confidence anywhere. The man who plotted beside
us, for all we knew, might be an agent of the Iron Heel. We mined the
organization of the Iron Heel with our secret agents, and the Iron Heel
countermined with its secret agents inside its own organization. And
it was the same with our organization. And despite the absence of
confidence and trust we were compelled to base our every effort on
confidence and trust. Often were we betrayed. Men were weak. The Iron
Heel could offer money, leisure, the joys and pleasures that waited
in the repose of the wonder cities. We could offer nothing but the
satisfaction of being faithful to a noble ideal. As for the rest, the
wages of those who were loyal were unceasing peril, torture, and death.
Men were weak, I say, and because of their weakness we were compelled to
make the only other reward that was within our power. It was the reward
of death. Out of necessity we had to punish our traitors. For every man
who betrayed us, from one to a dozen faithful avengers were loosed upon
his heels. We might fail to carry out our decrees against our enemies,
such as the Pococks, for instance; but the one thing we could not afford
to fail in was the punishment of our own traitors. Comrades turned
traitor by permission, in order to win to the wonder cities and there
execute our sentences on the real traitors. In fact, so terrible did
we make ourselves, that it became a greater peril to betray us than to
remain loyal to us.
The Revolution took on largely the character of religion. We worshipped
at the shrine of the Revolution, which was the shrine of liberty. It was
the divine flashing through us. Men and women devoted their lives to
the Cause, and new-born babes were sealed to it as of old they had been
sealed to the service of God. We were lovers of Humanity.