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Life at Hard Labor - Catholic Worker odds & ends
October 26th, 2006
09:34 pm

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Life at Hard Labor
LIFE AT HARD LABOR By Ammon Hennacy

That's what you sentence yourself to if you choose the live of a Christian anarchist these days. If you own property the government will take it for your tax owed previously for war. If you hold a good job a withholding tax for war is taken from your pay. If you even wash dishes in a restaurant a tax is withheld. So the only thing left for you is day labor which is the hardest work, but God gives you a compensation for it is only the day labor on farms that is exempt from a withholding tax, so you can serve your ideal in the fresh air and sunshine and sleep peacefully and soundly away from the noise and corruption of the city.
When I was a youngster and read of Christian toiling and stumbling up the mountain I desired some such definite way of serving God. Somehow going to church and listening to long Baptist sermons did not have this definite connection. In 1918, in solitary in Atlanta prison, I thought at first that I was fighting the whole world. Like Tolstoy, I studied the Sermon on the Mount and saw that I was not alone, but was one with the Christ who had also suffered for his ideals. Then the daily miseries of solitary took on the Christian emphasis that I had sought in my youth. Today I chop my own wood for heat and cooking; carry oil a mile or two from the country store for my lamp; lug my groceries from the bus when I buy them in town, or from from the country store; and all of this must be done walking instead of owning a car which can be taken for taxes. In this hot country I dig a hole under the nearby olive tree and in a stone jar keep what might spoil. No electricity handy for an electric refrigerator and the amount spent weekly for ice would pay the postage on the dozens of letters necessary to answer inquiries as to this life of a Free Spirit. So today hard work is still a part of serving God.
"Hennacy, fellows like you remind me of Arnold Winkelreid 600 years ago when
'In arms the Austrian phalanx stood;
a living wall, a human wood...
he ran with arms extended a living wall, a human wood...
he ran with arms extended wide
As if a dearest friend to embrace...'
"and by his brave death made an opening for his followers to rout the tyrants who sought to enslave the Swiss. The only difference is that today your sacrifice is almost useless for you have no followers."
Thus spoke one of my employers, an old time liberal, who saw me sweating profusely in the Arizona sun. He was not a Catholic or a pacifist, but appreciated the agrarian personalism of Eric Gill and the Catholic Worker, I replied that what he said was true, but my job was that of the sower and if people preferred death and destruction to life and freedom that was their hard luck, not mine.
The early Christians were thrown to the lions, but the modern ones join the Lions' Club. Many of us want to be Christians, radicals, pacifists, and even anarchists, without inconveniencing ourselves. It can't be done. If we are "intellectuals," we perhaps suffer a certain amount of inconvenient opposition in our conversation, but when it come to acting we act just like the bourgeois. To be sure, at times we become ashamed of our hypocrisy and write our Congressman, sign petitions or attend mass meetings all for "the boys" who are doing time for our supposed ideals. We then qualify to be chosen as "The Unknown Conscientious Objector."
"Is that all your education amounts to? Better lay up some money; who will take care of you in your old age? You with your crazy ideas;how many followers have you got? You write books no will print and articles that no one reads except fools like yourself. You spend all your time converting each other. You think you are right and everyone else is wrong. Don't be more Catholic than the Pope." (This from those who think I am a Catholic because I write in the Catholic Worker and the Catholic CO.)
Many times I have found more appreciation and understanding from military leaders and others from the extreme right than from pipsqueak pacifists and pseudo liberals. The former did not agree with my ideas, but understood their direction. The latter disliked being put to shame by one who lived what they only talked about. To have to argue with Christians that God would take care of those who put the first the Kingdom; to have to try to prove to a priest that Jesus really meant the Sermon on the Mount; to have to tell so-called metaphysical leaders that their Mammon worship was not important and that "all things work together for good for those who love God"---all this might seem superfluous, but it is part of being fools for Christ's sake; part of trusting in God rather than in social security and old age pensions of a war making state. It is part of that "life at hard labor."
Recently I have had letters from two anarchists---one who had been a 4-F bourgeois in World War II and now intellectually made the jump from this position to that of philosophical anarchism; the other an old man much past the four-score and ten who had given up hope of educating the masses against the coming war. Both suggested emigrating to some tropical country away from the materialistic world where a few of us who knew better could cooperate and survive. These two comrades lacked that which I had lacked before finding the Spirit of Christ in solitary. Truth is eternal and as Tolstoy says no sincere effort made on the behalf of truth is ever lost. Wells and Toynbee may write of the significance of history; Churchill may boast of his part in contaminating it; and Hutchins may o.k. the Bomb with his right hand and issue his Great Books with his left hand---but all this cannot hide that there once lived a man who faced this same issue, who refused to be banished to an island where he could not propagandize the truth, but who instead drank the hemlock. This Socrates tells us:
"Men of Athens, I honor and love you but I shall obey God rather then you...O my friend, who do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth. O men of Athens, I say to you do as Anytus bids, and either aquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not if I have to die many times. I would have you know that if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure yourselves more than you injure me."
I have tramped in all of these United States. As I write I look on the fields of waving grain, the huge cottonwoods that line the laterals, and the jutted stretch of seeming cardboard-like mountains at whose feet live the Pimas and Maricopas. In and out of prison I have refused to honor the jingoistic Star Spangled Banner. Truly, America the Beautiful means much to me. I refuse to desert this country to those who would bring it to atomic ruin. It is my country as much as it is theirs. Despite Bilbo I think of Jefferson; despite Edgar Guest, Bruce Barton and Dale Carnegie I think of Walt Whitman, Vachel Lindsay and Edwin Markham. Despite the two war-mongering Roosevelts and Wilson I think of Altgeld, Old Bob La Follette and Debs. Despite the Klan and Legion vigilantes I think of the old time Wobblies, of Sacco and Vanzetti, and of Berkman and Goldman. Despite the war-mongering churches I think of the old-time Quakers who paid no taxes for war and who hid escaped slaves. I think of Jim Connolly and of Ben Salmon, the Catholic CO of World War I. Despite the war-mongering Lowells and Cabots I think of William Lloyd Garrison and Henry David Thoreau whose refusal to pay taxes in 1845 and of the resulting essay On the Necessity of Civil Disobedience awakened that Gandhi who has moved the world with his spiritual power of non-violence.
It was hard work that built this country. With the bourgeois philosophy of the go-getter we worship which now enslaves us. Our military training will not corrupt every youth; a few will appreciate the path of manual labor and economic uncertainty and an absolutist stand against war and the state, whose main business is war. We cannot stop the intolerance and ignorance which dominates American life and ushers in World War III. We can keep alive that Light which some day will show the way to a world of peace and brotherhood.

from The Catholic Worker (September, 1948)

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