Gideon Planish, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 2

The first meeting of the Adelbert College Socialist League, with all five members present, was held in Hatch’s stable home. It was felt that it would be dangerous to meet in the libidinous atmosphere of Tiger Head fraternity, where Gid Planish, as a newly elected member, had a bed, a bureau, two chairs and a portrait of Longfellow.

College had been coursing on its wild hunt of culture for two weeks, and it was now September 20, 1910. In those days, Adelbert opened during the first week in September, and how innocent and medieval the whole system was may be seen in the fact that students came by train instead of in their private automobiles.

The five Socialists, in their awe at saving the world, gave up clogging and all the kittenishness that was then considered proper to freshmen. They sat about Hatch’s table on two chairs and three boxes: Hatch, Gid, young Francis Tyne, who was going to study for the ministry, an iron-faced older man who had once been a labor organizer, and David Traub, a handsome, precise lad from New York, forerunner of the eager and rather heroic caravan who were later to escape from too much racial discussion in New York, and emigrate like their fathers.

Francis Tyne was a thin, earnest youth with a biggish head and fine colorless hair. He suggested their calling one another “Comrade,” but it didn’t go. Gid and Hatch were still too close to the horrors of being called “Brother” by loud evangelical pastors.

Gid looked them all over like a born chairman. Back in Limbo, before he was born, he must have presided over committees of the Young Cherubim’s Anti–Birth-Control Association. He said merrily, “We don’t seem to have any girls with us. We certainly ought to, these days.”

“Rot!” said the ex-labor organizer. He was a solid man, named Lou Klock.

“Why?” demanded Francis.

Klock growled, “Women are useful in all left-wing movements — addressing factory rallies and addressing envelopes — but give ’em a chance on the strategy and they’ll have you wearing red neckties and dancing on the green, instead of pounding the bosses for higher wages.”

“Wait now!” beamed Gid, with the conciliatory good-fellowship of the professional presider. “This ain’t 1890, Lou. No! This is 1910! The revolution has been won, except for a few details. War is finished, except as an instrument of protest, and women are recognized by all thinkers as our equals — practically.”

“Rot,” said Lou.

“Well, let that pass, for the moment. Frank Tyne, Comrade Tyne here, has an outline of what he thinks we ought to do, and I vote we hear from him.”

Hatch Hewitt suggested, “By the way, don’t you suppose it might be a good idea if we elected a chairman?”

Gid felt pained and ill-used, for it had not occurred to him that anybody save Gideon Planish could be chairman. His hard-won glory was already being questioned, and that by the one man whom he had these many years trusted as his friend and partisan. Somebody snickered — probably Lou Klock — and all his life, however brave and impassioned before an audience that hated him gravely, Gid would always feel watery in the backs of his knees when anybody jeered.

David Traub snapped, “Don’t be silly, Hewitt. Of course Planish is our chairman. Or do YOU want to be?”

“Oh, no, no!”

“Then he’s the goat.”

Gid blossomed with glory. He commanded, “Go to it, Frank. Let’s hear your plan.”

Francis Tyne produced a pack of small filing cards, dark with tiny notations. It was his moment. For years, in his Sunday-school classes, in a village where it was not kosher to admit any doctrine more subversive than that women might with decency become rural mail-carriers, he had pictured just this hour, when he should be banded with desperate but talented comrades. He looked up from his notes with the eyes of a cocker spaniel, and Gid’s tender heart was touched and he was ready to go right off and build a barricade with Francis, provided it should be finished in time for supper.

“Well, it’s really awfully simple and reasonable, but I suppose there will be objection to my program in privileged classes,” said Francis. “First, of course, the Government has to take over the ownership of all mines, water-power, agricultural land, and all industries employing more than a hundred people.”

None of them looked worried, and the newly converted collectivist, Gid Planish, definitely glowed.

“But I don’t think that’s enough, Comrades. There’s a lot of these foreign and European Socialists who go that far,” said Francis. “What would make a peculiarly American socialism would be to have a state church.”

“What?” shouted the others, while David Traub proposed, “How about the Jewish faith?”

Francis protested, “No, no, Comrade Traub. You don’t understand these things. Our Savior started an entirely new dispensation. But about the set-up of a true revolutionary church: of course the Catholic Church and Christian Science and the Mormons are out, and the Baptists are pretty doggone super — supererogatory with their immersion, and it’s against Scripture to have bishops, like in the Methodist and Episcopal, and the Congregationalists come awful close to verging on heresy and wishy-washiness, and so it seems to me the true American model is the Presbyterian Church — which happens to be my own, but merely by coincidence.”

“Say, what is all this wordage about?” said Klock.

“God knows — maybe,” said Hewitt.

“Now wait! I never thought of it in that light, but he’s absolutely sound. I’m a Presbyterian, too!” said Gid.

All of them were young — even Lou Klock was but twenty-six — and in the ardent next two hours it was variously stated that:

Christianity is exhausted and a failure.

Christianity has never yet been given a chance.

The church is the trap wherein the Capitalist class nabs the workers.

The church is the one union wherein all workers can defy the heathenism of the Capitalists.

The Russians will have socialism first.

The Russians are lazy; they drink tea and read novels, and never will have socialism.

Adelbert College is in a class with Abraham Lincoln, science, football and the Packard car.

Adelbert College is snobbish and hasn’t had a new idea since 1882.

With each of these opinions, Gid voluptuously agreed. He felt that they were having a fine, free, enlightening time, but at last he pounded the table, with Hatch’s dollar watch, and announced, “We’re beginning to see light in this discussion. It’s a sure-enough round table, all right. But before we try and go any further, it’s time to organize. We got to decide on just who will map out each department of our activities.”

“That makes sense,” said Hatch.

Francis begged, “Oh, not yet! Let’s spend a month or so searching each other’s minds and sort of inspiring each other.”

As a professional, Gid was horrified. “You mean go on chewing the rag about all these mighty topics without OR-gan-izing?”

“Why, yes. The natural form of organization must grow out of what we think and then decide to do.”

Gid explained, with great sweetness and reasonableness:

“Never! The kind of organization you set up, and who’s on the committees, decide what you can do, and what you do determines what you think. Honest, that’s the straight goods; that’s modern psychology. I know by experience. You bet.” The veteran nodded sagely. “That’s the way I’ve seen it work, for many years now — ever since the Sixth Grade. We started in to collect litter on the school grounds, but do you know, we had such an active organization that we improved the whole basic idea, and turned it into a co-operative revolving fund to buy molasses popcorn. Yessir! And how can we raise money unless we have the right organization — fearless but flexible?”

“What do we want to raise money for?” they protested.

“So we can send out letters and do publicity and get more members.”

Hatch suggested, “Then when we get more members, we can raise more money so we can get still more members?”

“Why, certainly! And then when we get a LOT of money, we can put on a real campaign and get a whole LOT of members! That’s what organization is. That’s how you progress, in THIS ole world!”

David Traub complained, “I don’t see that. If you want to promote some reform, and not get all tangled up in jealousy and politics, you want to avoid organizing for the sake of organizing.”

“Oh, I agree with you, heartily,” said Gid.

Some time during the evening there was an election of officers. Gid had assumed that he would be president.

He was president. Not only that, but, without the least hesitation, he made an inaugural address:

However much they might disagree upon minor details, such as the value of Christianity and of women, they stood shoulder to shoulder, through fire and obloquy, an army small but determined, invincible in their loyalty as in their enfranchised intellects and their common determination to throw off their chains, a force to make the blind monster of Capitalism look up from its prey in terror, denouncing unsparingly the capitalistic tyranny of Compulsory Latin and demanding lower prices on tennis balls at the Co-op.

He, their leader, would retire for meditation and consolidate his plans. They must not Breathe a Word. It would take some time to win over the entire student body and, though on principle he was opposed to Fabian tactics, it might be better to enlist the undergrads before lining up the faculty and the president — and particularly that damn dean — and giving them the choice of joining the revolution or resigning. As to immediate strategy, they must decide whether their next step should be a mass meeting in the college chapel, or the publication of a weekly magazine, illustrated, and including articles by Eugene V. Debs and George Bernard Shaw. He himself would be willing to write to Comrades Debs and Shaw and instruct them to shoot along the articles, quick. But whatever they did, they might now say that socialism had already triumphed at good ole Adelbert!

After this springing verbiage, Comrades Traub, Klock and Tyne filed out, looking dazed.

Gid fretted, “Hatch, do you suppose we can trust those dubs to keep our plot absolutely dark till we’re ready to spring socialism on the world?”

“Gid, do you think that pikers like me ought to have even a vote? Does your sea-green radicalism go that far?”

“Oh, yes.”

“What’s your real plan? To turn this thing into a rival of the orthodox Debating Society?”

Gid brought out a smile that Hatch could not withstand. “I haven’t any idea! What do you think we ought to pull, Hatch? Anyway, we got to get rid of Frank Tyne. Why, that goat would actually like to overthrow the Republican Party! But you’re the brains in this gang. What shall we do with the League?”

“I’ll think about it,” said Hatch, in subjugation to a man whom he liked and envied and despised.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38