The Philosophy of the Hobo

In the great crash of the world-war, when so many of the first have become last and the last have become first, the Hobo is coming into his own. 

At every stey in all its processes our civilization depends upon the hobo, the Migratory worker, as an army depends upon its reserves. But it in only now, in the horror and confusion of the great upheaval, that the world is coming dimly to realize the immensity of the debt which it owes to the man whom, for these four centuries back, it has reviled, vilified and despised.

A short time ago addressed the faculty of one of our greatest middle western universities, they looked too self-satisfied, too we contented with themselves and with the system. So I tried to make them jump.

‘I want to speak to you tonight,’ I started off, “about the hobo as the savior of the world.” And they did jump. I went on to explain.

“The world is facing starvation. Lloyd George and Hoover both tell us that. If the world is to be kept from starvation, it will be by means of the great wheat harvests we shall real from our western plains. If the bread from that wheat is not sent across the ocean, Britain, France, Italy and Russia face the certainty of famine. But the men who are to harvest that great crop are now walking down the sidewalks of the slave-market on west Madison street.

“It is only by their labor that the bread of the world can reach the hungry. It is only by their labor that the word can be saved from starvation, did the Jesus say that only they who feed the hungry can enter into the kingdom of heaven? and it now rests upon the American hobo to feed the hungry of all the world.” And the startled professors at agreed with me.

Upon the presence of unemployed men outside the factory gates, ready to beat down the wages of the men with in If they dare to ask too much, the whole fabric of capitalist industry rests. But now for the first time since the reformation, there is no reserve of unemployed. Therefore, labor, feeling its power, is planning a reconstruction of the world, in which those within the factory gates shall receive the full value of the product of their toil, leaving nothing left over for the parasite. This great reconstruction is taking place even while we watch. the essential question of that reconstruction is this: what shall be done with the Hobo?

To settle this question, some clearness of ideas is required. to begin with, the hobo is not a tramp, nor is he album. Between the hobo and the burn there is a great gulf fixed.

A hobo is a migratory worker. A tramp is a migratory non-worker. A bum is a stationary nonworker.

Upon the labor of the migratory worker all of our basic industries depend. He goes forth from the crowded slave-markets to hew the forests, build and repair the railroads, tunnel mountains and bridge ravines, his is the labor that harvests the wheat in the fall and cuts the ice in the winter. No railroad could maintain its train schedule for twenty-four hours without the constant labor of the sector gang, made up of migratory laborers, of hoboes, No steam ship line could plow the Great lakes without the hoboes of the water, No great engineers ing project can be built without their aid, nor could the lumber out of which our houses are built be cut, if they stay out of the forests. The airplanes cannot cleave the sunny skies of France, if lumber-jacks in the far northwest fold their arms and refuse to cut the spruce. All of these are hoboes.

The tramp, on the other hand, is a man who because of some defect in or injury to body or mind, drifts without working. A hospital, perhaps discharged him too soon and left him physically shattered. Perhaps discharged him too soon and left him physically shattered. Perhaps as a child he worked long hours at exhausting to it, and so his brain is forever a trifle askew, the tramp beats his way from place to place, mooching for a handout, getting by in any way the can, but without contributing to the welfare of the world anything-of service to his fellowmen.

Whereas the bum simply stays in the same place, and sinks ever lower and lower in the scale, Booze gets him, he gravitates between flop and hoosegow, if at the lower end of the social scale or between club and home and cafe and club again, if at the upper end, the bum is a stationary non-worker, and lives on the charity of his fellow men, whether that charity be handed cut through a slum mission or through gilt-edged investments. But the bum is not a hobo, nor is the hobo a bum.

Bums must be abolished. Tramps must be cared for, so that they are no longer afflictions to others as well as to themselves. But the foundation of industry.

There must always be a force of mobile or migratory labor, as there must be a reserve force in any army, ready to be rushed to the point of greatest need. Now that we depend absolutely upon our reserve army of migratory labor, we realise with a shock how terribly we have maltreated and depleted our reserves. The salvation of the future, the hope of civilization, depends upon how we treat the reserve army of industry, the army of the hobo. 

Before we decide what to do in this regard, and how to do it, let us look a little at the history of the hobo.

Frequently I have been asked, “Is there not always something wrong with a man who becomes a hobo?” My answer is, “There is always something wrong with a man who does not become a hobo. If a man is content to grow up, marry, work, grow old and die in the same town where he was born, he is a congenital idiot.”

Every normal human being wants to travel and see the country. He must either pay his way or work his way. Most of the working class never acumulates enough to pay their way on such a pleasure trip. If they are to travel at all, they must work their way. And a man who works this way from town to town and job to job, is a migratory worker – a hobo. It is only the rolling stone that acquires a polish.