Chapter 7: Empty from Birth to Death
It was his first address in the Senate as president. He was a poor man’s son, his father was a shoemaker - in India he would have been an untouchable. Even in America people were very annoyed, irritated, angry that a shoemaker’s son had become the president; the aristocrats, the rich, the super-rich naturally were angry. There was great tension on the first day when he addressed them.
As he stood up, one aristocrat also stood up and said, “Mr. President, before you start speaking, I would like you to remember that your father used to make shoes for my family. Right now I am using the shoes made by your father, so don’t forget that. Just becoming president does not mean anything. Don’t forget that you are a shoemaker’s son.”
There was absolute silence, pin-drop silence. Everybody felt that Abraham Lincoln would feel embarrassed, but instead of feeling embarrassed, he made the whole Senate feel embarrassed.
He said, “It is good, I am immensely thankful to you that you reminded me about my father” - and tears came to his eyes. And he said, “How can I forget him? I know that he was a perfect shoemaker and I can never be that perfect a president. I cannot defeat the old man.
“You are still wearing shoes he has made - many of you must be wearing them. If they do not fit you, if they are pinching, if you are feeling uncomfortable, don’t be worried. Although my father is dead, he made me learn the art enough to mend your shoes. I cannot replace him; he was a perfect master. I am just an amateur, but I can mend your shoes and I will always remember to try at least to become as good a president as he was a shoemaker. I cannot hope to be better than him - that is impossible, because I know him.”
The poorest man in the world has also got something to contribute. Create rich communes and suddenly you will find that you need many people, not just the rich. They may be able to create wealth, but wealth is not all. Life is much more than wealth. It needs so many things that naturally you will have to invite many people. Around the world all the rich communes will need people; and slowly, slowly your commune will become bigger and bigger.
The richer will not become poorer, but the poorer will become richer, and respectable, and equal - in no way inferior to anybody else - because they are also functioning in the same way as anybody else. And whatever they are doing is needed as much as anybody else’s expertise is needed.
I conceive of this just like a flower opening up, becoming bigger - all the petals opening up. A commune, full-blown, complete, lacking nothing, will not be only of rich people. Many poor people will have been transformed into richness. And they will be contributing - they will not be a burden, and they will not be beggars. They will have their pride. You cannot exist without them.
We can transform the whole earth into a rich society, but it should start the way I am telling you: not by the dictatorship of the proletariat, but by communes of the rich.