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March 15, 2010

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The Iron Heel by Jack London
Select quotes from Jack London's The Iron Heel:
Our boasted civilization is based upon blood, soaked in blood, and neither you nor I nor any of us can escape the scarlet stain.
(p. 38)

The weakness in their position lies in that they are not biologists nor sociologists. If they were, of course all would be well. A business man who was also a biologist and a sociologist would know, approximately, the right thing to do for humanity. But, outside the realm of business, they are stupid. They know only business. They do not know mankind nor society, and yet they set themselves up as arbiters of the fates of the hungry millions and all the other millions thrown in. History, some day, will have an excruciating laugh at their expense.
(p. 46)

To those who believe in Jesus and His Gospel there can be no other relation between man and man than the relation of affection. Love alone is stronger than sin--stronger than death. I therefore say to the rich among you that it is their duty to do what I have done and am doing. Let each one of you who is prosperous take into his house some thief and treat him as his brother, some unfortunate and treat her as his sister, and [we] will need no police force and no magistrates; the prisons will be turned into hospitals, and the criminal will disappear with his crime.
(p. 74)

Not a word of what he uttered will see print. You have forgotten the editors. They draw their salaries for the policy they maintain. Their policy is to print nothing that is a vital menace to the established.... The newspapers will purge his heresy in the oblivion of silence. The press of the United States? It is a parasitic growth that battens on the capitalist class. Its function is to serve the established by moulding public opinion, and right well it serves it. (p. 75)

When the combination of the trusts will control all legislation, then the combination of trusts will itself be the government. (p. 87)

And such profits! Colossal profits! Strong enough themselves to weather the storm that was largely their own brewing, they turned loose and plundered the wrecks that floated about them. Values were pitifully and inconceivably shrunken, and the trusts added hugely to their holdings, even extending their enterprises into many new fields--and always at the expense of the middle class. (p. 112)

You have no souls to be influenced. You are spineless, flaccid things. You pompously call yourselves Republicans and Democrats. There is no Republican Party. There is no Democratic Party. There are no Republicans nor Democrats in the House. You are lick-spittlers and panderers, the creatures of the Plutocracy.... I know that you will not vote for this bill. You have received the command from your masters to vote against it. (p. 160)

You have said, a dozen of you tonight, that socialism is impossible. You have asserted the impossible, now let me demonstrate the inevitable. Not only is it inevitable that you small capitalists shall pass away, but it is inevitable that the large capitalists, and the trusts also, shall pass away. Remember, the tide of evolution never flows backwards. It flows on and on, and it flows from competition to combination, and from little combination to large combination, and from large combination to colossal combination, and it flows on to socialism, which is the most colossal combination of all. (p. 91)

For someone with a BA in English from Cornell and an MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College there sure are a lot of holes in my education. I suppose that isn't a surprise--with a few token faculty exceptions, Ivy League universities are about as establishment as it gets and creative writing workshops tend towards solipsism. So it's up to thrift stores to fill the gaps! Last year it was the discovery of Raymond Chandler. This year it's Jack London, who I'd mistakenly assumed wrote adventure stories for boys. I found a nice hardback of his complete short stories at Good Will and it was my preferred bed and sauna reading for a couple of months. Searching SPL's catalog for more, I was intrigued by the titles No Mentor But Myself (writings on writing), John Barleycorn (an alcoholic memoir), and The Iron Heel, an all-too-plausible novel of the rise of fascism in America. Written in 1907, London predicts: oligarchical takeover of US government; a bought-off judiciary beholden only to the rich; fatalistic hypocrite Christians praying for the endtimes; a lapdog media spreading disinformation; a pervasive and invasive security apparatus of cops, spooks, and mercenaries; sell-out labor leaders and eviscerated unions; a decimated middle class; and a general population too harried and distracted to present any organized resistance. But despite this gloomy forecast London was ultimately an optimist. Unlike the dystopian books it prefigures--It Can't Happen Here, 1984, Brave New World--in The Iron Heel the good guys ultimately prevail... even if it does take 300 years of bloody struggle. London was an avowed and active Socialist at a time when that party had some clout and he believed that a worldwide Brotherhood of Man was an evolutionary inevitability, even if it would have to be precipitated by the necessarily violent seizing of the means of production. He didn't live to see the Revolution in Russia in 1917 and the reign of terror which followed. Maybe that's the inherent flaw with fighting fire with fire--one oppressor is replaced by another--but what else can you do when the guns are all pointed at you and prisons are being built faster than schools? London himself provides one workable pacifist option: general strike.