The Freaking Goddam Iron Heel
The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure. Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems. —Donald Trump (or rather his speech writer(s)), in a recent speech to the UN
The Russian Revolution, which simmered for years and suddenly erupted when the serfs finally realized that the Czar and the Tsar were one and the same person. —Woody Allen
This post is to some degree a rant, a venting of frustration. Lately I keep finding myself accidentally reading communist propaganda—and no, it’s not in the Washington Post, New York Times, Salon, or The Atlantic. It’s really full blast, over the top communist propaganda. It’s a trial of my open-mindedness and equanimity. Some kind of weird karmic thing maybe.
The thing is that I live at a monastery in upper Burma and do not handle money (I’ve never owned a credit card in my life); so most of my fresh reading material, aside from some news, Wikipedia articles, and a blog or two, is public domain stuff that I download free from the Internet. I happened once to see a little book called Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure, by someone named Edward Carpenter. The title was intriguing, so I downloaded it, and read it a week or so ago. It turned out to be a utopian communist tract written more than a hundred years ago, during the first flush of the worldwide spread of the gospel of Communism 1.0.
Carpenter gets right to the point in his diagnosis of the disease of civilization, which causes us all to be more unhealthy and more miserable than naked savages. Instead of attributing it to walled towns, agricultural technology, or division of labor, he lays the blame for it squarely on the evil of private property:
The growth of Wealth, it is shown, and with it the concept of Private Property, brought on certain very definite new forms of social life; it destroyed the ancient system of society based upon the gens, that is, a society of equals founded upon blood-relationship, and introduced a society of classes founded upon differences of material possession; it destroyed the ancient system of mother-right and inheritance through the female line, and turned the woman into the property of the man; it brought with it private ownership of land, and so created a class of landless aliens, and a whole system of rent, mortgage, interest, etc.; it introduced slavery, serfdom and wage-labour, which are only various forms of the dominance of one class over another; and to rivet these authorities it created the State and the policeman.
A lot of it is the same standard stuff that is repeated by Social Justice enthusiasts to this day. The arguments are pretty standard: The world is imperfect, therefore it is the fault of cruel, evil capitalism, which must be abolished…
The growth of Wealth disintegrates the ancient Society; the temptations of power, of possession, etc., which accompany it, wrench the individual from his moorings; personal greed rules; "each man for himself" becomes the universal motto; the hand of every man is raised against his brother, and at last society itself becomes an organisation by which the rich fatten upon the vitals of the poor, the strong upon the murder of the weak.
…and so capitalism must be replaced by implementation of theories which sound good and are emotionally gratifying, even if they don’t necessarily work in reality.
Carpenter was evidently no Marxist, however; he was an anarcho-communist who considered a kind of divine Quakerish inner voice to be our true governor, with of course capitalism and private property to blame for our deafness to this voice. He obviously did not share the atheistic materialism of Marx:
And when the Civilisation-period has passed away, the old nature-religion—perhaps greatly grown—will come back. This immense stream of religious life which, beginning far beyond the horizon of earliest history, has been deflected into various metaphysical and other channels—of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and the like—during the historical period, will once more gather itself together to float on its bosom all the arks and sacred vessels of human progress. Man will once more feel his unity with his fellows, he will feel his unity with the animals, with the mountains and the streams, with the earth itself and the slow lapse of the constellations, not as an abstract dogma of Science or Theology, but as a living and ever-present fact. Ages back this has been better understood than now. Our Christian ceremonial is saturated with sexual and astronomical symbols; and long before Christianity existed, the sexual and astronomical were the main forms of religion. That is to say, men instinctively felt and worshiped the great life coming to them through Sex, the great life coming to them from the deeps of Heaven. They deified both. They placed their gods—their own human forms—in sex, they placed them in the sky. And not only so, but wherever they felt this kindred human life—in the animals, in the ibis, the bull, the lamb, the snake, the crocodile; in the trees and flowers, the oak, the ash, the laurel, the hyacinth; in the streams and waterfalls, on the mountain-sides or in the depths of the sea—they placed them. The whole universe was full of a life which, though not always friendly, was human and kindred to their own, felt by them, not reasoned about, but simply perceived. To the early man the nation of his having a separate individuality could only with difficulty occur; hence he troubled himself not with the suicidal questionings concerning the whence and whither which now vex the modern mind.
And we’ll all go around half naked (or completely naked, weather permitting) and stay outdoors in the fresh air most of the time in communion with nature, and we’ll all live happily ever after in Brotherhood with All Life and will worship sex and will shun personal property forevermore.
Anyway, maybe a week after the surreal trial of reading this, I was looking around for something worth my while to read. I’ve been investigating literary dystopias lately, and had read that George Orwell’s 1984 was partly inspired by a novel called The Iron Heel by Jack London; and that is freely accessible on the Internet, so I downloaded it. What little I had read by Jack London was about tough men (and dogs) living brutal lives in the Arctic (his short story “To Build a Fire,” about a guy who freezes to death because his hands are too numb to start a fire, is a reflection on danger and death well worth reading), and so I was expecting some manly tale involving plenty of macho brutality and stomping jackboots, maybe some superficial politics, and little else. What it turned out to be, however, especially the first half of it, was blatant Marxist propaganda so relentlessly, proselytizingly in my face that a few times I was tempted to simply fling the computer across the room in disgust. If the book had been on paper instead of a computer screen I might really have flung it.
In the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century there was a wave of socialist and Marxist evangelism throughout the western world, with the converts to the new faith joyfully, fanatically proclaiming an international Workers’ Revolution and the coming of a new utopian, proletarian Brotherhood of Man. Consequently there was quite a lot of Socialist propaganda literature disseminated in those days, one of the most famous examples of which in America being Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. This inevitably resulted, along with the glorious, revolutionary birth of the Soviet Union, in the first Red Scare of the 1920s. And it turns out, by golly, that tough, macho Jack London, Klondike gold miner, author of The Call of the Wild, became a devout, starry-eyed convert to the new atheistic religion of turning men into sheep.
The Iron Heel is hardly worthy of being called a novel at all. The first half of the book consists almost entirely of long-winded sermons on Marxism, with practically no action actually taking place. The hero is a kind of noble-hearted Socialist Jehovah’s Witness named Ernest Everhard, who with invincible smugness pounds away time after time with his Marxist theories presented as scientific facts, until I was seriously yearning for the fascistic Iron Heel to please arise and crush the idiotic bastard to finally shut him up.
It is my habit to insert myself into stories that I read (for example, with the purpose of trying to talk Dorothea out of marrying Mr. Casaubon in Middlemarch), and I was continually wanting to jump into London’s novel and argue with the guy. The author made things easy for Everhard by always pitting him against blockheads incapable of reasoned debate (rather like Socrates in Plato’s dialogues or the Buddha in some of the Pali discourses); and I was continually wanting to rush into the fictional room waving my arms and shouting “No, you idiot!” For example, the guy continually appeals to biology and evolution, and then manifestly demonstrates that he’s ignorant of them. (Carpenter did this also in his surreal communist tract, claiming that the purpose of evolution is to produce perfect humans, with all other animal species being imperfect attempts at people.) He tries to demonstrate that evolution necessarily progresses from competition to combination—as a way of showing that capitalistic competition must give way to corporate trusts, which in turn must give way to the total combination of social forces into a centralized socialist state—but biological evolution just doesn’t work like that. Ants combining together into colonies (so to speak) makes them more successful, but does not eliminate all those solitary beetles that still manage to get by in their own ecological niches. Besides, trusts eventually became illegal in America anyway. He considers it inevitable, a matter of course, that small businesses and the middle class must be destroyed by capitalism, with larger and larger trusts outcompeting everyone else, within a decade or two of the writing of the novel, which was around 1907. The hero smugly considers all this to be certain, capable of demonstrative proof, with the aforementioned blockheads incapable of refuting him.
I kept wanting to explain to the guy about how competition produces more efficiency, at lower cost, than monopolies, especially government-controlled ones. I wanted to explain how people will work harder for their own profit, and the profit of their immediate family, than they will for some more or less abstract population of comrades; or for that matter, that they’ll work harder for profit than they will with the very institution of profit abolished. How explain to a dogmatic idealist that capitalistic greed, love it or hate it, drives an economy vigorous enough to easily outcompete a socialist one? How explain that people assured of an equal share of goods whether they work hard or not will result in slacking and rampant parasitism on the system? And how explain to a fanatic Marxist willing to kill for his beliefs that government bureaucracies multiplying to control the whole economic system increases entropy and waste and encourages stagnation? The gradual improvement of the capitalist system to make it as fair as possible for workers has proven to be such a better idea.
I kept wanting to warn him of what socialist Russia would become, with all his prophecies of impending atrocities actually being more applicable to his own utopian vision of success than to his enemy Capitalism. Rivers of blood would be shed in the name of socialism; gulags built; secret police unleashed; Inquisition style torture chambers employed to extort confessions of un-socialist activities and beliefs; millions of people slowly starved; children brainwashed with fanatical propaganda; people forced en masse to conform to dishonest groupthink; privileged, powerful bureaucratic Party members ruling over a downtrodden poverty-ridden proletariat—much, much worse than the injustices perpetrated by the likes of John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan. But I knew that if I tried to explain this he’d just smile calmly at me as though I were an idiot. He wouldn’t believe my warnings at all. Eventually I’d just give up and exclaim, or maybe just mutter, “Oh, you smug, fanatical moron!” Might as well debate with a Jehovah’s witness as with a devout Communist. He wouldn’t believe me at all. Why should he?
And to make matters more pathetically absurd, a fictional commentator in the story occasionally makes remarks praising Ernest Everhard for his remarkable prescience and the brilliant accuracy of his predictions. It’s too much.
Even before London’s and Everhard’s predictions begin, already American capitalism is accused of establishing an educational system designed as indoctrination centers, and media for the purpose of purveying biased propaganda! In 1907 this no doubt had some truth to it, since there is truth to it in any age, and capitalism was pretty harsh and crude then anyhow; of course any government system does the same, and now that the left has control of academia and the mainstream media it is just as evilly biased in the opposite direction. Jack London, poor slob, had no idea of how ruthlessly Machiavellian Marxism would become as soon as it got the chance. In the words of Dostoevsky, “the essence of socialism is the negation of honor.”
As for the prophecies, by 1912 things would be like this: The American middle class would be essentially destroyed as a result of corporate trusts taking control of the economy; massive surpluses to be got rid of due to American supercapitalism would drive European economies into severe depressions, which would lead to socialist revolutions throughout Europe; the worldwide crises would also result in a war between the USA and Germany (still under the Kaiser, with the German navy attacking Hawaii in December), although a general strike of the workers in both countries shortly thereafter would result in the war coming to a quick halt. 52 Socialist Party members would enter the US Congress as a result of a Socialist election landslide in the fall, but after just a few months, in spring of 1913, all of them would be arrested and imprisoned for sedition as the Iron Heel supercapitalist fascists make their move to suppress socialism and consolidate their own power.
Within just a few years, still long before 1920, the situation of the proletarian “abyss” would be much worse:
The condition of the people of the abyss was pitiable. Common school education, so far as they were concerned, had ceased. They lived like beasts in great squalid labor-ghettos, festering in misery and degradation. All their old liberties were gone. They were labor-slaves. Choice of work was denied them. Likewise was denied them the right to move from place to place, or the right to bear or possess arms.
The fact that these predictions became progressively less applicable to modern Capitalism and more applicable to modern Marxism added a kind of ironic black humor to the reading of the story. America never quite reached the point of fascistic economic totalitarianism, with a working class consisting of half-starved animals with little or no education, living in utter squalor, and deprived of constitutional rights. That sort of thing happened elsewhere, didn’t it. If Jack London only knew! George Orwell had enough sense, and enough experience with the 20th century, to transfer London’s Iron Heel from American-style capitalism to Russian-style Stalinist socialism. But London totally failed to see that Russia would be the only Western power that would adopt his utopian ideal—and would struggle with that ideal for 70 years before finally being well rid of it. And he never could have envisioned the west finally, after more than a hundred years, turning toward a form of socialism that despises masculinity, honor, white people, liberty, equal rights, and the working class in general.
London was somewhat prophetic, however, in guessing that the Iron Heel would be in part a reaction against a socialist revolution—which pretty much did happen in Germany. Two reasons why the German Nazi Party came to power were that people were fed up with the incompetence of the moderate left Weimar Republic, and were also sincerely desirous to prevent the hard left Communists from taking over. But even Hitler’s Germany was hardly any worse than Stalin’s Russia. And Capitalist America sided with the Socialists against the Iron Heel, or Iron Eagle, or Iron Cross, or whatever.
Both Carpenter and London made the same mistake of assuming that modern civilization is imperfect, and people suffer, because Capitalism, and that replacing it with (at the time) untried utopian theories would bring about “the radiant figure of liberty and brotherhood.” But neither of them, despite their blather about biology and evolution, understood that a perfect civilization is possible only with perfect people, which we are not. We are animals. Relatively advanced apes. Our civilization is limited by our own psychology, which is saturated with greed, lust, envy, anger, hate, xenophobia, and every other emotional human animal instinct, and no utopian theory is going to eliminate that. No wonder that the new left nowadays is driving science backwards by insisting that human nature doesn’t exist, and persecuting scientists who say otherwise.
To be fair, at least the early Marxists, like London and Marx himself, had the excuse of being honestly naive; they didn’t have a century of corruption, economic failure, brainwashing, mass oppression, and genocide to demonstrate how Communism doesn’t work worth half a damn. Nowadays the neo-Marxists don’t have that excuse. Instead they insist that feminizing the whole mess, decreasing the violent ruthlessness while increasing the irrational wishful thinking, will be the answer, for example with socialist Sweden, which is now in deep shit for various, feminized socialist reasons. Young socialists may have the excuse of having little experience in life, not remembering the 20th century, being naively idealistic, and being susceptible to indoctrination, especially in school. On the other hand, the older socialists have no goddamn excuse at all.
Considering all the blatant far-left propaganda smack in the middle of the mainstream nowadays (have you read the Washington Post lately? do you follow the tweets of Hollywood actors?), it may be that a third Red Scare is about due. If so, hurrah and pass the popcorn. But it may not be necessary at all, if the new left continues to double down on intolerant hysteria and to alienate the people on whom it should depend.
…it would appear returning to our subject—that, if we accept the doctrine of evolution, there is a progression of animated beings—which, though not perfect, possess in the main the attribute of health—from the lowest forms up to a healthy and instinctive though certainly limited man. During all this stage the central law is in the ascendant, and the physical frame of each creature is the fairly clean vehicle of its expression—varying of course in complexity and degree according to the point of unfoldment which has been reached. And when thus in the long process of development the inner Man (which has lain hidden or dormant within the animal) at last appears, and the creature consequently takes on the outer frame and faculties of the human being, which are only as they are because of the inner man which they represent; when it has passed through stage after stage of animal life, throwing out tentative types and likenesses of what is to come, and going through innumerable preliminary exercises in special forms and faculties, till at last it begins to be able to wear the full majesty of manhood itself—then it would seem that that long process of development is drawing to a close, and that the goal of creation [that is, Communism!] must be within measurable distance. —Carpenter, on evolution
In 1918 I was present at a meeting of the ‘Frisco Reds. Of all our Fighting Groups this one was the most formidable, ferocious, and merciless. It was really not a part of our organization. Its members were fanatics, madmen. We dared not encourage such a spirit. On the other hand, though they did not belong to us, we remained on friendly terms with them….A member of the ‘Frisco Reds pledged himself to twelve annual executions. The penalty for failure was death. A member who failed to complete his number committed suicide. —from The Iron Heel, describing a Socialist terrorist group, a kind of prototype for antifa, in San Francisco