There are two very American books that (to me) present a fundamental problem: one is The Jungle (Upton Sinclair) and the other is Jack London’s Iron Heel. Both novels present the evil greed that men are capable of and both offer a solution or at least direction for improvement based on the ideals of socialism. Neither makes the United States, even a fictional America, very appealing. It’s interesting to recall that these novels, especially the dystopian Iron Heel, represent or project bad times for an era that is now behind us: look at George Orwell’s 1984 … not even Apple Computer can erase that future, even though it is now past due.
A small element of The Iron Heel is London’s need to speculate on as yet unknown or unproven devices … like the bombs, tanks, airplanes that didn’t exist. London does present his version of these, the war-balloons and armored tractors. Remember that the Wright Brothers had just flown at Kitty Hawk and the tank was not introduced until World War I (and it was pretty crude even then). Dynamite had been around a few years so bombs were getting more effective (especially when dropped from those war-balloons).
Of course now these heavy armaments and advanced killing devices are common and for the most part easily obtainable at the local gun show with minimum fuss thanks to the NRA and the Gun Lobby. I always consider it the greatest irony that America’s survivalists are going to the mattresses in advance of a government take-over of their freedoms when it’s actually the corporations, the one-percent, the plutocrats, the oligarchy that is taking away their freedoms and turning them into corporate wage-slaves.
True, the survivalists can hole-up in the depths of a forest in northern Idaho and be left alone … but if a big corporation wants to build a ski-resort in that area, guess who is going to be crushed by the oligarchy? And do you think that the corporations are going to allow private citizens to be armed if that is seen as a threat to the continued suppression of the 99 percent who are being forced into an unescapable life as wage-slave and readily manipulated consumer? Who is in control of the military? the police? the government itself?
I know nothing that I may say can influence you … 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. You talk verbosely in antiquated terminology of your love of liberty, and all the while you wear the scarlet livery of the Iron Heel.
That was a short speech given by one of the new Socialist members of the Congress that had worked within the system but as predicted were eventually conquered by the might of the oligarchy.
Jack London, himself a socialist, wrote an interesting dystopean novel that expressed the problems with Capitalism and developed a likely outcome of the struggle between corporations and people, or as we might express it one hundred years later, between the one percent and the ninety-nine percent. The novel is titled The Iron Heel; it is structured as a manuscript written by a key player in the revolution (as such, remember that the footnotes are a part of the fiction and often serve to lend validity to the speculative future vision).
London’s main character is a charismatic leader who speaks for the side of the working man (this man’s wife is the narrator). Here he describes the situation:
The working man on the street railway furnish the labor. The stockholders furnish the capital. By the joint effort of the workingmen and the capital, money is earned. They divide between then this money that is earned. Capital’s share is called ‘dividends.’ Labor’s share is called ‘wages.’ … the workingman, being selfish, wants all he can get in the division. The capitalist, being selfish, wants all he can get in the division. … When there is only so much of the same thing, and when two men want all they can get of the same thing, there is a conflict of interest between labor and capital … an irreconcilable conflict.
His position on the oligarchy which controls the lives of so many workers is clear:
The other day I mentioned a title by Jack London to an avid reader and was reminded that most people, including me, have only read the obvious titles by any author and might not be aware of the less-well-known or obscure titles that are never stocked on the shelves at the big-box-bookstores. Despite its shortcomings, I find Wikipedia an excellent source for the bibliographies of most authors (I like the clear lists and not the essays which obscure the titles). So my recommendation is to check the full bibliography of every author you read.
Let’s check Jack London at Wikipedia:
- The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902)
- A Daughter of the Snows (1902)
- The Call of the Wild (1903)
- The Kempton-Wace Letters (1903) (published anonymously, co-authored with Anna Strunsky)
- The Sea-Wolf (1904)
- The Game (1905)
- White Fang (1906)
- Before Adam (1907)
- The Iron Heel (1908)
- Martin Eden (1909)
- Burning Daylight (1910)
- Adventure (1911)
- The Scarlet Plague (1912)
- A Son of the Sun (1912)
- The Abysmal Brute (1913)
- The Valley of the Moon (1913)
- The Mutiny of the Elsinore (1914)
- The Star Rover (1915) (published in England as The Jacket)
- The Little Lady of the Big House (1916)
- Jerry of the Islands (1917)
- Michael, Brother of Jerry (1917)
- Hearts of Three (1920) (novelization of a script by Charles Goddard)
- The Assassination Bureau, Ltd (1963) (left half-finished, completed by Robert L. Fish)