The Dystopian Imaginary: The Iron Heel

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 by aeaitken21

Introduction:
Jack London’s The Iron Heel is a dystopian perspective of the United States transforming into a corrupt society: economics and politics alike. The novel depicts America in 1912 as a Nation bound to an oligarchy that controls the economic sector and by the union ties with the legislative branch, the political sector as well. London in the novel does not only imply his fear of the future of the country, but also incorporates prophetic patterns that emerged elsewhere in the world.
This investigation of London’s text takes a holistic approach to the novel: first by looking at the system of society with in a Nation State. Also, the paper will investigate the economic infrastructure that is present in the novel along with interpreting the current economic system in reality in comparison to what London’s protagonists hope to influence society to become. This paper also examines the issues of class in the novel as well as how these class issues are found in reality, both in the past and the present situation.
Social Structure:
Karl Marx is strict in explaining the state, a “repressive apparatus… which enables the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working class, thus enabling the foremen to subject the latter to the process of surplus-value extortion” (Althusser, 1970). Jack London illustrates Marx’s view of the state in complete accuracy in The Iron Heel. The oligarchy in order to rid itself of any form of competition exterminates the middle class, leaving only the lower class that must work grueling hours to support their families. These lower class families have no choice or no other way to survive this experience in the novel. London’s protagonists the Everhards see this social structure and are bound and determined to change it. The state’s society is then according to Marx set up in a structure that will repress those that are not a part of the ruling class. In The Iron Heel this class would be the oligarchy and their control over the wealth of the United States. Marx’s structure as described by Louis Althusser is that the infrastructure, the money of a population, which is kept going by the different classes of society, keeps the superstructure alive. The superstructure in society are the political and ideological powers at be. This power is what Marx refers to as the lower class is being subjected to under oppression. The working class is “crushed under the iron heel” because the Iron Heel does not only control the infrastructure, but the superstructure because the union representatives have persuaded members of the legislative branch with money. This alliance then provides the oligarchy with the power over the super structure as well.
In reality we know that a takeover by a single entity or a group of people over a Nation State is a catastrophic event. While designing and writing about the idealistic state, Plato discussed how the dangers of an oligarchy would bring about a corrupt leadership that is “united by austerity” or restricted access to or availability of consumer goods. The oligarchy in London’s novel is repeating this and there by following Plato’s warning is perfectly defining Marx’s repressive Nation state. There is a clear example of consumer goods being repressed with Jackson who after having his arm crushed and taken off was unable to receive any compensation. Jackson proceeded through the process and went to trial. Jackson was unsuccessful and austerity was practiced on him and he then received no compensation for his injury. This reflects the perils that both Marx and Plato find in a state controlled by an oligarchy like the Iron Heel.
Capitalism versus Socialism
With in the novel two economic structures are argued. However, capitalism and socialism are not only ways to run the financial affairs of the country, but it is also the state of mind in which the people would live. In The Iron Heel London depicts his capitalist society as either incredibly staunch and greedy or resilient and persecuted, depending on what class you belong to. This is why London’s protagonists Ernest and Avis Everhard are portrayed as radicals within the novel fighting for a change, for socialism a new way to run and think about the state of affairs within the Nation State.
But, what are the differences of capitalism and socialism? What are they supposed to be at the purest forms and why within these societies do these methods of handling the money, get portrayed the way that they do?
Capitalism “as a way of thinking is fundamentally individualistic, that is, that the individual is the center of capitalist endeavor. This idea draws on all the Enlightenment concepts of individuality: that all individuals are different, that society is composed of individuals who pursue their own interests, that individuals should be free to pursue their own interests (this, in capitalism, is called “economic freedom”), and that, in a democratic sense, individuals pursuing their own interests will guarantee the interests of society as a whole” (Hooker, 1999). Within the novel economic freedom is destroyed as the oligarchy takes over the separate markets. For example, the expropriation of the farmers in the novel represents a takeover by the oligarchy. Since capitalism is also a way of thinking that “the purpose is for [individuals] to grow steadily wealthier” for a group to take over like this, defeats the purpose of capitalism. The individual is to grow wealthier so that society as a whole can grow wealthier. The society then is to act responsible with the productive labor that it exports. London then represents capitalism as the nasty disease that the oligarchy has been taken over by.
Adam Smith, who is known as the founding father of capitalism, warns against these types of problems with in capitalism. “He was explicit in his fears that large corporations could use their influence with government to unfairly reduce competition and suppress wages. ‘No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable,’” as in London’s novel. The oligarchy does exactly this; they influence the government in order to advance their own wealth and economic freedom. In capitalism, the individual is to work for wages, but London connotes the farmers after the takeover as they “worked for wages” as it is a wretched thing. This convinces me along with his protagonist’s stance on socialism that he is pushing for the socialists.
Socialism is an “economy in which the government controls all means of production—was the tragic failure of the twentieth century” (Heilbroner, 2008). The socialist economic system was “born of a commitment to remedy the economic and moral defects of CAPITALISM, it has far surpassed capitalism in both economic malfunction and moral cruelty” (Heilbroner, 2008). The Socialist system is supposed to take over a capitalist system like what London is attempting to portray as economic evolution in the novel. This would agree with Plato’s ideal of the government and who should be in control. Plato believed that it should be the philosopher’s like himself and his friends that are in control of the government. This would be ideal because they would be able to control the economy as well in an incorrupt way. However, in socialism there seems to be a more polarizing effect than in capitalism. For Stalin, who was the first to experiment with Karl Marx and Lenin’s ideas in the Soviet Union. Many of the problems that Stalin faced was that he needed to mobilize “a peasantry into a workforce to build” the necessary things for land, such as roads, dams, etc (Heilbroner, 2008). By forming a peasantry it forces a people into a lower class that they will not be able to rise from. However, London feels that this would be the ideal situation for the people in The Iron Heel as he has his protagonists fight so hard for it.
Ernest while discussing the “inevitable breakdown” of the capitalist system explains this vision “under the terrific structure of profits that it itself has reared. And in that day there won’t be any destruction of the machines. The struggle then will be for the ownership of the machines. If labor wins, your way will be easy. The United States, and the whole world for that matter, will enter upon a new and tremendous era. Instead of being crushed by the machines, life will be made fairer, and happier, and nobler by them” (London, p. 111). London’s vision is that the capitalist system will be destroyed and the socialist system will take over by the need for people to work. After all “the fundamental purpose and meaning of human life is productive labor. Marxism, which has more in common with capitalism than it has differences, also bases itself on these ideas” (Hooker, 1999).
It is clear that London believes that capitalism produces a class system that hinders people. Instead London through his novel and his protagonists fight for socialism to the point where he martyrs the protagonists as fighting for the greater good of the future. The ironic thing however, is that in reality the socialist system produces a forced peasantry that makes people into serfs, which is a form of slavery. However, the novel presents the class system in a way that under capitalism as it is transforming into socialism the hyper distinction between the upper class and the lower class is seen in the lifestyles of the characters.
Class
In the very beginning of the text when Ernest Everhard first encounters Avis’ family friends he describes this upper class as “belong[ing] in the enemy’s camp…[,having] hands [that] are soft with the word others have performed… and…minds [that] are filled with doctrine” that justifies their selfish lifestyles (London, p.22). For those in the upper class they preach ‘free opportunity for all,’ [but they] mean free opportunity to squeeze profits, which freedom of opportunity is now denied him by the great trusts… [By doing this, they] want [the] opportunity to plunder [their] fellow-men” (London, p.96). The upper class is depleting the resources for there to be a free opportunity for the lower or middle class to rise above their current circumstances in the novel. London does this as the oligarchy has free reign over the lower class as the lower class is the workers in their factories. The middle class then in the novel are befuddled with ideas of how to save their fate, which Ernest then presents the idea of socialism that seems the most appealing option to them. London then presents this as “the class struggle [as] a law of social development”, contrasting the strong living conditions and mind sets of the upper class and the working class (London, p.27).
The working class in The Iron Heel experiences many heartbreaking and physical tragedies such as “Jackson the meek and lowly man” who had lost his arm due to an accident with a machine at the factory he was working in (London, p. 37). Jackson was then unable to gain any compensation from the company he had worked for because of the contrast in the quality of the legal representation along with a bribed testimony from the witnesses. The comparison between the lifestyles in this novel is that the aristocrats are concerned with the abstract meaningless things such as metaphysics and the working class is unable to think of anything but the trials that they experience and are enduring. Jackson is not the only example of tragedy with these machines in the factory. The woman that was with the bishop experienced tragedy. She tells her story that “It is my child that I cry…It was a machine that killed her. It is true she worked hard, but I cannot understand. She was strong. And she was young – only forty; and she worked for only thirty years. She began young; it is true, but my man died. The boiler exploded down the works. And what were we to do?” (London, p.142) This woman experiences the hopelessness that is life under the oligarchy’s rule. She psychologically is unable to go back to work for the factory, due to the death of her daughter. She then experiences hunger and woe.
One would hope that there was some sort of middle ground among this class struggle. However, the oligarchy took care of that hope for the reader. The middle class experiences extermination, because “the large capitalists [and] the trusts” are in control of the machinery and the infrastructure. The small private businesses are bought out by the oligarchy and the class struggle as part of the social evolution continues on its way through the novel.
Reflections on Society:
This tragic novel then leaves the reader in despair. For the reader it might be a relief to escape this twisted wonderland. With dystopian texts there are however a moral and reflection for the reader. Instead of being like a fable that will provide you an example of why not to commit a moral wrong, London reflects society in his novel as it was in 1907 when he wrote it and even into today. In 1907 an act of reform was passed as London wrote The Iron Heel. The Tillman Act of 1907 stopped banks and corporation from contributing to federal elections. The political corruption of the time had to be reformed to stop the influence of votes by getting one party into office, thus forwarding the agendas of one certain group or party. This exact act was not replicated or inserted into London’s text, but this reparation of the rogue of politics must have inspired London to seek a better way for the people to live in the society. London then envisioned a society in which others are able to work and develop one another. However, this still has not happened.
In the novel, Avis as she begins her transformation into the revolutionist finds herself “in the arid desert of commercialism… [A place of] nothing but stupidity, except for business. I found none clean, noble, and alive, though I found many who were alive-with rottenness” (London, p.63). The reader may find themselves in the middle of a shopping center in present day. A shopping center is nothing but advertisements tempting the consumer to buy items for a cheap emotional thrill. These businesses are brilliant at advertising, but with all brain and no heart. Without a heart the motivations for these businesses are shrewd, simply to make a profit and go to whatever lifestyle they choose. London also discusses a large amount of hypocrisy within the Church. The men of this day in London’s novel were “tool[s] of corporations that secretly robbed widows and orphans… a pillar of the church… [Who] directly encouraged prostitution” by the way that he conducted business (London, p.63). The tragedy is in the novel that these men who attended and were a large part of the church encouraged this sinful behavior because of the way that they conducted business. This state of the church has not changed. Unless, the daily spiritual walk is one in which the Christian picks up their cross daily and submits themselves to the will of God, according to what the Bible says, then this “rottenness” and hypocrisy will continue to flourish in their lives (London, p.63).

Conclusion:
Jack London’s The Iron Heel is a dystopian text that reveals many things to the reader. London‘s story reveals that he has created a Nation State that reflects Karl Marx’s description of a repressive state that operates under the economic structure of capitalism. The plot unfolds to reveal the blatant class struggle as the Everhards press towards a need for socialism in the society that they live in. London’s novel not only provides a perspective into the time that he had wrote and published this novel, but also it provides an insight into present day society.

References
Althusser, L. (1970). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm
Gore, M (2008). Political Corruption in America. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from http://americanaffairs.suite101.com/article.cfm/politican_corruption_in_america

Heilbroner, Robert. “Socialism.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. Retrieved December 17, 2009 from the World Wide Web: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Socialism.html
Hooker, R (1996). Capitalism. Retrieved December 17, 2009, from http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GLOSSARY/CAPITAL.HTM
Ivison,J (August 25, 2008). National Post:” The Columnist’s Summer Reading List: Plato And Adam Smith”. Retrieved December 17, 2009,from http://www.lexisnexis.com.libproxy.csun.edu:2048/us/lnacademic/results/docview/docview.do?docLinkInd=true&risb=21_T8178960854&format=GNBFI&sort=RELEVANCE&startDocNo=1&resultsUrlKey=29_T8178960857&cisb=22_T8178960856&treeMax=true&treeWidth=0&csi=10882&docNo=1
London, Jack. The Iron Heel. New York City: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.

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The Dystopian Wonderland: The Iron Heel

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by aeaitken21

Dystopia is a horrific wonderland, governed by the most corrupt systems. Since Dystopia is supposed to be the opposite of Utopia, imagine a perfect world gone completely wrong. Now visualize the United States in 1912. During this time the United States was experiencing a large amount of immigration from Eastern Europe and Ireland and in reality the politics were highly corrupt. Jack London’s The Iron Heel is a dystopian novel set in the United States beginning in 1912. It follows the brief love of Ernest and Avis Everhard who are revolutionaries seeking to destroy the oligarchy known as the Iron Heel. Besides the Iron Heel destroying and hindering society, a hyper class distinction develops, and thus reflects an element of reality in present day situations.

The Iron Heel reflects a capitalistic system gone wrong. An oligarchy develops that originally is supposed to only support the superstructure, but because of the unions that join forces with the politicians, the oligarchy gains power over the superstructure as well. Superstructure referring to Karl Marx’s theory of society, in which society is made up of two levels of power, the first being the infrastructure which is the economic base, which provides the monetary power for the superstructure, the political legal and the ideological power of society. London’s novel depicts a time in American history in which factories were blooming and the industrial revolution was still going strong. However, “The years of prosperity were now to be paid for,” where only the “great captains of industry, the oligarchs” were arising to ally with one another (London, p.126). This alliance of the oligarchs is what has become the Iron Heel. This alliance is then what the Everhards are seeking to revolt against. Not only is Ernest Everhard seeking to destroy the Iron Heel, but also the nobility it is creating in which a son would inherit the right to a place in a political party based upon birth.

This creation of a political party based upon birth reflects the hyper class distinction London has created in the novel. In the very beginning of the text when Ernest Everhard first encounters Avis’ family friends he describes this upper class as “belong[ing] in the enemy’s camp…[,having] hands [that] are soft with the word others have performed… and…minds [that] are filled with doctrine” that justifies their selfish lifestyles (London, p.22).  London then presents “the class struggle [as] a law of social development”, contrasting the strong living conditions and mind sets of the upper class and the working class (London, p.27). The working class in The Iron Heel experiences many heartbreaking and physical tragedies such as “Jackson the meek and lowly man” who had lost his arm due to an accident with a machine at the factory he was working in (London, p. 37). Jackson was then unable to gain any compensation from the company he had worked for because of the contrast in the quality of the legal representation along with a bribed testimony from the witnesses. The comparison between the lifestyles in this novel is that the aristocrats are concerned with the abstract meaningless things such as metaphysics and the working class is unable to think of anything but the trials that they experience and are enduring. One would hope that there was some sort of middle ground among this class struggle. However, the oligarchy took care of that hope for the reader. The middle class experiences extermination, because “the large capitalists [and] the trusts” are in control of the machinery and the infrastructure. The small private businesses are bought out by the oligarchy and the class struggle as part of the social evolution continues on its way through the novel.

This tragic novel then leaves the reader in despair. For the reader it might be a relief to escape this twisted wonderland. With dystopian texts there are however a moral and reflection for the reader. Instead of being like a fable that will provide you an example of why not to commit a moral wrong, London reflects society in his novel. Avis as she begins her transformation into the revolutionist finds herself “in the arid desert of commercialism… [A place of] nothing but stupidity, except for business. I found none clean, noble, and alive, though I found many who were alive-with rottenness” (London, p.63). The reader may find themselves in the middle of a shopping center in present day. A shopping center is nothing but advertisements tempting the consumer to buy items for a cheap emotional thrill. These businesses are brilliant at advertising, but with all brain and no heart. Without a heart the motivations for these businesses are shrewd, simply to make a profit and go to whatever lifestyle they choose. London also discusses a large amount of hypocrisy within the Church. The men of this day in London’s novel were “tool[s] of corporations that secretly robbed widows and orphans… a pillar of the church… [Who] directly encouraged prostitution” by the way that he conducted business (London, p.63). The tragedy is in the novel that these men who attended and were a large part of the church encouraged this sinful behavior because of the way that they conducted business. This state of the church has not changed. Unless, the daily spiritual walk is one in which the Christian picks up their cross daily and submits themselves to the will of God, according to what the Bible says, then this “rottenness” and hypocrisy will continue to flourish in their lives (London, p.63).

Jack London’s The Iron Heel is a dystopian text that reveals many things to the reader. London presents the elements of a dystopian text: those elements being an oppressive government, a class struggle that embodies social evolution, and then causes the reader to reflect on what society has become through the author’s perspective. It is clear that London’s perspective is still true to this day, but what will the reader do to repair this tragic incidence in our society?

References

London, Jack. The Iron Heel. New York City: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.

Eugenics

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by aeaitken21
The study that Kerr assembled on the professional’s interpretation of
new genetics versus eugenics is frightening. The reason that this is a
terrifying idea is due to the fact that this is on the rise. This
article then suggest s that only the brave ones, who are not afraid to
speak the truth will answer that they would terminate a damaged fetus-
as if it is not life in one of the most precious forms. This piece I
feel has introduced that this “new genetics” or making designer people,
is the new and improved mask for eugenics; instead of Hitler we will
soon receive another new face that will explain to us why it is the best
idea to weed out the handicapped or a certain race.
However, it could be just as Kerr has recorded that one of the
interviewees had responded with, that the “worst possible thing is… when
you distort the science for political purpose”. This could be true and
we could be over reacting to this matter. I do not think so. This could
be a way for us to decrease our already out of control population. If we
began to live in a society where we were under the influence of a leader
like Hitler or some other form of totalitarianism we could instead of
seeking out to kill Jews we are seeking to kill off a unique generation
of people. Yes, there may be problems that some people have- but don’t
people need to look to ways to cooperate to help others function in
society with a life that helps them to be satisfied? 

The Politics of Utopia

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by aeaitken21
While reading through Jameson’s “The Politics of Utopia” I finally got to what I was 
looking for. Jameson went on and on about how the politics of Utopia would be so much 
dramatically different than our society today. Jameson argues that Utopia would become 
a dictatorship with a liberal economy. This non-political system would be that of no 
classes and to resemble More’s original text a place where all of the people have one 
goal set in mind to achieve. What Jameson eventually said was that in this proverbial 
Utopia that if labor was obliterated completely it would be the wonder technology that 
would take over. That “wonder technology” reminded me of the clip from Sleeper that we 
watched last week. The extravagant technology that takes over and being controlled by 
a leader makes me feel uneasy.
	The reason that I feel uneasy while reading this piece by Jameson is that he 
discusses how in Utopia the individual would be lost. There will just be one common good 
that all of those in Utopia would be living for. I suppose that being an American that is a 
scary thought. The price of freedom is high and has been paid for again and again! To 
imagine a bleak future such as this one where the individual is lost reminds me of Nazi 
Germany. There is an old saying that says “Those who don’t remember the past are 
destined to repeat it”, are we headed there? If Utopia is our goal, then it is obvious that 
is the case! Yikes!!!!!!

Is this the Future of the United States?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2009 by aeaitken21

Randy Martin’s “Where Did the Future Go?” and Louis Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” have placed the United States’ economic system under scrutiny. Martin specifically discusses the United States and Althusser elaborates on Marxism and how the state functions. This paper discusses the comparison of the two articles while analyzing the past, present, and future state of the capitalist system.

The past of capitalism as discussed by Martin was almost a fairy tale like hope. Those who had the “patience and fortitude” would eventually experience a utopian market. The foundation on which capitalism was built includes colonialism, slavery, and genocide in order to make this utopia a reality. These negative aspects were however waved off as necessary sacrifices for the future of a free market that everyone would be able to participate in. This is a noble ideology, but Martin awakes the reader from this dream. In the past “twenty-five years… the paradisiacal wing… of the welfare state” has flown away with the money and hard work that the working class provides (Martin, 2006). Martin and Althusser both look at what the state of capitalism currently is.

The current state of the capitalistic economic system is questioned by Althusser who quotes Karl Marx who says “Every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year” (Althusser, 1970).  In order to make this understandable for the capitalist society, Althusser continues to explain what the system must do to maintain itself. In order to maintain itself a society must be able to supply the ingredients of the product simultaneously to the reproduction of the goods. Althusser then explains that in order for this to happen the infrastructure must be maintained by the superstructure. The Superstructure based on Marx is the political and ideological (religious) groups that are held up by the infrastructure (the working system). The infrastructure must be maintained with an ample supply of workers who contribute the labor to produce the goods that keep society running. The reproduction of the relations is then “secured by the legal-political and ideological super structure” which maintains the class system (Althusser, 1970).

As Althusser on his soapbox preaches Marxism to save our government, Martin is connected to these ideologies. Capitalism as inferred by Martin is the infrastructure to a colonial superstructure. Presently Marin uses the United States’ relations in the Middle East as an example of repressing others for the sake of capitalism. The question then is if we are in the Middle East to secure the production of reproduction then what are we setting our future up for? Should we not be investing in our own production of goods and supplies so that we can maintain our infrastructure which will then hold up our superstructure?

On the topic of the future the two authors also discuss the future. The future being today’s children. Martin discusses how the future has been coined “at-risk” because of the low test scores that children produce. Martin explains that a maneuver made to curve these at risk students is the No Child Left behind Act. He contributes that the tight leash on the content standards from the Federal Government has only choked more students, rather than helped them. Althusser’s take on the future is also looking at what children are learning in school. Children “learn to read, to write and to add… they learn know-how” for what they will later be doing in society. In the United States then by using standardized tests that place our “at risk” students under more scrutiny because they are not successful on these tests. It is clear that unless we change something, we will be setting our future up to fail.

Martin feels that the only hope we have to move is to the left, meaning socialism. Althusser simply discusses the status of the state system. The two articles in comparison to one another put our current society in a dystopian state. However, John Adams once said “Let us disappoint the Men who raising themselves upon the ruin of the Country.” Let’s build upon and repair what we have instead of starting all over again.

References

Althusser, L. (1970). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Retrieved December 15, 2009, from http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm

Martin, R. (2006). Where Did the Future Go? Retrieved December 15, 2009, from https://webteach.csun.edu:31987/SCRIPT/ENGL312_13669-Wexler-Fa09/scripts/serve_home

Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2009 by aeaitken21

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