Rose Strunsky

Rose Strunsky

Rose Strunsky, the daughter of Elias Strunsky, a successful businessman, was born in Russia in 1884. Her mother, Anna Horowitz Strunsky, had married her husband when she was only sixteen-years-old. Rose's sister, Anna Strunsky later recalled: "The only recollection of Russia for me was of a long village street and barefoot children and rambling hovels. I remembered myself a little child standing in a patch of sunlight and poking my fingers into a wall and finding it soft as sand." (1)

Rose's mother was aware that she had two very bright daughters: "My two small daughters were pretty and intelligent and had good brains... When I used to go upstairs and look at them and think that they will have a college education and will have professions, one can imagine how I felt as a mother." (2)

In 1885 the Strunsky family emigrated to the United States: "The Strunskys came to America carrying little beyond the family feather-beds and copperware. Like other hundreds of thousands, they made their first home on New York's Lower East Side, crowded into a tenement on Madison Street with the toilet in the backyard." (3)

The Strunsky's lived in New York City before moving to San Francisco in 1894. During her last year in high school, Anna Strunsky joined the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). She later recalled: "You are born a socialist. You are born with music, or poetry or painting or science. You can't really become a socialist unless you're born that way." Her father, who had inspired her interest in politics, disagreed with her decision - "not because he grudged me to a great cause, but because he felt there was something amiss with the cause with which I had become infatuated." (4)

After the 1905 Russian Revolution the Strunsky sisters established a branch of the Friends of Russian Freedom in San Francisco. Other members included Jack London, William English Walling, George Sterling, Cameron King and Austin Lewis. Anna became chairman and produced a leaflet calling for "sympathy and help" for the Russian people. Walling, who was just about to leave for Europe sent her a note: "I almost shouted with delight at the dash with which you have under taken your Russian movement. Your leaflet is the best yet." (5)

In November 1905 William English Walling wrote to Anna Strunsky telling her that he intended going to St. Petersburg to witness the impact of the 1905 Russian Revolution, he sent her a telegram inviting her to join him. "I intend to preach (in American publications) the necessity in Russia of: (i) The stirring of the masses to revolt - of the lower orders, to the utmost (ii) Widespread battle against Cossacks and police and execution of bureaucrats (iii) The most complete political revolution, perhaps a republic." (6)

Anna and Rose took up the offer and arrived in December, 1905: "He (Walling) met us at the train, dressed in a big Russian coat and an astrakhan cap. I kissed him." Strunsky was excited by the revolutionary atmosphere of the city. "On the streets, they were selling pamphlets, the covers of which were decorated with the portraits of Karl Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin. In the windows of book shops were displayed photographs of Sophi Perovski, who was executed for taking part in the assassination of Alexander II; of Vera Zassulich, the first to commit a deed of violence for political reasons in modern Russia; of Vera Figner, whose resurrection from the Fortress of Schlusselburg had just taken place... More astounding... were the cartoons which appeared several times a day were bought as quickly as they could be had - cartoons portraying the Czar swimming in a sea of blood, mice gnawing away the foundation of the throne... Was I dreaming? Free press, free speech, free assemblage in Russia." (7)

The sisters were shocked by the level of violence that they saw in Russia. They were in a restaurant along with William English Walling when they were singing "God save the Czar!". However, a young man sitting with his mother and girlfriend, refused to join in. An officer at a nearby table walked over to him and commanded him to rise. When he refused, he shot him dead. Anna Strunsky wrote to her brother, Hyman Strunsky about how the incident drew her closer to Walling: "On New Year's Eve we saw a student shot to death in a cafe for refusing to sing the national hymn, and our love which had been filling our hearts from the hour of our meeting suddenly burst into speech. It was baptised in blood you see, as was fitting for a love born in Russia." Anna also wrote to her father admitting her love for Walling: "I found Russia in the same hour that I found love. It was fated. Russia had stood for quite other things, but the man I love and who loves me, so tenderly, dear, as tenderly as mother, and as deeply has opened vistas before me and changed the face of things forever." (8)

On 26th January, 1906, Walling wrote to his parents about the woman he intended to marry: "She is considered by Mr. Brett the manager of Macmillans as nothing less than a genius in her work as a writer. She is the most known speaker on the Coast. She is loved, sometimes too much, by everybody that knows her - literary men, Settlement people, Socialists. All my friends know her. She is 26 and very healthy and strong... Of course she is a Jewess and her name is Anna Strunsky (but I hope to improve that - at least in private life - but we haven't spoken much of such things). (9)

Walling and Strunsky left Russia in May 1906. Rose Strunsky remained and continued to work with the revolutionaries. The couple arrived in Paris on 2nd June 1906, and married at the end of the month. The San Francisco Call newspaper carried the headline: "Girl Socialist Wins Millionaire". (10) Another newspaper, The Chicago American stated: "Socialism Finds Bride for a Rich Yankee in Russia" and compared their marriage to those of Graham Stokes and Rose Pastor and Leroy Scott and Miriam Finn, two rich men who married left-wing Jewish immigrants. (11)

In October 1907 Strunsky and Walling returned to Russia to join Rose. Soon after arriving in St. Petersburg they were all arrested. "When I opened the door of our apartment, I found a Chief of Police, gendarme spies, the proprietor of the hotel, and servants. The contents of our trunks lay scattered on floor, chairs and bed. The desks were littered with books and manuscripts. They were reading my letters, scrutinizing my photographs... When I entered the room and saw the confusion of clothes and papers, my checks flamed with anger and horror." Strunsky claimed they asked her: "Where do you hide your revolvers and dynamite." She told the interpreter. "Tell him that we are writers, and when we use weapons we use pen and ink and not arms." (12)

Other journalist friends such as Harold Williams and Ariadna Tyrkova, were also detained. All five were accused of writing articles supporting the revolutionaries. The American newspapers soon took up their case. The Boston Herald headed its story "Czar's Police Jail Harvard Men." (13) The The Chicago American reported that Elihu Root, the United States Secretary of State, had already protested about the behaviour of the authorities. (14) They were soon released but were deported.

Rose Strunsky joined the Women's Peace Party and argued for a negotiated peace. Other women involved in the organization included Anna Strunsky, Jane Addams, Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Anna Howard Shaw, Belle La Follette, Fanny Garrison Villard, Emily Balch, Jeanette Rankin, Lillian Wald, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Mary Heaton Vorse, Freda Kirchwey, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Crystal Eastman, Carrie Chapman Catt and Sophonisba Breckinridge. Anna's husband, William English Walling described the activities of these women as "bourgeois pacifism". (15)

Rose Strunsky became involved with the journalist, Louis Levine. On 22nd June, 1920, she wrote to Anna Strunsky: All his desire seems to have petered out... As for my side of it - if I could have aroused any tenderness in him - the thing between us would have happened 7 years ago." (16) Soon afterwards Levine wrote to her and proposed marriage. The couple were married in September, 1920.

The couple moved to Wisconsin where he obtained a teaching job at Beloit College. However, the following year he accepted an offer from the Chicago Daily News to be a correspondent in the Soviet Union. After giving birth to a son, Boris, in October 1921, she travelled to Moscow, to be with her husband. Rose also wrote a couple of articles for McClure's Magazine. (17) Rose also translated books written by Maxim Gorky and Leon Trotsky.

Rose Strunsky Lorwin died in New York City in 1963.

By mail, Levine proposed, or at least suggested, marriage and in September he and Rose were married. She moved with him to Wisconsin, where he had a new teaching job at Beloit College. At last Rose, thirty-seven years old, was no longer the third party in a family not her own.

Rose and her husband spent less than a year at Beloit; he accepted an offer from the Chicago Daily News to be a correspondent in the Soviet Union. When they left America, Rose was pregnant and remained behind in Paris when her husband went on to Moscow. Her old Finnish revolutionary friend Aino Malmberg arrived to keep her company. Later, Anna was with her when she gave birth to a son, Boris, in a German clinic in October 1921.

(1) Anna Strunsky, unpublished manuscript written in about 1906.

(2) New York Herald (1892)

(3) James Boylan, Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky and William English Walling (1998) page 7

(4) Anna Strunsky, unpublished manuscript written in about 1915.

(5) William English Walling, note to Anna Strunsky (April 1905)

(6) William English Walling, letter to Anna Strunsky (November, 1905)

(7) Anna Strunsky, unpublished manuscript written in about 1915.

(8)Anna Strunsky, letter to Hyman Strunsky (3rd March, 1906)

(9) Anna Strunsky, letter to Elias Strunsky (19th January 1906)

(10) The San Francisco Call (16th June, 1906)

(11) The Chicago American (June, 1906)

(12) Anna Strunsky, unpublished manuscript written in about 1915.

(13) The Boston Herald (24th October, 1907)

(14) The Chicago American (21st October 1907)

(15) William English Walling, New Review (February, 1915)

(16) James Boylan, Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky and William English Walling (1998) page 261

(17) McClure's Magazine (May 1922)


Rose Strunsky Lorwin

Rose Strunsky Lorwin, born Rose Strunsky (1884, Russia – 1963, New York) was a Russian-American translator and socialist.

Strunsky's family emigrated to the United States, first to New York City and then to San Francisco, where she attended Stanford University. Along with her older sister, Anna Strunsky, she was active in socialist politics and San Francisco's literary scene. The sisters travelled in Russia in 1905, and lived in Greenwich Village in New York in the 1910s. Rose Strunsky married Lewis Lorwin in 1920. Throughout her life she worked as a translator. Her translations include Gorky's The Confession, the journal of Tolstoy and Trotsky's Literature and Revolution. Rose Strunsky Lorwin died in New York in 1963.

She was the mother of Val R. Lorwin and psychology professor Rosalind Lorwin.

(transl.) Maxim Gorky, The confession, 1916

(transl,) The journal of Leo Tolstoi, Knopf, 1917

(transl.) Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, International Publishers, 1925


The Confession : A Novel

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, better known as Maxim (Maksim) Gorky, was born on March 28th, 1968. Until the recent collapse of the Soviet state, Gorky was officially viewed as the greatest Russian writer of the twentieth century---an evaluation far above the true measure of his nevertheless considerable talent. Proclaimed the founder of socialist realism, he significantly influenced many Soviet writers, as well as others in Europe and in the developing world, and his works were for decades part of the Soviet school curriculum. His formal education was minimal. From the age of 11, he fended for himself with a variety of jobs. Self-taught, he published his first story, "Makar Chudra," in 1892. His first collection, Sketches and Stories (1898), is a romantic celebration of society's strong outcasts---the hobos and the drifters---and helped to popularize such literary protagonists. Foma Gordeyev (1899), Gorky's first novel, depicts generational conflict within the Russian bourgeoisie. A popular public figure on the left, Gorky was often in trouble with the tsarist government. During the 1900s, he was the central figure in the Znanie publishing house, which produced realist prose with a social conscience. Some of his own works were extremely successful. The play The Lower Depths (1902), set in a poorhouse and a strong indictment of social injustice, was not only a staple of Soviet theater but also influential in the United States. Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh was influenced by it. The propagandistic, extraordinarily influential novel Mother (1906) presents an iconic working-class woman who is transformed into a saint of the Revolution its optimism in the ultimate triumph of the cause made it a prototype of socialist-realist fiction. During the years prior to 1917, Gorky published a number of autobiographical stories: All Over Russia (1912--18) (also Through Russia) and his memoirs My Childhood (1913--14), My Apprenticeship (1915--16), and My Universities (1923). This trilogy shows his art at its best and includes some very lively reminiscences of such writers as Tolstoy and Chekhov. Although a Bolshevik party member since 1905, Gorky strongly criticized the new regime after the October Revolution: His collected articles from 1917-18, Untimely Thoughts, remained unpublished in the Soviet Union until recently. A cultural activist, he helped to save the lives of many writers, artists, and scholars during the cold and hungry years of the civil war. In 1921 he left Russia for Italy but returned permanently a decade later, recognized as the grand old man of Soviet literature. He then worked for Stalin's economic policies and presided over the institutionalization of socialist realism. At his death, he left unfinished a major novel of considerable interest, The Life of Klim Samgin, which he had been working on since 1925.


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Trotsky, L. (1970). From literature and revolution. In P. N. Siegel (Ed.), Art and revolution: Writings on literature, politics and culture (pp. 31–65). New York: Pathfinder Press.

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The Strike of the Singers of the Shirt —–

By Rose Strunsky. —–

[Part I of II.]

HE Song of the Shirt in chorus! The fact is momentous. The lyric becomes an epic. The plaint becomes a war-song. It becomes a man song.

It is historic. The singer has come out of the garret. She has dropped her needle and bends over her machine in the crowded tenement of a shopkeeper or in the loft of a manufacturer. There are rows upon rows of machines next to her, and she sings the Song of the Shirt in chorus. It is the death of the woman. It is the birth of the sexless laborer.

As woman she was in the field of labor as man’s scab. She underbid him. She was an accident in the field the stones to be picked up for loading the sling of the capitalist.

That this most finely developed industrial country should be the first to turn woman into the laborer was historically logical and to be foreseen, and now this great dramatic and vital birth has happened—happened by the new Singers of the Shirt by the general strike of the forty thousand shirt-waist makers of New York, which began on November 23rd.

This new-born laborer, this woman per se of yesterday, has taken the slug-horn to her lips and called out her armies upon that battlefield where she had been but a tool these hundred years of industrial transition, and, stern-eyed and intense, has made her first charge against the enemy. The act is impressive and significant and has the beauty which comes with a noble growth and the sadness which accompanies beauty and growth. The outbreak was strong and unexpected though for years the foundations of it were laid by quiet propaganda as well as economic necessity.

The necessity for organization had been realized by the men almost as soon as the industrial revolution took place. The great difficulty was to make the women see it also now that they had entered upon the field and to the shame of the men laborers may it be said that they did little to help their sisters realize the necessity and advantages of union. They were blinded by a short-sighted jealousy they did not seem to realize that they belonged to the same class and that if kept divided, it would be as unfortunate for the men as for the women themselves.

The first conscious effort to organize the women in America was made in 1903, when Miss Mary K. O’Sullivan and William English Walling formed the nucleus of an organization, which was called the Woman’s Trade Union League. A meeting was held during a convention of the American Federation of Labor, and several officers of that organization were induced to attend, in order to aid and give their support. The League, after passing through the hardships of its formative period, succeeded in establishing itself on a firm basis and has proven of great aid in spreading unionism. Already it controls ten thousand organized women, but its seed has fallen farther than its members themselves knew, as was shown by the response of the shirt-waist makers to go out on the general strike, the majority of them being unorganized.

The League led the six months’ strike of the cotton operatives in Fall River, Massachusetts, and worked in behalf of the striking laundry workers of Troy it took up the bakers’ strike of this city and now, like a careful mother, is tenderly watching and caring for this first large battle of the women workers on the field of labor.

The cause of the general strike was the unrest in the shirt-waist making industry. In September the Triangle Shirt Waist factory struck. A system of sub-contracting, which nearly all the shops have, was going on there with great abuses. The employer hired a man for twenty dollars a week, who in turn contracted shirt-waist makers at any price he could get them for, and so squeezing the wage down to as low as four and five dollars a week. The girls worked from eight in the morning to nine in the evening four times a week and half a day on Sunday. Strange to say, the strike in this factory was caused by the sub-contractor himself. He quarreled with the employer, and in leaving the place, he turned to the girls and told them to follow him. They left their machines and went out. The next day they were urged to come back, but they were then laid off for a month on the pretext of lack of work, while the employers advertised in the Italian, Jewish and English papers for shirtwaist makers.

The strike was on. When the former employees went to the shop to inform the girls who were answering the advertisements that the shop was on strike, they were arrested, mistreated and fined by the courts.

The enemy, too, recognized that the question of sex was gone, that she was no longer woman but laborer, and that she was to be fought in the same way as the man laborer.

From September to October 103 arrests were made for picketing, the girls all being fined. Thugs were immediately employed to guard the scabs and policemen to help the thugs.

As the conditions in other shops were no better than in this Triangle Shirt-Waist factory, the unrest among the workers grew. On November 23rd it was decided to call mass meetings to discuss conditions. Four halls were crowded. The largest, which was Cooper Union, was presided over by the Woman’s Trade Union League and had among its speakers Mr. Gompers. Gompers made a characteristic speech to them:

[He said:]

I have never declared for a strike in all my life. I have done my best to prevent strikes, but there comes a time when not to strike rivets the chains on our wrists.

The shirt-waist makers listened to many more such speeches. They had come to the meeting heavy-hearted and depressed. It meant suffering to continue work under their conditions, and it meant suffering to fight. Would they succeed in the fight? Could they succeed? Would the rest of the girls, for whom it was so difficult to grasp the advantages of solidarity, join in a general strike? Did they have the strength of character, the nobility of purpose?

The speakers, one after the other, argued about the possibilities of victory and discussed the methods of employers. In the midst of these speeches Clara Lemlich, a dark, pale little girl of about 20, raised her hand to show her desire to speak. She was called upon, and willing hands lifted her on the platform. With the simplicity of genius she said:

I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no patience for talk. I am one who feels and suffers from the things pictured. I move that we go on a general strike.

It was the expression of the heart of the audience. It jumped to its feet and cheered approval. It was for this they had come together, these thousands of isolated girls. Unknown to themselves they had come to unite into one army for the benefit of all. They had come to declare war.

A committee of fifteen was appointed to go to the other halls to announce the decision of the Cooper Union meeting. As the committee entered each well-packed hall and told of the call to arms, it was applauded and cheered for many minutes.


Strunsky-Walling Collection

Anna Strunsky Walling, author and social activist, was born to a Jewish family in Babinots, Russia on 21 March 1879. She emigrated to the United States in 1893 with her parents, Elias Strunsky and Anna Horowitz Strunsky, her four older brothers, Albert, Max, Morris, and Hyman and her younger sister Rose. The Strunskys first settled in New York City, but later relocated to San Francisco where her father began a successful liquor business. She went on to attend Stanford University where she became active in socialist causes and joined the Socialist Labor Party. It was during her time at Stanford that she met the literati of the Bay Area known as "The Crowd," which included Jack London, with whom she co-authored her first book, The Kempton-Wace Letters, in 1903.

Anna met William English Walling in 1905. English asked Anna to help him report on dissent in Russia for his Revolutionary News Bureau. Anna, who had already established a branch of the Friends of Russian Freedom in San Francisco, was eager to assist. By the spring of 1906 Anna and English were married. Born into an affluent Indianapolis family in 1877, English graduated from the University of Chicago before pursuing a career in law. Although he never earned his law degree from Harvard, he became a well-known socialist leader, writer, and advocate for labor reform. He later denounced socialist politics and in 1924 ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the congressional seat in southwest Connecticut. He is perhaps best known for providing the intitial spark that led to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The creation of the NAACP grew out of English's investigation of the 1908 Springfield (Illinois) riot and the highly influential article that he wrote for the Independent, a widely circulated newspaper. Titled "The Race War in the North," his article implored "a large and powerful body of citizens to come to their [black Americans'] aid." Mary White Ovington was stirred to action by the essay and invited English and other activists to her New York apartment to coordinate this type of aid, and form the NAACP.

Anna and English had four children: Rosamond, Anna, Georgia, and Hayden. Their family life, as well as their personal relationship and political collaboration, grew strained in the years just before to World War I. As "millionaire socialists" the Wallings reveled in American socialism's political ascent during the first years of the twentieth century, but grew increasingly divided and uncertain when the movement began faltering in the early 1910s. By the onset of war, English became wary of socialist teachings and increasingly supportive of Woodrow Wilson's Democratic politics. Anna remained steadfast in her socialism, and more committed than ever to her community of radical thinkers. Because of her domestic duties, including child rearing, Anna found it difficult to complete her second book and carry on her political activism. Violette of Père Lachaise would eventually be published (1915), but not until Anna had grown exceedingly frustrated with the limitations of household management, and her marriage. Serious financial strains only added to Anna and English's troubles. During the 1920s the situation continued to deteriorate, resulting in the sale of the family home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Finally, in 1932, English travelled to Mexico to obtain a divorce from Anna Anna never recognized the dissolution of her marriage. English died alone in Amsterdam on 12 September 1936. Anna rushed to collect his remains, and ensure their burial together in Indiana.

Despite a determination to maintain her marriage to English, Anna was always close to another man, Leonard Dalton Abbott, whom she met in the spring of 1903. Likely never intimate, the two nonetheless shared a deep and lasting personal bond. Abbott was a leading figure in the Socialist Democratic Party of America and influential in the Modern School movement. Abbott's extensive correspondence with Anna in the years following the failure of her marriage reveals the depth of their friendship. At the same time, her diary entries of 1934-36 indicate the degree to which she remained torn between Abbott and her ex-husband. Anna would remain close to Abbott until his death in 1953. Anna Strunsky Walling died on 25 February 1964. She was interred next to her husband, William English Walling, at Crown Point Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Also figuring significantly in the collection's correspondence is Anna and English's daughter, Rosamond Walling Tirana, who was born in 1910. Rosamond attended Swarthmore College and later studied at the London School of Economics. She travelled as a journalist to Geneva, where in 1932 she met and married Rifat Tirana, an Albanian diplomat working for the League of Nations. Rosamond's lengthy and colorful letters to her parents detail her social life in Europe, and chart her thoughts and observations on world events during that time. They also reveal a close bond between the two estranged parents and their eldest daughter. Rosamond Walling Tirana died on 27 June 1999.

The following are less frequently encountered Walling family members who figure in the collection:

Anna Walling (1912-2002), daughter of Anna Strunsky Walling and William English Walling.

Georgia Walling (1914-1990), daughter of Anna Strunsky Walling and William English Walling.

Christopher Hayden Walling (1916-1981), son of Anna Strunsky Walling and William English Walling.


Hellraisers Journal: From The Liberator: Floyd Dell on America’s Political Prisoners & Conscientious Objectors

While there is a soul in prison
I am not free.
-Eugene Victor Debs

Hellraisers Journal – Thursday January 9, 1919
America’s Political Prisoners by Floyd Dell

From The Liberator of January 1919:

“What Are You Doing Out There?”

[by Floyd Dell]

THIS magazine goes to two classes of readers: those who are in jail, and those who are out. This particular article is intended for the latter class. It is intended for those who wish to prove themselves friends of American freedom rather than those who have had it proved against them.

The relation between these two classes of people is embarrassingly like that in the old anecdote about Emerson and Thoreau. Thoreau refused to obey some law which he considered unjust, and was sent to jail. Emerson went to visit him. “What are you doing in here, Henry?” asked Emerson.

“What are you doing out there?” returned Thoreau grimly.

That is what the people who have gone to prison for the ideas in which we believe seem to be asking us now.

And the only self-respecting answer which we can give to this grim, silent challenge, is this: “We are working to get you out!”

That is our excuse, and we must see that it is a true one. We are voices to speak up for those whose voice has been silenced.

There are some silences that are more eloquent than speech. The newspapers were forbidden to print what ‘Gene Debs said in court but his silence echoes around the earth in the heart of workingmen. They know what he was not allowed to tell them and they feel that it is true.

It would be wrong to think of this as an opportunity to do something for Debs it is rather our opportunity to make ourselves worthy of what he has done for us.

Continue reading “Hellraisers Journal: From The Liberator: Floyd Dell on America’s Political Prisoners & Conscientious Objectors” &rarr


Vol. 2 No. 7 July 1914 The New Review A Weekly Review of International SocialismNew Review Publishing Association — New York City [new address: 80 Fifth Avenue, New York City]

Alexander Fraser - President
Max Heidelberg - Treasurer
Louis C. Fraina - Secretary


ADVISORY COUNCIL:
(Lippmann is gone)
Arthur Bullard
George Allan England
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Reginald Wright Kanfmann
Harry W. Laidler
Austin Lewis
John Macy
Gustavus Myers
Mary White Ovington
William J. Robinson
Charles P. Steinmetz
J. G. Phelps Stokes
Horace Traubel
John Kenneth Turner

Class Lines in Colorado Max Eastman
New Phase of the Contempt Cult Fredrick Haller
Daniel De Leon Louis C. Fraina
Why a Socialist Party? William English Walling
The Drama of Dynamite Floyd Dell
Another Study in Black W. E. B. Dubois
A Socialist Digest:
   • The Upshot in Colorado
   • Do Socialists Hold Rockefeller Responsible?
   • War on the Catholic Church
   • Jack London in Mexico
   • An A. F. of L. Victory
   • Debs, Revolutionary Unionist
   • American Socialists and the Land Question
   • Socialism Outlawed in the British Labor Party
   • Is Labor Permanently Split in New Zealand?
   • The March Towards Political Democracy
   • The Ethics of Sabotage
Correpondence:
   • Why "Revolutionary"?Charles Wood
   • The Abolition of PovertyS. S.


Notes

1 Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924), ed. William Keach, trans. Rose Strunsky (Chicago, IL: Haymarket, 2005), p. 207.

2 Interview with Margaret Thatcher, ‘Aids, education and the year 2000!’, Woman’s Own, 31 October 1987,http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/106689

3 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848), ed. A. J. P. Taylor, trans. Samuel Moore (London: Penguin, 1967), pp. 82-83.

4 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’ (1909), in Mary Ann Caws, Manifesto: A Century of Isms (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), p. 188.

5 William Shakespeare, King Lear, II. ii. 453-56, ed. R. A. Foakes (London: Arden, 1997), p. 255.

6 Jeremy Bentham, The Rationale of Reward (London: John & H. L. Hunt, 1825), p. 206.

7 Peter Jenkinson, ‘Regeneration: Can Culture Carry the Can?’, RSA Journal, 5494, 2000, pp. 32-39.

8 Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940), in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zorn (London: Pimlico, 1999), p. 248.

9 Letter to Walter Benjamin, quoted in Eli Friedlander, Water Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 156.

10 Quoted in Martin Jay, Marxism and Totality (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984), p. 229.

11 Leon Trotsky, Culture and Socialism (1927), trans. Brian Pearce (London: New Park Publications, 1962), p. 12.

12 Bertolt Brecht, ‘A Worker Reads History’ (1935), in Selected Poems, trans. H. R. Hays (New York: Grove Press, 1959), p. 108.


“I am deep in the beginning of a socialistic novel … I am going to call it The Iron Heel. How’s that for a title? The poor futile little capitalist! Gee, when the proletariat cleans up some day!” The excitement of this letter to a friend underscores the enthusiasm that animated the work of John Griffith Chaney, a.k.a. Jack London (1876-1916), while writing his first explicitly political novel, The Iron Heel, first published by Macmillan in 1908.

The work, set in the future and covering in detail the years 1912 to 1932, envisions a defeated working class uprising and the rise of an oligarchic dictatorship in the US, followed centuries later by a social revolution.

The prescience of the novel is remarkable. In a letter written to London’s daughter Joan three decades after the book’s publication, in 1937, Leon Trotsky noted that the author “not only absorbed creatively the impetus given by the first Russian Revolution [of 1905] but also courageously thought over again in its light the fate of capitalist society as a whole … Jack London felt with an intrepidity which forces one to ask himself again and again with astonishment: when was this written? Really before the [first world] war?”

In particular, Trotsky was struck by London’s appraisal of the trade union bureaucracy and the counter-revolutionary role it would play in his imagined events. In his understanding of the labor aristocracy’s “treacherous role,” Trotsky suggests, London was far in advance of “all the social democratic leaders of the time taken together.” Beyond that, however, Trotsky adds, at the time of the novel’s writing, “not one of the revolutionary Marxists, not excluding Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, imagined so fully the ominous perspective of the alliance between finance capital and labor aristocracy. This suffices in itself to determine the specific weight of the novel.”

(There is a further London-Trotsky connection. London co-wrote one of his early works, an epistolary novel, The Kempton-Wace Letters (1903), with Anna Strunsky, a lifelong socialist and author. Her sister, Rose Strunsky, also a socialist, would translate Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution into English in 1925, the translation still in general use.)

The Iron Heel’s insights and strengths are inseparable from its author’s social outlook and experience. London joined the Socialist Labor Party led by Daniel De Leon in April 1896. That year, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about him giving nightly speeches in Oakland’s City Hall Park for which he was later arrested. In 1901, he left the Socialist Labor Party to join the new Socialist Party of America. He ran as a Socialist candidate for mayor of Oakland in 1901 and later toured the country lecturing on socialism in 1906.

In an essay written in 1910, London recounted mass meetings held and donations sent in support of the Russian Revolution of 1905. A passage from the essay gives one an impression of the revolutionary movement London identified with and often channeled in his writing.

Citing the millions around the world who at the time “began their letters ‘Dear Comrade,’” London marveled at what the future held, “Here are 7,000,000 comrades in an organized, international, world-wide, revolutionary movement. Here is a tremendous human force. It must be reckoned with. Here is power. And here is romance—romance so colossal that it seems to be beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. These revolutionists are swayed by great passion. They have a keen sense of personal right, much of reverence for humanity, but little reverence, if any at all, for the rule of the dead. They intend to destroy bourgeois society with most of its sweet ideals and dear moralities, and chiefest among these are those that group themselves under such heads as private ownership of capital, survival of the fittest, and patriotism—even patriotism.”

London was not untouched by the social and ideological contradictions of the early socialist movement in the US, and the working class itself. He was, for example, alternately fascinated and repelled by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and his theory of the “superman.” However, the sincerity of London’s early socialist convictions is unchallengeable.

The Iron Heel predicts the rise of fascism emerging from a rotting capitalism, and the terrible implications of that for the working class and its leadership. The novel traces the rise of ruling class political organizations controlled by “The Plutocracy” or “The Oligarchy,” combined into a single entity that London vividly dubs “The Iron Heel,” whose brutality is detailed throughout the novel.

The story is written in a complex and unique way: The novel takes the form of a manuscript, originally composed by Avis Everhard, the lover and political confidant of Ernest Everhard, a leader of what is referred to as the “2nd Revolution” of 1912-32. This manuscript is discovered and edited by a fictitious historian, Anthony Meredith, who supposedly recovers the manuscript in the 26th century, after the Oligarchs have been routed and are followed by a period of socialist tranquility, economic affluence and equality presided over by what is referred to as “The Brotherhood of Man.”

To understand the social genesis of The Iron Heel, it is necessary to take some account of the decade preceding the First World War. Social, economic and military tensions then building on a national and international level find expression in London’s story.

1905 and 1906—years immediately preceding the publication of The Iron Heel—saw a series of international events that deeply influenced London’s understanding of capitalist society and the struggles that would flow from its decay. War between Russia and Japan in 1904-05 left hundreds of thousands dead, leading to the 1905 Russian revolution, the “dress rehearsal” for the October Revolution twelve years later.

The US, the newest imperialist power, was fresh from its colonial subjugation of Cuba and the Philippines, the latter conflict resulting in the deaths of as many as one million Filipinos.

During this period, membership in the Socialist Party of the US rose to 135,000 and various Socialists began to gain prominence, with members elected to public office across the United States. Eugene Debs, as candidate for President in 1904, received a total of 402,810 votes—enough for third place overall. Ruling classes over the world responded with an intensified crackdown on workers’ organizations and revolutionary parties, throwing out elementary democratic rights. The anger and anxiety felt by wide layers of American workers reflected itself in the pages of The Iron Heel as they turned to socialism in great numbers.

Perhaps the most interesting theme in The Iron Heel, however, is the importance of international solidarity among the workers in their opposition to the Oligarchs and their exploitative schemes. In a chapter called “The General Strike,” London outlines how the contradictions between capitalism and national boundaries make inevitable the constant threat of imperialist war:

“The hard times at home had caused an immense decrease in consumption. Labor, out of work, had no wages with which to buy. The result was that the Plutocracy found a greater surplus than ever on its hands. This surplus it was compelled to dispose of abroad, and, what of its colossal plans, it needed money. Because of its strenuous efforts to dispose of the surplus in the world market, the Plutocracy clashed with Germany. Economic clashes were usually succeeded by wars, and this particular clash was no exception. The great German war-lord prepared, and so did the United States prepare.

“The war-cloud hovered dark and ominous. The stage was set for a world-catastrophe, for in all the world were hard times, labor troubles, perishing middle classes, armies of unemployed, clashes of economic interests in the world-markets, and mutterings and rumblings of the socialist revolution.”

However, disaster is averted through socialist internationalism, expressed in the story as the General Strike of 1912. After a confrontation between the armed forces of Germany and the United States and a series of declarations of war that closely mirror the battle-lines drawn in 1914, the working classes of Germany and the United States coordinate and successfully organize a work stoppage that results in the ruling classes of all involved nations effectively calling off the war.

In the novel, the ruling classes of both countries strike back against the workers’ successful disruption of war with increased bitterness. Martial law, concentration camps and illegal assassinations follow. London explains how an anti-democratic re-writing of the United States constitution is carried out by the fascist government after the book’s hero, Ernest Everhard, is framed in a bombing of Congress that resembles the Reichstag fire and frame-up of 1933.

Significantly, the novel also illustrates the futility and danger of reformist politics by drawing out the connection between reformism, the selling-out of the workers’ movement and its ultimate crushing under the “Iron Heel” of fascism. London hoped that the book would serve as a lesson to the working class about the importance of revolutionary leadership in the struggle for power.

As economic and social conditions radicalize workers today in ways that often parallel the period of social upheaval of the early 20th century, Jack London’s novel retains considerable power and relevance.

Note: In another recent austerity measure, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and a Democratic-controlled state legislature voted to close the Jack London State Park, in Glen Ellen, California last year. The gates were locked in September 2011.


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