Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Review: The Iron Heel

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Finding a non fiction socialist book to read is fairly easy, there are numerous. But finding a fiction book, a true classic none the less, with overtly socialist views is a rarity. The Iron Heel by Jack London is one of those rarities in the literary world.

If you find reading Marx’s Capital to overwhelming, chapter 9 in The Iron Heel called Mathematics of a dream is an easy explanation of the capitalist system and a great start to understanding the way labour, surplus value and profit work. It is important for socialists to understand the inner workings of the capitalist system. Jack London makes this, sometimes tiresome subject, a breeze, using his command of English language together with real life examples.

A simple search on the internet for Jack London returns hundreds of hits with almost all stating that he had strong socialist views and at one time was a member of Socialist Labour Party and then the Socialist Party of America. Many bookshops still sell his novels. Even in the mega chain Borders Books one can find a wide range of his works.

London’s views were influenced by his early years. The family home burnt to the ground in the great San Francisco fire of 1906 caused by a major earthquake. Merely a teenager he had to work long hours in the cannery where he experienced the gruelling life of a labourer, later signing up to work on a schooner. His restless spirit took him to Alaska and Yukon during the gold rush. His passion was reading and he was self-educated socialist.

London’s socialist views are always visible, from his adventure books such as ‘Call of the Wild’ and ‘White Fang’ in which he criticizes the ever-increasing alienation of humans from nature and the capitalist system’s merciless exploration of wildlife for short-term gain.

The Iron Heel is probably his most controversial work. Or that’s how the capitalist system would like to portray his masterpiece. But there’s no surprises that capitalist book critics would call the book controversial, after all the book gives a damning report of their rotten system.

From the historical point of view this is book is invaluable. Some of London’s predictions within the book regarding aggressive capitalism did not come to pass, but we can see and almost feel why a person of the time would feel that tyranny is around the corner.

London writes in the times when a number of American states passed the law allowing children to work in the mines. To the reader of today book only proves the enormous resourcefulness of the capitalist ruling class and their undying ambition to perpetuate the subjugation of the working class.

From the socialist point of view the book is a joy to read. London’s strong socialist views are on full display. The novel is written from two perspectives. One set in ‘current time’ around the year 2600 and revealed through footnotes of the (fictional) “Everhard Manuscript” which covers the years 1912-1932. All levels of the capitalist system are thoroughly criticized and dissected From the nobility, the captains of the industry, churches and religion, the military and the middle classes, they all ‘mismanaged’ the wealth created by workers, London tells us.

The novel was published in the US in 1908 and it is a predecessor to other great classic works such as ‘The Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell who according to Orwell’s biographer Michael Shelden was greatly influenced by it. This book is a must read for all socialists.

By Fikret Pajalic


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