Note: I wanted to write a series of posts about the economic and political beliefs found in the science fiction and fantasy novels of China Meiville, Isaac Asimov, Terry Goodkind, Robert Heinlein, and a few others, but I found I was having a hard time doing it purely from memory. Unfortunately, most my books are back home in Atlanta, and Jack London was the only author outside of copyright protection and thus the only one whose works I could find online. So Jack London is first. For the rest, I’ll either settle for writing posts from memory, or wait until I’m back home for Thanksgiving to pick up the books. (Actually, Cory Doctorow will probably be next — thanks to the fact he’s happy to give up on restrictive copyright protections, his work is out there for free too.)
Although most famous for his Alaskan wilderness fiction, Jack London also wrote a fair collection of science fiction short stories and four scifi novels. I grew up on Call of the Wild and White Fang, and obsessed over his short stories (it’s a good thing I didn’t end up naming my first dog Bâtard!), but it wasn’t until much later that I started paying attention to his non-wolfdog-based fiction.
And so I never realized as a kid that Jack London was very much a socialist. And not the fluffy kind, either. In his resignation from the socialist party, he wrote:
I am resigning from the Socialist Party, because of its lack of fire and fight, and its loss of emphasis upon the class struggle. I was originally a member of the old revolutionary up-on-its-hind legs, a fighting, Socialist Labor Party. Trained in the class struggle, as taught and practised by the Socialist Labor Party, my own highest judgment concurring, I believed that the working class, by fighting, by fusing, by never making terms with the enemy, could emancipate itself.
Since the whole trend of Socialism in the United States during recent years has been one of peaceableness and compromise, I find that my mind refuses further sanction of my remaining a party member. Hence, my resignation.
These views very much influenced his fiction. And although London is beyond a doubt one of my favorite authors of all time, my love for his stories is often tempered with uneasiness with the themes they are promoting.
Far less forgivable than his socialist views is his embracing of Social Darwinism and Rudyard Kipling-style racial paternalism. (I’m being charitable here; at times, his racism was much more severe than that, and he was not opposed to eugenics.) His opinion of women was little better, and in London’s fiction, females are often very much fungible goods. If you lose one, just find another — or better yet, steal it. The number of instances of wife-stealing in his stories is staggering. His tepid support for women’s rights was not based upon any belief in their equivalency to men, but rather as a way to bring about an end to alcohol. In John Barleycorn, the memoir opens with London announcing that he voted for women’s suffrage — not because he agrees particularly with the idea that women should vote, but rather because “[w]hen the women get the ballot, they will vote for prohibition[.]”
But because discussing economics is more fun than detailing the moral failings of a historical figure I still have respect for, I’m going to ignore his social views and instead focus instead on two of his speculative fiction short stories with communist themes: Goliah and Strength of the Strong.