| THE IRON HEEL, by Jack London.
IT CANNOT BE SAID THAT THE Everhard Manuscript is an important
historical document. To the historian it bristles with errors- not
errors of fact, but errors of interpretation. Looking back across
the seven centuries that have lapsed since Avis Everhard completed her
manuscript, events, and the bearings of events, that were confused and
veiled to her, are clear to us. She lacked perspective. She was too
close to the events she writes about. Nay, she was merged in the
events she has described.
Nevertheless, as a personal document, the Everhard Manuscript is
of inestimable value. But here again enter error of perspective, and
vitiation due to the bias of love. Yet we smile, indeed, and forgive
Avis Everhard for the heroic lines upon which she modelled her
husband. We know to-day that he was not so colossal, and that he
loomed among the events of his times less largely than the
Manuscript would lead us to believe.
We know that Ernest Everhard was an exceptionally strong man, but
not so exceptional as his wife thought him to be. He was, after all,
but one of a large number of heroes who, throughout the world, devoted
their lives to the Revolution; though it must be conceded that he
did unusual work, especially in his elaboration and interpretation
of working-class philosophy. 'Proletarian science' and 'proletarian
philosophy' were his phrases for it, and therein he shows the
provincialism of his mind- a defect, however, that was due to the
times and that none in that day could escape.
But to return to the Manuscript. Especially valuable is it in
communicating to us the feel of those terrible times. Nowhere do we
find more vividly portrayed the psychology of the persons that lived
in that turbulent period embraced between the years 1912 and 1932-
their mistakes and ignorance, their doubts and fears and
misapprehensions, their ethical delusions, their violent passions,
their inconceivable sordidness and selfishness. These are the things
that are so hard for us of this enlightened age to understand. History
tells us that these things were, and biology and psychology tell us
why they were; but history and biology and psychology do not make
these things alive. We accept them as facts, but we are left without
sympathetic comprehension of them.
This sympathy comes to us, however, as we peruse the Everhard
Manuscript. We enter into the minds of the actors in that long-ago
world-drama, and for the time being their mental processes are our
mental processes. Not alone do we understand Avis Everhard's love
for her hero-husband, but we feel, as he felt, in those first days,
the vague and terrible loom of the Oligarchy. The Iron Heel (well
named) we feel descending upon and crushing mankind.
And in passing we note that that historic phrase, the Iron Heel,
originated in Ernest Everhard's mind. This, we may say, is the one
moot question that this new-found document clears up. Previous to
this, the earliest-known use of the phrase occurred in the pamphlet,
'Ye Slaves,' written by George Milford and published in December,
1912. This George Milford was an obscure agitator about whom nothing
is known, save the one additional bit of information gained from the
Manuscript, which mentions that he was shot in the Chicago Commune.
Evidently he had heard Ernest Everhard make use of the phrase in
some public speech, most probably when he was running for Congress
in the fall of 1912. From the Manuscript we learn that Everhard used
the phrase at a private dinner in the spring of 1912. This is, without
discussion, the earliest-known occasion on which the Oligarchy was
The rise of the Oligarchy will always remain a cause of secret
wonder to the historian and the philosopher. Other great historical
events have their place in social evolution. They were inevitable.
Their coming could have been predicted with the same certitude that
astronomers to-day predict the outcome of the movements of stars.
Without these other great historical events, social evolution could
not have proceeded. Primitive communism, chattel slavery, serf
slavery, and wage slavery were necessary stepping-stones in the
evolution of society. But it were ridiculous to assert that the Iron
Heel was a necessary stepping-stone. Rather, to-day, is it adjudged
a step aside, or a step backward, to the social tyrannies that made
the early world a hell, but that were as necessary as the Iron Heel
Black as Feudalism was, yet the coming of it was inevitable. What
else than Feudalism could have followed upon the breakdown of that
great centralized governmental machine known as the Roman Empire?
Not so, however, with the Iron Heel. In the orderly procedure of
social evolution there was no place for it. It was not necessary,
and it was not inevitable. It must always remain the great curiosity
of history- a whim, a fantasy, an apparition, a thing unexpected and
undreamed; and it should serve as a warning to those rash political
theorists of to-day who speak with certitude of social processes.
Capitalism was adjudged by the sociologists of the time to be the
culmination of bourgeois rule, the ripened fruit of the bourgeois
revolution. And we of to-day can but applaud that judgment.
Following upon Capitalism, it was held, even by such intellectual
and antagonistic giants as Herbert Spencer, that Socialism would come.
Out of the decay of self-seeking capitalism, it was held, would
arise that flower of the ages, the Brotherhood of Man. Instead of
which, appalling alike to us who look back and to those that lived
at the time, capitalism, rotten-ripe, sent forth that monstrous
offshoot, the Oligarchy.
Too late did the socialist movement of the early twentieth century
divine the coming of the Oligarchy. Even as it was divined, the
Oligarchy was there- a fact established in blood, a stupendous and
awful reality. Nor even then, as the Everhard Manuscript well shows,
was any permanence attributed to the Iron Heel. Its overthrow was a
matter of a few short years, was the judgment of the revolutionists.
It is true, they realized that the Peasant Revolt was unplanned, and
that the First Revolt was premature; but they little realized that the
Second Revolt, planned and mature, was doomed to equal futility and
more terrible punishment.
It is apparent that Avis Everhard completed the Manuscript during
the last days of preparation for the Second Revolt; hence the fact
that there is no mention of the disastrous outcome of the Second
Revolt. It is quite clear that she intended the Manuscript for
immediate publication, as soon as the Iron Heel was overthrown, so
that her husband, so recently dead, should receive full credit for all
that he had ventured and accomplished. Then came the frightful
crushing of the Second Revolt, and it is probable that in the moment
of danger, ere she fled or was captured by the Mercenaries, she hid
the Manuscript in the hollow oak at Wake Robin Lodge.
Of Avis Everhard there is no further record. Undoubtedly she was
executed by the Mercenaries; and, as is well known, no record of
such executions was kept by the Iron Heel. But little did she realize,
even then, as she hid the Manuscript and prepared to flee, how
terrible had been the breakdown of the Second Revolt. Little did she
realize that the tortuous and distorted evolution of the next three
centuries would compel a Third Revolt and a Fourth Revolt, and many
Revolts, all drowned in seas of blood, ere the world-movement of labor
should come into its own. And little did she dream that for seven long
centuries the tribute of her love to Ernest Everhard would repose
undisturbed in the heart of the ancient oak of Wake Robin Lodge.
November 27, 419 B.O.M.Next chapter |
THE IRON HEEL, by Jack London. CHAPTER ONE. My Eagle. CHAPTER TWO. Challenges. CHAPTER THREE. Jackson's Arm. CHAPTER FOUR. Slaves of the Machine. CHAPTER FIVE. The Philomaths. CHAPTER SIX. Adumbrations. CHAPTER SEVEN. The Bishop's Vision. CHAPTER EIGHT. The Machine Breakers. CHAPTER NINE. The Mathematics of a Dream. CHAPTER TEN. The Vortex. CHAPTER ELEVEN. The Great Adventure. CHAPTER TWELVE. The Bishop. CHAPTER THIRTEEN. The General Strike. CHAPTER FOURTEEN. The Beginning of the End. CHAPTER FIFTEEN. Last Days. CHAPTER SIXTEEN. The End. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN. The Scarlet Livery. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN. In the Shadow of Sonoma. CHAPTER NINETEEN. Transformation. CHAPTER TWENTY. A Lost Oligarch. CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE. The Roaring Abysmal Beast. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO. The Chicago Commune. CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE. The People of the Abyss. CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR. Nightmare. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE. The Terrorists.
(Friday, 25 September, 2020.)