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Upton Sinclair Jr. (September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968) was an American writer who wrote nearly 100 books and other works in several genres. Sinclair's work was well known and popular in the first half of the 20th century, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1943.Exerpt from the book:All my childhood and youth I heard a formula: “Money talks!” I never had any money, so to me the formula meant: “Shut up!”Now the world has moved on, and talking is out of date. It is by means of the printed word that the modem world is controlled. So the formula must be altered: “Money writes!”This book is a study of American literature from the economic point of view. It takes our living writers, and turns their pockets inside out, asking. “Where did you get it?” and “What did you do for it?” It is not a polite book, but it is an honest book, and it is needed.It concludes a series, begun ten years ago, including “The Profits of Religion,” “The Brass Check,” “The Goose-step,” “The Goslings,” and “Mammonart.”Due to copyright restrictions this book is available in the United States only.
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ALBERT & CHARLES BONI
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All my childhood and youth I heard a formula:“Money talks!” I never had any money, so to me the formula meant: “Shut up!”
Now the world has moved on, and talking is out of date. It is by means of the printed word that the modem world is controlled. So the formula must be altered: “Money writes!”
This book is a study of American literature from the economic point of view. It takes our living writers, and turns their pockets inside out, asking. “Where did you get it?” and “What did you do for it?” It is not a polite book, but it is an honest book, and it is needed.
It concludes a series, begun ten years ago, including “The Profits of Religion,” “The Brass Check,” “The Goose-step,” “The Goslings,” and “Mammonart.”
Seventeen years ago I visited the marine biological laboratory of the University of California, and one of the world’s greatest scientists explained to me his efforts at artificial fertilization. It was Jacques Loeb’s thesis that all life is a chemical reaction; and to illustrate, he would take you to a little aquarium in which were swimming a number of tiny black creatures, the larvae of the sea urchin. The scientist would take a vial of salts and pour a few drops into the water, and instantly all the creatures would turn as one and swim towards the light. “That,” said Loeb, “is what we call a ‘tropism’ an impulse to move in a certain direction. In this case it is a ‘heliotropism’ an impulse to move towards light. If we could enter the minds of those creatures, we should find that each is experiencing an emotion, each thinks that some reason of an important personal nature impels him to behave as he does. But science knows what has happened, the chemistry of the creature’s cells has been altered. Some day—and not so far off—we shall understand human tropisms in this way, and be able to change by chemical agents the thing we call human nature.”
I am writing upon the fifteenth of January, 1927, by the shore of that same ocean where the great scientist ventured his prophecy. The waters of this ocean are witnessing a singular event. It has been a damp and chilly day, and I look out over the sea from my study window, and the sunlight is failing, and a cold fog drifting in. The temperature of the water is fifty- seven degrees; and having been in for a few minutes during the day, I know that these few suffice. Yet a hundred andthree human beings, men and women, have chosen this day and night for an attempt to swim from Catalina island to the mainland, a distance of twenty-two miles at its shortest. The best time in which such a swim can be made is fourteen hours; and the radio tells me that all but a few of the contestants are falling out, many with bad cases of cramp, a few in delirium. Some will be injured for life; it may happen that one or more will lose their lives. A singular tropism to have seized upon a swarm of human urchins!
The answer is known to all readers of newspapers. Our leading California millionaire, purveyor of chewing-gum to the human race, had the idea a few years back to purchase Catalina island and turn it into a pleasure resort. This millionaire, having made his money by advertising, understands that in our great play-nation the one industry which is advertised free of charge is sport; a swimming race across the channel will bring millions of dollars worth of publicity, and so he offers a prize of twenty-five thousand dollars. He might have the race in midsummer, when it would be a pleasure; but this would defeat his purpose—to proclaim to the world that from his island it is possible to go swimming in January. Therefore he sets this date, and pours a few drops of tincture of gold into the social aquarium, and a hundred and three human urchins, male and female, are seized by an impulse which Jacques Loeb would have called a “chrysotropism.”
The arts of producing social tropisms have been enormously developed in modem civilization, but the developments are so recent that we do not realize them as yet. We are used to hearing about “mob emotions”; but the fact is, this stage of human life is gone forever. No longer is the public permitted to originate its own tropisms, and run wild; the social mind now has masters. Shrewd gentlemen sit in swivel chairs and consult with subordinates as to what tropisms they desire to have created; and either these tropisms are created, or the masterful gentlemen find more competent subordinates.
These artificially created tropisms constitute everything really significant in present-day life. “World’s series” tropisms and prize fight tropisms, evangelistic tropisms and moving picture tropisms, chewing-gum and safety razor tropisms, Harding-Coolidge tropisms, anti-German, anti-Russian, anti-Mexican tropisms—do you think I exaggerate in saying that such mass-emotions are now made to order, by means of so-and-so many gallons of tincture of gold? Consider, for example, the ancient national antipathies; it used to be the case that these emotions had vitality enough to run themselves; but look at the urchins of France, how completely they were possessed, ten years ago, by an anti-German tropism, and how this has given place to anti-American, anti-British, and anti-Italian tropisms! Any social chemist, knowing the formulas of the diplomatic tinctures, can explain to you that the French owners of iron have made a deal with the German owners of coal, and so have cancelled their orders for anti-German tropisms, and called instead for tropisms against American bankers and British oil concessionaires and Italian traders in Tunis.
I am dealing in this book with a group of human urchins who hold themselves haughtily above the influence of social chemicals, the tropisms which move the vulgar herd. These lofty ones are the artists; my own tribe, the men and women of letters, who sit perched upon the apex of sophistication, and look with scorn upon all mass emotions. But observe the singular phenomenon—on approximately the same date several thousand men and women of letters retire to secluded corners to excogitate a thing described as “charm”; each cudgeling his or her head for some variety which can possibly be regarded as original; each delving into dusty tomes in libraries, looking up costumes and accessories, weapons, liquors and far-off, forgotten oaths; each sitting for hours a day pecking at a typewriter, with one eye on the clock and the other on the calendar. Finally, on a certain date, several thousand men and women emerge from seclusion, each one carrying a manuscript of approximately the same size, and the same general style and spirit.
Is not this obviously a tropism? And what has happened to cause it? A magazine or publishing house has poured some drops of tincture of gold into the literary aquarium, and several thousand book urchins have been seized by a simultaneous impulse to feel “romantic” and to put these feelings into a novel of from eighty to one hundred and fifty thousand words not later than May 1st, 1927. In what way are these competing book urchins different from the sea urchins battling the waves in front of my home tonight? I take up the local evening paper, and on the front page I find a cartoon, “Wonder What a Catalina Channel Swimmer Thinks About.” There are six little pictures, showing a swimmer in six postures of agonized effort; above the head of each is a legend, in larger and larger type, as follows: “25,000 berries! 25,000 beans! 25,000 bones! 25,000 simoleons! 25,000 shekels! $25,000!”
Wonder what the writer of a $25,000 prize romantic novel thinks about!
What is the most important single fact about American civilization? The answer is: economic inequality. There has been inequality in other times and places; the poor have been equally poor, but never in history have the rich been so rich, or so secure in their riches, never have they built so elaborate a machine for flaunting their riches before the eyes of the poor. In this statement we put our finger upon the solar plexus of America: the land of a million rich engaged in devising new ways of exhibiting wealth; and of a hundred and twenty million poor, engaged in marvelling at the achievements of the wealth exhibitors.
There have been great empires prior to capitalist America; the number of them is buried under the sands of the ages. But we may safely make this assertion, that never in all history, or pre-history, has there been an empire in which the victims of exploitation were kept so continuously face to face with the evidences of their loss. Now, as ever, the poor are huddled in slums, far from the palaces of the rich; but now, for the first time, the rich have been vain enough—future times will say insane enough—to devise “Sunday supplements,”“tabloids,” and “home editions,” to enable the poor to share imaginatively in the lives of the rich. The factory slave, having hung for an hour to a strap in a crowded street car, and eaten his tasteless supper of denatured foods, props his stockinged feet upon a chair, lights his rancid pipe, and spreads before his eyes a magic document—the twenty-four hour record of all the murders, adulteries, briberies, betrayals, drinking, gambling and general licentiousness of the exploiters of the world. It is all made as real as life to him—the palaces and shining motor-cars, the soft-skinned “darlings of luxury” in their ermines, and also in their lingerie; their elegantly groomed escorts in opera costume, and also in underdrawers—no intimate details are spared.
And then once a week the wage slave takes his wife and children to a moving picture palace, where they see people spend upon a supper-party more than a working class family earns in a year. Old time fairy tales dealt with far-off things, but the modem movies deal with the instant hour, and why they do not lead to instant revolution is a problem that would puzzle a man from Mars. The explanation is the conviction, deeply rooted in the hearts of ninety-nine out of every hundred persons in the movie audience, that he or she is destined to climb out upon the faces of the other ninety-nine, and have a chance to spend money like those darlings of luxury upon the screen. It happened not so long ago that my wife was employing a high school boy of the working class, at the tasks of burying the family garbage and scrubbing the kitchen floor. “The way the rich people drive their cars in this city is a crime,” remarked this youth. “They don’t pay any attention to the cops at all— they just go right through the traffic signals.”“Well,” said my wife, with mild irony, “you should report them. Such things ought not to be tolerated.”“Oh, no,” replied the boy, “I’m not worrying. When I grow up, I’m going to be rich, and I can do it too.”
Do not suppose that this was an accident, the peculiarity of an individual youth. It is what had been taught to» that youth in grammar school, in high school, in church, in the newspapers, the movies, and the political campaigns; the ethical code of a civilization, the propaganda whereby ten million youths are kept contented with their lot. Educators and moralists, editorial writers and Fourth of July statesmen do not put it so crudely, of course; what they say is that America is the land of opportunity, and every child born in it has a chance to become president.
The Italian educator, Pestalozzi, tells how the little fishes complained of the voracity of the pike, and the pike held a conference, and adjudged the complaint to be justified, and ordained that every year thereafter two little fishes should be permitted to become pike. That most charming fable tells me all I need to know about the moral code of my country. For a million little fishes to be preyed upon by a hundred great pike is all right, because every little fish has an equal chance to become a pike—all he needs is to grow sharp enough teeth, and eat enough of the other little fishes. Any little fish that disputes the fairness of such an arrangement is a “sorehead,” and his “grouch” is simply the expression of his conscious dental inferiority.
So now we can understand the “tropisms” which dominate the American soul. They are mass-impulses, having the intensity of frenzy, because they represent the aggregated terror of millions of little fishes, fleeing from the big pike, each jamming the others out of the way, each snapping at the next one’s tail, as a means of evolving into pikehood. Each one suffers agonies of pain and fear, but has no time to feel sorry for himself, because he has been taught to believe that this is the proper and necessary mental condition for little fishes. “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” he says; and is firmly persuaded of his destiny for pikehood, and rapt by the vision of the glory that awaits him. So you have the explanation of those hundred and three sea-urchins, swimming in the black waters in front of my home. Cold and exhaustion, rheumatism, drowning, broken heart valves, sharks, and the giant barracuda —all these “negative suggestions” each sea-urchin pushes away, and concentrates upon the faith that he or she will be a bit swifter or luckier than the others, and get first to the shore.
Do not understand that it is merely the money; you will be crude and vulgar if you think that. It is what the money will buy—in other words, what the contrivers of mass-tropisms have created to give money its meaning and its grip. Two days have passed, and you can see the process in action with my sea-urchins. The race has been won by a seventeen-year old lad, a “bell-hop” from Canada; and behold him lifted up into a golden cloud! His picture is in every edition of every newspaper in the land, and a hundred million people clamor his name; crowds besiege him, he is carried upon shoulders; contracts are spread before him, he has only to “sign on the dotted line,” and he may travel about in private cars, and have managers and secretaries and press agents, and a glass tank, in which several times each day he swims in vaudeville houses before the eyes of thousands. All the rest of his life this glory will cling to him, he will be “somebody”; the very town where he was born shares in his reflected glory, he has “put it on the map.”
One of the celebrities who ruled the world during my boyhood, the late John L. Sullivan, was introduced to Grover Cleveland, and wanted to put the latter at his ease. “A great man is a great man,” said John L. “It don’t matter if he’s a prizefighter or a president.” And so every year America widens the categories of greatness, and takes new heroes into her Hall of Fame. The youth who swims the Catalina channel, the girl who swims the English channel, the man who walks across the continent in forty-seven days, the man who drives a motor car two hundred and seven miles an hour, the man who flies over the north pole, the man who eats a gallon of beans in eleven minutes, the girl who slays her rival with a hammer, the scientist who discovers a cosmic ray, the movie star who marries her seventeenth husband, the preacher who reads the bible two hundred times—each one has his day, or perhaps his week or month, upon the front pages of the papers, each has his moving picture contract and his vaudeville “time,” each his envelope in the “morgue” of the newspapers, where the clippings about him are indexed, and will be looked up whenever he comes to town, or does anything else that has “news value.”
Strangers marvel at this clamor and lack of restraint, and think there must be some especial depravity in the American soul; but this is because our thinking about human society is still unscientific. “Vice and virtue are products like vinegar,” said Voltaire; and every social manifestation has its cause. The cause of America’s frenzy is simply the extremes of social contrast, greater than any to which human nature has hitherto been exposed. In order to understand the sea-urchins who swim channels, or the “human flies” who climb the outside of forty-story buildings, or the “walking stomachs” who eat twelve dozen oysters and forty-nine pancakes at a meal, it is necessary to have sympathy, and realize what it means to be a “nobody” in capitalist society—an obscure atom in a miserable mass, travelling in a crowded street car to a monotonous job, railed at by a nagging boss, wearing frayed clothing, eating dirty food, sleeping in a hall bedroom with the rent overdue. The victim of such conditions, driven to desperation, makes some hitherto unheard of effort, develops some hitherto unimaginable talent—and behold him suddenly transported into fairyland, riding in a limousine, carrying wads of greenbacks in every pocket, waited upon, flattered, caressed, loved, stared at, cheered, photographed, talked about. Does anybody wonder that America is the land of unlimited possibilities, and that Japanese, Chinese, Hindoos, Turks, Jews, Greeks, Italians, Poles, Papuans and Patagonians dream of emigrating to that movieland where every farm house kitchen is a baronial hall and every drawing-room a cathedral?
All the way up and down the social scale, wherever you study these mob-excitements, you find the same artificially created tropism, the impulse to move in the direction of gold. The reporters who write up the sensational event, in a language which departs ever farther from English—each one is hoping to attract the attention of the “desk,” and to rise upon the wings of this story to the permanence of “feature writing.” The “desk” is hoping, by masterful handling of each new opportunity, to replace the managing editor in the affections of the publisher. The managing editor is hoping to avoid being replaced by a dozen too eager subordinates. The publisher is hoping to prove to some big banker that a newspaper is capable of affording its “eighty percent and safety,” just the same as if it were chain grocery stores, or the diversion of industrial alcohol. From top to bottom the same “crysotropism,” the deadly pressure of competitive greed.
Food, clothing, shelter, love, these are men’s primary needs; and immediately after them comes entertainment. The slaves of the factory and the adding-machine must have a means of imaginative escape, and so we have a whole series of new trop- isms, and a complex of industries exploiting them. Can you dance? Can you sing? Can you draw, or paint, or tell a story, or what have you? If you have anything, there is a nationwide system for reproducing it a million times, and marketing it to all the world. Can you paint a pretty girl with rosy cheeks and flashing teeth, or a small boy with ragged pants and a bob-tailed dog? Any one of the popular magazines will pay you a thousand dollars, and two or three months later your painting will be on every newsstand in the United States and its dependencies. Can you make line or wash drawings of tall, aristocratic young heroes wearing new tailored suits or one- piece underwear? The advertising agencies stand ready to guarantee you a salary of six hundred a week.
Or can you make up little tunes? Do they come tripping through your head, accompanied by words in negro dialect, to the effect that I loves my honey and my honey loves me, and I’s goin’ to meet my honey by the old persimmon tree? I’ll leave you to guess whether that is the latest “song hit,” or something I just made up. For writing words like that, with little tunes to match, men are paid so much that they become indistinguishable from steel kings and master-bootleggers. They sell a million piano sheets, and two million phonograph records, and never while Broadway and Forty-second street continue to intersect will men forget the story of Irving Berlin, Jewish street-rat and cabaret-singer, who won the love of the daughter of Clarence Mackay, lord of railroads and telegraphs, and high muckymuck of the Catholic aristocracy of the metropolis. The cold, proud father forbade the banns; and then said the lover —one tells the story in Broadway dialect, of course—”I love her and she will be mine in spite of you.”Said the cold, proud father, “Suppose I cut her off without a cent?” Said the songwriter, with a languid smile, “In that case I suppose I’ll have to give her a million or two myself.” And so he did, perhaps; anyhow, they were married, and so great was the public excitement that reporters for the tabloids climbed up and peeked through the transom, and the happy pair had to flee to Paris, and sneak back by way of Canada.
Or can you tell stories? Then you are luckiest of all— the masters of world-tropisms will send their representatives to camp on your door-step. Consider my neighbor, Zane Grey. He cannot go walking without seeing his name on billboards, nor read the papers without seeing pictures of his sturdy heroes rescuing his lovely heroines. He grows tired of them—as I would if I were in his place; so he goes after big game fish, and having caught all there are in local waters, buys him a yacht and goes cruising to New Zealand—and what more could a steel king do?
Or Harold Bell Wright, who also lives out here in the wide open spaces, and is so rich—when a new one of his books is published, the pile touches the ceilings of all the drug-stores in Southern California. He has hotel and real estate subdivisions named after his heroines—in short, he is a classic right while he is alive. Or Peter B. Kyne—I have had the honor of watching him eat spaghetti in a San Francisco restaurant, and hearing him tell how the “Saturday Evening Post” had paid him twenty-five thousand dollars for his new story, and the Laskys had offered forty thousand for the picture rights—not counting book rights, and dramatization rights, and second serial rights, and foreign rights. Some of the screen writers and stars in Hollywood are making so much money that it’s a bore taking care of it, and they engage regular business men to look after their investments, again just like the steel kings, and quite as it should be—why should not art be great, and the creators of beauty be looked up to?
When such quantities of tincture of gold are poured into the literary aquarium, is it any wonder that the swarm of book urchins go quite mad, and crowd one another out of the tank, and bite off one another’s tails? The jealousies of authors have been noted by all biographers and moralists, but so far as I know, the present work is the first in which the cause is set forth. The desperately competitive nature of authorship derives from the fact that the product can be reproduced without limit. When a man grows cabbages, he does not put all other cabbage growers out of business; one cabbage is one cabbage, and there is no way to turn it into a million cabbages. But when Harold Bell Wright produces a book, it becomes a million books in a couple of months, and compels several hundred other authors to grow cabbages for a living. Therefore they hate Mr. Wright, and set up a clamor that his works are not great art, and that the ability to sell a million copies is not the final test of literature: a doctrine obviously inspired from Moscow, and intended to undermine the foundations of American culture.
Also, the occupation of writing is a dignified and agreeable one. The author lives at home, which pleases everybody but his wife. He can do his work in his own time, which means that he can play golf every afternoon, and so only the biggest bankers can afford to associate with him. Also he gets a lot of advertising, and so goes into “Who’s Who,” while his golf associates stand outside and peer wistfully over the fence.
Also, in the hours when he does work, there is an impression that he doesn’t work hard; the popular concept of an author’s job is summed up in an incident that happened to my wife, standing by the garden gate, when a small urchin came along, “Have you got a job for me?”“What sort of a job?”“Well, I’ll tell you, ma’am. The place where I work, they make me hustle too much, and what I’m lookin’ for is a settin’ down job.”
There are in America two hundred thousand persons cherishing aspirations towards the “settin’ down job” of authorship, and the high schools and colleges add ten thousand new recruits every year. I know with reasonable accuracy, because they send me their manuscripts and write me letters telling the story of their lives. Each candidate strives with feverish intensity for some new “line,” some variety of “charm,” some local color that has never been exploited, some plot that has never been unravelled. And meantime, upon the watch-towers of several thousand newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and theatrical producing offices sit men with spy-glasses watching for new talent, and when it appears, they grab it, and concentrate all the arts of civilization upon the task of coining it into the greatest possible number of dollars in the fewest possible number of days.
The theory upon which our greatest of all cultures has been built is that of a fair field and no favor, and the devil take the hindmost. We Americans have always believed in that, and up to date it has always seemed to work. But now, for some reason beyond our understanding, it appears that the devil is taking the foremost as well as the hindmost We have seen during the last ten years an endless procession of plays on Broadway, illustrating the methods of committing every conceivable crime; we have watched the development of every possible variety of triangles, quadrilaterals and polygons, up to and including the last moments in the bedroom; we have become intimately acquainted with parricide, incest, sadism, and the whole index of “PsychopathiaSexualis.” There is nothing left but the rarer and more obscure forms of abnormality; and so this winter we see the sensational success of three plays dealing with “Lesbian love,” and drama courses in young ladies finishing schools in New York now include an explanation of what this is and how it works, and it really has high cultural value, being history and psychology and aesthetics as well as drama, and the very latest thing—yes, old dear, they say it was a Russian ambassador’s daughter who first made it fashionable in this country, and taught it to the daughter of a president, and he had to marry her off in a hurry.
The use of the arts in the glorification of depravity is covered by a formula: it is “What the Public Wants.” You hear that formula every ten minutes in the office of every yellow journal and tabloid in America; and likewise in the office of every popular magazine, and every producer of theatrical and cinema excrement. “Yes, I know, it’s a piece of cheese, but it’s what the public wants, and what can a fellow do?” The purpose of this book is to tell the “fellows” that their formula is twenty-five years out of date. It used to be a question of what the public wanted—until the science of psychology was put to practical use in the advertising business. Now, with “salesmanship” taught in several thousand schools, colleges and universities of commerce in the United States, every corner grocery has an expert who knows how to make the public want whatever he wants it to want. The presumptuous impulse of the public to do its own wanting is known to these ad men as “sales resistance,” and they lie awake nights figuring ways to batter it to pieces. They have laid down so many advertising barrages that they have entirely destroyed the line which used to be drawn between necessities and luxuries, and now in America every man, woman and child has to have everything all the time. There is a week when everybody from Maine to Manila eats raisins, and a day when every red-blooded patriot takes home a box of candy to- his mother, even though the old lady may have no teeth.
The ad men all avow that what they unload on you must have “real value,” otherwise their campaigns would come to nothing. They really believe this, because the professors of applied psychology have taught them that they have to believe it before they can make you believe it. They sing such things, and recite them in chorus, and dance their war-dances, and eat a million expensive luncheons every week at public expense. But stop and think for yourself, instead of for the benefit of those who live by emptying your pockets. What could be more silly than chewing-gum? Yet the whole world has to buy it, in order that our Catalina millionaire may have money to conduct swimming races to advertise chewing-gum. What could be more uncomfortable than a starched collar? Yet the collar manufacturers and the magazine publishers have conspired against you to such effect that you cannot succeed in business, nor even be happy in company, without putting your neck into their white halter.
Or consider the thing called “style.” Everybody who wishes to be respected by his fellows has to throw away his perfectly good clothes at least twice every year—and for no reason that any living being can name except that the clothing-makers may have the profit on the sale of a new outfit. Or consider Christmas—could Satan in his most malignant mood have devised a worse combination of graft plus buncombe than the system whereby several hundred million people get a billion or so of gifts for which they have no use, and some thousands of shop- clerks die of exhaustion while selling them, and every other child in the western world is made ill from overeating—all in the name of the lowly Jesus? And yet so deadly is the boycott of the Christmas grafters, that these few sentences would suffice to bar this book from every big magazine and newspaper in America!
The theory that the public should have whatever ideas it wants, and that the test of what should be published is what will sell—that theory was tried out when I was a young man, and the world moves so fast nowadays that it is ancient history, and the younger generation of writers never heard of it, and will refuse to believe that it ever happened; if I assert that I lived through it, and saw it from the inside, they will say I have a subsidy from Moscow. Nevertheless, in the obstinate hope that truth will again some day be of interest to mankind, I will set down briefly the experience which bulked largest in my life as a would-be truth-teller; and which, incidentally, has determined the development of America for twenty years, and turned my sweet land of liberty into a paymaster of reaction throughout the world.
Twenty-five years ago the old anarchic idea of a free field and no favor prevailed throughout the American publishing business, and it occurred to a couple of bright young ad men that the people might be interested in knowing how they were being robbed wholesale. They bought a derelict magazine from John Wanamaker, and made the try with Tom Lawson’s “Frenzied Finance.” To use the ad men’s own slang, it was “a knockout”; the American people showed that more than any other thing in the entire world they wanted to read about how they were being robbed wholesale. One publisher after another leaped to the assault on the fortress of graft—there was a whirlwind of exposure, “the muckraking era,” it was called, and for several years the writers made thousands of dollars, and the publishers made millions. It was no uncommon thing for a magazine to take on a hundred thousand new subscribers a month; and to us young enthusiasts of those lively days it seemed that the dragon of big business was going to devour himself.
But alas, a dragon does not swallow very much of his own tail before it begins to hurt. Big business rallied and organized itself, and the Wall Street banks got to work. You may read the details in “The Brass Check,” if you are one of the few Americans who retain an interest in public affairs. Suffice it to say that every magazine in the United States that was publishing any statements injurious to big business was either bought up, or driven into bankruptcy, and “the muckraking era” passed into unwritten history. The public was told that it, the public, had become disgusted with the excesses of the muckrakers; and the public believed that, just as it had formerly believed the muckrakers. The public believes whatever it is told in print—what else can it believe? It was obvious enough that the “excesses” had been committed by those who made the muck, not by those who raked it; and the fact stands on record that out of the hundreds of exposures published, and hundreds of thousands of single facts stated, not one was ever disproved in a court of law.
Then came the war; and the manufacture of mass-tropisms, which had been a semi-criminal activity of bankers and big business men, became all at once the service of the Lord, carried on by the organized respectability of the country, with the whole power of the Federal government behind it. Just who was to blame for the world war is a question which will not be settled in our generation, if ever; but this much has become clear, history will not acquit any nation of guilt, and the diplomatic conspirators of France and Russia will carry the heaviest load. I am one of the hundred and ten million suckers who swallowed the hook of the British official propaganda, conducted by aneminent bourgeois novelist, Gilbert Parker, who was afterwards knighted for what he did to me. Now he grins at me behind the shelter of his title, and my only recourse is to call upon the workers of Britain to wipe out that title, and the system of caste banditry upon which it rests.
Meantime, here we were, the hundred and ten million suckers, doing everything we were officially told to do: eating rye bread instead of wheat, calling sauerkraut “liberty cabbage,” saving our tinfoil and old newspapers, contributing to the Salvation Army, buying liberty bonds, listening to four minute orators, singing “Over There,” spying on our German neighbors, lynching the I.W.W. We sent a million men overseas, and they showed themselves heroes, and we who stayed at home showed ourselves the prize boobs of history, and taught our money-masters that there is literally nothing we cannot be made to believe.
Then came the Russian revolution, and gave our predatory classes the greatest shock of their lives. Before that, a Socialist had been a. long-haired dreamer to be smiled at good- naturedly. The present writer, a queer, excitable youth who had “aimed at the public’s heart and by accident hit it in the stomach,” had even been permitted to publish two Socialist articles in “Collier’s Weekly.” But now all that was ended over-night A Socialist became a bloody bandit, who wanted to kill all the capitalists and nationalize all the women; the new arts of manufacturing tropisms were turned from the Germans to the Russians, and today, ten years later, there are patriotic societies, having millions of dollars to spend convincing the members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union that Jane Addams is a Soviet agent, and the child labor amendment to the Constitution a Moscow plot to undermine our young people. And don’t think that I am just amusing myself with wild words; the earnest and credulous church people of this country are taught just exactly that, and by propaganda societies which big business maintains and pays for that job and no other.
So the doctrine of the open door in affairs of the mind was scrapped forever, and tolerance and fair play were stowed away in the attic of American history. No longer does a big magazine of national circulation extend to a young writer the opportunity to explain how democracy may ‘be applied to industrial affairs. There is to be no democracy for American labor, the “American plan” is another name for stoolpigeons and spies, blacklist and terror. Each individual steel-worker may bargain on equal terms with the most gigantic corporation in the world, and if he doesn’t like the terms, he will be slugged, or thrown into the can, or if he is a foreigner, shipped back home to be shot by his native Fascisti.
And all over the world, America, which once went wild over Kossuth, now subsidizes defenders of “law and order” such as Kolchak and Denikin, Horthy, Mussolini and Rivera. Mr. Herbert Hoover’s aide boasted in the “World’s Work” how he starved out the revolution of the Hungarian workers; and Mr. Richard Washburn Child, ex-minister to Italy, and Fascist-in-chief to the “Saturday Evening Post,” tells his friends how Mussolini came to him to ask whether the American bankers would subsidize the march on Rome; they would, of course—and so we have a “stable government,” which has crushed every vestige of modem thought in Italy. As I write, We are preparing to undermine the workers’ government of Mexico, we are waging a war to keep our bankers in control of Nicaragua, and we are letting the British imperialists lead us blind-folded into a war to defend the right of their merchants to poison a hundred million Chinese with opium raised by the labor of famine-haunted Hindoo peasants.
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