Jack London: When Socialism Was Racist

It is difficult to recall in our era of Bernie Saunders that once upon a time socialism was macho, even racist. Writer Jack London, born 140 years ago this week, typified what would today be condemned by leftists as “political incorrectness.”

Economically, London would have been more palatable to today’s left. He championed workers’ rights, even their right to overthrow what he saw as corruption powered by representative government. Instead, he favored “people power,” in which the worker class, having overthrown representative government, abolished such things as child labor, class exploitation, and war for profits.

London made these hopes known in his novel of class warfare, the dystopian Iron Heel (1908). Called by George Orwell the best prediction of fascism in political literature, this novel depicted the rise of an oligarchy composed of robber barons, who, threatened by the rise of socialism in Europe and a budding labor movement at home, take over the government. To ensure their power they reduce farmers down to serf level and destroy small business.

The novel does, in many ways, prefigure the Third Reich. What is left of the labor movement are bribed with higher wages into working in the steel and rail industries, the raw materials needed by the regime for war. The army, called Mercenaries, are owned by the government.

But, by example, London himself prefigured fascism. Proclaiming himself a “white man” first and socialist second, he championed a race war between whites and lesser breeds:

“The history of civilization is a history of wandering—a wandering, sword in hand, of strong breeds, clearing away and hewing down the weak and less fit,”

Included in his list of racial inferiors was the Chinese. Such was his belief in the threat of this race who was bent on enslaving the world that London supported biological warfare against the Chinese.

A noted philanderer, London also had a blind side to the plight of women. Rather than denounce prostitution as the exploitation of women, he supported it, calling a needed salve to the male working class.

Say what you will about London, unlike many then and now his views were his own, independently arrived at through experience rather than regurgitation of ideas from Marx. Born to a working class family, London spent much of his childhood working in a factory. London quickly became aware that mere individualism was not sufficient in a cruel world; one of the more blatant contributing factors to this was his being gang-raped in prison. London may also have been activated by his inability to attend the University of California, which, despite his passing the entrance exams, was denied him because he couldn’t pay for tuition.

London turned toward adventuring in the Klondike Gold Rush, and it was here that he simultaneously moved toward socialism and Social Darwinism. He witnessed how greed warped the individual while at the same time admiring the triumphant strength of the miners.

In many ways, Orwell was right about London having a fascist streak. By his example and prophecy we see how much the Nazis, long attacked by the left as anti-socialist, was in fact, a racist version of it.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.

1 Comment

  1. This article is inconsistent and simply incorrect in areas (i.e. “gang-raped in prison”). How does the final paragraph reconcile with the rest of the article? And where is the evidence of early 20th-century socialism being inherently racist simply because London was both a socialist and a racist? And where is the mention of London’s slow move away from racism as he grew older, writing some fine anti-imperialist South Seas and Mexican Revolution stories? London without a doubt had racist views even when he died unexpectedly at 40, but to ignore the aforementioned questions and publish this anyway is simply reckless.

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