The Iron Heel

Analysis

Jack London ambitiously predicted a breakdown of the US republic starting a few years past 1908, but various events have caused his predicted future to diverge from actual history. Most crucially, though London placed quite accurately the time when international tensions will reach their peak (1913 in "The Iron Heel", 1914 in actual history), he (like many others at the time) predicted that when this moment came, labor solidarity would prevent a war that would include the US, Germany and other nations.

Further, London assumed that the Socialist Party would become a mass party in the United States, strong enough to have a realistic chance of winning national elections and gaining power, while remaining a revolutionary party still committed to the dismantling of capitalism. The whole book is based on Marx's view that capitalism is inherently unsustainable. This would precipitate a brutal counter-reaction, with capitalists preserving their power by discarding democracy and instituting a brutal repressive regime. Although this exact scenario never came to pass in the US, where the Socialist Party remained small and marginal, events closely followed London's script elsewhere; for example, in Chile in 1973, where the government of socialist president Salvador Allende was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. This prompted later publishers of London's book to use a cover illustration depicting a poster of Allende being ground beneath the heel of a boot.

The idea of a strong and militant mass Socialist Party emerging in the US was linked by London with his prediction that the middle class would shrink as monopolistic trusts crushed labor and small- to mid-sized businesses. Instead the US Progressive Era led to a breakup of the trusts, notably the application of the Sherman Antitrust Act to Standard Oil in 1911. At the same time, reforms such as labor unions rights were passed during the Progressive Era, with further reforms during the New Deal of the 1930s. Further, economic prosperity led to dramatic growth of the middle class in the 1920s and after World War II.

Through the writing of Everhard and, particularly, the distant future perspective of Meredith, London demonstrated his belief in the historical materialism, which Marxists such as Friedrich Engels, Georgi Plekhanov or Vladimir Lenin have interpreted as predicting an inevitable succession from feudalism through capitalism and then socialism, ending in a period without a state (also known as full communism), based on Marx's maxim of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."


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