3. Edward Abbey, 1949-87.
Numero Uno—“This pamphlet first appeared in the form of a series of leading articles in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, beginning on April 4th, 1849. The text is made up of from lectures delivered by Marx before the German Workingmen’s Club of Brussels in 1847. The series was never completed. The promise ‘to be continued,’ at the end of the editorial in Number 269 of the newspaper, remained unfulfilled in consequence of the precipitous events of that time: the invasion of Hungary by the Russians [Tsarist troops invaded Hungary in 1849 to keep the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty in power], and the uprisings in Dresden, Iserlohn, Elberfeld, the Palatinate, and in Baden [Spontaneous uprisings in Germany in May-July 1849, supporting the Imperial Constitution which were crushed in mid-July], which led to the suppression of the paper on May 19th, 1849. And among the papers left by Marx no manuscript of any continuation of these articles has been found.’Wage-labour and Capital’ has appeared as an independent publication in several editions, the last of which was issued by the Swiss Co-operative Printing Association, in Hottingen-Zurich, in 1884. Hitherto, the several editions have contained the exact wording of the original articles. But since at least 10,000 copies of the present edition are to be circulated as a propaganda tract, the question necessarily forced itself upon me, would Marx himself, under these circumstance, have approved of an unaltered literal reproduction of the original?
Marx, in the ’40s, had not yet completed his criticism of political economy. This was not done until toward the end of the fifties. Consequently, such of his writings as were published before the first installment of his Critique of Political Economy was finished, deviate in some points from those written after 1859, and contain expressions and whole sentences which, viewed from the standpoint of his later writings, appear inexact, and even incorrect. Now, it goes without saying that in ordinary editions, intended for the public in general, this earlier standpoint, as a part of the intellectual development of the author, has its place; that the author as well as the public, has an indisputable right to an unaltered reprint of these older writings. In such a case, I would not have dreamed of changing a single word in it. But it is otherwise when the edition is destined almost exclusively for the purpose of propaganda. In such a case, Marx himself would unquestionably have brought the old work, dating from 1849, into harmony with his new point of view, and I feel sure that I am acting in his spirit when I insert in this edition the few changes and additions which are necessary in order to attain this object in all essential point.
Therefore, I say to the reader at once: this pamphlet is not as Marx wrote it in 1849, but approximately as Marx would have written it in 1891. Moreover, so many copies of the original text are in circulation, that these will suffice until I can publish it again unaltered in a complete edition of Marx’s works, to appear at some future time.
My alterations centre about one point. According to the original reading, the worker sells his labour for wages, which he receives from the capitalist; according to the present text, he sells his labour-power. And for this change, I must render an explanation: to the workers, in order that they may understand that we are not quibbling or word-juggling, but are dealing here with one of the most important points in the whole range of political economy; to the bourgeois, in order that they may convince themselves how greatly the uneducated workers, who can be easily made to grasp the most difficult economic analyses, excel our supercilious “cultured” folk, for whom such ticklish problems remain insoluble their whole life long.
Classical political economy borrowed from the industrial practice the current notion of the manufacturer, that he buys and pays for the labour of his employees. This conception had been quite serviceable for the business purposes of the manufacturer, his bookkeeping and price calculation. But naively carried over into political economy, it there produced truly wonderful errors and confusions.
Political economy finds it an established fact that the prices of all commodities, among them the price of the commodity which it calls “labour,” continually change; that they rise and fall in consequence of the most diverse circumstances, which often have no connection whatsoever with the production of the commodities themselves, so that prices appear to be determined, as a rule, by pure chance. As soon, therefore, as political economy stepped forth as a science, it was one of its first tasks to search for the law that hid itself behind this chance, which apparently determined the prices of commodities, and which in reality controlled this very chance. Among the prices of commodities, fluctuating and oscillating, now upward, now downward, the fixed central point was searched for around which these fluctuations and oscillations were taking place. In short, starting from the price of commodities, political economy sought for the value of commodities as the regulating law, by means of which all price fluctuations could be explained, and to which they could all be reduced in the last resort.
And so, classical political economy found that the value of a commodity was determined by the labour incorporated in it and requisite to its production. With this explanation, it was satisfied. And we, too, may, for the present, stop at this point. But, to avoid misconceptions, I will remind the reader that today this explanation has become wholly inadequate. Marx was the first to investigate thoroughly into the value-forming quality of labour and to discover that not all labour which is apparently, or even really, necessary to the production of a commodity, imparts under all circumstances to this commodity a magnitude of value corresponding to the quantity of labour used up. If, therefore, we say today in short, with economists like Ricardo, that the value of a commodity is determined by the labour necessary to its production, we always imply the reservations and restrictions made by Marx. Thus much for our present purpose; further information can be found in Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, which appeared in 1859, and in the first volume of Capital.
But, as soon as the economists applied this determination of value by labour to the commodity “labour”, they fell from one contradiction into another. How is the value of “labour” determined? By the necessary labour embodied in it. But how much labour is embodied in the labour of a labourer of a day a week, a month, a year. If labour is the measure of all values, we can express the “value of labour” only in labour. But we know absolutely nothing about the value of an hour’s labour, if all that we know about it is that it is equal to one hour’s labour. So, thereby, we have not advanced one hair’s breadth nearer our goal; we are constantly turning about in a circle.
Classical economics, therefore, essayed another turn. It said: the value of a commodity is equal to its cost of production. But, what is the cost of production of “labour”? In order to answer this question, the economists are forced to strain logic just a little. Instead of investigating the cost of production of labour itself, which, unfortunately, cannot be ascertained, they now investigate the cost of production of the labourer. And this latter can be ascertained. It changes according to time and circumstances, but for a given condition of society, in a given locality, and in a given branch of production, it, too, is given, at least within quite narrow limits. We live today under the regime of capitalist production, under which a large and steadily growing class of the population can live only on the condition that it works for the owners of the means of production – tools, machines, raw materials, and means of subsistence – in return for wages. On the basis of this mode of production, the labourer’s cost of production consists of the sum of the means of subsistence (or their price in money) which on the average are requisite to enable him to work, to maintain in him this capacity for work, and to replace him at his departure, by reason of age, sickness, or death, with another labourer – that is to say, to propagate the working class in required numbers.
Let us assume that the money price of these means of subsistence averages 3 shillings a day. Our labourer gets, therefore, a daily wage of 3 shillings from his employer. For this, the capitalist lets him work, say, 12 hours a day. Our capitalist, moreover, calculates somewhat in the following fashion: Let us assume that our labourer (a machinist) has to make a part of a machine which he finishes in one day. The raw material (iron and brass in the necessary prepared form) costs 20 shillings. The consumption of coal by the steam-engine, the wear-and-tear of this engine itself, of the turning-lathe, and of the other tools with which our labourer works, represent, for one day and one labourer, a value of 1 shilling. The wages for one day are, according to our assumption, 3 shillings. This makes a total of 24 shillings for our piece of a machine.
But, the capitalist calculates that, on an average, he will receive for it a price of 27 shillings from his customers, or 3 shillings over and above his outlay.
Whence do they 3 shillings pocketed by the capitalist come? According to the assertion of classical political economy, commodities are in the long run sold at their values, that is, they are sold at prices which correspond to the necessary quantities of labour contained in them. The average price of our part of a machine – 27 shillings – would therefore equal its value, i.e., equal the amount of labour embodied in it. But, of these 27 shillings, 21 shillings were values were values already existing before the machinist began to work; 20 shillings were contained in the raw material, 1 shilling in the fuel consumed during the work and in the machines and tools used in the process and reduced in their efficiency to the value of this amount. There remains 6 shillings, which have been added to the value of the raw material. But, according to the supposition of our economists, themselves, these 6 shillings can arise only from the labour added to the raw material by the labourer. His 12 hours’ labour has created, according to this, a new value of 6 shillings. Therefore, the value of his 12 hours’ labour would be equivalent to 6 shillings. So we have at last discovered what the “value of labour” is.
“Hold on there!” cries our machinist. “Six shillings? But I have received only 3 shillings! My capitalist swears high and day that the value of my 12 hours’ labour is no more than 3 shillings, and if I were to demand 6, he’d laugh at me. What kind of a story is that?”
If before this we got with our value of labour into a vicious circle, we now surely have driven straight into an insoluble contradiction. We searched for the value of labour, and we found more than we can use. For the labourer, the value of the 12 hours’ labour is 3 shillings; for the capitalist, it is 6 shillings, of which he pays the workingman 3 shillings as wages, and pockets the remaining 3 shilling himself. According to this, labour has not one but two values, and, moreover, two very different values!
As soon as we reduce the values, now expressed in money, to labour-time, the contradiction becomes even more absurd. By the 12 hours’ labour, a new value of 6 shillings is created. Therefore, in 6 hours, the new value created equals 3 shillings – the amount which the labourer receives for 12 hours’ labour. For 12 hours’ labour, the workingman receives, as an equivalent, the product of 6 hours’ labour. We are, thus, forced to one of two conclusions: either labour has two values, one of which is twice as large as the other, or 12 equals 6! In both cases, we get pure absurdities. Turn and twist as we may, we will not get out of this contradiction as long as we speak of the buying and selling of “labour” and of the “value of labour.” And just so it happened to the political economists. The last offshoot of classical political economy – the Ricardian school – was largely wrecked on the insolubility of this contradiction. Classical political economy had run itself into a blind alley. The man who discovered the way out of this blind alley was Karl Marx.
What the economists had considered as the cost of production of “labour” was really the cost of production, not of “labour,” but of the living labourer himself. And what this labourer sold to the capitalist was not his labour.
“So soon as his labour really begins,” says Marx, “it ceases to belong to him, and therefore can no longer be sold by him.”
At the most, he could sell his future labour – i.e., assume the obligation of executing a certain piece of work in a certain time. But, in this way, he does not sell labour (which would first have to be performed), but not for a stipulated payment he places his labour-power at the disposal of the capitalist for a certain time (in case of time-wages), or for the performance of a certain task (in case of piece-wages). He hires out or sells his labour-power. But this labour-power has grown up with his person and is inseparable from it. Its cost of production, therefore, coincides with his own cost of production; what the economist called the cost of production of labour is really the cost of production of the labourer, and therewith of his labour-power. And, thus, we can also go back from the cost of production of labour-power to the value of labour-power, and determine the quantity of social labour that is required for the production of a labour-power of a given quantity, as Marx has done in the chapter on “The Buying and Selling of labour Power.” [Capital, Vol.I]
Now what takes place after the worker has sold his labour-power, i.e., after he has placed his labour-power at the disposal of the capitalist for stipulated-wages – whether time-wages or piece-wages? The capitalist takes the labourer into his workshop or factory, where all the articles required for the work can be found – raw materials, auxiliary materials (coal, dyestuffs, etc.), tools, and machines. Here, the worker begins to work. His daily wages are, as above, 3 shillings, and it makes no difference whether he earns them as day-wages or piece-wages. We again assume that in 12 hours the worker adds by his labour a new value of 6 shillings to the value of the raw materials consumed, which new value the capitalist realizes by the sale of the finished piece of work. Out of this new value, he pays the worker his 3 shillings, and the remaining 3 shillings he keeps for himself. If, now, the labourer creates in 12 hours a value of 6 shillings, in 6 hours he creates a value of 3 shillings. Consequently, after working 6 hours for the capitalist, the labourer has returned to him the equivalent of the 3 shillings received as wages. After 6 hours’ work, both are quits, neither one owing a penny to the other.
“Hold on there!” now cries out the capitalist. “I have hired the labourer for a whole day, for 12 hours. But 6 hours are only half-a-day. So work along lively there until the other 6 hours are at an end – only then will we be even.” And, in fact, the labourer has to submit to the conditions of the contract upon which he entered of “his own free will”, and according to which he bound himself to work 12 whole hours for a product of labour which cost only 6 hours’ labour.
Similarly with piece-wages. Let us suppose that in 12 hours our worker makes 12 commodities. Each of these costs a shilling in raw materials and wear-and-tear, and is sold for 2.5 shillings. On our former assumption, the capitalist gives the labourer .25 of a shilling for each piece, which makes a total of 3 shillings for 12 pieces. To earn this, the worker requires 12 hours. The capitalist receives 30 shillings for the 12 pieces; deducting 24 shillings for raw materials and wear-and-tear, there remains 6 shillings, of which he pays 3 shillings in wages and pockets the remaining 3. Just as before! Here, also, the worker labours 6 hours for himself – i.e., to replace his wages (half-an-hour in each of the 12 hours), and 6 hours for the capitalist.
The rock upon which the best economists were stranded, as long as they started out from the value of labour, vanishes as soon as we make our starting-point the value of labour-power. labour-power is, in our present-day capitalist society, a commodity like every other commodity, but yet a very peculiar commodity. It has, namely, the peculiarity of being a value-creating force, the source of value, and, moreover, when properly treated, the source of more value than it possesses itself. In the present state of production, human labour-power not only produces in a day a greater value than it itself possesses and costs; but with each new scientific discovery, with each new technical invention, there also rises the surplus of its daily production over its daily cost, while as a consequence there diminishes that part of the working-day in which the labourer produces the equivalent of his day’s wages, and, on the other hand, lengthens that part of the working-day in which he must present labour gratis to the capitalist.
And this is the economic constitution of our entire modern society: the working class alone produces all values. For value is only another expression for labour, that expression, namely, by which is designated, in our capitalist society of today, the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in a particular commodity. But, these values produced by the workers do not belong to the workers. They belong to the owners of the raw materials, machines, tools, and money, which enable them to buy the labour-power of the working class. Hence, the working class gets back only a part of the entire mass of products produced by it. And, as we have just seen, the other portion, which the capitalist class retains, and which it has to share, at most, only with the landlord class, is increasing with every new discovery and invention, while the share which falls to the working class (per capita) rises but little and very slowly, or not at all, and under certain conditions it may even fall.
But, these discoveries and inventions which supplant one another with ever-increasing speed, this productiveness of human labour which increases from day to day to unheard-of proportions, at last gives rise to a conflict, in which present capitalistic economy must go to ruin. On the one hand, immeasurable wealth and a superfluidity of products with which the buyers cannot cope. On the other hand, the great mass of society proletarianized, transformed into wage-labourers, and thereby disabled from appropriating to themselves that superfluidity of products. The splitting up of society into a small class, immoderately rich, and a large class of wage-labourers devoid of all property, brings it about that this society smothers in its own superfluidity, while the great majority of its members are scarcely, or not at all, protected from extreme want.
This condition becomes every day more absurd and more unnecessary. Itmust be gotten rid of; it can be gotten rid of. A new social order is possible, in which the class differences of today will have disappeared, and in which – perhaps after a short transition period, which, though somewhat deficient in other respects, will in any case be very useful morally – there will be the means of life, of the enjoyment of life, and of the development and activity of all bodily and mental faculties, through the systematic use and further development of the enormous productive powers of society, which exists with us even now, with equal obligation upon all to work. And that the workers are growing ever more determined to achieve this new social order will be proven on both sides of the ocean on this dawning May Day, and on Sunday, May 3rd. …
From various quarters we have been reproached for neglecting to portray the economic conditions which form the material basis of the present struggles between classes and nations. With set purpose we have hitherto touched upon these conditions only when they forced themselves upon the surface of the political conflicts.
It was necessary, beyond everything else, to follow the development of the class struggle in the history of our own day, and to prove empirically, by the actual and daily newly created historical material, that with the subjugation of the working class, accomplished in the days of February and March, 1848, the opponents of that class – the bourgeois republicans in France, and the bourgeois and peasant classes who were fighting feudal absolutism throughout the whole continent of Europe – were simultaneously conquered; that the victory of the ‘moderate republic’ in France sounded at the same time the fall of the nations which had responded to the February revolution with heroic wars of independence; and finally that, by the victory over the revolutionary workingmen, Europe fell back into its old double slavery, into the English-Russian slavery. The June conflict in Paris, the fall of Vienna, the tragi-comedy in Berlin in November 1848, the desperate efforts of Poland, Italy, and Hungary, the starvation of Ireland into submission – these were the chief events in which the European class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the working class was summed up, and from which we proved that every revolutionary uprising, however remote from the class struggle its object might appear, must of necessity fail until the revolutionary working class shall have conquered; – that every social reform must remain a Utopia until the proletarian revolution and the feudalistic counter-revolution have been pitted against each other in a world-wide war. In our presentation, as in reality, Belgium and Switzerland were tragicomic caricaturish genre pictures in the great historic tableau; the one the model State of the bourgeois monarchy, the other the model State of the bourgeois republic; both of them, States that flatter themselves to be just as free from the class struggle as from the European revolution.
But now, after our readers have seen the class struggle of the year 1848 develop into colossal political proportions, it is time to examine more closely the economic conditions themselves upon which is founded the existence of the capitalist class and its class rule, as well as the slavery of the workers.
We shall present the subject in three great divisions:
The Relation of Wage-labour to Capital, the Slavery of the Worker, the Rule of the Capitalist.
The Inevitable Ruin of the Middle Classes [petty-bourgeois] and the so-called Commons [peasants] under the present system.
The Commercial Subjugation and Exploitation of the Bourgeois classes of the various European nations by the Despot of the World Market – England.
We shall seek to portray this as simply and popularly as possible, and shall not presuppose a knowledge of even the most elementary notions of political economy. We wish to be understood by the workers. And, moreover, there prevails in Germany the most remarkable ignorance and confusion of ideas in regard to the simplest economic relations, from the patented defenders of existing conditions, down to the socialist wonder-workers and the unrecognized political geniuses, in which divided Germany is even richer than in duodecimo princelings. We therefore proceed to the consideration of the first problem. …
If several workmen were to be asked: ‘How much wages do you get?,’ one would reply, ‘I get two shillings a day,’ and so on. According to the different branches of industry in which they are employed, they would mention different sums of money that they receive from their respective employers for the completion of a certain task; for example, for weaving a yard of linen, or for setting a page of type. Despite the variety of their statements, they would all agree upon one point: that wages are the amount of money which the capitalist pays for a certain period of work or for a certain amount of work.
Consequently, it appears that the capitalist buys their labour with money, and that for money they sell him their labour. But this is merely an illusion. What they actually sell to the capitalist for money is their labour-power. This labour-power the capitalist buys for a day, a week, a month, etc. And after he has bought it, he uses it up by letting the worker labour during the stipulated time. With the same amount of money with which the capitalist has bought their labour-power (for example, with two shillings) he could have bought a certain amount of sugar or of any other commodity. The two shillings with which he bought 20 pounds of sugar is the price of the 20 pounds of sugar. The two shillings with which he bought 12 hours’ use of labour-power, is the price of 12 hours’ labour. Labour-power, then, is a commodity, no more, no less so than is the sugar. The first is measured by the clock, the other by the scales.
Their commodity, labour-power, the workers exchange for the commodity of the capitalist, for money, and, moreover, this exchange takes place at a certain ratio. So much money for so long a use of labour-power. For 12 hours’ weaving, two shillings. And these two shillings, do they not represent all the other commodities which I can buy for two shillings? Therefore, actually, the worker has exchanged his commodity, labour-power, for commodities of all kinds, and, moreover, at a certain ratio. By giving him two shillings, the capitalist has given him so much meat, so much clothing, so much wood, light, etc., in exchange for his day’s work. The two shillings therefore express the relation in which labour-power is exchanged for other commodities, the exchange-value of labour-power.
The exchange value of a commodity estimated in money is called its price. Wages therefore are only a special name for the price of labour-power, and are usually called the price of labour; it is the special name for the price of this peculiar commodity, which has no other repository than human flesh and blood.
Let us take any worker; for example, a weaver. The capitalist supplies him with the loom and yarn. The weaver applies himself to work, and the yarn is turned into cloth. The capitalist takes possession of the cloth and sells it for 20 shillings, for example. Now are the wages of the weaver a share of the cloth, of the 20 shillings, of the product of the work? By no means. Long before the cloth is sold, perhaps long before it is fully woven, the weaver has received his wages. The capitalist, then, does not pay his wages out of the money which he will obtain from the cloth, but out of money already on hand. Just as little as loom and yarn are the product of the weaver to whom they are supplied by the employer, just so little are the commodities which he receives in exchange for his commodity – labour-power – his product. It is possible that the employer found no purchasers at all for the cloth. It is possible that he did not get even the amount of the wages by its sale. It is possible that he sells it very profitably in proportion to the weaver’s wages. But all that does not concern the weaver. With a part of his existing wealth, of his capital, the capitalist buys the labour-power of the weaver in exactly the same manner as, with another part of his wealth, he has bought the raw material – the yarn – and the instrument of labour – the loom. After he has made these purchases, and among them belongs the labour-power necessary to the production of the cloth he produces only with raw materials and instruments of labour belonging to him. For our good weaver, too, is one of the instruments of labour, and being in this respect on a par with the loom, he has no more share in the product (the cloth), or in the price of the product, than the loom itself has.
Wages, therefore, are not a share of the worker in the commodities produced by himself. Wages are that part of already existing commodities with which the capitalist buys a certain amount of productive labour-power.
Consequently, labour-power is a commodity which its possessor, the wage-worker, sells to the capitalist. Why does he sell it? It is in order to live.
But the putting of labour-power into action – i.e., the work – is the active expression of the labourer’s own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another. The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity. What he produces for himself is not the silk that he weaves, not the gold that he draws up the mining shaft, not the palace that he builds. What he produces for himself is wages; and the silk, the gold, and the palace are resolved for him into a certain quantity of necessaries of life, perhaps into a cotton jacket, into copper coins, and into a basement dwelling. And the labourer who for 12 hours long, weaves, spins, bores, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stone, carries hods, and so on – is this 12 hours’ weaving, spinning, boring, turning, building, shovelling, stone-breaking, regarded by him as a manifestation of life, as life? Quite the contrary. Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the table, at the tavern, in bed. The 12 hours’ work, on the other hand, has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, boring, and so on, but only as earnings, which enable him to sit down at a table, to take his seat in the tavern, and to lie down in a bed. If the silk-worm’s object in spinning were to prolong its existence as caterpillar, it would be a perfect example of a wage-worker.
Labour-power was not always a commodity (merchandise). Labour was not always wage-labour, i.e., free labour. The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer. The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity. The serf sells only a portion of his labour-power. It is not he who receives wages from the owner of the land; it is rather the owner of the land who receives a tribute from him. The serf belongs to the soil, and to the lord of the soil he brings its fruit. The free labourer, on the other hand, sells his very self, and that by fractions. He auctions off eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his life, one day like the next, to the highest bidder, to the owner of raw materials, tools, and the means of life – i.e., to the capitalist. The labourer belongs neither to an owner nor to the soil, but eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his daily life belong to whomsoever buys them. The worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself, as often as he chooses, and the capitalist discharges him as often as he sees fit, as soon as he no longer gets any use, or not the required use, out of him. But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labour-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class, unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class; and it is for him to find his man – i.e., to find a buyer in this capitalist class.
Before entering more closely upon the relation of capital to wage-labour, we shall present briefly the most general conditions which come into consideration in the determination of wages.
Wages, as we have seen, are the price of a certain commodity, labour-power. Wages, therefore, are determined by the same laws that determine the price of every other commodity. The question then is, ‘How is the price of a commodity determined?’ …
What is it that takes place in the exchange between the capitalist and the wage-labourer?The labourer receives means of subsistence in exchange for his labour-power; the capitalist receives, in exchange for his means of subsistence, labour, the productive activity of the labourer, the creative force by which the worker not only replaces what he consumes, but also gives to the accumulated labour a greater value than it previously possessed. The labourer gets from the capitalist a portion of the existing means of subsistence. For what purpose do these means of subsistence serve him? For immediate consumption. But as soon as I consume means of subsistence, they are irrevocably lost to me, unless I employ the time during which these means sustain my life in producing new means of subsistence, in creating by my labour new values in place of the values lost in consumption. But it is just this noble reproductive power that the labourer surrenders to the capitalist in exchange for means of subsistence received. Consequently, he has lost it for himself.
Let us take an example. For one shilling a labourer works all day long in the fields of a farmer, to whom he thus secures a return of two shillings. The farmer not only receives the replaced value which he has given to the day labourer, he has doubled it. Therefore, he has consumed the one shilling that he gave to the day labourer in a fruitful, productive manner. For the one shilling he has bought the labour-power of the day-labourer, which creates products of the soil of twice the value, and out of one shilling makes two. The day-labourer, on the contrary, receives in the place of his productive force, whose results he has just surrendered to the farmer, one shilling, which he exchanges for means of subsistence, which he consumes more or less quickly. The one shilling has therefore been consumed in a double manner – reproductively for the capitalist, for it has been exchanged for labour-power, which brought forth two shillings; unproductively for the worker, for it has been exchanged for means of subsistence which are lost for ever, and whose value he can obtain again only by repeating the same exchange with the farmer. Capital therefore presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. They condition each other; each brings the other into existence.
Does a worker in a cotton factory produce only cotton? No. He produces capital. He produces values which serve anew to command his work and to create by means of it new values.
Capital can multiply itself only by exchanging itself for labour-power, by calling wage-labour into life. The labour-power of the wage-labourer can exchange itself for capital only by increasing capital, by strengthening that very power whose slave it is. Increase of capital, therefore, is increase of the proletariat, i.e., of the working class.
And so, the bourgeoisie and its economists maintain that the interest of the capitalist and of the labourer is the same. And in fact, so they are! The worker perishes if capital does not keep him busy. Capital perishes if it does not exploit labour-power, which, in order to exploit, it must buy. The more quickly the capital destined for production – the productive capital – increases, the more prosperous industry is, the more the bourgeoisie enriches itself, the better business gets, so many more workers does the capitalist need, so much the dearer does the worker sell himself. The fastest possible growth of productive capital is, therefore, the indispensable condition for a tolerable life to the labourer.
But what is growth of productive capital? Growth of the power of accumulated labour over living labour; growth of the rule of the bourgeoisie over the working class. When wage-labour produces the alien wealth dominating it, the power hostile to it, capital, there flow back to it its means of employment – i.e., its means of subsistence, under the condition that it again become a part of capital, that is become again the lever whereby capital is to be forced into an accelerated expansive movement.
To say that the interests of capital and the interests of the workers are identical, signifies only this: that capital and wage-labour are two sides of one and the same relation. The one conditions the other in the same way that the usurer and the borrower condition each other.
As long as the wage-labourer remains a wage-labourer, his lot is dependent upon capital. That is what the boasted community of interests between worker and capitalists amounts to.
If capital grows, the mass of wage-labour grows, the number of wage-workers increases; in a word, the sway of capital extends over a greater mass of individuals.
Let us suppose the most favorable case: if productive capital grows, the demand for labour grows. It therefore increases the price of labour-power, wages.
A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut. The little house now makes it clear that its inmate has no social position at all to maintain, or but a very insignificant one; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilization, if the neighboring palace rises in equal or even in greater measure, the occupant of the relatively little house will always find himself more uncomfortable, more dissatisfied, more cramped within his four walls.
An appreciable rise in wages presupposes a rapid growth of productive capital. Rapid growth of productive capital calls forth just as rapid a growth of wealth, of luxury, of social needs and social pleasures. Therefore, although the pleasures of the labourer have increased, the social gratification which they afford has fallen in comparison with the increased pleasures of the capitalist, which are inaccessible to the worker, in comparison with the stage of development of society in general. Our wants and pleasures have their origin in society; we therefore measure them in relation to society; we do not measure them in relation to the objects which serve for their gratification. Since they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature.
But wages are not at all determined merely by the sum of commodities for which they may be exchanged. Other factors enter into the problem. What the workers directly receive for their labour-power is a certain sum of money. Are wages determined merely by this money price?
In the 16th century, the gold and silver circulation in Europe increased in consequence of the discovery of richer and more easily worked mines in America. The value of gold and silver, therefore, fell in relation to other commodities. The workers received the same amount of coined silver for their labour-power as before. The money price of their work remained the same, and yet their wages had fallen, for in exchange for the same amount of silver they obtained a smaller amount of other commodities. This was one of the circumstances which furthered the growth of capital, the rise of the bourgeoisie, in the 18th century.
Let us take another case. In the winter of 1847, in consequence of bad harvest, the most indispensable means of subsistence – grains, meat, butter, cheese, etc. – rose greatly in price. Let us suppose that the workers still received the same sum of money for their labour-power as before. Did not their wages fall? To be sure. For the same money they received in exchange less bread, meat, etc. Their wages fell, not because the value of silver was less, but because the value of the means of subsistence had increased.
Finally, let us suppose that the money price of labour-power remained the same, while all agricultural and manufactured commodities had fallen in price because of the employment of new machines, of favorable seasons, etc. For the same money the workers could now buy more commodities of all kinds. Their wages have therefore risen, just because their money value has not changed.
The money price of labour-power, the nominal wages, do not therefore coincide with the actual or real wages – i.e., with the amount of commodities which are actually given in exchange for the wages. If then we speak of a rise or fall of wages, we have to keep in mind not only the money price of labour-power, the nominal wages, but also the real wages.
But neither the nominal wages – i.e., the amount of money for which the labourer sells himself to the capitalist – nor the real wages – i.e., the amount of commodities which he can buy for this money – exhausts the relations which are comprehended in the term wages.
Wages are determined above all by their relations to the gain, the profit, of the capitalist. In other words, wages are a proportionate, relative quantity.
Real wages express the price of labour-power in relation to the price of commodities; relative wages, on the other hand, express the share of immediate labour in the value newly created by it, in relation to the share of it which falls to accumulated labour, to capital.” Karl Marx, Wage Labor & Capital; “Introduction (by Friedrich Engels),” “Preliminary,” “What Are Wages?” “The Relation of Wage-Labour to Capital,” 1847:https://www.marxists.org/
Numero Dos—“Though I knew Einstein for two or three decades, it was only in the last decade of his life that we were close colleagues and something of friends. But I thought that it might be useful, because I am sure that it is not too soon—and for our generation perhaps almost too late—to start to dispel the clouds of myth and to see the great mountain peak that these clouds hide. As always, the myth has its charms; but the truth is far more beautiful.Late in his life, in connection with his despair over weapons and wars, Einstein said that if he had to live it over again he would be a plumber. This was a balance of seriousness and jest that no one should now attempt to disturb. Believe me, he had no idea of what it was to be a plumber; least of all in the United States, where we have a joke that the typical behavior of this specialist is that he never brings his tools to the scene of the crisis. Einstein brought his tools to his crises; Einstein was a physicist, a natural philosopher, the greatest of our time.
What we have heard, what you all know, what is the true part of the myth is his extraordinary originality. The discovery of quanta would surely have come one way or another, but he discovered them. Deep understanding of what it means that no signal could travel faster than light would surely have come; the formal equations were already known; but this simple, brilliant understanding of the physics could well have been slow in coming, and blurred, had he not done it for us. The general theory of relativity which, even today, is not well proved experimentally, no one but he would have done for a long, long time. It is in fact only in the last decade, the last years, that one has seen how a pedestrian and hard-working physicist, or many of them, might reach that theory and understand this singular union of geometry and gravitation; and we can do even that today only because some of the a priori open possibilities are limited by the confirmation of Einstein’s discovery that light would be deflected by gravity.
Yet there is another side besides the originality. Einstein brought to the work of originality deep elements of tradition. It is only possible to discover in part how he came by it, by following his reading, his friendships, the meager record that we have. But of these deep-seated elements of tradition—I will not try to enumerate them all; I do not know them all—at least three were indispensable and stayed with him.
THE FIRST IS from the rather beautiful but recondite part of physics that is the explanation of the laws of thermodynamics in terms of the mechanics of large numbers of particles, statistical mechanics. This was with Einstein all the time. It was what enabled him from Planck’s discovery of the law of black body radiation to conclude that light was not only waves but particles, particles with an energy proportional to their frequency and momentum determined by their wave-number, the famous relations that de Broglie was to extend to all matter, to electrons first and then clearly to all matter.
It was this statistical tradition that led Einstein to the laws governing the emission and absorption of light by atomic systems. It was this that enabled him to see the connection between de Broglie’s waves and the statistics of light-quanta proposed by Bose. It was this that kept him an active proponent and discoverer of the new phenomena of quantum physics up to 1925.
The second and equally deep strand—and here I think we do know where it came from—was his total love of the idea of a field: the following of physical phenomena in minute and infinitely subdividable detail in space and in time. This gave him his first great drama of trying to see how Maxwell’s equations could be true. They were the first field equations of physics; they are still true today with only very minor and well-understood modifications. It is this tradition which made him know that there had to be a field theory of gravitation, long before the clues to that theory were securely in his hand.
The third tradition was less one of physics than of philosophy. It is a form of the principle of sufficient reason. It was Einstein who asked what do we mean, what can we measure, what elements in physics are conventional? He insisted that those elements that were conventional could have no part in the real predictions of physics. This also had roots: for one the mathematical invention of Riemann, who saw how very limited the geometry of the Greeks had been, how unreasonably limited. But in a more important sense, it followed from the long tradition of European philosophy, you may say starting with Descartes—if you wish you can start it in the Thirteenth Century, because in fact it did start then—and leading through the British empiricists, and very clearly formulated, though probably without influence in Europe, by Charles Pierce: One had to ask how do we do it, what do we mean, is this just something that we can use to help ourselves in calculating, or is it something that we can actually study in nature by physical means? For the point here is that the laws of nature not only describe the results of observations, but the laws of nature delimit the scope of observations. That was the point of Einstein’s understanding of the limiting character of the velocity of light; it also was the nature of the resolution in quantum theory, where the quantum of action, Planck’s constant, was recognized as limiting the fineness of the transaction between the system studied and the machinery used to study it, limiting this fineness in a form of atomicity quite different from and quite more radical than any that the Greeks had imagined or than was familiar from the atomic theory of chemistry.
IN THE LAST YEARS of Einstein’s life, the last twenty-five years, his tradition in a certain sense failed him. They were the years he spent at Princeton and this, though a source of sorrow, should not be concealed. He had a right to that failure. He spent those years first in trying to prove that the quantum theory had inconsistencies in it. No one could have been more ingenious in thinking up unexpected and clever examples; but it turned out that the inconsistencies were not there; and often their resolution could be found in earlier work of Einstein himself. When that did not work, after repeated efforts, Einstein had simply to say that he did not like the theory. He did not like the elements of indeterminacy. He did not like the abandonment of continuity or of causality. These were things that he had grown up with, saved by him, and enormously enlarged; and to see them lost, even though he had put the dagger in the hand of their assassin by his own work, was very hard on him. He fought with Bohr in a noble and furious way, and he fought with the theory which he had fathered but which he hated. It was not the first time that this has happened in science.
He also worked with a very ambitious program, to combine the understanding of electricity and gravitation in such a way as to explain what he regarded as the semblance—the illusion—of discreteness, of particles in nature. I think that it was clear then, and believe it to be obviously clear today, that the things that this theory worked with were too meager, left out too much that was known to physicists but had not been known much in Einstein’s student days. Thus it looked like a hopelessly limited and historically rather accidentally conditioned approach. Although Einstein commanded the affection, or, more rightly, the love of everyone for his determination to see through his program, he lost most contact with the profession of physics, because there were things that had been learned which came too late in life for him to concern himself with them.
EINSTEIN was indeed one of the friendliest of men. I had the impression that he was also, in an important sense, alone. Many very great men are lonely; yet I had the impression that although he was a deep and loyal friend, the stronger human affections played a not very deep or very central part in his life taken as a whole. He had of course incredibly many disciples, in the sense of people who, reading his work or hearing it taught by him, learned from him and had a new view of physics, of the philosophy of physics, of the nature of the world that we live in. But he did not have, in the technical jargon, a school. He did not have very many students who were his concern as apprentices and disciples. And there was an element of the lone worker in him, in sharp contrast to the teams we see today, and in sharp contrast to the highly cooperative way in which some other parts of science have developed. In later years, he had people working with him. They were typically called assistants and they had a wonderful life. Just being with him was wonderful. His secretary had a wonderful life. The sense of grandeur never left him for a minute, nor his sense of humor. The assistants did one thing which he lacked in his young days. His early papers are paralyzingly beautiful, but there are many errata. Later there were none. I had the impression that, along with its miseries, his fame gave him some pleasures, not only the human pleasure of meeting people but the extreme pleasure of music played not only with Elizabeth of Belgium but more with Adolf Busch, for he was not that good a violinist. He loved the sea and he loved sailing and was always grateful for a ship. I remember walking home with him on his seventy-first birthday. He said, “You know, when it’s once been given to a man to do something sensible, afterward life is a little strange.”
Einstein is also, and I think rightly, known as a man of very great good will and humanity. Indeed, if I had to think of a single word for his attitude towards human problems, I would pick the Sanscrit word Ahinsa, not to hurt, harmlessness. He had a deep distrust of power; he did not have that convenient and natural converse with statesmen and men of power that was quite appropriate to Rutherford and to Bohr, perhaps the two physicists of this century who most nearly rivaled him in eminence. In 1915, as he made the general theory of relativity, Europe was tearing itself to pieces and half losing its past. He was always a pacifist. Only as the Nazis came into power in Germany did he have some doubts, as his famous and rather deep exchange of letters with Freud showed, and began to understand with melancholy and without true acceptance that, in addition to understanding, man sometimes has a duty to act.
AFTER what you have heard, I need not say how luminous was his intelligence. He was almost wholly without sophistication and wholly without worldliness. I think that in England people would have said that he did not have much “background,” and in America that he lacked “education.” This may throw some light on how these words are used. I think that this simplicity, this lack of clutter and this lack of cant, had a lot to do with his preservation throughout of a certain pure, rather Spinoza-like, philosophical monism, which of course is hard to maintain if you have been “educated” and have a “background.” There was always with him a wonderful purity at once childlike and profoundly stubborn.
Einstein is often blamed or praised or credited with these miserable bombs. It is not in my opinion true. The special theory of relativity might not have been beautiful without Einstein; but it would have been a tool for physicists, and by 1932 the experimental evidence for the inter-convertibility of matter and energy which he had predicted was overwhelming. The feasibility of doing anything with this in such a massive way was not clear until seven years later, and then almost by accident. This was not what Einstein really was after. His part was that of creating an intellectual revolution, and discovering more than any scientist of our time how profound were the errors made by men before then. He did write a letter to Roosevelt about atomic energy. I think this was in part his agony at the evil of the Nazis, in part not wanting to harm any one in any way; but I ought to report that that letter had very little effect, and that Einstein himself is really not answerable for all that came later. I believe he so understood it himself.
His was a voice raised with very great weight against violence and cruelty wherever he saw them and, after the war, he spoke with deep emotion and I believe with great weight about the supreme violence of these atomic weapons. He said at once with great simplicity: Now we must make a world government. It was very forthright, it was very abrupt, it was no doubt ‘uneducated,’ no doubt without ‘background;’ still all of us in some thoughtful measure must recognize that he was right.
Without power, without calculation, with none of the profoundly political humor that characterized Gandhi, he nevertheless did move the political world. In almost the last act of his life, he joined with Lord Russell in suggesting that men of science get together and see if they could not understand one another and avert the disaster which he foresaw from the arms race. The so-called Pugwash movement, which has a longer name now, was the direct result of this appeal. I know it to be true that it had an essential part to play in the Treaty of Moscow, the limited test-ban treaty, which is a tentative, but to me very precious, declaration that reason might still prevail.
In his last years, as I knew him, Einstein was a twentieth-century Ecclesiastes, saying with unrelenting and indomitable cheerfulness, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.'” Robert Oppenheimer, “On Albert Einstein;” New York Review of Books, 1966
Numero Tres—“Family, Home, Pennsylvania
8 November 1949
I was wondering — could you lend me three or four hundred dollars? I have not yet bought either a horse or a motorcycle and am thinking of buying a car; not any car, but a ’47 Ford one of my fellow students is trying to sell. It would really be a good buy; the thing is practically new. The money would not have to be in a lump — fifty a month would be enough.
But no doubt you are looking forward to the payday when your paycheck is all yours — and certainly I don’t have to buy a car. But I should buy something; otherwise I’ll continue to fritter my money away on records and books and wild parties. It’s painful to remember that a mere six months ago I had twice as much money as now — where did it all go? I can’t imagine. Of course, that money should have been saved for my Oxford tuition, but the truth is that I can’t save money — certainly not for the sake of saving. If I have money I feel compelled to spend it on something. (The future be damned. Tomorrow I may be dead.) Typical hedonistic epicureanism.
I intend to make some money next summer — if I can find a job. Either here or back east. Why not wait until then to buy a car? By that time I’ll be broke.
If you can’t lend me several hundred dollars, you are quite welcome to reduce or cut off the monthly stipend as much and whenever you please. I don’t need the money — I’ll just waste it.
I’m doing some writing but it’s all of a highly technical nature — “the planes of reality,” “Pythagorean philharmonica,” “the polarities of experience,” “Principia Aesthetica,” “the isolation of data,” “Democritian atomism,” “Attic Romanticism,” and such-like pretentious frivolity.
How am I doing, scholastically? Fairly well, I think, but the competition in these advanced philosophy courses is rather good. My days of coasting to distinction with my innate brilliance are over; from now on I’m afraid I’ll have to study like everyone else.
The situation is difficult for me because my nearly universal range of interests continues — riding, girls, mountain climbing, exploring, machines, mysticism, music, vodka, politics, astronautics, poker — all of which interferes considerably with my half-hearted attempt to become a scholar. (Really not possible, I think, for me — the scholarly life, I mean. I’m too fond, much too fond, of fresh air and mundane pleasures.)
Of course, you’ll congratulate me on this — saying that the general, the whole, the universal, is much better than narrow specialization, with its consequent dehumanization, isolation, blindness, and turtle-shell spectacles.
And so I persuade myself. But is it true? Entirely true?
I think the matter falls definitely in an area of controversy, necessitating suspension of decision.
So Billy killed two squirrels and a rabbit?
According to Aristotelian metaphysics the rodents possess souls of sort, certainly inferior to human souls, but souls nevertheless and deserving of love and pity. Forgot about that, didn’t you?
Reminds me — Bud and I went antelope hunting last weekend with one other fellow. Bud’s friend got one. Having neither license nor rifle I drove the jeep while the others did the shooting. Quite exciting — driving off the road into the sagebrush over hills and down arroyos, rounding up the antelope like cattle. My but they’re fast — we clocked one bunch at 40 miles an hour.
Merci beacoup for the $150. No, I don’t know how much you still owe me.
Sorry to hear about the Oldsmobile’s further sufferings.
It is now the hour of one and twenty in the morning, mountain time. The radio is on and I’m hearing a song called “Mule Train” for about the seventh time this evening. Quite a fad, this pseudo-Western culture. First “Riders in the Sky” and now this. But I must not let my aesthetic snobbery blind me to the fact that these two songs are immensely superior to the usual run of popular music.
Mid-term exams this week. That’s why we’re home so early and not in bed. Cramming. Debauchery will be resumed this coming Saturday night and will reach a high point next week for the annual Homecoming festival.
Love (platonic) to all and sundered.
Tucson Daily Citizen
20 September 1972
The police helicopter is an unnecessary evil. The money being wasted on that infernal and idiotic machine would be sufficient to add another fifteen or twenty men to the force. The helicopter cannot be justified as a crime preventive; noise pollution is a crime and should be recognized as such, and in all the stink and smog and clatter of downtown Tucson, no individual machine is more obnoxious than that helicopter.
Even if the helicopter could glide about quiet as an owl, it remains still objectionable on even more serious grounds: aerial surveillance of a supposedly free citizenry is an affront to us all, and one more significant step toward an authoritarian police state. There are far better ways to prevent crime than by sending Big Brother aloft to keep his beady 450-watt eye on us dues-paying citizens.
I would suggest, for example, that a few good men on bicycles (a la francaise), properly uniformed and equipped, patrolling swiftly and silently through their own neighborhoods, friends not enemies of the people they work among, could do far more to prevent crime than two official Peeping Toms roaring over our rooftops in their fifty-dollar-an-hour plastic bubble.
Let’s think about this, people. You too, City Officials.
Edward Abbey — Tucson
Senator Frank E. Moss, Washington, D.C.
26 March 1973
Dear Senator Moss:
Thank you for your letter of March 21st in response to my letter regarding the Lake Powell-Rainbow Bridge issue. I am writing again on this same matter because you did not reply to the specific points which I raised in my letter.
E.g., you say that if Judge Ritter’s order is allowed to stand, the four upper-basin states will lose 4 million acre-feet of water immediately and one million acre-feet of water annually thereafter. Anticipating this argument I asked you why the water cannot be stored just as well in “Lake” Mead (now about 60 percent full) and credited to the upper basin states. Why should Bridge Creek below Rainbow Bridge, as well as a hundred other lovely and world-unique side canyons in the Glen Canyon system, why should they all be flooded, destroyed, generally mucked-up when a simple change in book-keeping procedure could avoid the whole mess?
I also raised the larger question, which you also failed to answer, as to what difference it makes anyway, to 99.9 percent of us Americans, whether the limited and badly abused and over-used Colorado River is exploited in the upper basin states or the lower basin states? Really, what difference does it make, when there is not nearly enough water in that poor old river to satisfy all the millionaire agri-businessmen of the Southwest? As you well know, not a drop is allowed to run its natural course to the sea anymore, and as you also know, Mexico is not receiving its agreed-upon share.
Furthermore, from the strictly economic-production point of view, the waters of the Colorado will return more in the way of agricultural produce down in the Imperial Valley of California than they will in the shorter growing seasons of the upper basin states.
You describe correctly the muddy mess which a barrier dam would create below Rainbow Bridge, when the water level is low. But you fail to mention that the same effect will follow the rise and fall of Lake Powell’s waters, if the reservoir is allowed to intrude within the boundaries of the Monument. In other words, if the reservoir is filled to full capacity at any time, the inevitable draw-down later will leave behind the usual “bathtub rings” on the canyon walls and stinking mud flats in the canyon bottoms. Of course this is already happening throughout Glen Canyon NRA every time the water level is lowered.
This letter is already too long but I cannot resist commenting on one other thing: You state that forty thousand people saw Rainbow Bridge last year whereas only a “handful” saw it before the inundation of Glen Canyon, when it was necessary to walk 6 1/2 miles up from the river. You regard this as a clear-cut improvement in the nature of things. That is a form of quantitative logic, all too sadly typical of the growth-is-progress syndrome, which more and more Americans are coming to question these days.
Why, Senator Moss, why, I ask you, do you believe that “more” is the same as “better”? The 6 1/2-mile walk to the Bridge was not difficult; as one who actually did it, I can say that it was quite an easy walk, on a perfectly adequate trail, with water — clear beautiful drinkable running water, available most of the way — and shade enough to make even the June heat tolerable. The walk to the Bridge and back could easily be made in a single day, by anyone in average health, of any age from eight to eighty. And it was a beautiful canyon, and getting to the Bridge and back was a mild but beautiful adventure, the kind of experience one treasures for a lifetime afterwards.
Rainbow Bridge is much more than a geological oddity: its whole setting, its comparative remoteness, its character as part of a greater whole, is what made it and getting there such a wonderful and unforgettable pleasure. Those six miles were all too short; I now envy those who first saw the Bridge by the fourteen-mile approach from Rainbow Lodge, around the mountain.
How can that experience be equated with forty thousand annual quick visits by people roaring in and out on motorboats who generally see nothing but the wake of the boat ahead, hear nothing but the roar of motors, feel nothing but the impatience characteristic of motorized travel to get on to the next “sight”? The fact that all these multitudes never bothered to go see Rainbow Bridge before access was made easy proves only one thing: they simply were not interested.
And ease of access does not create interest. Quite the contrary: it has reduced interest. That “blue finger” of Lake Powell has transformed what was once a delightful adventure into what is now merely a routine motorized sight-seeing excursion. The loss is great, and immeasurable, and cannot be compensated for by any amount of industrialized mass tourism. You cannot creep from quantity to quality. The two are not commensurable. I have also made the visit to Rainbow Bridge by motorboat and can personally testify that it is a meager, shallow and trivial experience when compared to the hike up the canyon. In fact, as they say, there is “no comparison.”
Something priceless was destroyed by the flooding of Glen Canyon, which no amount of motorized “visitor use” can ever equal in human values. Our duty now is to save what still remains of that great canyon system — especially Rainbow Bridge — and to begin the long and arduous effort to restore it all, eventually, to its original and natural condition.
It would be nice if you would help, Senator. Forget Art Greene and his tour-boat business; to hell with those sugar-beet growers up around Vernal. There are far better things to do and be and save in the glorious and absolutely unmatched state of Utah.
New York Review, New York City
30 March 1973
In his review of the book Retreat From Riches [Affluence and Its Enemies, by Peter Passell] Jason Epstein mentions the Earth Day slogan “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” He dismisses the analogy as an argument against ever-expanding industrialism. Nature as a whole, he asserts, operates on the same principle as cancer. All living things, he seems to believe, subscribe to the “ideology” of growth for growth’s sake. Therefore, he implies, we have nothing to fear from expansionist industrialism.
Not so. Most species within nature aim not at unlimited growth but rather at optimum growth; that is, a condition of stability, fulfilling but not destroying the species’ appropriate niche within the larger life-system. Likewise, the individual organism, if it is healthy, seeks not endless growth — which is monstrous and suicidal — but rather maturation and reproduction, which also coincides with the “ideal” of the species. Both tend to serve and sustain the ends — whatever those may be — of evolutionary change as a whole.
Cancer is distinctive and pathological precisely because it does not conform to this pattern, or recognize any limitations; the disease with — as well as of — hubris. Delighting in nothing but multiplication, cancer ends by destroying both its host and itself. The analogy to our modern planetary growth-devoted techno-industrial society (whether capitalist or socialist makes no difference) is complete and exact. Like cancer, expansionist industrialism believes in nothing but more expansionism. Growth equals power: power equals growth. Again like cancer, the process will self-destruct. Not, however, without human suffering, which will be great until a different kind of society based on a more stable adaptation to the earth’s thin skin is somewhat achieved.
Unlike Jason Epstein, I find the idea of placing a limit on industrial growth quite thinkable. Not only thinkable, not only desirable, but essential. Affluence consists of far more than the endless production of junk, under the ever-growing mountain of which many good things (like healthy human-type people) are benignly suffocated.
For example, many of us would gladly forego La Tache (whatever that is) served in Baccarat glasses (who needs them?) in exchange for breathable air and edible bread. That, and freedom from more and more technological tyranny — police helicopters, for example — is part of my notion of what affluence really means.
A sound argument could be made for the case that growing industrialism not only does not eliminate poverty (there are as many poor people today as there were in the depths of the New Deal — 40 million), it increases poverty. Industrialism, beyond the optimum point, which we passed about seventy years ago, tends to impoverish, not enrich, our lives. Ask any Indian. Ask any Appalachian.
19 May 1973
Herewith my bit for your cookbook. This recipe is not original but a variation on an old (perhaps ancient) Southwestern dish. It has also been a favorite of mine and was for many years the staple, the sole staple, of my personal nutritional program. (I am six feet three and weigh 190 pounds, sober.)
I call it Hardcase Survival Pinto Bean Sludge.
1. Take one fifty-pound sack Colorado pinto beans. Remove stones, cockleburs, horseshit, ants, lizards, etc. Wash in clear cold crick water. Soak for twenty-four hours in iron kettle or earthenware cooking pot. (DO NOT USE TEFLON, ALUMINUM OR PYREX CONTAINER. THIS WARNING CANNOT BE OVERSTRESSED.)
2. Place kettle or pot with entire fifty lbs. of pinto beans on low fire and simmer for twenty-four hours. (DO NOT POUR OFF WATER IN WHICH BEANS HAVE BEEN IMMERSED. THIS IS IMPORTANT.) Fire must be of juniper, pinyon pine, mesquite or ironwood; other fuels tend to modify the subtle flavor and delicate aroma of Pinto Bean Sludge.
3. DO NOT BOIL.
4. STIR VIGOROUSLY FROM TIME TO TIME WITH WOODEN SPOON OR IRON LADLE. (Do not disregard these instructions.)
5. After simmering on low fire for twenty-four hours, add one gallon green chile peppers. Stir vigorously. Add one quart natural (non-iodized) pure sea salt. Add black pepper. Stir some more and throw in additional flavoring materials, as desired, such as old bacon rinds, corncobs, salt pork, hog jowls, kidney stones, ham hocks, sowbelly, saddle blankets, jungle boots, worn-out tennis shoes, cinch straps, whatnot, use your own judgment. Simmer an additional twenty-four hours.
6. Now ladle as many servings as desired from pot but do not remove pot from fire. Allow to simmer continuously for hours, days or weeks if necessary, until all contents have been thoroughly consumed. Continue to stir vigorously, whenever in vicinity or whenever you think of it.
7. Serve Pinto Bean Sludge on large flat stones or on any convenient fairly level surface. Garnish liberally with parsley flakes. Slather generously with raw ketchup. Sprinkle with endive, anchovy crumbs and boiled cruets and eat hearty.
8. One potful Pinto Bean Sludge, as above specified, will feed one poet for two full weeks at a cost of about $11.45 at current prices. Annual costs less than $300.
9. The philosopher Pythagoras found flatulence incompatible with meditation and therefore urged his followers not to eat beans. I have found, however, that custom and thorough cooking will alleviate this problem.
Yrs, Edward Abbey — Tucson
George Sessions, Philosophy Professor,
Sierra College, California
30 August 1979
Sorry your friend [Bill] Devall and you couldn’t come. Since you didn’t, I shall pass on a few remarks via typewriter.
As I said, I think the new Eco-Philosophy contains many interesting, important and daring ideas. But I have three quibbles:
1. I dislike the pejorative term “shallow environmentalism,” and the pretentious term “deep ecology.” It is vital that we avoid any hint of moral superiority in our dealings with one another in the environmental movement; if it developed into factionalism it would destroy us, as factionalism has destroyed so many other progressive movements in America. E.g., I was quite disappointed by Stewart Brand’s silly attack on the Sierra Club (promptly publicized by Esquire Magazine and other Shithead publications) because some Sierra Clubber in San Francisco obstructed his plans for a Co-Evolution fund-raising picnic on public parklands.
If we must have labels, why not something like “eco-activists” and “eco-philosophers.” Each implies the other anyway, and most of us are, or try to be, something of both. While I grant the intellectual value of providing environmentalism with a sound philosophical basis, the people that I actually most admire are those who put their bodies where their minds are — i.e., Mark Dubois, and patient tireless organizers like David Brower, and the field reps of the various conservation organizations, the people who confront and deal directly with politicians, industrialists, the media. I think it far more important to save one square mile of wilderness, anywhere, by any means, than to produce another book on the subject.
I am weary of the old and tiresome and banal question “Why save the wilderness?” The important and difficult question is “How? How save the wilderness?” I am not much concerned with the state of the world a thousand years from now, for in that long-range view I am an optimist: I think that the greed and stupidity of industrial culture will save us from ourselves by self-destruction. What I am concerned about is the world my children will have to live in, and maybe, if my children ever get around to it, the world of my grandchildren.
2. One of these days the Orientalizers will have to face the question of why the homelands of Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and Zen — namely, India, China, Japan — are also the most abused, ravaged, insulted, overpopulated and desperate lands on planet earth.
Why? I have my theories about it, of course, implied by things I’ve written elsewhere; but how do you and Devall and Gary Snyder explain it? If you’re going to make your theories cohere with fact, you’ve got to do some thinking about the real role of any large-scale, institutional religion in human life and the life of the planet.
In my view, the Oriental religions are no better than Christianity (itself of Oriental origin, of course) or Islam; all of them tend to divorce men and women from the earth, from other forms of life, by their mystical emphasis upon the general, the abstract, the invisible, and by their psychological tendency, in prayer and meditation, to turn the mind inward, toward self-love, self-importance, self-obsession. Salvation. Satori. Union with God, union with the All-Source, union with The One. (Which one? my daughter Suzi, age eleven, says — bless her native common sense.) Of course, the devotees of these mystical rites claim the opposite — that they are engaged in self-transcendence. I think they delude themselves; rather than escaping the self, they are wallowing, luxuriating, in a most enormous vanity. The same is true of all the many lesser cults now flourishing, like fungi in a bog, among us bored and idle Americans — EST, for example, and Esalen, and TM, and psychoanalysis, and anal-analysis, and good God! all the many other sickly little superstitions that pollute the psychic atmosphere.
(However, I tell myself . . . it’s all part of the carnival. All part of the human comedy. These things have always been with us and always will. Each to his fate, predetermined (perhaps) by his character. I must confess that I often tire of my own role as the sneering buzzard on the dead tree. There are times when I envy those with the freedom to hurl themselves into the mob, to lose themselves in the flood of life. Ideally, I suppose, we should be able to enjoy every form of experience. Including suffering? even torture? even slavery?)
Paralyzing philosophy. But always entertaining.
Action, there’s the thing. Action! When I grow sick with the buzzing of the brain, I like to go climb a rock. Cut down a billboard. Disable a bulldozer. (Eine kleine Nachtwerke) Climb a mountain. Run a rapid. Pursue a woman. Etc.
Enough of these trivial asides. On to Quibble #3:
3. Animal egalitarianism. If all animals are equal, then we humans, obviously, are no better than any other animals. Being no better, we cannot be expected to behave any better. Therefore, it is perfectly logical, as well as natural, that we do as others do — expand to the limits of our range, exterminate competitors, multiply our numbers well beyond the carrying capacity of our territory, submit to mass die-offs periodically, and so on. On the other hand, if we demand of ourselves that we behave rationally, display tolerance and even love for all other forms of life, then it would seem to follow that we are asking of humans a moral sensitivity unknown to lesser — excuse me! — other animals.
Having raised the question, I think I see the answer. In demanding that humans behave with justice, tolerance, reason, love toward other forms of life, we are doing no more than demanding that humans be human — that is, be true to the best aspects of human nature.
Humans being human, therefore, cannot consider themselves morally superior to, say, bears being bear-like, eagles being eagle-like, etc. No doubt Spinoza had much to say about this. Despite his disdain for nonhuman forms of life.
Let beings be, says Heidegger. Very good. Be true to the earth, says Nietzsche. I like that. Death is the most exciting form of life! said General George Patton. Well no, that doesn’t fit here. Give your heart to the hawks, said my favorite American poet — after Whitman. How about a similar nifty slogan from Spinoza? Can you offer us one, George?
I liked Devall’s review of Planet/Person. Very much to the point. But [I] think, in his letter to NMA [Not Man Apart], that he must have missed a few chapters in my own book. In “Science w/a Human Face” and “Conscience of the Conqueror,” he will find that I attempt to deal directly with some of the questions that he is most concerned with.
And yes, I do distrust mysticism. I regard it as too easy a way out. Whenever I find myself sliding into mysticism in my writing — I never do it in my feeling and seeing — I know that my mind is relaxing, taking the easy way around a hard pitch of thought. Just as those who casually throw in the word “God” think that they are answering questions which may very well have no answer. Not all questions can be answered. I think that Carl Sagan is a bit naive in his scientific optimism, just as those who call themselves mystics are naive in identifying their personal inner visions with universal reality.
Random thoughts. No more for the time being. Please continue to send me the Eco-Philosophy newsletter. And you are welcome, if you wish, to print parts of my letters, or parts of my books, in that newsletter. I would be honored, and most interested in reading the reaction of others to the words of an anti-metaphysical metaphysician. Among metaphysicians, I would prefer to be a G.P. — a general practitioner.
Best regards — Oracle
Eugene C. Hargrove, Editor,
Environmental Ethics, University of Georgia
3 November 1982
Dear Mr. Hargrove:
Thank you for inviting me to respond to your editorial re Earth First! and The Monkey Wrench Gang:
So far as I know, Earth First! as an organization — though it’s more a spontaneous grouping than an organization, having neither officers nor by-laws — is not “pledged to ecological sabotage.” If Newsweek said that, Newsweek is hallucinating (again). We are considering acts of civil disobedience, in the usual sense of that term, when and where they might be useful. For example, when and if the Getty Oil Co attempts to invade the Gros Ventre wilderness (Wyoming) with bulldozers, we intend to peaceably assemble and block the invasion with guitars, American flags, live human bodies and maybe an opposing D-9 tractor. If arrested, we shall go to jail, pay the fines and try again. We invite your readers to join us. A good time will be had by all.
As for that book, please note that The Monkey Wrench Gang is a novel, a work of fiction and — I like to think — a work of art. It would be naive to read it as a tract, a program for action or a manifesto. The book is a comedy, with a happy ending. It was written to entertain, to inspire tears and laughter, to amuse my friends and to aggravate our enemies. (Aggravate their ulcers.) So far, about a half million readers seem to have found that approach appealing.
The book does not condone terrorism in any form. Let’s have some precision in language here: terrorism means deadly violence — for a political and/or economic purpose — carried out against people and other living things, and is usually conducted by governments against their own citizens (as at Kent State, or in Vietnam, or in Poland, or in most of Latin America right now), or by corporate entities such as J. Paul Getty, Exxon, Mobil Oil, etc etc., against the land and all creatures that depend upon the land for life and livelihood. A bulldozer ripping up a hillside to strip mine for coal is committing terrorism; the damnation of a flowing river followed by the drowning of Cherokee graves, of forest and farmland, is an act of terrorism.
Sabotage, on the other hand, means the use of force against inanimate property, such as machinery, which is being used (e.g.) to deprive human beings of their rightful work (as in the case of Ned Ludd and his mates); sabotage (le sabot dropped in a spinning jenny) — for whatever purpose — has never meant and has never implied the use of violence against living creatures. The characters in Monkey Wrench engage in industrial sabotage in order to defend a land they love against industrial terrorism.
They do this only when it appears that in certain cases and places all other means of defense of land and life have failed and that force — the final resort — becomes morally justified. Not only justified but a moral obligation, as in the defense of one’s own life, one’s own family, one’s own home, one’s own nature, against a violent assault.
Such is the basis of my characters’ rationale in The Monkey Wrench Gang. How the reader chooses to interpret all this is the reader’s business. And if the reader is impelled to act out in real life the exploits of Doc, Bonnie, Slim & Hayduke, that too is a matter for decision by the individual conscience. But first and last, it should be remembered that the book is fiction, make-believe, a story and no more than a story.
As for my own views on environmental ethics, I have tried to state them explicitly in the essay form: see The Journey Home (1977), Abbey’s Road (1979), and Down the River (1982).
Sincerely, Edward Abbey — Oracle
18 June 1984
Okay, I’ll give it a go. If you have further questions call me, mornings or evenings — before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Or come for a day or two in Tucson if you can; it’s not likely I’ll get out of here this summer.
3) The same only more so.
4) With DS [Desert Solitaire] (1968) I was only getting started. In later books, such as Monkey Wrench, Abbey’s Road, Down the River, Black Sun, Good News and Beyond the Wall, I’ve attempted to make explicit what was only implied in that early work. I have also ranged across a much wider field of subject matter, going beyond strictly environmental concerns toward more general social, political and philosophical matters, or what I like to call the comedy of human relationships.
What I am really writing about, what I have always written about, is the idea of human freedom, human community, the real world which makes both possible, and the new technocratic industrial state which threatens the existence of all three. Life and death, that’s my subject, and always has been — if the reader will look beyond the assumptions of lazy critics and actually read what I have written. Which also means, quite often, reading between the lines: I am a comic writer and the generation of laughter is my aim.
5) Well, I’m against some establishments and for others.
I regard the human family, the human community, as basic and fundamental. I regard the modern nation-state as a grotesque distortion of human community. The same goes for most other big social institutions, such as organized religion, science, the military and — that vague beehive (like a geodetic dome) which looms a hundred stories high above our future.
6) I am a pessimist in the short run, by which I mean the next fifty or maybe a hundred years. In that brief interval it seems quite probable that too many of us humans, crawling over one another for living space and sustenance, will make the earth an extremely unpleasant planet on which to live. And this quite aside from the possibility of a nuclear war.
In the long run, I am an optimist. Within a century, I believe and hope, there will be a drastic reduction in the human population (as has happened before), and that will make possible a free and open society for our surviving descendants, a return to a more intimate and tolerant relationship to the natural world, and an advance (not a repetition) toward a truly humane, liberal and civilized form of human society, politically and economically decentralized but unified, perhaps on a planetary scale, by slow and easy-going travel, unrestricted wandering for all and face-to-face (not electronic) communication between the more adventurous elements of human tribes, clans, races. Instant communication is not communication at all but merely a frantic, trivial, nerve-wracking bombardment of clichÃ©s, threats, fads, fashions, gibberish and advertising.
7) See above.
8) I no longer have much interest in the supernatural, or what is mistakenly referred to as “mystical” events and experience. That kind of search belongs to the youthful stage of life, both in the individual and in the race. I now find the most marvelous things in the everyday, the ordinary, the common, the simple and tangible.
For example: one cloud floating over one mountain. Or a trickle of water seeping from stone after a twenty-mile walk through the desert. Or the smile of recognition on the face of your own child when she hasn’t seen you around for several hours. These are the deepest joys, as we learn to understand when we go into the middle age of life.
The love of a man for his wife, his child, of the land where he lives and works, is for me the real meaning of mystical experience. Those who waste their whole lives hungering for fantastic and occult sensations are suffering from retarded emotional development and stunted imaginations. One world and one life at a time, please. I have no desire to be reborn until I have exhausted every possibility of this life in this time on these few hundred square miles of earth I call my home.
9) I’ve suffered from my share of personal disasters: the loss of love, the death of a wife, the failure to realize in my writing the high aspiration of my intentions. But these misfortunes can be borne. There is a certain animal vitality in most of us which carries us through any trouble but the absolutely overwhelming. Only a fool has no sorrow, only an idiot has no grief — but then only a fool and an idiot will let grief and sorrow ride him down into the grave. So, I’ve been lucky, as most people are lucky; the animal in each of us has a lot more sense than our brains.
10) Yes, there are plenty of heroes and heroines everywhere you look. They are not famous people. They are generally obscure and modest people doing useful work, keeping their families together, and taking an active part in the health of their communities, opposing what is evil (in one way or another) and defending what is good. Heroes do not want power over others. There are more heroic people in the public school system than there are in the world of politics, military, big business, the arts and the sciences combined. My mother is a heroine — has been all her life. And if you take a good look, you may see that your brother is a hero.
11) I have no blueprints to offer anybody. Most human societies, especially the so-called primitive or traditional societies, have been organized (spontaneously, voluntarily, democratically and instinctively) on natural and therefore decent principles. It is only in modern times, as I see it, that is, in the last five thousand years, that the drive to dominate nature and human nature has perverted and now threatens to destroy the sound, conservative, sustaining relationships of men and women.
Our institutions are too big; they represent not the best but the worst characteristics of human beings. By submitting to huge hierarchies of power, we gain freedom from personal responsibility for what we do and are forced to do — that is the seduction of it — but we lose the dignity of being real men and women. Power corrupts; attracts the worst and corrupts the best.
So what should we do, here and now, as individuals? Well, see above, item 10. Refuse to participate in evil; insist on taking part in what is healthy, generous, and responsible. Stand up, speak out, and when necessary fight back. Get down off the fence and lend a hand, grab a-hold, be a citizen — not a subject.
12) Nothing worth mentioning. I’ve led mostly a furtive, cowardly, reclusive life, preaching loudly from the sidelines and avoiding danger. If I regret anything, it is my good behavior.
13) I see that we’ve skipped #13. I despise superstition — but why take foolish chances?
14) The worst thing I’ve ever done? My best is none too good.
15) Beer cans are beautiful.
16) Spiritual people like myself do not fret over diet. I eat whatever’s handy, if it looks good.
17) The Glen Canyon Dam makes a handy symbol of what is most evil and destructive in modern man’s attack on the natural world. But it is only one small example among thousands.
19) My friends and my family share with me a whole constellation of similar and encouraging desires. They are the basis of my life, essential and indispensable. We don’t clash with one another, we clash with our enemies, of whom we always seem to have enough. And we enjoy the clash. Goethe put it nicely (in this amateur translation): Only they deserve liberty and life / Who earn it in the daily strife.
20) My personal life is an ordinary life, of no particular interest to others.
21) I don’t know what McGuane means by calling someone a “cult hero.” Maybe he knows. Most writers give public readings now and then — what of it? But of course you have to be invited.
22) I’m not interested in the technique of art or the art of technique. When I want to write something I just sit down (or stand up) and do it. Scribble, scribble, nothing could be easier. It helps, naturally, to have something to say.
23) Fiction is my primary interest. I’ve published six novels so far, have written a couple of others not yet published, and am presently halfway through a novel about life and death. Most of my effort has gone into fiction. Saving the world is only a hobby. Most of the time I do nothing.
24) Publisher’s hype and reviewer’s cant. By sticking a writer in a convenient mental box, the reviewers and critics save themselves the trouble of actually reading, understanding and thinking about the writer’s work. But there are too many writers, too many books, too much glut and gluttony.
25) See above.
26) I’ve enjoyed the love of some pretty good women, the friendship of a few good men, and made my home in the part of this world I like best. What’s left? I desire nothing but more of the same.
27) I took the other road, all right, but only because it was the easy road for me, the way I wanted to go. If I’ve encountered some unnecessary resistance that’s because most of the traffic is going the other way.
28) About two years ago a herd of doctors gave me six months to live, because they believed what the C.A.T. scanner told them. As usual, the machine was wrong. My first thought, when they brought me the news, was that I wouldn’t have to floss my teeth anymore. Then I wrote out a will and made a large deposit in a bank (a sperm bank) for my wife, who wanted a baby, just in case the six months remaining might not be sufficient to insure the success of the usual procedures. Then I wondered if I might have time to write one more book — a short one. I’m afraid I forgot all about Glen Canyon Dam.
Those were interesting times, but now it appears that, barring accidents, I’m in for the long haul: my father, at age eighty-three, is or should be flossing a few teeth of his own. And he still spends several hours every day out in the woods cutting down perfectly normal, healthy pine trees — he’s got a one-man logging business. But his eye is off a bit; a few months ago he was felling a tree, trying to lay it down as close as he could at the side of a flatbed truck; instead he dropped the tree into the front of the truck, smashed the bejesus out of both the cab and engine. He needed a new truck anyway.
Well Karen, this is fun but it’s much too easy. If you wish to revise and colloquialize the more formal and sententious parts of my response, please do so — if you can make it read like a real conversation please do so. And if there’s anything more you need, call me.
Regards, Ed Abbey — Oracle
circa early 1987
Dear Mr Krakauer:
As requested, here is my list of the ten most significant events in the American West during the past decade:
1. Revolting Development: 487 literary exquisites, flycasters, coke sniffers, horse lovers, movie actors, hobby ranchers, Instant Rednecks and other jet-set androids from the world of Vanity Fair move into Santa Fe, Tucson and the Livingston, Montana area.
2. Hopeful Development: Congress finally passes an Immigration Control Act — but two hundred years too late.
3. Revolting Development: Beef ranchers murder 155 grizzly bears in Montana and Wyoming.
4. Hopeful Development: Grizzlies harvest twenty-two tourists.
5. Revolting Development: US Forest Service lays plans and obtains funds to bulldoze a road to within at least one/quarter mile of every pine tree in our national forests.
6. Hopeful Development: Teton Dam collapses in Idaho.
7. Revolting Development: Hemlines go down on park ranger skirts.
8. Hopeful Development: Earth First! founded in the Pinacate Desert by Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, Mike Roselle and Bart Kohler.
9. Revolting Development: Howie Wolke arrested for pulling up survey stakes in Little Granite Creek, Wyoming.
10. Hopeful Development: Chief Engineer killed by lightning at dam construction site on Dolores River in Colorado.
11. Hopeful Development: Drunken shotgunner killed by falling gutshot saguaro cactus near Phoenix.
12. Hopeful Development: 565 range cattle killed in Utah by little green men in UFOs (Unidentified Fucking Objects).
13. Hopeful Development: Benjamin Cartwright Abbey born March 19, 1987, vows eternal resistance against every form of tyranny over the soul of man (and woman).
Edward Abbey — Tucson
Barry Lopez, Finn Rock, Oregon
14 June 1987
Enjoyed your article in the current Harper’s. Reinforces my intention to visit soon the beautiful, tragic, divided land of South Africa.
Amusing to find us both in Life Magazine this month, trying to say about the same thing in widely — and wildly — divergent ways. I ask people to stay home; you ask them to change their wicked attitude.
But it’s wrong of us both, I think, to adopt the lofty stance, the wise man’s tone, and do nothing more. Of course, in the long run, humans must regain a sense of community with nature. (If we ever really had it.) But in the meantime, the hard work, the important work, is that of saving what is left. I despise the role of guru, or leader, or remote philosopher, earning easy money writing the right thing while the “troops,” the hundreds and thousands who actually stand before the bulldozers, spike the trees, lobby the politicos, write the tedious letters, lick stamps, staple leaflets, organize committees, attend meetings, hire lawyers and sometimes go to jail, do what they do with no fame, no public credit, certainly little or no pay (except Sierra Club bureaucrats etc), and no reward but the sense of having opposed the rich and powerful in the name of something more ancient and beautiful than human greed and human increase. The writer’s job is to write, and write the truth — but he also has the moral obligation to get down in the dust and the sweat and lend not only his name but his voice and body to the tiresome contest. Part of the time, anyhow. I once asked Tom McGuane why he lets others fight his battles for him in Montana; “don’t want to get mixed up with those counterculture types,” he said. Asked Annie Dillard the same thing; “don’t want to be known as an environmentalist,” she said. Asked Edward Hoagland and Jim Harrison something similar; “Don’t try to bully me into doing what you do,” Hoagland replied; and Harrison never replied at all. And so on.
What these people are most concerned about, I guess, is their literary reputations, not the defense of the natural world or the integrity of their souls. But how far can you go in objectivity, in temporizing, in fence-straddling, before it becomes plain moral cowardice? I admire these writers as writers; lovely prose style, all of them; but I can’t fully respect them as citizens, that is, as men. As women.
A. B. Guthrie, Jr. on the other hand, doesn’t worry about his standing with Esquire or Vanity Fair. Neither does Wallace Stegner or Wendell Berry or Farley Mowat or Charles Bowden. Me, I do worry about it — but not much. That is, I gave up a long time ago and have resigned myself to my simple role as village crank. It pays good and it’s easy. In fact it’s genetic, bred in the bone: my old man, eighty-six now, talks pretty much like I write. He’s outlived all of his poker-playing whisky-drinking tree-cutting friends and should be lonely as that pine snag on yonder point of the mountain. But he’s not. Rich in memories and pride, and still cutting trees (selectively), he seems to enjoy his old age more than he ever did his youth. Or so he says and so my mother agrees.
Where was I? What was it I really wanted to tell you in this letter? Senility — I forget. If you come through Moab Utah this summer, look us up; we’re renting (in July) a house near the City Park while searching for a new home on the red rock (the developers threatening to force us out of Tucson); can’t tell you what our phone number will be if any, don’t know the street address, but you can always find us through Ken Sleight’s Bookstore.
Best regards, Ed A. — Tucson” Edward Abbey, “Cactus Chronicles;” Orion Magazine, letters from 1949-1987