7.13.2017 Doc of the Day

1. Sidney Webb, 19
2. Wole Soyinka, 1986.
3. Nadine Gordimer, 1991.
4. Alex Wellerstein, 2014.

trailer: Sarasota, Florida poor white proletariat
Numero Uno“OF all the intellectual difficulties of Individualism, the greatest, perhaps, is that which is presented by the constant flux of things.  Whatever may be the advantages and conveniences of the present state of society, we are, at any rate, all of us, now sure of one thing — that it cannot last.  The constant evolution of Society. — We have learnt to think of social institutions and economic relations as being as much the subjects of constant change and evolution as any biological organism.   The main outlines of social organization, based upon the exact sphere of private ownership in England to-day, did not ‘come down from the Mount.’  The last century and a half has seen an almost complete upsetting of every economic and industrial relation in the country, and it is irrational to assume that the existing social order, thus new-created, is destined inevitably to endure in its main features unchanged and unchangeable.  History did not stop with the last great convulsion of the Industrial Revolution, and Time did not then suddenly cease to be the Great Innovator.

Nor do the Socialists offer us a statical heaven to be substituted for an equally statical world here present.  English students of the last generation were accustomed to think of Socialism as a mere Utopia, spun from the humanity-intoxicated brains of various Frenchmen of the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Down to the present generation every aspirant after social reform, whether Socialist or Individualist, naturally embodied his ideas in a detailed plan of a new social order, from which all contemporary evils were eliminated.   Bellamy is but a belated Cabet, Babceuf, or Campcinella.  But modern Socialists have learnt the lesson of evolution better than their opponents, and it cannot be too often repeated that Socialism, to Socialists, is not a Utopia which they have invented, but a principle of social organization which they assert to have been discovered by the patient investigators into sociology, whose labours have distinguished the present century.  That principle, whether true or false, has, during a whole generation, met with an ever-increasing, though often unconscious, acceptance by political administrators.  Thus it is the constant flux of things which underlies all the ‘difficulties’ of Individualism.

Whatever we may think of the existing social order, one thing is certain — namely, that it will undergo modification in the future as certainly and steadily as in the past.  Those modifications will be partly the result of forces not consciously initiated or directed by human will.  Partly, however, the modifications will be the results, either intended or unintended, of deliberate attempts to readjust the social environment to suit man’s real or fancied needs.  It is therefore not a question of whether the existing social order shall be changed, but of how this inevitable change shall be made.

‘Social problems.’ — In the present phase of acute social compunction, the maladjustments which occasion these modifications appear to us in the guise of ‘social problems.’  But whether or not they are the subjects of conscious thought or conscious action, their influence is perpetually at work, silently or obtrusively modifying the distribution of social pressure, and altering the weft of that social tissue of which our life is made.  The characteristic feature of our own age is not this constant evolution itself — for that, of course, is of all time — but our increasing consciousness of it.  Instead of unconscious factors we become deliberate agents, either to aid or resist the developments coming to our notice.  Human selection accordingly becomes the main form of natural selection, and functional adaptation replaces the struggle for existence as the main factor in social progress.  Man becomes the midwife of the great womb of Time, and necessarily undertakes the responsibility for the new economic relations which he brings into existence.   Hence the growing value of correct principles of social action, of valid ideals for social aspiration.  Hence, therefore, the importance, for weal or for woe, of the change in social ideals and principles which marks off the present generation of Socialists from the surviving economists and statesmen brought up in the ‘Manchester school.’

We may, of course, prefer not to accept the watchwords or shibboleths of either party ; we may carefully guard our- selves against ‘the falsehood of extremes;’ we may believe that we can really steer a middle course. This comforting reflection of the practical man is, however, an unphilosophical delusion. As each difi&culty of the present day comes up for solution, our action or inaction must, for all our caution, necessarily incline to one side or the other. We may help to modify the social organism either in the direction of a more general Collectivism or in that of a more perfect Individualism ; it will be hard, even by doing nothing, to leave the balance just as it was. It becomes, accordingly, of vital importance to examine not only our practical policy, but also our ideals and principles of action, even if we do not intend to follow these out to their logical conclusion. Individualism and Collectivism.— It is not easy, at the present day, to be quite fair to the opinions of the little knot of noble-minded enthusiasts who broke for us the chains of the oligarchic tyranny of the eighteenth century. Their work was essentially destructive, and this is not the place in which to estimate how ably they carried on their statical analysis, or how completely they misunderstood the social results of the industrial revolution which was falsifying all their predictions almost before they were uttered. But we may, perhaps, not unfairly sum up as follows the principles which guided them in’ dealing with the difficulties of social hfe : that the best government is that which governs least ; that the utmost possible scope should be allowed to untrammelled individual enterprise ; that open competition and complete freedom from legal restrictions furnish the best guarantees of a healthy in- dustrial community ; that the desired end of ” equality of opportunity ” can be ultimately reached by allowing to each person the complete ownership of any riches he may become possessed of ; and that the best possible social state wiU result from each individual pursuing his own interest in the way he thinks best. Fifty years’ further social experience have destroyed the faith of the world in the validity of these principles as the basis of even a decent social order, and Mr. John Morley himself has told us {Life of Cobden, vol. i. ch. xiii. pp. 298, 303) that ” the answer of modern statesmanship is that unfettered individual competition is not a principle to which the regulation of industry may be intrusted.” ” It is indeed certain,” sums up Dr. Ingram, at the end of his comprehensive survey of all the economic tendencies, ” that industrial society wiU not permanently remain without a systematic organization. The mere conflict of private interests will never produce a well-ordered com- monwealth of labour.* I Modern Socialism is, accordingly, not a faith in an artificial Utopia, but a rapidly spreading conviction, as yet only partly conscious of itself, that social health and, consequently, human happiness is something apart from and above the separate interests of individuals, requiring to be consciously pursued as an end in itself ; that the * Article ” Political Economy,” in Ency. Bntt., ninth, edition, vol. xix., 1886, p. 382 ; republished as History of Political Economy. A lesson of evolution in social development is the substitution of consciously regulated co-ordination among the upits of each organism for their internecine competition; * that the production and distribution of wealth, like any other public function, cannot safely be intrusted to the unfettered freedom of individuals, but needs to be organized and con- trolled for the benefit of the whole community ; that this can be imperfectly done by means of legislative restriction and taxation, but is eventually more advantageously ac- complished through the collective enterprise of the appro- priate administrative unit in each case ; and that the best government is accordingly that which can safely and successfully administer most. The new pressure for Social Reform.— But although the principles of IndividuaHsm have long been tacitly aban- doned by our public men, they have remained, until quite recently, enshrined in the imagination of the middle class citizen and the journalist. Their rapid supersession in these days, by principles essentially Socialist, is due to the prominence now given to ” social problems,” and to the f aUure of Individualism to offer any practicalale solution of these. The problems are not in themselves new ; they are not even more acute or pressing than of yore ; but the present generation is less disposed than its predecessors to acquiesce in their insolubility. This increasing social com- punction in the presence of industrial disease and social misery is the inevitable result of the advent of political democracy. The power to initiate reforms is now rapidly passing into the hands of those who themselves directly Suffer from the evils to be removed ; and it is therefore not to be wondered at that social reorganization is a subject of much more vital interest to the proletarian politicians of to-day than it can ever have been to the University pro- fessors or Whig proprietors of the past. Now the main ” difficulties ” of the existing social order, with “which Individualist principles fail to deal, are those * See Professor Huxley’s pregnant declaration to this eSect in the Nineteenth Century, February, 1888. Compare D. G. Ritchie’s Darwinism and Politics. immediately connected with the administration of industry and the distribution of wealth. To summarize these diffi- culties before examining them, we may say ,that the Socialist asserts that the system of private property in the means of production permits and even promotes an extreme inequality in the distribution of the annual product of the united labours of the community. This distribution results in excess in the hands of a small class, balanced by positive privation at the other end of the social scale. An inevi- table corollary of this unequal distribution is wrong pro- duction, both of commodities and of human beings ; the preparation of senseless luxuries whilst there is need for more bread, and the breeding of degenerate hordes of a demoralized ” residuum ” unfit for social Ufe. This evil inequahty and disastrous malproduction are enabled to continue through the individual ownership of the instru- ments of industry, one inevitable accompaniment of which is the continuance, in the commercial world, of that per- sonal rule which is rapidly being expelled from political administration. The increasing integration of the Great Industry is, indeed, creating — except in so far as it is counteracted by the adoption of Socialist principles — a kind of new feudalism, based upon tenure, not of land, but of capital .employed in the world-commerce, a financial autocracy against which the democracy sullenly revolts. In the interests of this oligarchy, the real interests of each community tend to be ignored, to the detriment of its capacity to hold its own in the race struggle — that com- petition between communities rather than between indi- viduals in a community which is perhaps now becoming the main field of natural selection. In examining each of these difficulties in greater detail, it will be fair to consider not only how far they can be solved by the existing order, and in what way they are actually being dealt with by the appHcation of Socialist principles, but also what hope might, on the other hand, be found in the greatest possible development of Indi- vidualism. For to-day it is the Individualist who is offering us, as a solution of social difficulties, an untried and nebulous Utopia; whilst the SociaUst occupies the superior position of calling only for the conscious and ex- plicit adoption and extension of principles of social organi- zation to which the stern logic of facts has already dnven the practical man. History and experiment have indeed changed sides, and rank now among the aUies of the practical Socialist reformer. Factory Acts and municipal gas-works we know, but the voice of Auberon Herbert, advocating ” voluntary taxation,” remained, to the last, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Inequality of Income. — Inequality in wealth distribu- tion is, of course, no new thing, and it is unnecessary to contend that the inequality of the present age is more flagrant than that of its predecessors. The extreme depth of poverty of those who actually die of starvation is, indeed, obviously no less than before ; and when thirty per cent of the five million inhabitants of London are found to be inadequately suppUed with the bare necessaries of hfe, and a fourth of the entire community become paupers at sixty-five, it would profit us little to inquire whether this percentage is greater or less than that during the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the wealth produc- tion of the community advances by leaps and bounds, being now far greater than ever it was, and greater than that of any other country of the Old World. The riches of a comparatively small number of the owners of our land and capital are colossal and increasing. Nor is there any doubt or dispute as to the causes of this inequality. The supersession of the Small by the Great Industry has given the main fruits of invention and the new power over Nature to a comparatively small pro- prietary class, upon whom the mass of the people are dependent for leave to earn their living. When it suits any person having the use of land and capital to employ the worker, this is only done on condition that two im- portant deductions, rent and interest, can be made from his product, for the benefit of two, in this capacity, abso- lutely unproductive classes — those exercising the bare ownership of land and capital. The reward of labour being thus reduced, oji an average, by about one-third. the remaining eightpence out of the shilling is then shared between the various classes who have co-operated in the production — including the inventor, the managing em- ployer, and the mere wage-worker — ^but shared in the competitive struggle in such a way that at least fourpence goes to a favoured set of educated workers, numbering less than one-fifth of the whole, leaving four-fifths to divide less than fourpence out of the shilling between them. The consequence is the social condition we see around us. A fortunate few, owing to their legal power over the instru- ments of wealth-production, command the services of thousands of industrial slaves whose faces they have never seen, without rendering any service to them or to society in exchange. A larger body of persons contribute some labour, but are able, from their cultivated ability or special education, to choose occupations for which the competition wage is still high, owing to the small number of possible competitors. These two classes together number only one- fifth of the whole. On the other hand is the great mass of the people, the weekly wage-earners, four out of five of the whole population, toiling perpetually for less than a third of the aggregate product of labour, at an annual wage averaging at most ^^40 per adult, hurried into unnecessarily early graves by the severity of their Uves, and dying, as regards at least one-third of them, destitute or actually in receipt of poor-law relief. Few can doubt the fundamental causes of this inequality of condition. The abstraction from the total of over one- third of the product necessarily makes a serious inroad in that which the ” niggardliness of Nature ” allows us, and the distribution of the remaining two-thirds is, of course, itself fatally affected by the secondary results of the division into ” two nations ” which the private appropria- tion of rent and interest creates. Can we dodge the law of rent ? — Individualists may tell us of the good things that the worker could get for himself by thrift and sobriety, prudence and saving, but no economist will for a moment suggest that any con- ceivable advance in these virtues would remove the fundamental inequality arising from the phenomenon of rent. The mere worker, qud worker, is necessarily work- ing, as far as his own remuneration is concerned, on the very worst land in economic use, with the very minimum advantage of industrial capital. Every development to- wards a freer Individualism must, indeed, inevitably emphasize the power of the owner of the superior instru- ments of wealth-production to obtain for himself all the advantages of their superiority. Individualists may prefer to bhnk this fact, and to leave it to be implied that, some- how or other, the virtuous artisan can dodge the law of rent. But against this complacent delusion of the philan- thropist political economy emphatically protests. So long as the instruments of production are in unrestrained private ownership, so long must the tribute of the workers to the drones continue : so long will the toilers’ reward inevitably be reduced by their exactions. No tinkering with the land laws can abohsh or even diminish economic rent, however much it may result in the redistribution of this tribute. The whole equivalent of every source of fertility or advan- tage of all land over and above the worst in economic use is under free competition necessarily abstracted from the mere worker on it. So long as Lady Matheson can ” own ” the island of Lewis and (as she says) do what she likes with her own — so long as the Earls of Derby can appro- priate at their ease the unearned increment of Bootle or Bury — it is the very emphatic teachingrof pohtical economy that the earth may be the Lord’s, but the fuUness thereof must inevitably be the landlord’s. There is an interesting episode in English history among James I’s disputes with the Corporation of London, then the protector of popular liberties. James, in his wrath, threatened to remove the Court to Oxford. ” Provided only your Majesty leave us the Thames,” cleverly replied the Lord Mayor. But economic dominion is more subtle than kingcraft — our landlords steal from us even the Thames. No Londoner who is not a landlord could, under completely free Individualism, obtain one farthing’s worth of economic benefit from the existence of London’s ocean highway ; the whole equivalent of its industrial advantage would necessarily go to swell the compulsory tribute of London’s annual rental. It has often been vaguely hoped that this iron law was true only of land, and that, in some unexplained way, the worker did get the advantage of other forms of industrial capital. But further economic analysis shows, as Whately long ago hinted, that rent is a genus of which land rent is only one species. The worker in the factory is now seen to work no shorter hours or gain no higher wages merely be- cause the product of his labour is multiplied a hxmdred- fold by machinery which he does not own. Whatever may be the effect of invention on the wages of one generation as compared with the last, it has now become more than doubtful to economists whether the worker can count on getting any more of the product of the machine, in a state of ” complete personal Hberty,” than his colleague contemporaneously labouring at the very margin of cultivation with the very minimum of capital. The artisan producing boots by the hundred in the modem machine works of Southwark or Northampton gets no higher wages than the surviving hand cobbler in the by- street. The whole differential advantage of all but the worst industrial capital, like the whole differential advan- tage of all but the worst land, necessarily goes to him who legally owns it. The mere worker can have none of them. ” The remuneration of labour, as such,” wrote Cairnes in 1874 (Some Leading Principles, p. 348), ” skilled or un- skilled, can never rise much above its present level.” The “Population Question.” — Neither can we say that it is the increase of population which effects this result. During the present century, indeed, in spite of an un- paralleled increase in numbers, the wealth annually pro- duced in England per head has nearly doubled. If popu- lation became stationary to-morrow, and complete personal liberty prevailed, with any amount of temperance, pru- dence, and sympathy, the present rent and interest woxild not be affected ; our nmnbers determine, indeed, how bad the margin of cultivation wUl be, and this is of serious import enough ; but, increase or no increase, the private ownership of land and capital necessarily involves the com- plete exclusion of the mere worker, as such, from aU the economic advantages of the fertile soU on which he is bom, and of the buildings, machinery, and railways he finds around him. The ” wickedness ” of making any change. — Few In- dividualists, however, now attempt to deny the economic conclusion that the private ownership of land and capital necessarily involves a serious permanent inequality in the distribution of the annual product of the community ; and that this inequality bears no relation to the relative in- dustry or abstinence of the persons concerned. They regard it, however, as impossible to dispossess equitably those who now levy the tribute of rent and interest, and they are therefore driven silently to drop their original ideal of equality of opportunity, and to acquiesce in the perpetual continuance of the inequaUty which they vainly deplore. It is immoral, we are told, to take any step, by taxation or otherwise, which would diminish even by a trifle the income of the present owners of the soil and their descendants for ever and ever. This cannot be done with- out sheer confiscation, which would be none the less confiscation because carried out gradually and under the guise of taxation. The problem has, however, to be faced. Either we must submit for ever to hand over at least one-third of our annual product to those who do us the favour to own our country, without the obUgation of rendering any service to the community, and to see this tribute augment with every advance in our industry and numbers, or else we must take steps, as considerately as may be possible, to put an end to this state of things. Nor does equity yield any such conclusive objection to the latter course. Even if the infant children of our proprietors have come into the world booted and spurred, it can scarcely be contended that whole generations of their descendants yet unborn have a vested interest to ride on the backs of whole genera- tions of unborn workers. Few persons wiU believe that this globe must spin round the sun for ever charged with the colossal mortgage implied by private ownership of the ground-rents of great cities, merely because a few genera- tions of mankind, over a small part of its area, could at first devise no better plan of appropriating its surface. There is, indeed, much to be said in favour of the liberal treatment of the present generation of proprietors, and even of their children. But against the permanent welfare of the community the unborn have no rights; and not even a Hving proprietor can possess a vested interest in the existing system of taxation. The democracy may be .trusted to find, in dealing with the landlord, that the re- sources of civilization are not exhausted. An increase in the death duties, the steady rise of local rates, the special taxation of urban ground values, the graduation and differentiation of the income-tax, the simple appropriation of the unearned increment, and the gradual acquirement of land and other monopolies by public authorities, will in due course suffice to ” collectivize ” the bulk of the tribute of rent and interest in a way which the democracy will regard as sufficiently equitable even if it does not satisfy the conscience of the proprietary class itself. This growth of collective ownership it is, and not any vain sharing out of property, which is to achieve the practical equahty of opportunity at which democracy aims. Why inequality is bad. — Individualists have been driven, in their straits, to argue that inequality in wealth is in itself a good thing, and that the objection to it arises from the vain worship of a logical abstraction. But Sociahsts (who on this point are but taking up the old Radical position) base their indictment against inequality not on any metaphysical grounds, but on the plain facts of its effect upon social life. The inequality of income at the present time obviously results in a flagrant ” wrong pro- duction ” of commodities. The unequal value of money to our paupers and our millionaires deprives the test of ” effective demand ” of all value as an index to social re- quirements, or even to the production of individual happi- ness. The last glass of wine at a plutocratic orgy, which may be deemed not even to satisfy any desire, is economically as urgently ‘demanded’ as the whole day’s maintenance of the dock labourer for which its cost would suffice. Whether London shall be provided with an Italian Opera, or with two Italian Operas, whilst a million of its citizens are without the means of decent life, is now determined, not with any reference to the genuine social needs of the capital of the world, or even by any comparison between the competing desires of its inhabitants, but by the chance vagaries of a few hundred wealthy families. It will be hard for the democracy to believe that the conscious public appropriation of municipalized rent would not result in a better adjustment of resources to needs, or, at any rate, in a more general satisfaction of individual desires, than this Individualist appropriation of personal tribute on the labours of others. The degradation of character. — A more serious result of the inequality of income caused by the private owner- ship of land and capital is its evil effect on human character and the multiplication of the race. It is not easy to com- pute the loss to the world’s progress, the degradation of the world’s art and literature, caused by the demoraliza- tion of excessive wealth. Equally difficult would it be to reckon up how many potential geniuses are crushed out of existence by lack of opportunity of training and scope. But a graver evU is the positive ” wrong-population ” which is the result of extreme poverty and its accompany- ing insensibility to all but the lowest side of human life. In a condition of society in which the average family income is not quite £4 per week, the deduction of rent and interest for the benefit of a small class necessarily implies a vast majority of the population below the level of decent exist- ence. The slums at the East End of London are the corollary of the mansions at the West End. The depres- sion of the worker to the product of the margin of cultiva- tion often leaves him nothing but the barest livelihood. No prudential considerations appeal to such a class. One consequence is the breeding in the slums of our great cities, and the overcrowded hovels of the rural poor, of a horde of semi-barbarians, whose unskilled labour is neither required in our present complex industrial organism, nor capable of earning a maintenance there. It was largely the recognition that it was hopeless to expect to spread a Malthusian prudence among this residuum that turned John Stuart Mill into a Socialist ; and if this solution be re- jected, the slums remain to the Individualist as the problem of the Sphinx, which his civilization must solve or perish. The loss of freedom. — It is less easy to secure adequate recognition of the next, and in many respects the most serious ” dif&culty ” of Individualism — namely, its incon- sistency with democratic self-government. The Industrial Revolution, with its splendid conquests over Nature, opened up a new avenue of personal power for the middle class, and for every one who could force his way into the ranks either of the proprietors of the new machines, or of the captains of industry whom they necessitated. The enormous increase in personal power thus gained by a comparatively small number of persons, they and the economists not unnaturally mistook for a growth in general freedom. Nor was this opinion wholly incorrect. The industrial changes were, in a sense, themselves the result of progress in poUtical Uberty. The feudal restric- tions and aristocratic tyranny of the eighteenth century gave way before the industrial spirit, and the poUticaUy free labourer came into existence. But the economic servitude of the worker did not disappear with his political bondage. With the chains of innate status there dropped off also its economic privileges, and the free labourer found himself in a community where the old common rights over the soil were being gradually but effectually extinguished. He became a landless stranger in his own country. The development of competitive production for sale iri the world market, and the supremacy of the machine industry, involved, moreover, in order to live, not merely access to the land, but the use, in addition, of increasingly large masses of capital — at first in agriculture, then in foreign trade, then in manufacture, and finally now also in distributive industries. The mere worker became steadily less and less industrially independent as his political freedom increased. From a self-governing producing unit he passed into a mere item in a vast industrial army over the organization and direction of which he had no control. He was free, but free only to choose to which master he would sell his labour — free only to decide from which proprietor he would beg that access to the new instruments of production without which he could not exist. In an age of the Small Industry there was much to be said for the view that the greatest possible personal freedom was to be obtained by the least possible collective rule. The peasant on his own farm, the blacksmith at his own forge, needed only to be let alone, to be allowed to follow their own individual desires as to the manner and duration of their work. But the organization of workers into huge armies, the directing of the factory and the warehouse by skilled generals and captains, which is the inevitable out- come of the machine industry and the world-commerce, have necessarily deprived the average workman of the direction of his own life or the management of his own work. The middle-class student, over whose occupation the Juggernaut Car of the Industrial Revolution has not passed, finds it difficult to realize how sullenly the work- man resents his exclusion from all share in the direction of the industrial world. This feehng is part of the real in- wardness of the demand for an Eight Hours Bill. The ordinary journalist or member of Parliament still says : “I don’t consult any one except my doctor as to my hours of labour. That is a matter which each grown man must settle for himself.” We never hear such a re- mark from a working-man belonging to any trade more highly organized than chimney-sweeping. The modern artisan has learnt that he can no more fix for himself the time at which he shall begin and end his work than he can fix the sunrise or the tides. When the carrier drove his own cart and the weaver sat at his own loom they began and left off work at the hours that each preferred. Now the railway worker or the power-loom weaver knows that he must work the same hours as his mates. It was this industrial autocracy that the Christian Socialists of 1850 sought to remedy by re-establishing the “self-governing workshop” of associated craftsnien ; and a similar purpose stiU pervades the whole field of industrial philanthropy. Sometimes it takes the specious name of ” industrial partnership ” ; sometimes the less pretentious form of a joint stock company with one-pound shares. In the country, it inspires the zeal for the creation of peasant proprietorships, or the restoration of ” village industries,” and behind it stalk those bogus middle-class ” reforms ” known as ” free land ” and ” leasehold enfranchisement.” But it can scarcely be hidden from the eyes of any serious student of economic evolution that all these well-meant endeavours to set back the industrial clock are, as regards any widespread result, foredoomed to failure. The growth of capital has been so vast, and is so rapidly increasing, that any hope of the great mass of the workers ever owning under any conceivable Individualist arrange- ments the instruments of production with which they work can only be deemed chimerical. Hence it is that irresponsible personal authority over the actions of others — expelled from the throne, the castle, and the altar — still reigns, almost unchecked, in the factory and the mine. The ” captains of industry,” hke the kings of yore, are indeed honestly unable to imagine how the busi- ness of the world can ever go on without the continuance of their existing rights and powers. And truly, upon any possible development of Individualistic principles, it is not easy to see how the worker can ever escape from their ” beneficent ” rule. The growth of collective action.— But representative government has taught the people how to gain coUectivelyj that power which they could never again individuallyj possess. The present century has accordingly witnessed W- growing demand for the legal regulation of the conditions! of industry which represents a marked advance on previous conceptions of the sphere of legislation. It has also seen a progress in the pubhc management of industrial under- takings which represents an equal advance in the field of; government administration. Such an extension of collective action is, it may safely be asserted, an inevitable result of political democracy. When the Commons of England had secured the right to vote supplies, it must have seemed an unwarrantable extension that they should claim also to redress grievances. When they passed from legislation to the exercise of control over the executive, the constitu- tional jurists were aghast at the presumption. The attempt of Parliament to seize the command of the miUtary forces led to a civil war. Its control over foreign policy is scarcely two hundred years old. Every one of these de- velopments of the collective authority of the nation over the conditions of its own life was denounced as an illegiti- mate usurpation foredoomed to failure. Every one of them is still being resisted in countries less advanced in political development. In England, where all these rights are admitted, each of them inconsistent with the ” com- plete personal liberty ” of the minority, the Individualists of to-day deny the competence of the people to regulate, through their representative committees, national or local, the conditions under which they work and live. Although the tyranny which keeps the railwayman away from his home for seventeen hours a day is not the tyranny of king or priest or noble, he feels that it is tyranny all the same, and seeks to curb it in the way his fathers took. The captains of war have been reduced to the position of salaried officers acting for pubUc ends under public con- trol ; and the art of war has not decayed. In a similar Way the captains of industry are gradually being deposed from their independent commands, and turned into salaried servants of the public. Nearly aU the railways of the world, outside of America and the United Kingdom, are managed in this way. The Belgian Government works its own line of passenger steamers. The Paris Municipal Council opens public bakeries. The Glasgow Town Council runs its own common lodging houses. Everywhere, schools, waterworks, gasworks, tramways, dwellings for the people, and many other forms of capital are passing from indi- vidual into collective control. And there is no contrary movement. No community which has once ” municipal- ized ” any public service ever retraces its steps or reverses its action. Such is the answer that is actually being given to this difficulty of Individualism. Everywhere the workman is coming to understand that it is practically hopeless for him, either individually or co-operatively, to own the con- stantly growing mass of capital by the use of which he lives. Either we must, under what is called ” complete personal freedom,” acquiesce in the personal rule of the capitalist, tempered only by enlightened self-interest and the ” gift of sympathy,” or’ we must substitute for it, as we did for the royal authority, the collective rule of the whole community. The decision is scarcely doubtful. And hence we have on aU sides, what to the Individualist is the most incomprehensible of phenomena, the expansion of the. sphere of government in the interests of liberty itself. I Socialism is, indeed, nothing but the extension of democratic self-government from the political to the in- dustrial world, and it is hard to resist the conclusion that it is an inevitable outcome of the joint effects of the economic and political revolutions of the past century. , Competition. — Individualists often take refuge in a faith that the extension of the proprietary class, and the competition of its members, will always furnish an ade- quate safeguard against the tyranny of any one of them. , But the monopoly of which the democracy is here im- patient is not that of any single individual, but that of the class itself. What the workers are objecting to is, not the rise of any industrial Buonaparte financially domineering the whole earth — though American experience makes even this less improbable than it once was — but the creation of a new feudal system of industry, the domination of the mass of ordinary workersiby a hierarchy of property owners, who compete, it is true, among themselves, but who are nevertheless able, as a class, to preserve a very real control i over the lives of those who depend upon their own daily j labour. Moreover, competition, where it still exists, is in itself one of the Individualist’s difficulties, resulting, under a system of unequal incomes, not merely in the production, : as we have seen, of the wrong conunodities, but also of their production in the wrong way and for the wrong ends. The whole range of the present competitive Individualisni manifestly tends, indeed, to the glorification, not of honest personal service, but of the pursuit of personal gain — ^not the production of wealth, but the obtaining of riches. The inevitable outcome is the apotheosis Jf not of social service, but of successful financial speculation, which is already the special bane of the American civiHzation. With it comes inevitably a demoralization of personal character, a coarsening of moral fibre, and a hideous lack of taste. The lesson of Evolution. — This, indeed, is the lesson which economics brings to ethics. The ” fittest to sur- vive ” is not necessarily the best, but much more probably he who takes the fullest possible advantage of the con- ditions of the struggle, heedless of the result to his rivals. Indeed, the soci^ consequences of complete personal hberty in the struggle for existence have been so appalling that the principle has had necessarily to be abandoned. It is now generally admitted to be a primary duty of govern- ment to prescribe the plane on which it will allow the struggle for existence to be fought out, and so to determine which kind of fitness shall survive. We have long ruled out of the conflict the appeal to brute force, thereby de- priving the stronger man of his natural advantage over his weaker brother. We stop as fast as we can every develop- ment of fraud and chicanery, and so limit the natural right of the cunning to over- reach their neighbours. We pro- hibit the weapon of deceptive labels and trade-marks. In spite of John Bright’s protest, we rule that adulteration is not a permissible form of competition. We forbid slavery ; with MiU’s consent, we even refuse to enforce a hfelong contract of service. We condemn long hours of labour for women and children, and now even for adult men, and insanitary conditions of labour for all workers. The whole history of social progress is, indeed, one long series of definitions and limitations of the conditions of the struggle, in order to raise the quality of the fittest who survive. This service can be performed only by the Goverrunent. No individual competitor can lay down the rules of the combat. No individual can safely choose the higher plane so long as his opponent is at hberty to fight on the lower. In the face of this experience, the Indi- vidualist proposal to rely on complete personal liberty and free competition is not calculated to gain much acceptance. A social system devised to encourage ” the art of estabUsh- ing the maximum inequality over our neighbours” — as Ruskin puts it — appears destined to be replaced, wherever this is possible, by one based on salaried public service, with the stimulus of duty and esteem, instead of that of fortune-making. The struggle for existence between nations.— But perhaps the most serious difficulty presented by the present concentration of energy upon personal gain is its effect upon the position of the community in the race struggle. The lesson of evolution seems to be that inter-racial com- petition is really more momentous in its consequences than the struggle between individuals. It is of comparatively little importance, in the long run, that individuals should develop to the utmost, if the life of the community in which they live is not thereby served. Two generations ago it would have been assumed, as a matter of course, that the most efficient hf e for each community was to be secured by each individual in it being left complete personal free- dom. But that crude vision has long since been demol- ished. Fifty years’ social experience have convinced every statesman that, although there is no common sensorium, a’ society is something more than th^ sum of its members ; that a social organism has a hfe and health distinguishable from those of its individual atoms. Hence it is that we have had Lord Shaftesbury warning us that without Factory Acts we should lose our textUe trade ; Matthew Arnold, that without national education we were steering straight into national decay ; and, finally, even Professor Huxley taking up the parable that, unless we see to the training of our residuum, France and Germany and the United States wiU take our place in the world’s workshop. This ” difficulty ” of Individualism can be met, indeed, like the rest, only by the application of what are essentially Socialist principles.

Argument and class bias.— These ‘difficulties’ will appeal more strongly to some persons than to others.   The evils of inequality of wealth will come home more forcibly to the three millions of the submerged tenth in want of the bare necessaries of life than they will to the small class provided with every luxury at the cost of the rest.  The ethical objection to any diminution in the incomes of those who own our land will vary in strength according, in the main, to our economic or political prepossessions.   The indiscriminate multiplication of the unfit, like the drunkenness of the masses, will appear as a cause or an effect of social inequality, according to our actual information about the poor and our disposition towards them.  The luxury of the rich may strike us as a sign either of national wealth or of national maladjustment of resources to needs.   The autocratic administration of industry will appear either as the beneficent direction of the appropriate captains of industry, or as the tyranny of a proprietary class over those who have no alternative but to become its wage-slaves.  The struggle of the slaves among themselves, of the proprietors among themselves, and of each class with the other, may be to us ‘the beneficent private war which makes one man strive to climb on the shoulders of another and remain there’ (Sir Henry Maine, Popular Government, pp. 49, 50); or it may loom to us, out of the blood and tears and misery of the strife, as a horrible remnant of the barbarism from which man has half risen since ‘We dined, as a rule, on each other: What matter? the toughest survived.’  That survival from an obsolescent form of the struggle for existence may seem the best guarantee for the continuance of the community and the race; or it may, on the other hand, appear a suicidal internecine conflict, as fatal as that between the belly and the members.  All through the tale two views are possible, and we shall take the one or the other according to our knowledge and temperament. This power of prepossession and unconscious bias constitutes, indeed, the special difficulty of the Individualists of to-day.   Aristotle found it easy to convince himself and his friends that slavery was absolutely necessary to civilization.  The Liberty and Property Defence League has the more difficult task of convincing, not the proprietary class, but our modem slaves, who are electors, and into whose control the executive power of the community is more and more falling.

And in this task the Individualists receive ever less and less help from the chief executive officers of the nation.  Those who have forced directly upon their notice the larger aspects of the problem, those who are directly responsible for the collective interests of the community, can now hardly avoid, whether they like it or not, taking the Socialist view.   Each Minister of State protests against Socialism in the abstract, but every decision that he gives in his own department leans more and more away from the Individualist side. Socialism and liberty. — Some persons may object that this gradual expansion of the collective administration of the nation’s life cannot fairly be styled a Socialistic development, and that the name ought to be refused to everything but a complete system of society on a Communist basis.  But whatever Socialism may have meant in the past, its real significance now is the steady expansion of representative self-government into the industrial sphere.  This industrial democracy it is, and not any ingenious Utopia, with which Individualists, if they desire to make any effectual resistance to the substitution of collective for individual will, must attempt to deal.   Most political students are, indeed, now prepared to agree with the Socialist that our restrictive laws and municipal Socialism, so far as these have yet gone, do, as a matter of fact, secure a greater well-being and general freedom than that system of complete personal liberty, of which the ‘sins of legislators’ have deprived us.  The sacred name of liberty is invoked, by both parties, and the question at issue is merely one of method.

As each ‘difficulty’ of the present social order presents itself for solution, the Socialist points to the experience of all advanced industrial countries, and urges that personal freedom can be obtained by the great mass of the people only by their substituting democratic self-government in the industrial world for that personal power which the Industrial Revolution has placed in the hands of the proprietary class.  His opponents regard individual liberty as inconsistent with collective control, and accordingly resist any extension of this ‘higher freedom’ of collective life.  Their main difficulty is the advance of democracy, ever more and more claiming to extend itself into the field of industry.  To all objections, fears, doubts, and difficulties, as to the impracticability of doing in the industrial what has already been done in the political world, the democratic answer is, ‘solvitur amhulando;’ only that is done at any time which is proved to be then and there practicable; only such advance is made as the progress in the sense of public duty permits.  But that progress is both our hope and our real aim: the development of individual character is the Socialist’s ‘odd trick,’ for the sake of which he seeks to win all others.  Industrial democracy must therefore necessarily be gradual in its development, and cannot for long ages be absolutely complete.   The time may never arrive, even as regards material things, when individual is entirely merged in collective ownership or control, but it is matter of common observation that every attempt to grapple with the ‘difficulties’ of our existing civilization brings us nearer to that goal.”     Sidney Webb, “The Difficulties of Individualism;” In Socialism & Individualism, 1924, originally a long article in Economic Journal, 1891.  

london britain british parliament

Numero Dos“A rather curious scene, unscripted, once took place in the wings of a London theatre at the same time as the scheduled performance was being presented on the actual stage, before an audience.  What happened was this: an actor refused to come on stage for his allocated role.  Action was suspended.  A fellow actor tried to persuade him to emerge, but he stubbornly shook his head.  Then a struggle ensued.  The second actor had hoped that, by suddenly exposing the reluctant actor to the audience in full glare of the spotlight, he would have no choice but to rejoin the cast.  And so he tried to take the delinquent actor by surprise, pulling him suddenly towards the stage.  He did not fully succeed, so a brief but untidy struggle began.  The unwilling actor was completely taken aback and deeply embarrassed–some of that tussle was quite visible to a part of the audience.

The performance itself, it should be explained, was an improvisation around an incident.  This meant that the actors were free, within the convention of the performance–to stop, re-work any part they wished, invite members of the audience on stage, assign roles and change costumes in full view of the audience.   They therefore could also dramatize their wish to have that uncooperative actor join them–which they did with gusto.  That actor had indeed left the stage before the contentious scene began.  He had served notice during rehearsals that he would not participate in it.  In the end, he had his way, but the incident proved very troubling to him for weeks afterwards.  He found himself compelled to puzzle out this clash in attitudes between himself and his fellow writers and performers.  He experienced, on the one hand, an intense rage that he had been made to appear incapable of confronting a stark reality, made to appear to suffer from interpretative coyness, to seem inhibited by a cruel reality or perhaps to carry his emotional involvement with an event so far as to interfere with his professional will.  Of course, he knew that it was none of these things.  The truth was far simpler.  Unlike his colleagues together with whom he shared, unquestionably, the same political attitude towards the event which was being represented, he found the mode of presentation at war with the ugliness it tried to convey, creating an intense disquiet about his very presence on that stage, in that place, before an audience whom he considered collectively responsible for that dehumanizing actuality.

And now let us remove some of the mystery and make that incident a little more concrete. The scene was the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1958.  It was one of those Sunday nights which were given to experimentation, an innovation of that remarkable theatre manager-director, George Devine, whose creative nurturing radicalised British theatre of that period and produced later icons like John Osborne, N. F. Simpson, Edward Bond, Arnold Wesker, Harold Pinter, John Arden, etc., and even forced the then conservative British palate to sample stylistic and ideological pariahs like Samuel Beckett and Bertold Brecht.  On this particular occasion, the evening was devoted to a form of ‘living’ theatre, and the main fare was titled ELEVEN MEN DEAD AT HOLA.  The actors were not all professional actors; indeed they were mostly writers who jointly created and performed these dramatic pieces.  Those with a long political memory may recall what took place at Hola Camp, Kenya, during the Mau-Mau Liberation struggle.  The British Colonial power believed that the Mau-Mau could be smashed by herding Kenyans into special camps, trying to separate the hard cases, the mere suspects and the potential recruits–oh, they had it all neatly worked out.  One such camp was Hola Camp and the incident involved the death of eleven of the detainees who were simply beaten to death by camp officers and warders.  The usual enquiry set up, and it was indeed the Report which provided the main text on which the performance was based.

We need now only to identify the reluctant actor, if you have not guessed that by now – it was none other than this speaker. I recall the occasion as vividly as actors are wont to recollect for ever and ever the frightening moment of a blackout, when the lines are not only forgotten but even the moment in the play. The role which I had been assigned was that of a camp guard, one of the killers. We were equipped with huge night-sticks and, while a narrator read the testimony of one of the guards, our task was to raise the cudgels slowly and, almost ritualistically, bring them down on the necks and shoulders of the prisoners, under orders of the white camp officers. A surreal scene. Even in rehearsals, it was clear that the end product would be a surrealist tableau. The Narrator at a lectern under a spot; a dispassionate reading, deliberately clinical, letting the stark facts reveal the states of mind of torturers and victims. A small ring of white officers, armed. One seizes a cudgel from one of the warders to demonstrate how to beat a human being without leaving visible marks. Then the innermost clump of detainees, their only weapon – non-violence. They had taken their decision to go on strike, refused to go to work unless they obtained better camp conditions. So they squatted on the ground and refused to move, locked their hands behind their knees in silent defiance. Orders were given. The inner ring of guards, the blacks, moved in, lifted the bodies by hooking their hands underneath the armpits of the detainees, carried them like toads in a state of petrification to one side, divided them in groups.

The faces of the victims are impassive; they are resolved to offer no resistance. The beatings begin: one to the left side, then the back, the arms – right, left, front, back. Rhythmically. The cudgels swing in unison. The faces of the white guards glow with professional satisfaction, their arms gesture languidly from time to time, suggesting it is time to shift to the next batch, or beat a little more severely on the neglected side. In terms of images, a fluid, near balletic scene.

Then the contrast, the earlier official version, enacting how the prisoners were supposed to have died. This claimed that the prisoners had collapsed, that they died after drinking from a poisoned water supply. So we staged that also. The prisoners filed to the water waggon, gasping with thirst. After the first two or three had drunk and commenced writhing with pain, these humane guards rushed to stop the others but no, they were already wild with thirst, fought their way past salvation and drank greedily the same source. The groans spread from one to the other, the writhing, the collapse – then agonized deaths. That was the version of the camp governors.

The motif was simple enough, the theatrical format a tried and tested one, faithful to a particular convention. What then was the problem? It was one, I believe, that affects most writers. When is playacting rebuked by reality? When is fictionalizing presumptuous? What happens after playacting? One of the remarkable properties of the particular theatrical convention I have just described is that it gives off a strong odour of perenniality, that feeling of “I have been here before”. “I have been a witness to this.” “The past enacts its presence.” In such an instance, that sense of perenniality can serve both as exorcism, a certificate of release or indeed – especially for the audience, a soporific. We must bear in mind that at the time of presentation, and to the major part of that audience, every death of a freedom fighter was a notch on a gun, the death of a fiend, an animal, a bestial mutant, not the martyrdom of a patriot.

We know also, however, that such efforts can provoke changes, that an actualization of the statistical, journalistic footnote can arouse revulsion in the complacent mind, leading to the beginning of a commitment to change, redress. And on this occasion, angry questions had been raised in the Houses of Parliament. Liberals, humanitarians and reformists had taken up the cause of justice for the victims. Some had even travelled to Kenya to obtain details which exposed the official lie. This profound unease, which paralysed my creative will, therefore reached beyond the audience and, finally, I traced its roots to my own feelings of assaulted humanity, and its clamour for a different form of response. It provoked a feeling of indecency about that presentation, rather like the deformed arm of a leper which is thrust at the healthy to provoke a charitable sentiment. This, I believe, was the cause of that intangible, but totally visceral rejection which thwarted the demands of my calling, rendered it inadequate and mocked the empathy of my colleagues. It was as if the inhuman totality, of which that scene was a mere fragment, was saying to us: Kindly keep your comfortable sentiment to yourselves.

Of course, I utilize that episode only as illustration of the far deeper internalised processes of the creative mind, a process that endangers the writer in two ways: he either freezes up completely, or he abandons the pen for far more direct means of contesting unacceptable reality. And again, Hola Camp provides a convenient means of approaching that aspect of my continent’s reality which, for us whom it directly affronts, constitutes the greatest threat to global peace in our actual existence. For there is a gruesome appropriateness in the fact that an African, a black man should stand here today, in the same year that the progressive Prime Minister of this host country was murdered, in the same year as Samora Machel was brought down on the territory of the desperate last-ditch guardians of the theory of racial superiority which has brought so much misery to our common humanity. Whatever the facts are about Olof Palme’s death, there can be no question about his life. To the racial oppression of a large sector of humanity, Olof Palme pronounced, and acted, a decisive No! Perhaps it was those who were outraged by this act of racial “treachery” who were myopic enough to imagine that the death of an individual would arrest the march of his convictions; perhaps it was simply yet another instance of the Terror Epidemic that feeds today on shock, not reason. It does not matter; an authentic conscience of the white tribe has been stilled, and the loss is both yours and mine. Samora Machel, the leader who once placed his country on a war footing against South Africa, went down in as yet mysterious circumstances. True, we are all still haunted by the Nkomati Accord which negated that earlier triumphant moment on the African collective will; nevertheless, his foes across the border have good reason to rejoice over his demise and, in that sense, his death is, ironically, a form of triumph for the black race.

Is that perhaps too stark a paradox? Then let me take you back to Hola Camp. It is cattle which are objects of the stick, or whip. So are horses, goats, donkeys etc. Their definition therefore involves being occasionally beaten to death. If, thirty years after Hola Camp, it is at all thinkable that it takes the ingenuity of the most sophisticated electronic interference to kill an African resistance fighter, the champions of racism are already admitting to themselves what they continue to deny to the world: that they, white supremacist breed, have indeed come a long way in their definition of their chosen enemy since Hola Camp. They have come an incredibly long way since Sharpeville when they shot unarmed, fleeing Africans in the back. They have come very far since 1930 when, at the first organized incident of the burning of passes, the South African blacks decided to turn Dingaan’s Day, named for the defeat of the Zulu leader Dingaan, into a symbol of affirmative resistance by publicly destroying their obnoxious passes. In response to those thousands of passes burnt on Cartright Flats, the Durban police descended on the unarmed protesters killing some half dozen and wounding hundreds. They backed it up with scorched earth campaign which dispersed thousands of Africans from their normal environment, victims of imprisonment and deportation. And even that 1930 repression was a quantum leap from that earlier, spontaneous protest against the Native Pass law in 1919, when the police merely rode down the protesters on horseback, whipped and sjamboked them, chased and harried them, like stray goats and wayward cattle, from street corner to shanty lodge. Every act of racial terror, with its vastly increasing sophistication of style and escalation in human loss, is itself an acknowledgement of improved knowledge and respect for the potential of what is feared, an acknowledgement of the sharpening tempo of triumph by the victimized.

For there was this aspect which struck me most forcibly in that attempt to recreate the crime at Hola Camp: in the various testimonies of the white officers, it stuck out, whether overtly stated or simply through their efficient detachment from the ongoing massacre. It was this: at no time did these white overseers actually experience the human “otherness” of their victims. They clearly did not experience the reality of the victims as human beings. Animals perhaps, a noxious form of vegetable life maybe, but certainly not human. I do not speak here of their colonial overlords, the ones who formulated and sustained the policy of settler colonialism, the ones who dispatched the Maxim guns and tuned the imperial bugle. They knew very well that empires existed which had to be broken, that civilizations had endured for centuries which had to be destroyed. The “sub-human” denigration for which their “civilizing mission” became the altruistic remedy, was the mere rationalizing icing on the cake of imperial greed. But yes indeed, there were the agents, those who carried out orders (like Eichmann, to draw parallels from the white continent); they – whether as bureaucrats, technicians or camp governors had no conceptual space in their heads which could be filled – except very rarely and exceptionally – by “the black as also human”. It would be correct to say that this has remained the pathology of the average South African white since the turn of the last century to this moment. Here, for example is one frank admission by an enlightened, even radical mind of that country:

“It was not until my last year in school that it had occurred to me that these black people, these voteless masses, were in any way concerned with the socialism which I professed or that they had any role to play in the great social revolution which in these days seemed to be imminent. The ‘workers’ who were destined to inherit the new world were naturally the white carpenters and bricklayers, the tramworkers and miners who were organized in their trade unions and who voted for the Labour Party. I would no more have thought of discussing politics with a native youth than of inviting him home to play with me or to a meal or asking him to join the Carnarvon Football Club. The African was on a different plane, hardly human, part of the scene as were dogs and trees and, more remotely, cows. I had no special feelings about him, not interest nor hate nor love. He just did not come into my social picture. So completely had I accepted the traditional attitudes of the time.”

Yes, I believe that this self-analysis by Eddie Roux, the Afrikaaner political rebel and scientist, remains today the flat, unvarnished truth for the majority of Afrikaaners. “No special feelings, not interest nor hate nor love”, the result of a complete acceptance of “traditional attitudes”. That passage captures a mind’s racial tabula rasa, if you like – in the first decade of this century – about the time, in short, when the Nobel series of prizes was inaugurated. But a slate, no matter how clean, cannot avoid receiving impressions once it is exposed to air – fresh or polluted. And we are now in the year 1986, that is after an entire century of direct, intimate exposure, since that confrontation, that first rejection of the dehumanizing label implicit in the Native Pass Laws.

Eddie Roux, like hundreds, even thousands of his countrymen, soon made rapid strides. His race has produced its list of martyrs in the cause of nonracialism – one remembers, still with a tinge of pain, Ruth First, destroyed by a letter bomb delivered by the long arm of Apartheid. There are others – André Brink, Abram Fischer, Helen Suzman – Breyten Breytenbach, with the scars of martyrdom still seared into their souls. Intellectuals, writers, scientists, plain working men, politicians – they come to that point where a social reality can no longer be observed as a culture on a slide beneath the microscope, nor turned into aesthetic variations on pages, canvas or the stage. The blacks of course are locked into an unambiguous condition: on this occasion I do not need to address us. We know, and we embrace our mission. It is the other that this precedent seizes the opportunity to address, and not merely those who are trapped within the confines of that doomed camp, but those who live outside, on the fringes of conscience. Those specifically, who with shameless smugness invent arcane moral propositions that enable them to plead inaction in a language of unparalleled political flatulence: “Personally, I find sanctions morally repugnant”. Or what shall we say of another leader for whom economic sanctions which work against an Eastern European country will not work in the Apartheid enclave of South Africa, that master of histrionics who takes to the world’s airwaves to sing: “Let Poland be”, but turns off his hearing aid when the world shouts: “Let Nicaragua be”. But enough of these world leaders of double-talk and multiple moralities.

It is baffling to any mind that pretends to the slightest claim to rationality, it is truly and formidably baffling. Can the same terrain of phenomenal assimilation – that is, one which produced evidence of a capacity to translate empirical observations into implications of rational human conduct – can this same terrain which, over half a century ago, fifty entire years, two, three generations ago produced the Buntings, the Roux, the Douglas Woltons, Solly Sachs, the Gideon Bothas – can that same terrain, fifty, sixty, even seventy years later, be peopled by a species of humanity so ahistorical that the declaration, so clearly spelt out in 1919 at the burning of the passes, remains only a troublesome event of no enduring significance?

Some atavistic bug is at work here which defies all scientific explanation, an arrest in time within the evolutionary mandate of nature, which puts all human experience of learning to serious question! We have to ask ourselves then, what event can speak to such a breed of people? How do we reactivate that petrified cell which houses historic apprehension and development? Is it possible, perhaps, that events, gatherings such as this might help? Dare we skirt the edge of hubris and say to them: Take a good look. Provide your response. In your anxiety to prove that this moment is not possible, you had killed, maimed, silenced, tortured, exiled, debased and dehumanized hundreds of thousands encased in this very skin, crowned with such hair, proudly content with their very being? How many potential partners in the science of heart transplant have you wasted? How do we know how many black South African scientists and writers would have stood here, by now, if you had had the vision to educate the rest of the world in the value of a great multi-racial society.

Jack Cope surely sums it up in his Foreword to THE ADVERSARY WITHIN, a study of dissidence in Afrikaaner literature when he states:

“Looking back from the perspective of the present, I think it can justly be said that, at the core of the matter, the Afrikaaner leaders in 1924 took the wrong turning. Themselves the victims of imperialism in its most evil aspect, all their sufferings and enormous loss of life nevertheless failed to convey to them the obvious historical lesson. They became themselves the new imperialists. They took over from Britain the mantle of empire and colonialism. They could well have set their faces against annexation, aggression, colonial exploitation, and oppression, racial arrogance and barefaced hypocrisy, of which they had been themselves the victims. They could have opened the doors to humane ideas and civilizing processes and transformed the great territory with its incalculable resources into another New World.

Instead they deliberately set the clock back wherever they could. Taking over ten million indigenous subjects from British colonial rule, they stripped them of what limited rights they had gained over a century and tightened the screws on their subjection.”

Well, perhaps the wars against Chaka and Dingaan and Diginswayo, even the Great Trek were then too fresh in your laager memory. But we are saying that over a century has passed since then, a century in which the world has leapt, in comparative tempo with the past, at least three centuries. And we have seen the potential of man and woman – of all races – contend with the most jealously guarded sovereignty of Nature and the Cosmos. In every field, both in the Humanities and Sciences, we have seen that human creativity has confronted and tempered the hostility of his environment, adapting, moderating, converting, harmonizing, and even subjugating. Triumphing over errors and resuming the surrendered fields, when man has had time to lick his wounds and listen again to the urgings of his spirit. History – distorted, opportunistic renderings of history have been cleansed and restored to truthful reality, because the traducers of the history of others have discovered that the further they advanced, the more their very progress was checked and vitiated by the lacunae they had purposefully inserted in the history of others. Self-interest dictated yet another round of revisionism – slight, niggardly concessions to begin with. But a breach had been made in the dam and an avalanche proved the logical progression. From the heart of jungles, even before the aid of high-precision cameras mounted on orbiting satellites, civilizations have resurrected, documenting their own existence with unassailable iconography and art. More amazing still, the records of the ancient voyagers, the merchant adventurers of the age when Europe did not yet require to dominate territories in order to feed its industrial mills – those objective recitals of mariners and adventurers from antiquity confirmed what the archeological remains affirmed so loudly. They spoke of living communities which regulated their own lives, which had evolved a working relationship with Nature, which ministered to their own wants and secured their future with their own genius. These narratives, uncluttered by the impure motives which needed to mystify the plain self-serving rush to dismantle independent societies for easy plundering – pointed accusing fingers unerringly in the direction of European savants, philosophers, scientists, and theorists of human evolution. Gobineau is a notorious name, but how many students of European thought today, even among us Africans, recall that several of the most revered names in European philosophy – Hegel, Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Voltaire – an endless list – were unabashed theorists of racial superiority and denigrators of the African history and being. As for the more prominent names among the theorists of revolution and class struggle – we will draw the curtain of extenuation on their own intellectual aberration, forgiving them a little for their vision of an end to human exploitation.

In any case, the purpose is not really to indict the past, but to summon it to the attention of a suicidal, anachronistic present. To say to that mutant present: you are a child of those centuries of lies, distortion and opportunism in high places, even among the holy of holies of intellectual objectivity. But the world is growing up, while you wilfully remain a child, a stubborn, self-destructive child, with certain destructive powers, but a child nevertheless. And to say to the world, to call attention to its own historic passage of lies – as yet unabandoned by some – which sustains the evil precocity of this child. Wherein then lies the surprise that we, the victims of that intellectual dishonesty of others, demand from that world that is finally coming to itself, a measure of expiation? Demand that it rescues itself, by concrete acts, from the stigma of being the wilful parent of a monstrosity, especially as that monstrous child still draws material nourishment, breath, and human recognition from the strengths and devises of that world, with an umbilical cord which stretches across oceans, even across the cosmos via so-called programmes of technological co-operation. We are saying very simply but urgently: Sever that cord. By any name, be it Total Sanction, Boycott, Disinvestment, or whatever, sever this umbilical cord and leave this monster of a birth to atrophy and die or to rebuild itself on long-denied humane foundations. Let it collapse, shorn of its external sustenance, let it collapse of its own social disequilibrium, its economic lopsidedness, its war of attrition on its most productive labour. Let it wither like an aborted foetus of the human family if it persists in smothering the minds and sinews which constitute its authentic being.

This pariah society that is Apartheid South Africa plays many games on human intelligence. Listen to this for example. When the whole world escalated its appeal for the release of Nelson Mandela, the South African Government blandly declared that it continued to hold Nelson Mandela for the same reasons that the Allied powers continued to hold Rudolf Hess! Now a statement like that is an obvious appeal to the love of the ridiculous in everyone. Certainly it wrung a kind of satiric poem out of me – Rudolf Hess as Nelson Mandela in blackface! What else can a writer do to protect his humanity against such egregious assaults! But yet again to equate Nelson Mandela to the archcriminal Rudolf Hess is a macabre improvement on the attitude of regarding him as sub-human. It belongs on that same scale of Apartheid’s self-improvement as the ratio between Sharpeville and Von Brandis Square, that near-kind, near-considerate, almost benevolent dispersal of the first Native Press rebellion.

That world which is so conveniently traduced by Apartheid thought is of course that which I so wholeheartedly embrace – and this is my choice – among several options – of the significance of my presence here. It is a world that nourishes my being, one which is so self-sufficient, so replete in all aspects of its productivity, so confident in itself and in its destiny that it experiences no fear in reaching out to others and in responding to the reach of others. It is the heartstone of our creative existence. It constitutes the prism of our world perception and this means that our sight need not be and has never been permanently turned inwards. If it were, we could not so easily understand the enemy on our doorstep, nor understand how to obtain the means to disarm it. When this society which is Apartheid South Africa indulges from time to time in appeals to the outside world that it represents the last bastion of civilization against the hordes of barbarism from its North, we can even afford an indulgent smile. It is sufficient, imagines this state, to raise the spectre of a few renegade African leaders, psychopaths and robber barons who we ourselves are victims of – whom we denounce before the world and overthrow when we are able – this Apartheid society insists to the world that its picture of the future is the reality which only its policies can erase. This is a continent which only destroys, it proclaims, it is peopled by a race which has never contributed anything positive to the world’s pool of knowledge. A vacuum, that will suck into its insatiable maw the entire fruits of centuries of European civilization, then spew out the resulting mush with contempt. How strange that a society which claims to represent this endangered face of progress should itself be locked in centuries-old fantasies, blithely unaware of, or indifferent to the fact that it is the last, institutionally functioning product of archaic articles of faith in Euro-Judaic thought.

Take God and Law for example, especially the former. The black race has more than sufficient historic justification to be a little paranoid about the intrusion of alien deities into its destiny. For even today, Apartheid’s mentality of the pre-ordained rests – according to its own unabashed claims, on what I can only describe as incidents in a testamentary Godism – I dare not call it Christianity. The sons of Ham on the one hand; the descendants of Shem on the other. The once pronounced, utterly immutable curse. As for Law, these supremacists base their refusal to concede the right of equal political participation to blacks on a claim that Africans have neither respect for, nor the slightest proclivity for Law – that is, for any arbitrating concept between the individual and the collective.

Even the mildest, liberal, somewhat regretful but contented apologists for Apartheid, for at least some form of Apartheid which is not Apartheid but ensures the status quo – even this ambivalent breed bases its case on this lack of the idea of Law in the black mind. I need only refer to a recent contribution to this literature in the form of an autobiography by a famous heart transplant surgeon, one who in his own scientific right has probably been a candidate for a Nobel Prize in the Sciences. Despite constant intellectual encounters on diverse levels, the sad phenomenon persists of Afrikaaner minds which, in the words of Eddie Roux, is a product of that complete acceptance of the “traditional attitudes of the time”.

They have, as already acknowledged, quite “respectable” intellectual ancestors. Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, to cite just my favourite example, found it convenient to pretend that the African had not yet developed to the level where he

“attained that realization of any substantial objective existence – as for example, God, or Law – in which the interest of man’s volition is involved and in which he realizes his own being”.

He continues:

“This distinction between himself as an individual and the universality of his essential being, the African in the uniform, undeveloped oneness of his existence, has not yet attained: so that the knowledge of absolute Being, an Other and a Higher than his individual self, is entirely wanting”.

Futile to waste a moment refuting the banal untruthfulness of this claim, I content myself with extracting from it only a lesson which escapes, even today, those who insist that the pinnacle of man’s intellectual thirst is the capacity to project this universality in the direction of a Super-Other. There is, I believe, a very healthy school of thought which not only opposes this materially, but has produced effectively structured societies which operate independently of this seductive, even productively, inspiring but extravagant fable.

Once we thus overcome the temptation to contest the denial of this feat of imaginative projection to the African, we find ourselves left only with the dispassionate exercise of examining in what areas we encounter differences between the histories of societies which, according to Hegel and company, never conceived of this Omnipotent Extrusion into Infinite Space, and those who did – be these differences in the areas of economic or artistic life, social relations or scientific attainment – in short, in all those activities which are empirically verifiable, quite different from the racial consequences of imprecations arising from that post Adam-and-Eve nudist escapade in the Old Testament.

When we do this, we come upon a curious fact. The pre-colonial history of African societies – and I refer to both Euro-Christian and Arab-Islamic colonization – indicates very clearly that African societies never at any time of their existence went to war with another over the issue of their religion. That is, at no time did the black race attempt to subjugate or forcibly convert others with any holier-than-thou evangelizing zeal. Economic and political motives, yes. But not religion. Perhaps this unnatural fact was responsible for the conclusions of Hegel – we do not know. Certainly, the bloody histories of the world’s major religions, localized skirmishes of which extend even to the present, lead to a sneaking suspicion that religion, as defined by these eminent philosophers, comes to self-knowledge only through the activity of war.

When, therefore, towards the close of the Twentieth Century, that is, centuries after the Crusades and Jihads that laid waste other and one another’s civilizations, fragmented ancient cohesive social relations and trampled upon the spirituality of entire peoples, smashing their cultures in obedience to the strictures of unseen gods, when today, we encounter nations whose social reasoning is guided by canonical, theological claims, we believe, on our part, that the era of darkness has never truly left the world. A state whose justification for the continuing suppression of its indigenes, indigenes who constitute the majority on that land, rests on claims to divine selection is a menace to secure global relationship in a world that thrives on nationalism as common denominator. Such a society does not, in other words, belong in this modern world. We also have our myths, but we have never employed them as a base for the subjugation of others. We also inhabit a realistic world, however, and, for the recovery of the fullness of that world, the black race has no choice but to prepare itself and volunteer the supreme sacrifice.

In speaking of that world – both myth and reality – it is our duty, perhaps our very last peaceful duty to a doomed enemy – to remind it, and its supporters outside its boundaries, that the phenomenon of ambivalence induced by the African world has a very long history, but that most proponents of the slanderous aspects have long ago learnt to abandon the untenable. Indeed it is probably even more pertinent to remind this racist society that our African world, its cultural hoards and philosophical thought, have had concrete impacts on the racists’ own forebears, have proved seminal to a number of movements and even created tributaries, both pure and polluted, among the white indigenes in their own homelands.

Such a variety of encounters and responses have been due, naturally, to profound searches for new directions in their cultural adventures, seeking solaces to counter the remorseless mechanization of their existence, indeed seeking new meanings for the mystery of life and attempting to overcome the social malaise created by the very triumphs of their own civilization. It has led to a profound respect for the African contribution to world knowledge, which did not, however, end the habitual denigration of the African world. It has created in places a near-deification of the African person – that phase in which every African had to be a prince – which yet again, was coupled with a primitive fear and loathing for the person of the African. To these paradoxical responses, the essentiality of our black being remains untouched. For the black race knows, and is content simply to know, itself. It is the European world that has sought, with the utmost zeal, to re-define itself through these encounters, even when it does appear that he is endeavouring to grant meaning to an experience of the African world.

We can make use of the example of that period of European Expressionism, a movement which saw African art, music, and dramatic rituals share the same sphere of influence as the most disparate, astonishingly incompatible collection of ideas, ideologies, and social tendencies – Freud, Karl Marx, Bakunin, Nietzsche, cocaine, and free love. What wonder then, that the spiritual and plastic presence of the Bakota, Nimba, the Yoruba, Dogon, Dan etc., should find themselves at once the inspiration and the anathematized of a delirium that was most peculiarly European, mostly Teutonic and Gallic, spanning at least four decades across the last and the present centuries. Yet the vibrant goal remained the complete liberation of man, that freeing of his yet untapped potential that would carve marble blocks for the construction of a new world, debourgeoisify existing constrictions of European thought and light the flame to forge a new fraternity throughout this brave new world. Yes, within this single movement that covered the vast spectrum of outright fascism, anarchism, and revolutionary communism, the reality that was Africa was, as always, sniffed at, delicately tested, swallowed entire, regurgitated, appropriated, extoiled, and damned in the revelatory frenzy of a continent’s recreative energies.

Oscar Kokoschka for instance: for this dramatist and painter African ritualism led mainly in the direction of sadism, sexual perversion, general self-gratification. It flowed naturally into a Nietzschean apocalyptic summons, full of self-induced, ecstatic rage against society, indeed, against the world. Vassily Kadinsky on his part, responded to the principles of African art by foreseeing:

“a science of art erected on a broad foundation which must be international in character”.

insisting that

“it is interesting, but certainly not sufficient, to create an exclusively European art theory”.

The science of art would then lead, according to him, to

“a comprehensive synthesis which will extend far beyond the confines of art into the realm of the oneness of the human and the ‘divine'”.

This same movement, whose centenary will be due for celebrations in European artistic capitals in the next decade or two – among several paradoxes the phenomenon of European artists of later acknowledged giant stature – Modigliani, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Brancusi etc. worshipping with varying degrees of fervour, at the shrine of African and Polynesian artistic revelations, even as Johannes Becher, in his Expressionist delirium, swore to build a new world on the eradication of all plagues, including –

“Negro tribes, fever, tuberculosis, venereal epidemics, intellectual psychic defects – I’ll fight them, vanquish them.”

And was it by coincidence that contemporaneously with this stirring manifesto, yet another German enthusiast, Leo Frobenius – with no claims whatever to being part of, or indeed having the least interest in the Expressionist movement, was able to visit Ile-Ife, the heartland and cradle of the Yoruba race and be profoundly stirred by an object of beauty, the product of the Yoruba mind and hand, a classic expression of that serene portion of the world resolution of that race, in his own words:

“Before us stood a head of marvellous beauty, wonderfully cast in antique bronze, true to the life, incrusted with a patina of glorious dark green. This was, in very deed, the Olokun, Atlantic Africa’s Poseidon.”

Yet listen to what he had to write about the very people whose handiwork had lifted him into these realms of universal sublimity:

“Profoundly stirred, I stood for many minutes before the remnant of the erstwhile Lord and Ruler of the Empire of Atlantis. My companions were no less astounded. As though we have agreed to do so, we held our peace. Then I looked around and saw – the blacks – the circle of the sons of the ‘venerable priest’, his Holiness the Oni’s friends, and his intelligent officials. I was moved to silent melancholy at the thought that this assembly of degenerate and feeble-minded posterity should be the legitimate guardians of so much loveliness.”

A direct invitation to a free-for-all race for dispossession, justified on the grounds of the keeper’s unworthiness, it recalls other schizophrenic conditions which are mother to, for instance, the far more lethal, dark mythopoeia of Van Lvyck Louw. For though this erstwhile Nazi sympathizer would later rain maledictions on the heads of the more extreme racists of his countrymen:

“Lord, teach us to think what ‘own’ is, Lord let us think! and then: over hate against blacks, browns, whites: over this and its cause, I dare to call down judgement.”

Van Lvyck’s powerful epic RAKA was guaranteed to churn up the white cesspools of these primordial fears. A work of searing, visceral impact operating on racial memory, it would feed the Afrikaaner Credo on the looming spectre of a universal barbaric recession, bearing southwards on the cloven hooves of the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, the black.

There is a deep lesson for the world in the black races’ capacity to forgive, one which, I often think, has much to do with ethical precepts which spring from their world view and authentic religions, none of which is ever totally eradicated by the accretions of foreign faiths and their implicit ethnocentricism. For, not content with being a racial slanderer, one who did not hesitate to denigrate, in such uncompromisingly nihilistic terms, the ancestral fount of the black races – a belief which this ethnologist himself observed – Frobenius was also a notorious plunderer, one of a long line of European archeological raiders. The museums of Europe testify to this insatiable lust of Europe; the frustrations of the Ministries of Culture of the Third World and, of organizations like UNESCO are a continuing testimony to the tenacity, even recidivist nature of your routine receiver of stolen goods. Yet, is it not amazing that Frobenius is today still honoured by black institutions, black leaders, and scholars? That his anniversaries provide ready excuse for intellectual gatherings and symposia on the black continent, that his racist condescensions, assaults have not been permitted to obscure his contribution to their knowledge of Africa, or the role which he has played in the understanding of the phenomenon of human culture and society, even in spite of the frequent patchiness of his scholarship?

It is the same largeness of spirit which has informed the relationship today of erstwhile colonial nations, some of whom have undergone the most cruel forms of settler or plantation colonialism, where the human degradation that goes with greed and exploitation attained such levels of perversion that human ears, hands, and noses served to atone for failures in production quota.  Nations which underwent the agony of wars of liberation, whose earth freshly teems with the bodies of innocent victims and unsung martyrs, live side by side today with their recent enslavers, even sharing the control of their destiny with those who, barely four or five years ago, compelled them to witness the massacre of their kith and kin.  Over and above Christian charity, they are content to rebuild, and share.  This spirit of collaboration is easy to dismiss as the treacherous ploy of that special breed of leaders who settle for early compromises in order to safeguard, for their own use, the polished shoes of the departing oppressors.  In many cases, the truth of this must be conceded.  But we also have examples of regimes, allied to the aspirations of their masses on the black continent, which have adopted this same political philosophy.  And, in any case, the final arbiters are the people themselves, from whose relationships any observations such as this obtain any validity.   Let us simply content ourselves with remarking that it is a phenomenon worthy of note.  There are, after all, European nations today whose memory of domination by other races remains so vivid more than two centuries after liberation, that a terrible vengeance culturally, socially, and politically is still exacted, even at this very moment, from the descendants of those erstwhile conquerors.  I have visited such nations whose cruel histories under foreign domination are enshrined as icons to daily consciousness in monuments, parks, in museums and churches, in documentation, woodcuts, and photo gravures displayed under bullet-proof glass-cases but, most telling of all, in the reduction of the remnants of the conquering hordes to the degraded status of aliens on sufferance, with reduced civic rights, privileges, and social status, a barely tolerate marginality that expresses itself in the pathos of downcast faces, dropped shoulders, and apologetic encounters in those rare times when intercourse with the latterly assertive race is unavoidable.  Yes, all this I have seen, and much of it has been written about and debated in international gatherings.  And even while acknowledging the poetic justice of it in the abstract, one cannot help but wonder if a physical pound of flesh, excised at birth, is not a kinder act than a lifelong visitation of the sins of the father on the sons even to the tenth and twelfth generations.

Confronted with such traditions of attenuating the racial and cultural pride of these marginalized or minority peoples, the mind travels back to our own societies where such causative histories are far fresher in the memory, where the ruins of formerly thriving communities still speak eloquent accusations and the fumes still rise from the scorched earth strategies of colonial and racist myopia.  Yet the streets bear the names of former oppressors, their statues and other symbols of subjugation are left to decorate their squares, the consciousness of a fully confident people having relegated them to mere decorations and roosting-places for bats and pigeons.  And the libraries remain unpurged, so that new generations freely browse through the works of Frobenius, of Hume, Hegel, or Montesquieu and others without first encountering, freshly stamped on the fly-leaf: WARNING!   THIS WORK IS DANGEROUS FOR YOUR RACIAL SELF-ESTEEM.

Yet these proofs of accommodation, on the grand or minuscule scale, collective, institutional, or individual, must not be taken as proof of an infinite, uncritical capacity of black patience.  They constitute in their own nature, a body of tests, an accumulation of debt, an implicit offer that must be matched by concrete returns.  They are the blocks in a suspended bridge begun from one end of a chasm which, whether the builders will it or not, must obey the law of matter and crash down beyond a certain point, settling definitively into the widening chasm of suspicion, frustration, and redoubled hate.  On that testing ground which, for us, is Southern Africa, that medieval camp of biblical terrors, primitive suspicions, a choice must be made by all lovers of peace: either to bring it into the modern world, into a rational state of being within that spirit of human partnership, a capacity for which has been so amply demonstrated by every liberated black nation on our continent, or–to bring it abjectly to its knees by ejecting it, in every aspect, from humane recognition, so that it caves in internally, through the strategies of its embattled majority.  Whatever the choice, this inhuman affront cannot be allowed to pursue our Twentieth Century conscience into the Twenty-first, that symbolic coming-of-age which peoples of all cultures appear to celebrate with rites of passage.  That calendar, we know, is not universal, but time is, and so are the imperatives of time.  And of those imperatives that challenge our being, our presence, and humane definition at this time, none can be considered more pervasive than the end of racism, the eradication of human inequality, and the dismantling of all their structures.  The Prize is the consequent enthronement of its complement: universal suffrage, and peace.”     Wole Soyinka, “The Past Must Address Its Present;” Nobel Literary Laureate Lecture, 1986.  

debate words talk discussion polemic conversation writing

Numero Tres“In the beginning was the word.

The Word was with God, signified God’s Word, the word that was Creation.  But over the centuries of human culture the word has taken on other meanings, secular as well as religious.  To have the word has come to be synonymous with ultimate authority, with prestige, with awesome, sometimes dangerous persuasion, to have Prime Time, a TV talk show, to have the gift of the gab as well as that of speaking in tongues.  The word flies through space, it is bounced from satellites, now nearer than it has ever been to the heaven from which it was believed to have come.  But its most significant transformation occurred for me and my kind long ago, when it was first scratched on a stone tablet or traced on papyrus, when it materialized from sound to spectacle, from being heard to being read as a series of signs, and then a script; and travelled through time from parchment to Gutenberg.  For this is the genesis story of the writer.  It is the story that wrote her or him into being.

It was, strangely, a double process, creating at the same time both the writer and the very purpose of the writer as a mutation in the agency of human culture.  It was both ontogenesis as the origin and development of an individual being, and the adaptation, in the nature of that individual, specifically to the exploration of ontogenesis, the origin and development of the individual being.  For we writers are evolved for that task.  Like the prisoners incarcerated with the jaguar in Borges’ story, ‘The God’s Script’, who was trying to read, in a ray of light which fell only once a day, the meaning of being from the marking on the creature’s pelt, we spend our lives attempting to interpret through the word the readings we take in the societies, the world of which we are part.  It is in this sense, this inextricable, ineffable participation, that writing is always and at once an exploration of self and of the world; of individual and collective being.

Being here.

Humans, the only self-regarding animals, blessed or cursed with this torturing higher faculty, have always wanted to know why.   And this is not just the great ontological question of why we are here at all, for which religions and philosophies have tried to answer conclusively for various peoples at various times, and science tentatively attempts dazzling bits of explanation we are perhaps going to die out in our millennia, like dinosaurs, without having developed the necessary comprehension to understand as a whole.  Since humans became self-regarding they have sought, as well, explanations for the common phenomena of procreation, death, the cycle of seasons, the earth, sea, wind and stars, sun and moon, plenty and disaster.  With myth, the writer’s ancestors, the oral story-tellers, began to feel out and formulate these mysteries, using the elements of daily life–observable reality–and the faculty of the imagination–the power of projection into the hidden–to make stories.

Roland Barthes asks, ‘What is characteristic of myth?’ And answers: ‘To transform a meaning into form.’  Myths are stories that mediate in this way between the known and unknown.  Claude Levi-Strauss wittily de-mythologizes myth as a genre between a fairy tale and a detective story.  Being here; we don’t know who-dun-it.  But something satisfying, if not the answer, can be invented.  Myth was the mystery plus the fantasy–gods, anthropomorphized animals and birds, chimera, phantasmagorical creatures–that posits out of the imagination some sort of explanation for the mystery.  Humans and their fellow creatures were the materiality of the story, but as Nikos Kazantzakis once wrote, ‘Art is the representation not of the body but of the forces which created the body.’

There are many proven explanations for natural phenomena now; and there are new questions of being arising out of some of the answers. For this reason, the genre of myth has never been entirely abandoned, although we are inclined to think of it as archaic. If it dwindled to the children’s bedtime tale in some societies, in parts of the world protected by forests or deserts from international megaculture it has continued, alive, to offer art as a system of mediation between the individual and being. And it has made a whirling comeback out of Space, an Icarus in the avatar of Batman and his kind, who never fall into the ocean of failure to deal with the gravity forces of life. These new myths, however, do not seek so much to enlighten and provide some sort of answers as to distract, to provide a fantasy escape route for people who no longer want to face even the hazard of answers to the terrors of their existence. (Perhaps it is the positive knowledge that humans now possess the means to destroy their whole planet, the fear that they have in this way themselves become the gods, dreadfully charged with their own continued existence, that has made comic-book and movie myth escapist.) The forces of being remain. They are what the writer, as distinct from the contemporary popular mythmaker, still engage today, as myth in its ancient form attempted to do.

How writers have approached this engagement and continue to experiment with it has been and is, perhaps more than ever, the study of literary scholars. The writer in relation to the nature of perceivable reality and what is beyond – imperceivable reality – is the basis for all these studies, no matter what resulting concepts are labelled, and no matter in what categorized microfiles writers are stowed away for the annals of literary historiography. Reality is constructed out of many elements and entities, seen and unseen, expressed, and left unexpressed for breathing-space in the mind. Yet from what is regarded as old-hat psychological analysis to modernism and post-modernism, structuralism and poststructuralism, all literary studies are aimed at the same end: to pin down to a consistency (and what is consistency if not the principle hidden within the riddle?); to make definitive through methodology the writer’s grasp at the forces of being. But life is aleatory in itself; being is constantly pulled and shaped this way and that by circumstances and different levels of consciousness. There is no pure state of being, and it follows that there is no pure text, ‘real’ text, totally incorporating the aleatory. It surely cannot be reached by any critical methodology, however interesting the attempt. To deconstruct a text is in a way a contradiction, since to deconstruct it is to make another construction out of the pieces, as Roland Barthes5 does so fascinatingly, and admits to, in his linguistic and semantical dissection of Balzac’s story, ‘Sarrasine’. So the literary scholars end up being some kind of storyteller, too.

Perhaps there is no other way of reaching some understanding of being than through art? Writers themselves don’t analyze what they do; to analyze would be to look down while crossing a canyon on a tightrope. To say this is not to mystify the process of writing but to make an image out of the intense inner concentration the writer must have to cross the chasms of the aleatory and make them the word’s own, as an explorer plants a flag. Yeats’ inner ‘lonely impulse of delight’ in the pilot’s solitary flight, and his ‘terrible beauty’ born of mass uprising, both opposed and conjoined; E. M. Forster’s modest ‘only connect’; Joyce’s chosen, wily ‘silence, cunning and exile’; more contemporary, Gabriel García Márquez’s labyrinth in which power over others, in the person of Simon Bolivar, is led to the thrall of the only unassailable power, death – these are some examples of the writer’s endlessly varied ways of approaching the state of being through the word. Any writer of any worth at all hopes to play only a pocket-torch of light – and rarely, through genius, a sudden flambeau – into the bloody yet beautiful labyrinth of human experience, of being.

Anthony Burgess6 once gave a summary definition of literature as ‘the aesthetic exploration of the world’. I would say that writing only begins there, for the exploration of much beyond, which nevertheless only aesthetic means can express.

How does the writer become one, having been given the word? I do not know if my own beginnings have any particular interest. No doubt they have much in common with those of others, have been described too often before as a result of this yearly assembly before which a writer stands. For myself, I have said that nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction. The life, the opinions, are not the work, for it is in the tension between standing apart and being involved that the imagination transforms both. Let me give some minimal account of myself. I am what I suppose would be called a natural writer. I did not make any decision to become one. I did not, at the beginning, expect to earn a living by being read. I wrote as a child out of the joy of apprehending life through my senses – the look and scent and feel of things; and soon out of the emotions that puzzled me or raged within me and which took form, found some enlightenment, solace and delight, shaped in the written word. There is a little Kafka7 parable that goes like this; ‘I have three dogs: Hold-him, Seize-him, and Nevermore. Hold-him and Seize-him are ordinary little Schipperkes and nobody would notice them if they were alone. But there is Nevermore, too. Nevermore is a mongrel Great Dane and has an appearance that centuries of the most careful breeding could never have produced. Nevermore is a gypsy.’ In the small South African gold-mining town where I was growing up I was Nevermore the mongrel (although I could scarcely have been described as a Great Dane …) in whom the accepted characteristics of the townspeople could not be traced. I was the Gypsy, tinkering with words second-hand, mending my own efforts at writing by learning from what I read. For my school was the local library. Proust, Chekhov and Dostoevsky, to name only a few to whom I owe my existence as a writer, were my professors. In that period of my life, yes, I was evidence of the theory that books are made out of other books . . . But I did not remain so for long, nor do I believe any potential writer could.

With adolescence comes the first reaching out to otherness through the drive of sexuality. For most children, from then on the faculty of the imagination, manifest in play, is lost in the focus on day dreams of desire and love, but for those who are going to be artists of one kind or another the first life-crisis after that of birth does something else in addition: the imagination gains range and extends by the subjective flex of new and turbulent emotions. There are new perceptions. The writer begins to be able to enter into other lives. The process of standing apart and being involved has come.

Unknowingly, I had been addressing myself on the subject of being, whether, as in my first stories, there was a child’s contemplation of death and murder in the necessity to finish off, with a death blow, a dove mauled by a cat, or whether there was wondering dismay and early consciousness of racism that came of my walk to school, when on the way I passed storekeepers, themselves East European immigrants kept lowest in the ranks of the Anglo-Colonial social scale for whites in the mining town, roughly those whom colonial society ranked lowest of all, discounted as less than human – the black miners who were the stores’ customers. Only many years later was I to realize that if I had been a child in that category – black – I might not have become a writer at all, since the library that made this possible for me was not open to any black child. For my formal schooling was sketchy, at best.

To address oneself to others begins a writer’s next stage of development. To publish to anyone who would read what I wrote. That was my natural, innocent assumption of what publication meant, and it has not changed , that is what it means to me today, in spite of my awareness that most people refuse to believe that a writer does not have a particular audience in mind; and my other awareness: of the temptations, conscious and unconscious, which lure the writer into keeping a corner of the eye on who will take offense, who will approve what is on the page – a temptation that, like Eurydice’s straying glance, will lead the writer back into the Shades of a destroyed talent.

The alternative is not the malediction of the ivory tower, another destroyer of creativity. Borges once said he wrote for his friends and to pass the time. I think this was an irritated flippant response to the crass question – often an accusation – ‘For whom do you write?’, just as Sartre’s admonition that there are times when a writer should cease to write, and act upon being only in another way, was given in the frustration of an unresolved conflict between distress at injustice in the world and the knowledge that what he knew how to do best was write. Both Borges and Sartre, from their totally different extremes of denying literature a social purpose, were certainly perfectly aware that it has its implicit and unalterable social role in exploring the state of being, from which all other roles, personal among friends, public at the protest demonstration, derive. Borges was not writing for his friends, for he published and we all have received the bounty of his work. Sartre did not stop writing, although he stood at the barricades in 1968.

The question of for whom do we write nevertheless plagues the writer, a tin can attached to the tail of every work published. Principally it jangles the inference of tendentiousness as praise or denigration. In this context, Camus8 dealt with the question best. He said that he liked individuals who take sides more than literatures that do. ‘One either serves the whole of man or does not serve him at all. And if man needs bread and justice, and if what has to be done must be done to serve this need, he also needs pure beauty which is the bread of his heart.’ So Camus called for ‘Courage in and talent in one’s work.’ And Márquez9redefined tender fiction thus: The best way a writer can serve a revolution is to write as well as he can.

I believe that these two statements might be the credo for all of us who write. They do not resolve the conflicts that have come, and will continue to come, to contemporary writers. But they state plainly an honest possibility of doing so, they turn the face of the writer squarely to her and his existence, the reason to be, as a writer, and the reason to be, as a responsible human, acting, like any other, within a social context.

Being here: in a particular time and place. That is the existential position with particular implications for literature. Czeslaw Milosz10 once wrote the cry: ‘What is poetry which does not serve nations or people?’ and Brecht 11 wrote of a time when ‘to speak of trees is almost a crime’. Many of us have had such despairing thoughts while living and writing through such times, in such places, and Sartre’s solution makes no sense in a world where writers were – and still are – censored and forbidden to write, where, far from abandoning the word, lives were and are at risk in smuggling it, on scraps of paper, out of prisons. The state of being whose ontogenesis we explore has overwhelmingly included such experiences. Our approaches, in Nikos Kazantzakis’12 words, have to ‘make the decision which harmonizes with the fearsome rhythm of our time.’

Some of us have seen our books lie for years unread in our own countries, banned, and we have gone on writing. Many writers have been imprisoned. Looking at Africa alone – Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Jack Mapanje, in their countries, and in my own country, South Africa, Jeremy Cronin, Mongane Wally Serote, Breyten Breytenbach, Dennis Brutus, Jaki Seroke: all these went to prison for the courage shown in their lives, and have continued to take the right, as poets, to speak of trees. Many of the greats, from Thomas Mann to Chinua Achebe, cast out by political conflict and oppression in different countries, have endured the trauma of exile, from which some never recover as writers, and some do not survive at all. I think of the South Africans, Can Themba, Alex la Guma, Nat Nakasa, Todd Matshikiza. And some writers, over half a century from Joseph Roth to Milan Kundera, have had to publish new works first in the word that is not their own, a foreign language.

Then in 1988 the fearsome rhythm of our time quickened in an unprecedented frenzy to which the writer was summoned to submit the word. In the broad span of modern times since the Enlightenment writers have suffered opprobrium, bannings and even exile for other than political reasons. Flaubert dragged into court for indecency, over Madame Bovary, Strindberg arraigned for blasphemy, over Marrying, Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover banned – there have been many examples of so-called offense against hypocritical bourgeois mores, just as there have been of treason against political dictatorships. But in a period when it would be unheard of for countries such as France, Sweden and Britain to bring such charges against freedom of expression, there has risen a force that takes its appalling authority from something far more widespread than social mores, and far more powerful than the power of any single political regime. The edict of a world religion has sentenced a writer to death.

For more than three years, now, wherever he is hidden, wherever he might go, Salman Rushdie has existed under the Muslim pronouncement upon him of the fatwa. There is no asylum for him anywhere. Every morning when this writer sits down to write, he does not know if he will live through the day; he does not know whether the page will ever be filled. Salman Rushdie happens to be a brilliant writer, and the novel for which he is being pilloried, The Satanic Verses, is an innovative exploration of one of the most intense experiences of being in our era, the individual personality in transition between two cultures brought together in a post-colonial world. All is re-examined through the refraction of the imagination; the meaning of sexual and filial love, the rituals of social acceptance, the meaning of a formative religious faith for individuals removed from its subjectivity by circumstance opposing different systems of belief, religious and secular, in a different context of living. His novel is a true mythology. But although he has done for the postcolonial consciousness in Europe what Gunter Grass did for the post-Nazi one with The Tin Drum and Dog Years, perhaps even has tried to approach what Beckett did for our existential anguish in Waiting For Godot, the level of his achievement should not matter. Even if he were a mediocre writer, his situation is the terrible concern of every fellow writer for, apart from his personal plight, what implications, what new threat against the carrier of the word does it bring? It should be the concern of individuals and above all, of governments and human rights organizations all over the world. With dictatorships apparently vanquished, this murderous new dictate invoking the power of international terrorism in the name of a great and respected religion should and can be dealt with only by democratic governments and the United Nations as an offense against humanity.

I return from the horrific singular threat to those that have been general for writers of this century now in its final, summing-up decade.  In repressive regimes anywhere – whether in what was the Soviet bloc, Latin America, Africa, China – most imprisoned writers have been shut away for their activities as citizens striving for liberation against the oppression of the general society to which they belong.  Others have been condemned by repressive regimes for serving society by writing as well as they can; for this aesthetic venture of ours becomes subversive when the shameful secrets of our times are explored deeply, with the artist’s rebellious integrity to the state of being manifest in life around her or him; then the writer’s themes and characters inevitably are formed by the pressures and distortions of that society as the life of the fisherman is determined by the power of the sea.

There is a paradox.  In retaining this integrity, the writer sometimes must risk both the state’s indictment of treason, and the liberation forces’ complaint of lack of blind commitment.  As a human being, no writer can stoop to the lie of Manichean ‘balance.’  The devil always has lead in his shoes, when placed on his side of the scale.  Yet, to paraphrase coarsely Márquez’s dictum given by him both as a writer and a fighter for justice, the writer must take the right to explore, warts and all, both the enemy and the beloved comrade in arms, since only a try for the truth makes sense of being, only a try for the truth edges towards justice just ahead of Yeats’s beast slouching to be born.   In literature, from life,

we page through each other’s faces
we read each looking eye
… It has taken lives to be able to do so.

These are the words of the South African poet and fighter for justice and peace in our country, Mongane Serote.

The writer is of service to humankind only insofar as the writer uses the word even against his or her own loyalties, trusts the state of being, as it is revealed, to hold somewhere in its complexity filaments of the cord of truth, able to be bound together, here and there, in art: trusts the state of being to yield somewhere fragmentary phrases of truth, which is the final word of words, never changed by our stumbling efforts to spell it out and write it down, never changed by lies, by semantic sophistry, by the dirtying of the word for the purposes of racism, sexism, prejudice, domination, the glorification of destruction, the curses and the praise-songs.”     Nadine Gordimer, “Writing and Being;” Nobel Literary Laureate Lecture, 1991.  

fire, catastrophe, holocaust, nuclear, nuke

Numero Cuatro“The first history of the Manhattan Project that was ever published was the famous Smyth Report, which was made public just three days after the bombing of Nagasaki.  But the heavily-redacted Smyth Report understandably left a lot out, even if it did give a good general overview of the work that had been done to make the bomb.  Deep within the secret files of the Manhattan Project, though, was another, classified history of the atomic bomb.  This was General Leslie Groves’ Manhattan District History.  This wasn’t a history that Groves ever intended to publish — it was an internal record-keeping system for someone who knew that over the course of his life, he (and others) would need to be able to occasionally look up information about the decisions made during the making of the atomic bomb, and that wading through the thousands of miscellaneous papers associated with the project wouldn’t cut it.Manhattan District History - Book 2 - Vol 5 - cover

Groves’ concern with documentation warms this historian’s heart, but it’s worth noting that he wasn’t making this for posterity.  Groves repeatedly emphasized both during the project and afterwards that he was afraid of being challenged after the fact.  With the great secrecy of the Manhattan Project, and its “black” budget, high priority rating, and its lack of tolerance for any external interference, came a great responsibility.  Groves knew that he had made enemies and was doing controversial things.  There was a chance, even if everything worked correctly (and help him if it didn’t!), that all of his actions would land him in front of Congress, repeatedly testifying about whether he made bad decisions, abused public trust, and wasted money.  And if he was asked, years later, about the work of one part of the project, how would he know how to answer?  Better to have a record of decisions put into one place, should he need to look it up later, and before all of the scientists scattered to the wind in the postwar.  He might also have been thinking about the memoir he would someday write: his 1962 book, Now it Can Be Told, clearly leans heavily on his secret history in some places.

Groves didn’t write the thing himself, of course.  Despite his reputation for micromanagement, he had his limits.  Instead, the overall project was managed by an editor, Gavin Hadden, a civil employee for the Army Corps of Engineers.  Individual chapters and sections were written by people who had worked in the various divisions in question.  Unlike the Smyth Report, the history chapters were not necessarily written near-contemporaneously with the work — most of the work appears to have been started after the war ended, some parts appear to have not been finished until 1948 or so.

General Groves not amused

In early August 1945 — before the bombs had been dropped — a guide outlining the precise goals and form of the history was finalized. It explained that:

Tho purpose of the history is to serve as a source of historical information for War Department officials and other authorized individuals. Accordingly, the viewpoint of the writer should be that of General Groves and the reader should be considered as a layman without any specialized knowledge of the subject who may be critical of the Department or the project.

Which is remarkably blunt: write as if Groves himself was saying these things (because someday he might!), and write as if the reader is someone looking for something to criticize. Later the guide gives some specific examples on how to spin problematic things, like the chafing effect of secrecy:

For example, the rigid security restrictions of the project in many cases necessitated the adoption of unusual measures in the attainment of a local objective but the maintenance of security has been recognized throughout as an absolute necessity. Consequently, instead of a statement such as, “This work was impeded by the rigid security regulations of the District,” a statement such as, “The necessity of guarding the security of the project required that operations be carried on in — etc.” would be more accurate.1

This was the history that Groves grabbed whenever he did get hauled in front of Congress in the postwar (which happened less than he had feared, but it still happened). This was the history that the Atomic Energy Commission relied upon whenever it needed to find out what its predecessor agencies had done. It was a useful document to have around, because it contains all manner of statistics, technical details, legal details, and references to other documents in the archive.

"Dante's Inferno: A Pocket Mural" by Louis C. Anderson, a rather wonderful and odd drawing of the Calutron process. From Manhattan District History, Book 5, "Electromagnetic Project," Volume 6.

“Dante’s Inferno: A Pocket Mural” by Louis C. Anderson, a rather wonderful and odd drawing of the Calutron process. From Manhattan District History, Book 5, “Electromagnetic Project,” Volume 6.

The Manhattan District History became partially available to the general public in 1977, when a partial version of it was made available on microfilm through the National Archives and University Publications of America as Manhattan Project: Official History and Documents. The Center for Research Libraries has a digital version that you can download if you are part of a university that is affiliated with them (though its quality is sometimes unreadable), and I’ve had a digital copy for a long time now as a result.2 The 1977 microfilm version was missing several important volumes, however, including the entire book on the gaseous diffusion project, a volume on the acquisition of uranium ore, and many technical volumes and chapters about the work done at Los Alamos. All of this was listed as “Restricted” in the guide that accompanied the 1977 version.3

I was talking with Bill Burr of the National Security Archive sometime in early 2013 and it occurred to me that it might be possible to file a Freedom of Information Act request for the rest of these volumes, and that this might be something that his archive would want to do. I helped him put together a request for the missing volumes, which he filed. The Department of Energy got back pretty promptly, telling Bill that they were already beginning to declassify these chapters and would eventually put them online.

Manhattan Project uranium production flow diagram, from book 7, "Feed materials."

Manhattan Project uranium production flow diagram, from Manhattan District History, Book 7, “Feed materials.”

The DOE started to release them in chunks in the summer of 2013, and got the last files up this most recent summer. You can download each of the chapters individually on their website, but their file names are such that they won’t automatically sort in a sensible way in your file system, and they are not full-text searchable. The newly-released files have their issues — a healthy dose of redaction (and one wonders how valuable that still is, all these years — and proliferations — later), and some of the images have been run through a processor that has made them extremely muddy to the point of illegibility (lots of JPEG artifacts). But don’t get me started on that. (The number of corrupted PDFs on the NNSA’s FOIA website is pretty ridiculous for an agency that manages nuclear weapons.) Still, it’s much better than the microfilm, if only because it is rapidly accessible.

But you don’t need to do that. I’ve downloaded them all, run them through a OCR program so they are searchable, and gave them sortable filenames. Why? Because I want people — you — to be able to use these (and I do not trust the government to keep this kind of thing online). They’ve still got loads of deletions, especially in the Los Alamos and diffusion sections, and the pro-Groves bent to things is so heavy-handed it’s hilarious at times. And they are not all necessarily accurate, of course. I have found versions of chapters that were heavily marked up by someone who was close to the matter, who thought there were lots of errors. In the volumes I’ve gone the closest over in my own research (e.g. the “Patents” volume), I definitely found some places that I thought they got it a little wrong. But all of this aside, they are incredibly valuable, important volumes nonetheless, and I keep finding all sorts of unexpected gems in them.

You can download all of the 79 PDF files in one big ZIP archive on Archive.org. WARNING: the ZIP file is 760MB or so. You can also download the individual files below, if you don’t want them all at once.

Statistics on the ages of Los Alamos employees, from Ted Hall (19) to Niels Bohr (59). From Manhattan District History, Book 8.

Statistics on the ages of Los Alamos employees, May 1945, from the young spy, Ted Hall (19), to the old master, Niels Bohr (59). From Manhattan District History, Book 8.

What kinds of gems are hidden in these files? Among other things:

And a lot more.  As you can see, I’ve drawn on this history before for blog and Twitter posts — I look through it all the time, because it offers such an interesting view into the Manhattan Project, and one that cuts through a lot of our standard narratives about how it worked.  There are books and books worth of fodder in here, spread among some tens of thousands of pages.  Who knows what might be hidden in there?  Let’s shake things up a bit, and find something strange.


Below is the full file listing, with links to my OCR’d copies, hosted on Archive.org.  Again, you can download all of them in one big ZIP file by clicking here, (760 MB) or pick them individually from below. Items marked with an asterisk are, as far as know, wholly new — the others have been available on microfilm in one form or another since 1977.”     Alex Wallerstein, “General Groves’ Secret History;” Restricted Data: the Nuclear Secrecy Blog, 2014.