Francis Wheen. Fourth Estate, London 1999.
ISBN 1 85702 637 3. £20.00.
The Fame of a Dead Man’s Deeds
Robert S Griffin. First Books Library, 2001.
ISBN 0 75960 433 0. US$24.00
died in 1883. Only eleven people turned up at his funeral. In his graveside
oration, his lifelong friend and comrade, Friedrich Engels, eulogised him as a
revolutionary genius. He predicted that ‘his name and work will endure
through the ages’. Who was this man? What did he do? Why has he become so
William Pierce, on the other hand, has yet to
have as much historical influence as Karl Marx. Until his death in July 2002,
Pierce had been the most influential personality on the extreme right in
America. He wrote the notorious novel, The Turner Diaries, which was
credited with inspiring Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Murrah federal building
in Oklahoma City in 1995.
Today’s ‘Marxists’ are usually as
dogmatic and fossilised as any Puritan divine, but the man himself was a great
original thinker. He discovered that the lot of workers in a prosperous society
is not all that great. Although the demand for workers exceeds supply, and thus
wage rates can rise, the effect is a greater concentration of wealth in the
hands of a handful of big capitalists. “The big capitalists ruin the small
ones and a section of the former capitalists sinks into the class of the workers
which, because of this increase in numbers, suffers a further depression of
wages and becomes ever more dependent on the handful of big capitalists. Because
the number of capitalists has fallen, competition for workers hardly exists any
longer, and because the number of workers has increase, the competition among
them has become all the more considerable, unnatural and violent.” Added
that is the competition from machines. Another factor in driving down wages,
which Marx did not predict, was the importation of cheap labour from Third World
countries. Marx took the view that the only defence against capitalism was
competition, which raises wages and lowers prices. This is the reason the big
capitalists try to drive competitors out of business while paying lip service to
the notion of ‘choice’.
Marx’s life was spent seeking to find a
solution to this grave problem through socialism – the dictatorship of the
proletariat – and the abolition of private property. This was a blind alley.
The way to overcome the monopolising effects of capitalism is not the abolition
of private property or total state control (as practised by Marx’s latter-day
professed disciples) but widely diffused property.
Pierce, on the other hand, had little interest
in economics and ideas of social justice. His view of society was organic and
spiritual. Like Marx, he believed that life is a struggle. To Pierce, Western
society’s ills were the result of decadence, luxury, soft ‘feminised’ men
and the activities of what he regarded as aggressive organised Jewry. These
enemies, within and without, have to be overcome by constant vigilance and
Marx has been deified by his admirers and
demonised by his detractors, but very little is known about the man himself. He
was a journalist, a political activist, a lively polemical writer - and a loving
husband and father. In this absorbing biography, Francis Wheen helps us to get
inside the mind of Karl Marx the man.
Like Marx, Pierce has been demonised as an
evil manipulator, pulling the strings of ‘hate groups’ all over America.
Professor Robert Griffin wanted to cut through the distortions and propaganda to
see what really makes William Pierce tick.
To do this, he spent a month during 1998 in
the company of Pierce, his wife and his colleagues at his community in rural
West Virginia. He read and analyses Pierce’s own writings, his radio
broadcasts and the books that influenced his political and religious worldview.
He conducted hours of interviews with his subject to try to get to the bottom of
the man who came through the conservative John Birch Society and later the
American Nazi Party to found his own organisation, the National Alliance, which
has been dubbed the most dangerous ‘hate group’ in North America.
It seems to me that Griffin pulls it off.
Perhaps he could have been a little more critical at times, but he’s done it.
We really do understand that Pierce’s primary motivation in establishing his
political organisation and his ‘Cosmotheist’ religion was the survival and
prosperity of White America. To Pierce, the ‘fame of a dead man’s deeds’
is to have his part in his people’s salvation remembered. Engels declared that
Marx’s name and work will endure through the ages although Wheen argues that
Marxists and Marxism have given Marx a bad name. How will Pierce’s name
endure? Ask us in fifty years’ time!
Both books are well-written, empathetic and
absorbing. Their subjects were both extraordinary men with a lot of insight into
the nature of the problems of human society. Neither man had the whole story,
although their most fervent disciples will tell you otherwise. Wheen brings to
his book a rather heavy-handed sense of humour, which can sometimes grate on the
reader, but that’s just a minor niggle on my part. No distracting footnotes
disfigure Wheen’s narrative, but any reader referring to the fascinating
endnotes can check out documents quoted. It is also well indexed – a tool
neglected by Griffin in his book.