Inside the souls of wealthy men bleak famine lives
While minds of stature struggle trapped in starving bodies
This is a quotation by Orestes in Euripides’ play called Electra. I often wonder how much human progress was lost through the centuries by people trapped by dire poverty and debt, while the nobles, kings and hierarchy of the Catholic Church lived in luxurious splendor. I reme mber that Mozart had a rich patron and when that patron withdrew his support Mozart’s health suffered, although he still composed, until he died and was buried in a pauper’s grave. How many more brilliant minds went through life without rich patrons and their potential contribution to the human race was lost?
Of course, during the Middle Ages and before, my argument in the preceding paragraph would have been considered ludicrous. Life, just in some way, sorted itself out and those with power and wealth were naturally those who possessed the highest qualities of human nature. Men of property were considered to be more intelligent and have more integrity than the common people or the rabble or mob as the men of property considered them to be. I remember that in the time of Charles Dickens a gentleman was still considered a gentleman even if he had gambled away all his wealth and became destitute, at least temporarily.
This occurred long before a knowledge of genes was discovered and long before Darwin’s theories. People thought attributes were passed through blood and that was intimately connected with property and wealth. Kings tried to marry their sons and daughters to other kings, not only for purposes of the supposed preservation of advantageous qualities, but to consolidate power arrangements in Europe. This resulted in the spread among the leading families of Europe of a devastating disease called hemophilia, where the smallest cut could cause death. Gregor Mendel through his genetic research on pea plants in the mid nineteenth century discovered recessive and dominant genes and the presence of two recessive genes explained hemophilia. The rich thought that their grandeur was spread through blood and they developed a blood disease where it was incapable of clotting. A rather ironic outcome.
Darwin’s theory of natural selection was also used in a vain attempt to prove the superiority of the wealthy. One was supposed to pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, but how was one supposed to do that when wages were so low that one’s hard labor only resulted in going deeper in debt. There were exceptions, of course, of people who got lucky or had rich relatives to help them and the capitalists seized on these rare examples to have books written to fault the poor for their own poverty.
Then, Hitler used Darwin’s theory to attempt to prove the Aryan race was superior to Jews, people of African descent, Slavs and others. I wonder if Hitler ever considered how many times Europe had been overrun by people of different ethnicities and intermarriage had occurred. Just considering England alone, there were the original aboriginal people, the Celts, the Romans, the Angles and Saxons, the Danes, the Vikings and the Normans. Genetically speaking, we have been a very motley group for an exceedingly long time. Hitler did this to create an empire for some of the largest German capitalists like Krupp, Thyssen, Schacht, Schroeder, Schnitzler, Wolf, Bruckman, and Bechstein. Himmler created a group of southern German capitalists that he called “Circle of Friends of The Economy.” These wealthy souls created a holocaust called World War 2, which cost the lives of tens of millions of people, created untold misery and devastated the landscape of Europe and the Soviet Union.
It would be interesting to investigate how wars start. Has anyone ever heard or read about the common workers and peasants clamoring for war? Would they say something like: “Oh, how wonderful it would be to have a nice, prolonged war with parades, trumpets, medals and the possibility of the death of one or more of my sons?” No, it is the rich who plan and benefit from war and intimidate the poor by force or propaganda to instigate the bloodshed. The only possible exception I can conceive is the first Crusade where a man named Peter the Hermit came back to Europe with tales of the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem by the Muslims and excited much emotion in France and Italy by his travels and lectures. From this impetus and the fact the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus was under great military pressure by the Seljuk Turks, Pope Urban II organized the first Crusade. Even, then there was a great amount of pillage of the treasures of the Middle East and the fourth Crusade under Pope Innocent III was an outright theft of the riches of Constantinople. Innocent is hardly an appropriate name for a Pope who committed such thievery.
A devastating indictment of the souls of wealthy men is given in a book by Jack London called The Iron Heel. The gist of the story is that a physics professor at Berkeley loves to have controversial meetings at his house with a radical labor leader debating the clergy and business men. The labor leader indicts the clergy for believing in metaphysics and rejecting scientific fact and hypocrites for not teaching the real meaning of Christ’s words about the poor and for accepting money from the large capitalists in the area for their mansions. Ernest Everhard, the labor agitator, finally gets accepted to give a lecture before a meeting of large capitalists by pretending he is just a timid liberal that the business men can tear apart. Ernest then proceeds to ask an unanswerable question. That question is that why with the invention of mass production machinery, which should make life better for everyone, have living conditions for working men actually deteriorated so greatly. Ernest Everhard attacks their morality for using child labor and for hiring high class lawyers to fight lawsuits by injured workers, and this coupled with their friendship with the judges, enables the company to dismiss the workers with no compensation for themselves or their families. This forced many injured workers to become just door to door peddlers, using whatever talents they had for making things of value. Hundreds of workers lost hands and arms in machinery in those days because they worked twelve to fourteen hours a day and their reflexes slowed at the end of the day. The capitalists didn’t seem to mind Ernest’s condemnation of their morality, but they really started growling when he extended his hands and said the working class intended to take back ownership of the factories, mines and railroads and operate them for their own interests, instead of making obscene profits for a few men. One capitalist then derided the others and said their answer would be given by cannon, shrapnel and machine guns. Ernest said that was the only possible answer, as it was a matter of power.
Trotsky thought Jack London was very prescient in his novel about The Iron Heel written in 1906 because of the similarity later on of Nazi Germany to The Iron Heel. In the novel there are seven or eight revolutions by the working class before The Iron Heel is finally overthrown. The others were brutally crushed by the military, police and mercenaries fighting for the corporations. Jack London was looking far into the future. Unfortunately, mother Earth may exact justice on the human race long before then.
Another interesting debate Ernest had with small business men illustrated Marx’s theory of surplus value. Suppose a thousand dollars worth of shoes are produced at a factory and the capitalist gets $500 and the workers $500 dollars. Now the capitalist cannot possibly buy back all the shoes his money entitles him to do (unless he has a shoe fetish) but the workers can. Therefore, there is a surplus of shoes left over. The obvious solution is to export them to another capitalist country. However, when that country develops a comparable shoe industry, other capitalist countries will have to be sought out, and they in turn will develop a surplus of shoes. Eventually, shoes will be traded to underdeveloped countries for ownership of resources or land. However, when even the smallest nation on Earth develops a comparable shoe industry and a surplus of shoes, there is not enough purchasing power by workers to buy them all and there is a huge surplus. The capitalist’s solution would probably be to dump them in the ocean or some such scheme, rather than just giving them to the huge number of people without shoes. I remember when I was a boy the farmers in the Midwest couldn’t get enough for their milk to make a profit. So they just dumped it on the ground. And they have the audacity to claim that capitalism is an efficient system and nothing can replace it. This occurred when there were thousands of starving children in the world. It is the same as the auto industry in the world today with the United States, Japan, South Korea, Germany, France, Italy and Britain producing so many cars that there is a huge surplus, and the United States government must bail out General Motors with taxpayer’s money. Karl Marx is proved right again and again by reality, but few intellectuals have the temerity to state that he is correct.
The bleak famine of wealthy men showed clearly when Jim Keady interviewed Phil Knight, the owner of Nike, about conditions in his Indonesian factories and the home life of his employees, where they lived in rat infested shacks with raw sewage running outside and barely enough to eat. Phil Knight reacted as if these people were insects. If I were Phil Knight, I would have increased their wages, built them new homes and installed modern sewage systems. It would have cost but a tiny fraction of the outrageous profits Nike makes every year. Dandelion Salad was kind enough to include a video of Jim Keady actually living with Indonesian workers for one of my previous articles.
I would like to make it clear that in this article I am only talking about the wealthy as a class and about exceedingly wealthy people. There are exceptions to every rule.
I would like to revise Dante’s Inferno. In the circles about the center of Hell, I can’t even find parsimony, although I do find avarice at about the fourth circle from the center. I can find simony or buying church offices, but not stinginess which causes much greater suffering in the world. At the center of Dante’s Inferno are traitors either to kin, friends or country. I would place mass murderers there and there are no other people on Earth who have caused so many deaths as capitalists, whether through wars, unsafe working conditions, contamination of products or rivers, oceans and the land or hiring goon squads or Pinkertons to kill striking workers. Think of the Bhopal tragedy or the Ludlow massacre in Colorado, where the Colorado state militia machine gunned a tent colony of workers who were striking at one of Rockefeller’s coal mines. These capitalists are willing to commit any atrocity in the world to preserve their great wealth and power, including horrendous torture of leftists or any others that threaten their desire for world empire. Therefore, they belong at the center of Dante’s Inferno.
Euripides was correct in his thought uttered through Orestes, although I would slightly alter his phrasing because of the great variability of human nature: “Inside the souls of most very wealthy men bleak famine lives, while minds of stature struggle trapped in starving bodies.”
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