Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Upton Sinclair's `No Pasaran!'': An Excerpt

U.S. writer Upton Sinclair’s 1937 book, No Pasaran! (They Shall Not Pass): A Story of the Battle of Madrid, includes the following passages:

(“This book is a cry for freedom, and for decency in human affairs. It deals with one of the great heroic episodes of history, now going on.

“The story of a group of American boys who join the International Brigade and stop the Fascists at the gates of Madrid.”)

“This speaker had not merely watched the outbreak of the rebellion, but he had studied its causes, and undertook to explain them. To understand such a struggle, you had to know the economic forces underlying it. Nearly half the land of Spain belonged to the Catholic Church, and the income from it went to keep a horde of parasites, who taught the women and children superstition, and had kept Spain a backward land ever since the days of the Inquisition. Most of the remaining land belonged to landlords, many of whom lived abroad upon the sweated labor of the peasants. Landless workers earned as low as nine cents a day; and the workers of the city were nearly as badly off—the speaker had seen three married couples living in one room not more than ten feet square.

“Against such conditions the people had been fighting for centuries. Of late years they had done what American conservatives all advised; they had trusted to evolution, not revolution, to ballots, not bullets; their political parties had united and elected a majority of the parliament. It was false to say, as most accounts in newspapers did, that the government of Spain was a `Red’ government; there had not been a single Communist nor Socialist in that government; it had been about what the `New Deal’ government of the United States was, and had tried to pass much the same sort of measures.

“But the landlords and aristocrats of Spain, and the higher prelates of the Church, could not endure to see the power pass from their hands; they were no more willing to surrender their privileges to legislative action than they would have been to physical force. The revolt had been an attempt at counter-revolution, backed by all the reactionary elements in the country, and now by those of the whole world. The people of Spain were with the government, and no one knew it better than the Fascist leaders…

“The second speaker was a woman official of a garment-workers’ union. The task assigned her by the chairman was to explain the world meaning of this war—no small task for a small woman…She talked in a matter-of-fact way, without any flights of oratory…

“The process of competition was one in which the big fellows ate up the little ones; it was obvious, said the woman, that this process must break down when the last little one had been eaten. The rich now got so much, and the poor so little, that the latter could no longer purchase the products of industry, and that was a `depression.’ Big business was driven out to seek foreign markets, and that made war in the modern world.

“It also made Fascism, asserted the speaker; the last stage of capitalism before it collapsed from its internal contradictions. When the capitalists could no longer provide jobs for their workers, and saw them on the point of revolting and seizing the industries, they abolished democracy and set up a dictatorship, to suppress the workers at home, and seize colonies and trade advantages abroad. Fascism had been defined as `capitalism plus murder.’

“The Fascist dictatorships had developed a technique, now plainly visible in action. They started propaganda in other countries, and supplied money and ideas to Fascist groups; a revolt was started, and arms and `volunteers’ were sent to set up another Fascist state. Such was the meaning of Spain; and as soon as that job was finished, the technique would be applied to Czechoslovakia. Next it would be the turn of Belgium, France, Holland…One by one the democratic nations would be undermined…

“…In Germany, Italy, and Japan the whole surplus revenue was going into war preparations; they had solved their unemployment problem that way, and if they stopped arming, there would be starvation and chaos. The very process of arming made war inevitable…

“…In the evening Rudy came home and carried out his promise…to read the pamphlet…Rudy had been putting it off night after night, because of a general prejudice against pamphlets. If a writer had anything of important to say, he would put it into a book, and it would carry the imprint of some established publishing house, and would become required reading in Economics 17a. But a cheap pamphlet, written by a nobody, and circulated by amiable dreamers…In either case, the prospect was boredom.

“Rudy had a good mind, but had seldom applied it, except immediately before exams, and then just enough to get a `gentleman’s C.’ Now he buckled down to the pamphlet, and was surprised to find a clear explanation of depressions and what caused them. It seemed too good to be true—that the vast and universal distress of the world could be analyzed so simply, and made so plain, even to a dub like him. The greatest statesmen and editors were baffled by this problem—and here was a solution offered by an obscure Socialist, no doubt some workingman like that marine engineer whom Rudy had heard, or that woman labor leader. It seemed extremely unlikely that they could be right, and he wished his professor of economics were in town, so that he could ask about it. To think for himself was something that appalled him…

“Try as he would, Rudy could not help being impressed by the clearness of this argument, and also of the remedies suggested. He tried to recall all the things his professors had told him about the fallacies of Socialism…He wished he had paid more attention to their lectures, so that he would not feel so helpless now…”

No comments: