3 March (1909): Jack London to The Editor of The Socialist

Here, Jack London writes to The Socialist regarding a negative piece written about him by Andrew Anderson. Anderson had accused London of setting aside his Socialist values in order to publish fiction. London responds with a long, reasoned takedown.


To the Editor of The Socialist:

If Comrade Andrew Anderson, of Brisbane, plays cricket; if the Editor of The Socialist likes the way Comrade Anderson plays cricket, and says so; and if I am not enamoured of the game of cricket, far be it from me to go after the scalp of the Editor of The Socialist on the ground that Comrade Andrew Anderson’s cricket is no credit to the Socialist movement. If the Socialist movement is not as broad as life, including cricket, then I for one am going to get out of it.

If Comrade Andrew Anderson ever tells funny stories I wonder if he is so rigid a zealot that he never tells one story that fails to have incorporated in it the theory of surplus value and the class struggle.

If Comrade Andrew Anderson should ever be compelled to lay brick for a living I wonder if he would think some other comrade justified in attacking him because the bricks he laid were for some capitalist employer.

If Comrade Andrew Anderson sacrificed some few thousands of pounds because of his adherence to the Socialist movement, and if he were of so retiring a nature, so far as the Socialist movement is concerned, that he was always crawling into holes to hide away, I wonder how he’d feel if some other comrade hailed him forth to judgment on the charge of aspiring to leadership.

If Comrade Andrew Anderson were of so retiring a disposition that he even incurred the charge of being a snob because of that very retiringness, I wonder how he’d feel if some comrade charged him with being a snob and a menace to the movement because he was trying to run the movement?

I wonder what evidence Comrade Andrew Anderson has for his statement that I am “too willing to honour the exalted; i.e., those who are standing on the backs of their fellows.” I wonder if he thinks my fiction will furnish this evidence? And if he does think so I wonder if he will, by similar evidence, find me guilty of anarchy, murder, bigamy, adultery, incendiarism, treason, disloyalty, invalidism, devil worship, anthropophagy, and a few thousand other failings and wickednesses that I have written about in stories and novels? Apart from fiction —coming down to solid fact —I wonder if Comrade Andrew Anderson can show one instance where I have been “too willing to honour those who are standing on the backs of their fellows.”

Comrade Andrew Anderson I agree with you that the exaltation of leaders, instead of principles, is a disastrous policy; but on the other hand, as between one comrade and another, I put it to you if it isn’t a trifle unfair to exploit this opinion by attacking a visiting comrade from another land, who not only has never been charged with aspiring to leadership, but who has also run away and escaped whenever possible from any attempt to make him lead anything.

I wonder if Comrade Andrew Anderson will take a brief lesson in arithmetic. I know in California an ardent Socialist. He speaks on an average of 100 times a year. His audiences average 100 persons. That is to say, in  a year he addresses 10,000 persons; in ten years, 100,000 persons. In a hundred years he will have addressed 1,000,000 persons. In five days I write an article on Socialism. I publish it in an American bourgeois magazine with half a million circulation. Each copy is calculated to average five readers. That is to say, with five days’ effort I address an audience of 1,500,000. In five days I address as many persons as my friend would address if he went on steadily speaking for two centuries and a half.

Now what is the difference between me and this comrade I have mentioned? Am I more virtuous, am I wiser, am I a better Socialist than he? Bosh and nonsense. Yet I’ve got my audience. In five days I address as big an audience as he would address in two centuries and a half. How did I get my audience? I got it by writing those very stories Comrade Andrew Anderson has attacked as doing disservice to the Socialist movement. Because i can tell stories about dogs and wolves and gold miners and ships and cannibals—all of which are unrelated to the tactics, strategy, and philosophy of Socialism, I can get a whacking big crowd to listen when I turn loose and talk on Socialism. If I accepted Comrade Andrew Anderson’s subordination of literary art to the incorporation in all my fiction of Socialistic tenets and methods I wouldn’t sell any stories at all, I wouldn’t have any reputation as a story writer, and, like my friend in California, I’d be speaking to audiences of 100. I am afraid you are very short-sighted, Comrade Anderson, when you censure the particular method, namely my stories, by which I get an audience to listen to me talk about Socialism.

Well, anyway, Comrade Anderson, let those try to lead that want to. Let those refuse to be led that don’t want to be led. But for heaven’s sake let me write if I want to, and in that manner to get my own little audience to listen to me while I do my own little bit for the Socialist movement. God knows we are all made differently, but that is no warrant for you to bash me just because God didn’t see fit to make me in your image, and give me your conception of the function of literary art.

                                                      Jack London.  


From The Letters of Jack London. London, Jack, et al. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988.