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C A R O L Y N W I L L S O N Berkeley, California “Rattling the Bones”:Jack London, Socialist Evangelist In most studies of Jack London, writers have been bewitched by his swashbuckling career, have neglected his thought, and have usually dismissed his socialism as a youthful, romantic flourish. One of these writers, Richard O ’Connor, wrote that “Socialism touched his consciously created legend with a halo of fire, a hint of wrath, a suggestion of danger.”1 O ther writers have taken his socialism more seriously. The first to deal comprehensively with London’s socialism was his daughter, Joan London, in her biography Jack London and His Times: An Unconven­ tional Biography. She chronicled the “rise and fall” of his commitment to socialism, but her analysis seemed biased both because she was a radical socialist and because she was estranged from her father.2 Another writer who dealt seriously with London’s socialism was Philip Foner, a radical American historian. In his book, Jack London/ American Rebel he performed the valuable service of collecting many of London’s forgotten socialistic writings and was responsible for resur­ recting his reputation as a revolutionary. Foner’s introduction to London’s 1R ichard O ’Connor, Jack London, A Biography (Boston and T oronto: Little, Brown, 1964), 384. 2Joan London said that she disappointed her father in three ways: she was a girl, she arrived in bad shape, and was not born on his birthday as scheduled, but three days later. Only in her unfinished, unpublished autobiography did Joan openly speak of her relationship with her father and how painfully it affected her. In her biography of him she used the third person to refer to herself. In summarizing her attitude of her father’s socialism she wrote, “I was pretty disillusioned with Daddy as a socialist, not only because his life seemed such a contradiction, but because of what he said and wrote and did in his later years, and .because he clearly knew little of socialist theory.” See Joan London, Autobiography, unfinished, unpublished m anu­ script, p. 7, and afterword. 136 Western American Literature writings, which draws heavily on Joan London’s book, gives a very competent narrative of his socialist activities. Foner accomplished his purpose of establishing Jack London as a socialist hero — bigger than life — but at the expense of obscuring the ambiguities of London’s thought. Neither Joan London’s nor Philip Foner’s book is documented and therefore, one cannot locate their sources. Moreover, neither author had access to the full personal papers of the Londons, only recently available. A reconsideration of Jack London’s socialism is needed. From 1896 when Jack London joined the socialist ranks until he resigned from the Socialist Party in 1916, because of “its lack of fire and fight,” he remained a committed socialist. He contributed to the movement by extensive speaking engagements in the Bay Area, a fourmonth lecture tour across the country, numerous socialist articles, can­ didacy for mayor of Oakland, and through foreign “missionary” lectures on the Snark voyage. After his tenure as a minister for the Cause he returned to Glen Ellen and dedicated himself to writing and ranching. His activism seemed to wane. Nevertheless, he still felt that he should somehow continue to work for the Cause. His most exotic rationalization for his relative inactivity was to view his agricultural experiment as a social creation which carried utopian socialist implications. He planned to build a model community for workers. After he returned to Glen Ellen he continued to stuff his correspondence with socialist tracts and “preach through his writing.” Joan London and Philip Foner saw a dramatic break in London’s socialist commitment after 1906, and in his retreat to Glen Ellen. It would be a mistake to exaggerate the break, however, because those tensions which tended to vitiate his socialism were strong from the time of his conversion. His degree of faith in the proletariat’s revolutionary potential seemed to tip the scales in one direction or another. After his Snark cruise his personal tragedies and disenchantment with the working class exacerbated those conflicts which always frustrated him. This article focuses on the...


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