Summary: Painful history can lead to left-wing art.
I had intended to write about Charlie Stross and fictional aesthetics, but in order for that to work, I ask my patient readers first to consider the Haymarket Bombing, its investigation, and nonfictional history.
I think someone in the Manosphere blogged angrily about how the Haymarket Bombing proves that anarchists are bad people. I’m not convinced that anyone has an authoritative grasp of what actually happened.
There was a bomb. Policemen died. Labor activists were blamed. (Bear in mind that robber-baron capitalists were known to use assassins and false flags, but it’s entirely possible that the leftist laborers really were the killers in this case.)
John P. Altgeld, governor of Illinois, claimed that police brutality had done much to push the workers beyond reasonable endurance.
The following is from Captain Schaack, a very prominent police official:
DEPARTMENT OF POLICE,
CITY OF CHICAGO.
CHICAGO, Ill., May 4, 1893.
Mr. G. E. DETWILER, Editor Rights of Labor:
Dear Sir: In reply to your communication of April 13, I will say that in July, 1885, in the street car strike on the west side, I held the office of lieutenant on the force. I was detailed with a company of officers early in the morning in the vicinity of the car barns, I believe on Western avenue and a little north of Madison street. My orders were to see that the new men on the cars were not molested when coming out of the barns.
One man came out and passed my lines about fifty feet. I saw one of the men, either driver or conductor, leave the car at a stand-still. I ran up near to the car, when I saw on the southeast corner of the street Bonfield strike a man on the head with his club. He hit the man twice and I saw the man fall to the ground.
Afterwards I was put on a train of cars, protecting the rear. Bonfield had charge of the front. I saw many people getting clubbed in front of the train but I held my men in the rear and gave orders not to strike any one except they were struck first. Not one of my officers hurt a person on that day or at any time.
Many people were arrested, all appearing. From what I saw in the afternoon and the next day, no officer could state what they were arrested for. The officers professed ignorance of having any evidence, but “some one told them to take him in,” meaning to lock him up. On that afternoon, about 4 o’clock, I met Bonfield and he addressed
me in the following words, in great anger: “If some of you goody-goody fellows had used your clubs freely in the forenoon, you would not need to use lead this afternoon.” I told him that I did not see any use clubbing people and that I would club no person to please any one, meaning Bonfield, and that if lead had to be used, I thought my officers could give lead and take it also. I will say that affair was brutal and uncalled for.
MICHAEL J. SCHAACK,
No. 227 N. State Street.
Again it is shown that various attempts were made to bring to justice the men who wore the uniform of the law while violating it, but all to no avail; that the laboring people found the prisons always open to receive them, but the courts of justice were practically closed to them; that the prosecuting officers vied with each other in hunting them down, but were deaf to their appeals; that in the spring of 1886 there were more labor disturbances in the city and particularly at the McCormick factory; that under the leadership of Capt. Bonfield the brutalities of the previous year were even exceeded. Some affidavits and other evidence is offered on this point which I can not give for want of space. It appears that this was the year of the eight hour agitation and efforts were made to secure an eight hour day about May 1, and that a number of laboring men standing, not on the street, but on a vacant lot, were quietly discussing the situation in regard to the movement, when suddenly a large body of police under orders from Bonfield charged on them and began to club them; that some of the men, angered at the unprovoked assault, at first resisted, but were soon dispersed; that some of the
police fired on the men while they were running and wounded a large number who were already 100 feet or more away and were running as fast as they could; that at least four of the number so shot down died, that this was wanton and unprovoked murder, but there was not even so much as an investigation.
Was it an Act of Personal Revenge?While some men may tamely submit to being clubbed and seeing their brothers shot down, there are some who will resent it and will nurture a spirit of hatred and seek revenge for themselves, and the occurrences that preceded the Haymarket tragedy indicate that the bomb was thrown by some one who, instead of acting on the advice of anybody, was simply seeking personal revenge for having been clubbed, and that Capt. Bonfield is the man who is really responsible for the death of the police officers.
It is also shown that the character of the Haymarket meeting sustains this view. The evidence shows there were only 800 to 1,000 people present, and that it was a peaceable and orderly meeting; that the mayor of the city was present and saw nothing out of the way and that he remained until the crowd began to disperse, the meeting being practically over, and the crowd engaged in dispersing when he left; that had the police remained away for twenty minutes more there would have been nobody left
there, but that as soon as Bonfield learned that the mayor had left he could not resist the temptation to have some more people clubbed and went up with a detachment of police to disperse the meeting, and that on the appearance of the police the bomb was thrown by some unknown person and several innocent and faithful officers, who were simply obeying an uncalled for order of their superior, were killed; all of these facts tend to show the improbability of the theory of the prosecution that the bomb was thrown as the result of a conspiracy on the part of the defendants to commit murder; if the theory of the prosecution were correct there would have been many bombs thrown; and the fact that only one was thrown shows that it was an act of personal revenge.
It is further shown here that much of the evidence given at the trial was a pure fabrication; that some of the prominent police officials in their zeal, not only terrorized ignorant men by throwing them into prison and threatening them with torture if they refused to swear to anything desired, but that they offered money and employment to those who would consent to do this. Further, that they deliberately planned to have fictitious conspiracies formed in order that they might get the glory of discovering them. In addition to the evidence in the record of some witnesses who swore that they had been paid small sums of money, etc., several documents are here referred to.
All of this colors my opinion of the modern conflict between right wing “channers” and left wing “social justice warriors.”
Although I normally push right-wing doctrines on many issues (e.g. the need for sexual restraint) I am sympathetic to a lot of left-wing ideas. E.g.:
Charlie Stross wrote a post at:
which is pretty good, and also links to a very good piece at:
Stross should definitely take the time to read the aesthetic criticism by Graeber that I recently made into a permanent page at:
An especially relevant passage is the following:
For the radical Left and the authoritarian Right the problem of constituent power is very much alive, but each takes diametrically opposite approaches to the fundamental question of violence.
The Left, chastened by the disasters of the 20th century, has largely moved away from its older celebration of revolutionary violence, preferring non-violent forms of resistance. Those who act in the name of something higher than the law can do so precisely because they don’t act like a rampaging mob.
For the Right, on the other hand—and this has been true since the rise of fascism in the ‘20s—the very idea that there is something special about revolutionary violence, anything that makes it different from mere criminal violence, is so much self-righteous twaddle. Violence is violence.
Apparently China Mieville is responsible for the crap at:
I haven’t read his books, but I’m not going to prioritize them if he is so idiotically Leftist.
Stross’ Leftist anger is less idiotic, and more worthy of attention:
what would a steampunk novel that took the taproot history of the period seriously look like?
Forget wealthy aristocrats sipping tea in sophisticated London parlours; forget airship smugglers in the weird wild west. A revisionist mundane SF steampunk epic — mundane SF is the socialist realist movement within our tired post-revolutionary genre — would reflect the travails of the colonial peasants forced to labour under the guns of the white Europeans’ Zeppelins, in a tropical paradise where severed human hands are currency and even suicide doesn’t bring release from bondage. (Hey, this is steampunk — it needs zombies and zeppelins, right? Might as well pick Zombies for our single one impossible ingredient.) It would share the empty-stomached anguish of a young prostitute on the streets of a northern town during a recession, unwanted children (contraception is a crime) offloaded on a baby farm with a guaranteed 90% mortality rate through neglect. The casual boiled-beef brutality of the soldiers who take the King’s shilling to break the heads of union members organizing for a 60 hour work week. The fading eyesight and mangled fingers of nine year olds forced to labour on steam-powered looms, weaving cloth for the rich. The empty-headed graces of debutantes raised from birth to be bargaining chips and breeding stock for their fathers’ fortunes. In other words, it’s the story of all the people who are having adventures — as long as you remember that an adventure is a tale of unpleasant events happening to people a long, long way from home.
Only none of this stuff is fun, exactly, so I suppose it has to go on the list of “Novels I will not write” … filed under “too angry”.
This is a huge problem. This is why I don’t even TRY to write sci-fi. The important topics make me way too angry, way too preachy, way too gloomy.
Don’t write a story if you know that it will turn off its audience:
The realistic consideration of violence makes for unmarketable art. No one wants to read ficiton that is too depressing. Similarly, even when writing history, there is a grave temptation to whitewash the depressing bits. Many reasonable men fall into leftist idiocy because the facts of history are too depressing: these men simply go mad, and declare that the past was too cruel and too painful, and therefore we moderns must renounce masculinity, patriarchal violence, and heterosexual behavior.
Summary: Painful history can lead to left-wing art.