Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Irving Layton on Corporations

Many years ago while on vacation in Canada, I went looking for a book of Irving Layton's prose, which I thought I'd found when I found Taking Sides, four years ago. (See this post for a funny story about this quest.) Well, this year I finally found it; the right book, it turns out, was his 1972 collection Engagements. I was looking for this passage in particular:

Marx's vision of the proletarianized dregs of mankind finally revolting against their condition of abasement and humiliation and establishing a classless society has nothing but its thrilling poetry to recommend it. It is necessary to do with Marx what Marx did with Hegel: turn him over on his head. The only hope for civic and world peace lies in the rapid growth and spread of multinational corporations. By a paradox that Marx undoubtedly would have greatly appreciated, it is the Devil's pitchfork of greed, pride and egotism that is prodding the capitalist and managerial class to create a world where mutual benevolence and goodwill have become eminently profitable. The swift unstoppable development of multinational corporations and oligopolies will do more to eliminate wars between countries than the Sermon on the Mount or Shelley's pious hope that people can be humanized by reading poetry. (P. xiii, my emphasis.)

I'm not sure what Layton had behind his idea to "recommend it" at the time. But it's interesting to note that his idea has been tested in practice. Not only have multinational corporations taken over the Earth, poetry has, in the same period (the last 40 years) come to occupy an entirely marginal position.

PS. I almost forgot: on the next page he puts a button on it with the notion that "the United States is the most powerful single force promoting peace and social democracy in the world today".

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