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Jefferson &/or Mussolini, Part 2

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Part 2 of 5

VII

TAKING it by and large the Russian revolution seems to me fairly simple by comparison. If I am wrong it is probably because I haven’t been ten years in Russia.

At any rate, as I see it, the Russian revolution is the end of the Marxian cycle, that is to say Marxian economics were invented in a time when labour was necessary, when a great deal of labour was still necessary, and his, Marx’s, values are based on labour.

The new economics bases value on the cultural heritage, that is to say on labour PLUS the complex of inventions which make it possible to get results, which used to be exclusively the results of labour, with very little labour, and with a quantity of labour that tends steadily to diminish.

If the indulgent reader will consider not ONE revolution but the successive revolutions, violent and quiet, political, economic, social, he will see that none of them start from the same point, and that none of them arrive at identical destinations, and that a nation two hundred years behind the rest gives a jump which may carry it further in a given direction than any one has gone, but that the next nation to jump from, let us say, a higher, a more advanced level of culture lands in a different place on a still higher level, or into a still greater complexity.

I find no metaphor for the bathos of those denizens of developed countries who kneel and ask Russia to save ’em. I am only reminded of the story about George Moore and his braces.

Russian Bolshevism is the outcome of centuries of historic determinism, Russian habit of having a town council or mir where all the moonheads used to go and jaw about it. Russia full of tribal superstitions, by which I mean “left-overs.”

There is no use in thinking about shoving this state of things suddenly onto a totally different people with utterly different habits. Results would be just as funny as the first trials by jury among the Hungarian peasantry.

As to communism, the frontier between private and public affairs is NOT fixed, it varies from one state of society to another. The Anglo-Saxons had a certain amount of common land, vide the name “Boston Common,” which is still in Massachusetts.

The English boob was done out of most of his common land some time or other, probably under whiggery and the earlier Georges.

Quincy Adams was a communist in so far as he wanted to hold a lot of unsettled land “for the nation.”

The idea was unseasonable and would have held back the settlement of the continent for who knows how many decades.

If Adams hadn’t been deficient in capacity for human contacts he might, however, have saved “for the nation,” enough land to be useful in a number of conjectural ways. It did “belong to the nation.”

A bolshevik friend, attacking fascism, said that Russia “belongs to them,” meaning that it belongs to the people, yet it is very difficult to see how the plural or singular Russian owns his country, any more than I own the gulf of Tigullio. I can see it, I can swim in it when it is warm enough.

Besides, a Russian who isn’t a member of the party is certainly less a proprietor, than is a member.

I have no doubt that the idea of a sovereign people gave the buff-and-blue hefties a great sensation. It was a stimulant, a tonic, it may have washed off a lot of inferiority complex, tho’ I can’t believe that the sense of being a feudal underling was very strong in Connecticut in 1770.

Perhaps the greatest work of a political genius is to correct the more flagrant disproportions of his epoch. If the reader will peruse any record of the utterly drivelling idiocy of the French Court from the time of Henri IV to fat Louis, or the annals of any European country in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries he will find himself growing more and more rabidly Jeffersonian.

It is probable that a reader in 2133 looking over the record of nineteenth-century villainy will feel a revulsion from “irresponsibility,” growing more acute as he comes down into the debauch of Hatrys, Kreugers and other unconvicted financiers whose tropisms conform.

VIII

FROBENIUS, in the interview referred to, said that Mussolini’s miracle had been that of reawakening the sense of responsibility. I cite Frobenius merely to have my own opinion independently delivered by another man who knows enough of the facts to form an intelligent judgment.

By taking more responsibility than any other man (save possibly Lenin) has dared to assume in our time Mussolini has succeeded in imparting here and there a little of this sense to some others.

The cheery and relatively irresponsible “ought” of the eighteenth-century doctrinaires and enthusiasts has been weighed out and measured by 160 years of experiment. Jefferson thought people would feel responsible, or didn’t think, let us say, didn’t foresee or clearly think the contrary.

A limited electorate was in being. He, T.J., had enough to do with his present, the conservation of the U.S., the gaining of time for its growth, etc., the problem of slavery which he gradually found was beyond his time. As well to be clear that he was “agriculturalist” FOR his time and his locus, but that he did see industry coming.

Ultimately our factories, which we needed for independence, were shoved on to us by wars and embargoes, and chiefly by British fat-headedness.

A hundred and more years later Russia knows enough to WANT factories and to want ’em in a hurry.

There will be no clear thinking until you understand that Italy is NOT Russia. Racially, geographically and with all the implications of both words Italy is not Russia, nor is America Italy, nor is Russia America, etc., and I do not “advocate” America’s trying to be either Russia or Italy, und so weiter.

The most I could DO would be to try to persuade a few of the more intelligent people in all three countries to try to find out, within the limits of the possible, where and what are the others, and what are the relations between them, or the cordialities possible, or at any rate the possible comprehensions.

All of which won’t be helped by holding up a false “artificial horizon,” or painting distorted backgrounds for falsified effigies.

As to Jefferson’s interests, let us say his practical interests: he was interested in rice, he believed in feeding the people, or at least that they ought to be fed, he wasn’t averse from pinching a bit of rice or at least from smuggling a sack of a particularly fine brand out of Piedmonte. With the moral aim of improving all the rice in Virginia.

Mussolini has persuaded the Italians to grow better wheat, and to produce Italian colonial bananas.

This may explain the “Dio ti benedica” scrawled on a shed where some swamps were.

IX

NOW what about prejudice? Censorship of the Press!

I had read so much about this in foreign papers, particularly in the Chicago Tribune, that I had taken it for granted. A few weeks ago the editor of the village local paper was vastly surprised when apropos of a fairly strong expression of opinion, I asked him if he could print it. Of course he could print it, he could print anything he liked. There was no censorship of that sort. If he made an ass of himself someone would tell him. I have seen several cheery Italians, fascists, bearing up after a series of reprimands.

As the Duce has pithily remarked: “Where the Press is ‘free’ it merely serves special interests.”

The kind of intellectual respiration where you print a thing and get spoken to afterward is vastly different from London stuffiness. Honest thought, I mean serious sober thought intended to be of public utility is, in England, merely excluded from all the Press. Statement of undenied and undeniable fact is merely blanketed for five years, for a decade, for longer. They don’t dare publish the reports of their own medical officers on the state of the population, let alone economic thinking.

A great deal of yawp about free Press proves on examination to be a mere howl for irresponsibility.

American journalism has built up an ideal of impartiality. A syndicate official writes me that as “a news writer he can’t afford the luxury of having opinions.”

That is in part practical, it is in part the result of an ideal, the ideal of being the impartial observer; of not colouring your report of fact by an “idea” or by a conviction.

But say that a given situation has ten components and that the reporter sees one? It is his duty to report it? TO WHOM?

If we had a perfect organ of public opinion or a perfect newspaper earnestly trying to tell thoughtful readers the truth, that would be lovely.

The paper discovering an error of its own would report it and so forth.

As it is, even our supposedly serious quarterlies do not correct misstatements. My mind goes back to Col. Harvey who was an editor before he wore short pants in London.

Then there is the unavoidable difference in truth itself, which arises from the different predisposition and from the different intention and the different capacity of the beholder.

A field is one thing to the strolling by-passer, another to the impressionist painter, yet another to the farmer determined to plant seed in it, and get a return.

There are some things which should be reported to “the authorities” first; and to the public only when the authorities are wilfully inattentive, incompetent or dishonest.

English free speech, the privilege of Hyde Park oratory, etc., is mostly a mark of contempt for thought in any form whatsoever. Britain believes that the talk is a safety valve to let off steam, or that, at any rate this form of cerebral secretion is incomprehensible.

The Latin can’t help believing that an idea IS something or other. Put an idea into a Latin and it makes him think, or at least talk, if not act.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAD?

As far as the present author is concerned it leads to the fact I prefer a de facto freedom to theoretical freedom. I don’t care a damn about a free Press if it means that every time I have anything to say that appears to me to be of the least interest or “of exceptional interest” some nincompoop keeps me from printing it. I don’t care whether the nincompoop is Professor Carus or Col. Harvey or some snob in London, or a lying and obsequious British politician who dislikes “colloquial language” because the reader might understand it.

The motive or motives of an act comprise one of its dimensions. The journalist has often no greater motive than a desire to make the front page or any page, and, at one remove, the lesser literary journalist may merely want to stir up a shindy, as has been the case recently re Mr. Hemingway.
A NOUS LA LIBERTÉ

Liberty is defined in the declaration of the Droits de l’homme, as they are proclaimed on the Aurillac monument, as the right to do anything that ne nuit pas aux autres. That does not harm others.

This is the concept of liberty that started the enthusiasms in 1776 and in 1790.

I see a member of the Seldes family giving half an underdone damn whether their yawps do harm or have any other effect save that of getting themselves advertised.

If you were talking about the liberty of a responsible Press that is a different kettle of onions, and is something very near to the state of the Press in Italy at the moment.

The irresponsible may be in a certain sense “free” though not always free of the consequences of their own irresponsibility, whatever the theoretical government, or even if there be no government whatsoever, but their freedom is NOT the ideal liberty of eighteenth-century preachers.

A defect, among others, of puritanism, or of protestantism or of Calvin the damned, and Luther and all the rest of these blighters whom we Americans have, whether we like it or not, on our shoulders, is that it and they set up rigid prohibitions which take no count whatsoever of motive.

Thou shalt not this and that and the other. This is a shallowness, it is the thought of inexperienced men, it is thought in two dimensions only.

What you want to know about the actions of a friend or mistress is WHY did he or she do it?

If the act was done for affection you forgive it. It is only when the doer is indifferent to us that we care most for the effect.

Doc Shelling used to say that the working man (American or other) wanted his rights and all of everybody else’s.

“The party” in Russia has simplified things too far, perhaps? too far?

We have in our time suffered a great clamour from those who ask to be “governed,” by which they mean mostly that they want to run yammering to their papa, the state, for jam, biscuits, and persistent help in every small trouble. What do they care about rights? What is liberty, if you can have subsidy?

Now in Italy industry is not controlled (February 8, anno XI). The state is willing to supervise. Out of twenty-one applications for company charters made under the new laws, up till Monday last week, fourteen had been accepted, and the other seven had been found to proceed from “gente non serii.” That is to say from farceurs, or people who don’t know enough to come in out of the wet.

Not only do frontiers need watching but man in a mechanical age, you me’n’th’other fellow, need help against Kreugers and Hatrys.

The demarcation between public and private affairs shifts with the change in the bases of production. A thousand peasants each growing food on his own fields can exist without trust laws.

My leading question at this point is whether any other nation has in this year, 1933, more directly or frankly faced the question: WHAT Does harm to other men?

Or whether any other government (even including the new and spotless Spanish Republic) is readier to act more quickly in accordance with a new and untrammelled perception of changed relations?

Has any statesman since Jefferson shaken himself free of clichés, or helped free others in greater degree?

Confucius suggests that we learn to distinguish the root from the branch. In the Noh programme the Shura or battle play precedes the Kazura or drama of mysterious calm.

You can quite meritoriously sigh for justice, but Mussolini has been presumably right in putting the first emphasis on having a government strong enough to get the said justice. That is to say taking first the “government” in our text and proceeding at reasonable pace toward the “which governs least.” Thus with the consortium of some industry that was discussed the other day . . . the various powers in said industry were told to confer, and were asked to work out an agreement of quota production with no finger of government interjected. If they can’t agree the government will take on the job of arranging an agreement.

The idea of supervision may have started from Adam Smith’s dictum: Men of the same trade never meet without a conspiracy against the general public.

This has taken more than a hundred years to sink in.

Why, you will ask, should I, a correct Jeffersonian and Confucian, accept all these so different details?

X
The “New” Economics

IN 1917 or 1918 Major Douglas began to think out loud, about credit. The British Press showed itself for what it was, a hired toady, a monkey garden where thought was taboo. You could not get any discussion. If the Major said or wrote something that sounded all right, the layman couldn’t in that year corroborate it. No one of “greater experience” either contradicted him lucidly or confirmed him from adequate knowledge.

I set out on a longish trail, asking questions from all and sundry.

Old Spire who had sat on a Credit Agricole board said: Yes, very nice, communal credit, but when you get your board, every man on that board has a brother-in-law.

I said to Max Pam: “As a banker can you tell me, if I want to build a chicken coop, is there any reason why I shouldn’t do so, instead of coming to you for permission and giving you six per cent. on the money I borrow to pay someone to build it.”

Mr. Pam replied: “The only thing is that if someone happened to see you building it they might think you were too poor to be able to afford to borrow the money, and that would be bad for your credit, and a lot of people might send in their bills.”

A Boston millionaire said something for which I can find parallel in the “writings” of Henry Ford.

And a chap that had started a what do you call it, credit club, I think they call it, in Californy, said : “Now you’d think the simplest thing to do, which was all I asked ’em, would be to meet once a month and say who paid their bills.

“Would they? Naw. And every time they sold a lot to a dishonest merchant they were doing harm to one that was honest.”

And going back a little, the Sinn Feiners as they were then called before that meant so exclusively Eamon de Valera, put a man on to studying the New Economics. And Senor Madariaga was called back to Spain to look after the treasury or something or other of that sort.

And, more recently, all this yatter about technocracy got out from under the lid. Without, apparently, much moral direction . . . my own belief being that all or most of the technocracy results had to be got surreptitiously, in so far as the members of the Columbia University faculty had, in great measure, to conceal the significance of their findings, and stick to the purely material phase. But in 1918 we knew in London that the problem of production was solved, and that the next job was to solve distribution and that this meant a new administration of credit. I don’t think there was any ambiguity about that.

The question being how and who was to break down the ring of craft, of fraud, and of iron.
PERSONAL

London stank of decay back before 1914 and I have recorded the feel of it in a poem here and there. The live man in a modern city feels this sort of thing or perceives it as the savage perceives in the forest. I don’t know how many men keep alive in modern civilization but when one has the frankness to compare notes one finds that the intuition is confirmed just as neatly or almost as neatly as if the other man saw a shop sign. I mean the perception is not simply the perception of one’s own subjectivity, but there is an object which others perceive.

Thus London going mouldy back in say 1912 or 1911. After the War death was all over it. I said something of the sort to Padre Jose Elizondo. There had been a number of Spaniards in London during the War, there being no Paris for them to go to.

“Yes,” said the Padre, “we feel it, and we are all of us going back,” i.e., to Spain.

London was in terror of thought. Nothing was being buried. Paris was tired, very tired, but they wanted table rase, they wanted the dead things cleared out even if there were nothing to replace them.

Italy was, on the other hand, full of bounce. I said all of this to a Lombard writer. I said: London is dead, Paris is tired, but here the place is alive. What they don’t know is plenty, but there is some sort of animal life here. If you put an idea into these people they would DO something.

The Lombard writer said yes . . . and looked across the hotel lobby; finally he said: “And you know it is terrible to be surrounded by all this energy and . . . and . . . not to have an idea to put into it.”

I think that must have been 1920. I can’t remember which year contained what, possibly in ’21 the cavalieri della morte passed through the Piazza San Marco, and when I got to Milan that year I asked my friend what about it. What is this fascio? He said there was nothing to it or words to that effect. At any rate not a matter of interest.

You know how it is when you stop off for a night in a hurry and haven’t much left but a ticket to where you’ve got to get back to. Or perhaps that was the year when one was lucky to get there at all. I did go out via Chiasso by tramway but I suspect that was 1920 and that in ’21 or ’22 or whatever spring it was, I hadn’t any excuse save an interest in other matters and the supposition that IF it were interesting my friend would have known it.

It may be, of course, that one’s intuition takes in the whole, and sees straight, whereas one’s verbal receiving-station or one’s logic deals with stray detail, and that one’s intuition can’t get hold of the particular, or anything particular, but only of the whole.

Let it stand that I was right in my main perception but that any stray remark or any wisp of straw blowing nowhere could fool me as to the particular point of focus.

Say I hadn’t a nose for news. Why should I have had? One may learn several trades in a lifetime but one can’t learn ’em all, all at once.

And if I had gone then to the Popolo d’Italia I don’t the least know that I would now have any better sense of the specific weight of the fascio. I might have got lost in a vast welter of detail.

What I saw was the line of black shirts, and the tense faces of cavalieri della morte. I was at Florian’s. Suddenly a little old buffer rushed up to a front table and began to sputter forty-eight to the dozen: “chubbuchcuchushcushcushcuhkhh.” Violent protests etc., “wouldn’t, wouldn’t, wouldn’t.” It was a different kind of excitement, a more acrimonious excitement than the noise of the midday pigeon-feeding.

Then came the file of young chaps with drawn faces and everyone stood to attention and took off their hats about something, all except one stubborn foreigner, damned if he would stand up or show respect until he knew what they meant. Nobody hit me with a club and I didn’t see any oil bottles.

Life was interesting in Paris from 1921 to 1924, nobody bothered much about Italy. Some details I never heard of at all until I saw the Esposizione del Decennio.

Communists took over some factories, but couldn’t dispense with credit. No one has told us whether ANY Italian communist even thought of the subject.

Lenin couldn’t, after all, be both in Turin and in Moscow.

Gabriele declined to obey the stuffed plastrons of Paris, Marinetti made a few remarks in the Chamber. It can’t be said that the outer world cared. When one got back to Italy things were in order, that is, up to a point.

I heard an alarm bell in Ravenna. A lady who had long known the Duce complained about Italy’s being Prussianized one day when a train started on time.

The Tyrolean bellboy or boots or factotum at Sirmione ran up the tricolour topside downward on a feast day, either from irredentism or because he didn’t know t’other from which. Nobody noticed it save the writer. You don’t go to Italy for criticism, there is a lack of minute observation–I mean when Giovanni isn’t being punctilious or having his sensibilities ruffled. . . .

“Noi altri Italiani,” said one medico, “we don’t pay attention like that to EVERY word.” This was during a discussion on style (in writing).

And another year I went down to Sicily.

Lady X was worried about the work in the sulphur mines. The Duce had been there, but he had been steered into and through the one decent mine in the place. . . .

XI

FOR several years the general lack of mental coherence in the anti-fascists, all every and any anti-fascist I encountered, increased my respect for the fascio. Apart from the Rimini man, I don’t think I knew any fascists.

One year the son of the proprietor in Cesena gave me the usual Cola da Rienzi oration, at the end of which he drew a picture of Mazzini from his pocket and ecstatically kissed it.

The Comandante della Piazza considered this act due to ignorance. Gigi aged two used to stand up on his chair after lunch and say “Popolo ignorante!” as a sort of benediction, one day he added the personal note “And the worst of all is my nurse.”

Then there were a few days in Modena before an anniversary of the martyrs. Posters stating the number of martyrs. Proclamations from Farinacci indicating that the proper way to remember the martyrs was to beat up all the working men in the district. I think this went on for two days or possibly longer up till the evening before “the day.” Then there appeared a little strip of paper on the walls, a little strip about eighteen inches by four, to the effect:

The secretary of the Party is compelled to remain in Rome by press of official business.

I think it was even briefer. It was signed “Mussolini.”

When thinking of revolution, you must think of several revolutions. I know about two from Stef and about the shindy in Ireland. . . . I can’t afford Spanish car fare.

XII
Government by Theory or by Intelligence

JEFFERSON did not have the Vatican in his garden, he did not have the Roman aristocracy in his garden. I make no pretence to direct knowledge of the Roman aristocracy, my contact having been for some years limited to one prince who is unimpressed thereby, and to a few other meetings on tennis courts. The prince’s opinion: “Roman society! ANYbody can get into Roman society, all you got to do is to HANG OUT a HAM!”

One hears stories about Roman society, a Proustless congeries, museum pieces of immemorial tradition, American sustenance of the Edwardian and Victorian periods.

Years ago in the pastoral epoch they used to play polo, quite good but very cheap polo using one pony a whole afternoon, then there came an American millionaire ambassador and he used three or four thoroughbreds all at once and rode all round the patricians, and that, roughly speaking, ended polo for the Romans who couldn’t afford the new method.

And there is Prince X who is said to cast off the thin peel of fine tailoring once he gets back to his estates, and to be a fellow-barbarian among his own peasants, etc.

On the whole my impression, worth no more than anyone else’s impression, is that this subdivided and resubdivided small world hovers between the chapel roof and the cocktail-shaker, some of the senior members having very beautiful, if sometimes vacuous, manners and some of the young, none at all.

In no case can it be considered a milieu for ideas, that is to say for active and living ideas as opposed to trrrrraditions. Some parts of it must be about as level-headed as the sur-realists in private life.

Into the vicinage of these black papalists and these by-New York refurnished entitleds came the son of a blacksmith, a chap who had edited a terrible left-wing paper, a fellow who had worked eleven hours a day in Lausanne for thirty-two centesimi the hour (pre-War, when 32 centesimi were worth six and a fraction cents).

It was very disturbing. I don’t think the Roman milieu is as idiotic as Bloomsbury or as wafty as the Nouvelle Revue Française, but this is purely personal distortion. I know more about the drivelling idiocy of those more northern milieux. In all such monkey gardens conversation is two-thirds denigration, petty yatter about irrelevant flaws, and demarcation between the ouistitis who write most of the Criterion, or who form chapels wherever there can be gathered together a few hundred or a few dozen idle people who are emphatically NOT artists, but who give themselves importance by hanging on to the edge of artistic reputations or social notorieties, is always this niggling over the minor defect and this failing utterly to weigh up any work or any man as an entirety, balancing major with minor.

As to the kind of thing: The Duke of Xq was in the cabinet and brought in a law which the boss said was tyrannous and oppressive, oppressive to the working man, so the boss rewrote it a week or so later; not, I believe, as a law for an ideal republic situated in a platonic paradise but as an arrangement possible in Italy in the year VIII or IX of the Era Fascista, that is to say a much milder law than the Duke’s, whereon the Duke was peeved like any other contributor to an amateur vers libre monthly or any other young schoolgirl, and announced that he was a defender of popular liberties and resigned from the cabinet, and anybody who knew anybody who knew or spoke well of the government was regarded as a member of the Cheka.

XIII
Culture

THERE is a lot of “culture” in Italy, by which I mean people with social position write one or two books. And there was another Duke whom my friend the more or less known author G defined as a cretino. He had nice manners. I found out, after a time, that he was a very Catholic Catholic, I mean very pious according to some mysterious criterion; one day I inadvertently said a good word about the government, not to him but to his wife. I have never seen him since then.

Titles in Italy might perhaps puzzle the just-arrived foreigner. Roughly speaking, princes and dukes are “in society” and live lives of, let us say, luxury and ease or at any rate of varying splendour as judged by professors and working men.

The rank of Cavaliere seems to be allotted mainly to dentists and to photographers. A very competent and charming hairdresser well-known in this vicinage was a Marchese but didn’t use his title in business. Count Romulus of Begni is a hotel-keeper in a mountain town of about 900 inhabitants, sort of, as you might say, maintained, helped on by his friends who feel his position ought to be kept up for the village credit.

But Italian snobbism is multiform by comparison with that in long-centralized countries, it doesn’t all scale down in neat categories from a half-witted royalty at the top, or from a couple of mouldy groups of Bourbonists and Orleanists, etc., as in the cheesy district of Paris.

In occasional spare moments I have tried in vain to follow a few of its shades and nuances and to understand why and where that which fancies itself as noble don’t mingle with higher plutocracy or with other people with excellent breeding, and the eternal mystery of the accessibility of all privileged classes to idiots and to sycophants.
FIRST SHOCK:

Fascism is probably the first anti-snob movement that has occurred in this peninsula since the days of Cato the younger.

On the other hand there is definitely so much culture in the serious sense of that word in Italy. There is the scholarly class, the people with set habits and an acquaintance with a small amount of catalogued and evalued literature, and a questionable taste in old painting, etc. In every town you will find people still browsing on the hang-over of the renaissance, but self-contained, having dismissed the vanities of social glamour, exchanging a few words or not exchanging a few words in small cafés, living dignifiedly on invisible incomes etc. . . .

But as further complications: These sensitive kindly professors who have never affirmed anything in their lives, who are possibly too cultured to make an affirmation, or too polite to risk stating an opinion that might jostle their colloquitor, are on the other hand remarkably set, stubborn, unmovable.

They have never asked anyone else to change an opinion and have never expected to change one of their own.

Scholarship has led them into a realm of uncertainty, or to a remote grove where contradictions are needless. This doesn’t apply simply to museum pieces of seventy but to the men of my own generation. The older ones are more mild and the younger more rigid but the fixity is impartially divided between them.

If Mussolini had committed the error of getting into an Italian university there would have been no fascist decennial.

 

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    Gold in the Furnace

    Defiance

    The Passing of a Profit & Other Forgotten Stories

    Revolution from Above