John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, was published 75 years ago this week … but it could have been published yesterday.
National Public Radio literacy critic, Steve Almond, discusses the book on Monday’s edition of Here and Now, http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/04/14/grapes-wrath-steinbeck
Here is a portion of his comments, including a passage from the book:
“Part of what makes the book to me kind of amazingly prescient, there’s almost no issue that we’re struggling with today that isn’t somehow written about in ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ If you want to talk about undocumented workers, if you want to talk about are corporations people, you know, John Steinbeck is directly addressing that question. At one point, there are a bunch of migrants who’ve been kicked off their land and one says, ‘Yes, but the bank is only made of men.’ And the men from the bank respond, ‘no, you’re wrong there, quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in the bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men. I tell you, it’s the monster. Men made it but they can’t control it.'”
Steinbeck is on the mark when it comes to understanding the distinction between human beings and the artificial legal entities that are corporations. He is also correct to say that those directly connected to corporations for the most part can’t control what they do — be they employees, shareholders, even owners. The same goes for consumers.
But I must respectfully disagree with Steinbeck on his assertion that “men (and presumably women as well)…can’t control it.”
Of course they can. That is, of course we can, but not in the role of employees, shareholders, consumers, even owners. Only as citizens.
It’s citizens, We the People, who alone have the authority to define the terms for overall corporate conduct through charters and the Constitution. It’s citizens that can establish the economic and political terms. Current corporate conduct is not inevitable or irreversible. Human beings created corporations. They can change them.
If we relegate ourselves merely as employees, shareholders, consumers or owners, however, our tools are limited. There’s only so much that we can accomplish. The overarching rules governing how banks fundamentally operated during The Great Depression that Steinbeck writes about and that exist today (as well as all other types of corporations) are beyond the reach of employees, shareholders, consumers and owners.
They are, however, very much within the reach of us, We the People, acting as self-governing people. We’ve simply not behaved as we should as citizens, but rather acted as employees, shareholders, consumers and owners.
For that, the wrath has been on us…until recently. The growing modern day citizen’s movement for real democracy to fundamentally define corporate actions and define the role of money in elections is alive and growing. For that, we should thank the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy, Democracy Unlimited, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Alliance for Democracy, Reclaim Democracy and others over the past two decades and currently the national Move to Amend (MTA) movement which seeks an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring corporations are not people and money is not speech.
I think Steinbeck would be a MTA supporter.