Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rumpelstiltskin - a fairy story for adults (1988)

A Short Story from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Long ago in a kingdom now gone there lived a miller who had a very beautiful daughter. The miller was so proud of her and so eager to move up in the world that one day he went to the king and told him that his daughter was so clever that she could spin gold out of straw.

The king was prepared to talk to people like millers, and even listen to them, because he desperately needed gold to pay for his silks and spices from the East, his increasingly sumptuous woollen fabrics and carved furniture and stone castles, and to finance the wars he kept engaging in to keep hold of his kingdom and. wherever possible, expand it. The taxes and fines he and his nobles were able to extract from the serfs and artisans and small manufacturers like the miller were no longer enough to pay for all this, and he was prepared to listen to anyone who could tell him how to get more gold.

"Bring her to the palace in the morning," said the king, expecting that a witch with such powers must be ugly. When he saw her he was astonished by her beauty, but he did not say so. He led her to a chamber where there was a great quantity of straw, a stool and a spinning wheel and said. "You must spin all this into gold before morning. or you will be put to death." The poor girl protested that she could not do it, but the king was unmoved. The door was locked and she was left alone, weeping loudly.

As night fell the door was suddenly unlocked and in hobbled a little hunchbacked man. "Who are you?" sobbed the maiden.

"I hear you have need of a master spinner. I am the best in the land."

"Are you a dwarf?" asked the maiden.

"If you say so," said the little man. "My mother was so poor that all her other children died, and so did she. I am the runt of the litter."

“I have to spin all this straw into gold before morning, or the king will have me put to death. Can you do it?"

"What will you pay me?"

"My beautiful necklace."

The little man nodded his head, sat down at the spinning wheel and began to spin. Whirr, whirr, whirr went the wheel, and one bobbin was full of gold thread. Then he set up another. Whirr, whirr, whirr, thrice round again, and a second bobbin was full. And so he worked all night until all straw had been spun into gold.

At sunrise the dwarf left with her necklace in his pocket, and soon afterwards the king came in He could hardly conceal his surprise and pleasure at seeing the gold. But he had the spinning wheel and the girl taken to another room containing much more straw. "If you value your life you will spin all this into gold before sunrise."

The miller's daughter was in despair. "What shall I do now?" she wept. "No magic will save me a second time." But the words were scarcely out of her mouth when the door sprang open again, and in stepped the dwarf. "What will you give me this time?"

"This ring from my finger." The hunchback took it. sat down and once more began to spin. Faster and faster went the wheel all night long until all the great pile of straw had been turned into bobbins of fine gold.

The dawn came and the king appeared. He was delighted, but he was far from satisfied. He had begun to see a way in which he could make himself the richest king in the world. He might marry the girl and make her spin gold whenever he wanted it. But just to be sure he had her taken into yet another room piled high with straw and commanded her on peril of her life to turn it all into gold by morning.
The miller s beautiful daughter waited for the dwarf to appear again, and sure enough he did. "That is a great deal of straw. What will you give me to spin it all into gold before morning?"

"I have nothing left to pay you with. "

The little man tugged his thin beard and pondered for a moment. Then he said. "I have no child. When you are queen you must give me your firstborn infant. For that I will do the work. "

Desperate to save her life and thinking it impossible that she should ever be queen the girl agreed. Once again he began to spin. The wheel fairly sang, so fast he span, and by morning he had finished it all.

When the king arrived he was overjoyed. "You are a very beautiful girl," he said. "Fit to be a queen. I will make you my wife."

The miller was extremely satisfied. At the royal wedding of his fair daughter he was dressed in fine new clothes and strutted about as though the king had already made him a duke.

A year went by and queen gave birth to a fine healthy boy child. By this time she had quite forgotten her promise to the little hunchback. Then one day he was brought before her. "Your majesty," he said, "it is time to pay your debt."

The queen was terrified. She offered him all the riches in the kingdom, but he said. "I do not want wealth. You must keep your promise."

Then she wept and groaned as if her heart would break until the dwarf took pity on her. "I will give you three days and if during that time you can manage to guess my name I will let you keep your child. "

All night the queen lay awake trying to think what to do. She knew that she could never discover his name by guessing, so in the morning she sent out spies into the countryside to try to find out the dwarf s name.

When he came before her she tried him with all the strange names they had gathered. "Is your name Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar?" But at every one the dwarf said. "No, that is not my name."
Again the messengers set off throughout the kingdom and came back with names like Ribs-of-Beef. Spindleshanks and Hunchback. but when the little man appeared he said to every one. "No. that is not my name."

On the third day the queen’s spies came back with no more names, but one of them said. "As I came to a high mountain near the edge of the forest where the foxes and hares say goodnight to each other I saw a little hovel with a fire burning outside. Dancing round the fire was a little hunchbacked man and he was singing:
Today I've brewed, tomorrow I'll bake
And then I shall the Queen's child take.
Little does my lady dream
That Rumpelstiltskin is my name.
When the dwarf appeared the queen pretended to be still guessing. "Is your name Hans?”


"Is it Conrad?"

"No, it is not?"

"Then are you called Rumpelstiltskin?"

"A witch has told you!" shrieked the little man and he stamped his right foot so hard upon the ground that it was buried up to his thigh.

Some say that as he tried to pull it out he tore himself in two. Others have it that it was the new queen who had him put to death for trespassing and poaching in the king's deer forest. But whichever account is true it is plain that the queen had no pity on the little stunted man who had done all the work for which she had taken the credit. Through the product of his labour the miller's daughter had become queen. She and her father had come to power in the kingdom, and they were just as ruthless and avaricious as the king had been.
Ron Cook

The Poison of Nationalism (1973)

From the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the struggle to win the minds of the working class Socialists have to contend not, on the whole, with rational critiques of the Socialist position but with deeply held and unquestioned values. A few of these, for example, might be religion, "human nature", "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work" or the association of Socialism with Russia. One of the strongest of these sacred beliefs, and one of the biggest obstacles to the establishment of Socialism, is nationalism ― the loyalty felt by many members of the working class to "their country", the political unit in which they happen to reside.
Socialists hold that the only real divisions which exist in the world are horizontal ones, between different social and economic groups. In advanced capitalist countries this consists in a division between the capitalist class, which owns and controls the means of production, and the working class, which owns none of them and which has to sell its mental and physical labour-power to the capitalist class in order to live. Feelings of loyalty to a nation-State are purely subjective, having no basis in reality; the working class in Britain has more in common with the workers in other countries than it has with the British capitalist class.
Classes not Kingdoms
There, is however, an alternative view of the world. This is the belief that the important divisions are not horizontal, between different classes, but vertical, between various nations. A "nation" consists, according to this view, of a hierarchy of men and women who, although having differing incomes, social status and power, all have a common interest in working in harmony for the benefit of the whole unit and, if necessary, in fighting against other nations to defend this interest. This completely erroneous outlook is the one held by most members of the working class and nearly all political parties (including the Labour Party). Most historians reject Marx's declaration that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle", preferring instead to see history as a succession of struggles of nations against foreign domination, of subjects against tyrannical kings and of nations and races against each other.
Broadly speaking, nationalist ideologies and movements represent the interests of the capitalist class. Nationalism as such did not exist in pre-capitalist society and its growth and development represents the parallel development of the capitalist class. Nationalism as we know it today first made its appearance during the French Revolution. In the early stages of the revolution cosmopolitan ideas were prevalent ― it was believed that the rest of Europe would be inspired by France's example and would likewise overthrow the old order. When this failed to materialise strong feelings of nationalism developed; France was seen as a chosen nation, picked out to be the standard-bearer of revolution throughout Europe.
Ambidextrous Creed
Politically, nationalism is ambiguous, in that it can take on a "rightwing" or a "leftwing" form. This depends upon the position of the capitalist class in the particular time and place. If political power is held by the aristocracy or nobility, and the middle-class is struggling to assert itself, then nationalism will have "leftwing" connotations. This was the case in Europe until 1848, when nationalism was a romantic, revolutionary force against the traditional ruling class. However, once the bourgeoisie has captured and consolidated its power, then nationalism becomes a conservative and rightwing force.
. . . and in Ireland now
Although every nationalist movement believes it is unique, there exist basically these two forms of nationalism side by side. In the advanced parts of the world ― the United States, Britain, Western Europe ― nationalism is conservative, whilst in pre-industrial countries engaged in struggles against a foreign ruling class, nationalism is a "leftwing" force.
The World Socialist Movement opposes all nationalist movements recognizing that the working class has no country. There are certain other groups ― the Communist Parties of the world, and the so-called revolutionary left ― which, though claiming to have a class outlook, have a wholly opportunist and ambiguous attitude to nationalism, which reflects not so much the interest of the working class as it does Russian or Chinese foreign policy. These groups fully accept the mythology of the existence of "the nation". For example, from an Anti-Internment League pamphlet:
"The people of each nation have the right to determine how they shall be governed. Foreign interference is a fundamental attack on that right. When one nation takes offensive action against another, by introducing troops or in any other way, we cannot sit on the fence . . . And so to Ireland: Ireland is a nation; Ireland is not Britain; and the Irish have a right to decide whether or not they wish to have any association with the rest of these isles."
This attitude is a complete denial of Marxism; it is almost incomprehensible that people who describe themselves as Socialists should write of the "right to re-establish Irish nationhood" (from the same pamphlet). The Irish republican movement is in essence no different from any other nationalist movement; it was brought into being because of the need of a fledgling capitalist class to break away from Britain and erect protective tariff barriers in order to build an industrial economy. Socialists give the IRA and Sinn Fein no support whatsoever.
What Marx Meant
It will be argued that Marx and Engels supported nationalist movements and that therefore Socialists should do so today. Such an assertion is based on a faulty understanding of the materialist conception of history. Marx and Engels were living in an era when the bourgeoisie was engaged in a struggle to assert itself against the old feudal regimes. The victory of this class was a historically progressive step at that time in that it brought about the re-organization of society on a capitalist basis, the essential precondition for the establishment of Socialism; and it created an urban proletariat, the only class which can bring about Socialism. This was why Marx supported the rising capitalist class in their bid to capture political power. However, once capitalism reaches the point where Socialism is a practical proposition, there is no need for Socialists to advocate the capitalist industrialization of every corner of the globe; they can concentrate fully on the task of establishing Socialism. Hence we give no support to any nationalist group, and in place of the opportunism and hypocrisy of the myriad Bolshevik groupings in advocating "national self-determination", Socialists echo the rallying cry of Marx and Engels, "Workers of All Countries, Unite!"
Brendan Mee