This Week: From Russia, with Love
When I was thirteen, I became a communist. It’s hard to explain why. Communism is an all-encompassing worldview which determines how you interpret everything; if you don’t hold that worldview, you just can’t understand how a communist thinks. In that way, communism is a lot like conspiracy theories, akin to the theories that 9/11 was perpetrated by the American government, that the Windings font is violently anti-Semitic, and that the years 614-911 A.D. never happened (all of which people believe).
To the uninitiated, these theories sound absolutely absurd. But once a person accepts such a theory, everything not only fits but further vindicates their theory. Thus, conspiracy theorists can dance around any objection. For instance, some people believe that KFC is a subsidiary of the KKK and injects its chicken with a secret ingredient that makes only black men impotent, despite the fact that KFC’s President is African-American. It’s the same with communism. Once you accept communism, everything suddendly morphs into a product of the reactionary bourgeois tyranny.
As bizarre as it might sound, the event that led me to accept communism was the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Like everyone, I was shocked and saddened by the news of the disaster. But I soon also became outraged that our government had wasted billions of dollars and tragically endangered the lives of the crew member for no apparent commensurate benefit. The crew performed a scientific mission studying different bacteria, minerals, tumors, etc., but they might as well have been studying whether ants like to eat pizza for all I cared. (Looking back, I can see that I was already being pulled by a strong libertarian instinct towards fiscal-responsibility, though at the time I had no idea how to express that impulse politically).
I felt something was thoroughly wrong with America. In my naive 8th grade worldview, capitalism represented the tired, intellectually dull, traditional system. Communism, on the other hand, was daring and radically new. After all, I was intellectual (as intellectual as someone who still had braces and a bedtime can be), so I was attracted to exotic ideas (I’m sure when you think of the word “exotic” you instantly picture Soviet Russia), and communism seemed like the default view for dissenting intellectuals. So I enthusiastically accepted communism.
And I began acting the part of the communist, growing my hair long to subvert the bourgeois class structure and buying Phish t-shirts made of hemp. And, of course, I started reading Marx. I began with the early works, partly to build a foundation in Marxism, and partly because the later works had pictures of the elderly Marx on their covers, and the elderly Marx looked too much like Santa Claus for me. I did eventually read The Communist Manifesto and parts of Das Kapital, though it was all way over my head. But the less I understood, the more I believed.
I took some rather radical positions. I thought that, not only should Bush have been impeached for getting us into Iraq, but that Polk and McKinley should have been posthumously impeached for getting us into Mexico and Cuba. I thought that not only should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay in America, but that they should receive all of the benefits of citizenship, including the right to vote. And, I came to disagree with the American Revolution, as it begat the biggest, evilest capitalist country ever (the words “evil” and “capitalist” became fused together in my rhetoric). In short, I wasn’t the sort of progressive who paradoxically argues that “America is so great that we should change everything about it” (that’s like telling your girlfriend that she’s so perfect that she needs to lose twenty pounds). I thought America was rotten, so we needed to change everything about it.
However, I would eventually realize how ridiculous my adolescent communism was. But more on that next week.
Next week: Taking the Red Pill- converting to conservatism.