My Communist Manifesto

Last week on The Man Who Was Thursday

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.

14 comments

    1. Haha- well, I would more charitably say that I follow basic positions to their logical end. I'm not sure whether or not I would classify conservatism as an extreme position…

    1. Haha- I can imagine Animal Farm impacting different people in different ways, but I can't imagine anyone becoming attracted to communism because of Animal Farm.

  1. Keune,

    Your adolescent communism wasn't ridiculous because it was communism. It was ridiculous because of how clearly adolescent it was.

    For instance, only an adolescent would intend to form a foundation of early Marxist thought without reading "The Communist Manifesto," because only an adolescent would try to read Marx in a vacuum.

    By the same token, only an adolescent would equate the hippie culture with communism. If you had been in any way familiar with the currents of Marxist thought, you might have realized that in your hemp Phish shirt you fell somewhere in between Marx's scorned "utopian socialists" and Lenin's scorned "infantile leftists."

    And again, only a total adolescent would forget the fawning tone Marx employs when he writes about bourgeois capitalism in parts of the Manifesto (though, having admitted a failure to understand the work, you can be partially forgiven for that one). So, far from assuming that everything is "a product of the reactionary bourgeois tyranny," or coming "to disagree with the American Revolution, as it begat the biggest, evilest capitalist country ever," a Marxist would take a much more even approach to the history of bourgeois capitalism. All you need to do is go back and re-read the Manifesto to realize that Marx recognized the bourgeois-revolutionary epoch as the essential precursor to any kind of workable socialism. Even today, most Marxists have a profound respect for the very bourgeois French Revolution.

    There are good reasons out there to be opposed to just about every system, ideology or faith that's ever been tried or conceived. The credulity or adolescence of a young follower is obviously not such a reason. The acceptance of an idea or historical perspective does not require its elevation into a religion or a conspiracy theory. In this way, Hayek or Friedman are no different than Marx

    1. You make some good points. But my column was just meant to be a narrative of my personal conversion to communism, not an argument against communism itself (for such a critique, I'd recommend Chris Jones' post from last semester: http://crdaily.com/2009/04/the-gods-that-failed/
      My understanding of communism did gradually become more sophisticated and I realized that communism was quite separate from hippie culture. Actually, even after I turned away from communism I remained a hippie, at least for a while.

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