November 1989, Moscow
During the Polish anti-Communist revolt, spearheaded by the workers, a joke swept through Poland. According to the story, the Communist dictator couldn’t figure out what to do in order to put down the uprising. So he went to Moscow to visit Lenin’s tomb for inspiration and the Soviet authorities closed it down to let him meditate there.
“Oh Lenin,” said President Wojciech Jaruzelski, the situation is terrible. The country is in turmoil; the economy is collapsing; counterrevolutionaries are everywhere, the imperialists are subverting Poland, and the church is backing the revolt. What should I do?
Suddenly, Lenin, mummified as he was, came to life, sat up, and shouted, “Arm the workers!”
November 2011, New York City
The bear-like man with wild hair and long beard waddled down the lower Manhattan street. That “old mole,” revolution, has stuck its head up into the air again, sniffed the carbon dioxide laden firmament, and didn’t scurry back down into the hole. A specter was haunting the world all right.
He was excited to see it first-hand. But the sight was a shock. This was no organized group of class-conscious proletarians but the flotsam of bourgeois society. Drug users and sex fiends; spoiled brats from the upper bourgeoisie, and anarchists.
He had written about:
“The social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.”
Perhaps his first impression was misleading or perhaps this movement was indeed a tool of reactionary intrigue. He must investigate further.
Marx takes aside a young man. He notes the fellow is altogether scraggly, dressed in tattered clothes, unbathed and unshaven. No doubt he is starving having been cast aside by the factory where he was hitherto overworked and underpaid. With his keen eye, Marx notes he is wearing some kind of canvas shoes, not even being able to afford leather ones! On all of his clothes are small logos. How disgusting, Marx thinks, he must bear the free advertising of giant corporations or go naked!
“Excuse me,” says Marx, “have you been thrown out of your 12-hour a day factory job due to over-production? Is that why you are here?”
“No. I have $150,000 in college loans to get my degree in conflict resolution and I don’t want to pay it back.”
Marx was puzzled, “But then you took a factory job as a wage slave to support yourself?”
“No,” was the reply. “I’m waiting for a job resolving international conflicts. Until then, I’m living in my parents’ mansion.” There was a strange musical sound. “Sorry, dude, can’t talk to you right now. My smart phone is ringing.” The young ma presses a button on the strange device and speaks into it: “Hey! Did you get the email I sent you from my computer? What? Oh, sorry, it must have been from my I-Pad II. Speak louder, I can’t hear you because my MP3 player is on too loud!”
Marx was astounded. As he wandered around the make-shift camp, he saw support for many strange causes and reflected about what he’d written in “The Communist Manifesto” about,
“Economists, philanthropists, humanitarians…reformers of every imaginable kind,” who never really understood society.
The more he walked around, the more suspicious Marx became. This supposed revolutionary protest was being supported by the government and financed by speculators like George Soros. That same government was subsidizing big corporations that made large donations to its election and by its favorite trade unions which were enriching themselves.
He must look further into these issues. So he rented a car and drove on and on, from California to the New York island; from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. And as he drove down that ribbon of highway, here’s what he didn’t see:
–“All the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.” Yet the working people had the strongest and most loving families.
–“The bourgeoisie…has left no other nexus between people than naked self-interest….It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor…in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” Yet the people have not become so depraved. They’re still clinging.
–“Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers….Slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine…and, above all, in the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.” Yet such nineteenth-century conditions have nothing to do with contemporary life.
–“The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious….” Yet progress has brought higher living standards.
–The proletarian is without property.…Subjection to capital…has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion are to him so many bourgeois prejudices….” Yet all of these things survive.
–Freedom in such a society merely means “free trade, free selling and buying.” Yet the people treasured freedom.
–“Those who acquire anything, do not work.” Yet such people worked very hard.
–“The workers have no country.” Yet the people loved their country.
Then Marx realized what had happened. It was the political and intellectual elite—not the bourgeoisie and proletariat–that had abandoned religion, family, patriotism, and productive work. This new aristocracy was akin to that existing in feudal times.
Marx himself had written, “In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy was obliged…to formulate its indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone.” Had not Marx explained that this was a king of “socialism” representing “a reactionary interest” and serving those who controlled “the government as a weapon for fighting the…bourgeoisie.”?
Is this what was happening: An aristocracy of government bureaucrats, politicians, and such using the downtrodden as a front to expand their own privileges?
And then Marx resolved to understand what had happened under “Marxist” regimes. He went to a major university and a professor spotted him and almost fainted. “Karl,” he said with his voice full of worship, “We don’t even let anyone teach here who isn’t a Marxist!”
He brushed the flattery aside and plunged into serious research. He discovered that all of his predictions had proven wrong.
The “Marxist” regimes had not put an end to “the exploitation of one individual by another.” They had intensified it. These Communist governments had done precisely what he accused the bourgeoisie of doing! They had torn up religion, family, morality, and reduced workers to slave soldiers without property or rights.
He had predicted that Communism would end, “The hostility of one nation to another,” yet it had intensified war, bloodshed, and imperialistic exploitation.
Marx had predicted the withering away of the state (“When…class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character.”)
And here he saw one of the great flaws in his thinking:
“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state….” He had viewed the state as some kind of machine with no life of its own. Yet the state was controlled by people and through political power this new class also controlled the means of production, albeit in a much more unrestricted and dictatorial way than the bourgeoisie—diverse and divided, as he often explained—had ever done.
As Marx had written: “Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self-deception, this form of socialism ended in a miserable hangover. “
Returning to a contemplation of contemporary society, Marx asked himself a question. If “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” what was the current class alignment?
On one hand, there is a parasitic group, a feudal aristocracy creating no wealth but merely enriching itself from control over the government, Ultimately, it controlled the means of production through regulation and taxation, providing favored capitalists with a largesse earned by others. Its allies were a labor aristocracy that was paid far more than its private sector counterparts and a lumpenproletariat. Internationally this ruling establishment is allied with the most reactionary clerical-fascists.
On the other hand, there were hard-working people, proletarians and the productive petit-bourgeoisie. There were capitalists, too, but at least these were productive ones who had lifted their societies out of the stark poverty of his own times into the most free, most beneficial societies for the common people in world history.
Marx reached a decision. He ran out of the college library, out the gate, and into the street. Hailing a cab, he jumped in and told the driver: “Quick, comrade, take me to the nearest Tea Party!”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com