Wednesday, November 07, 2018

On The Occasion Of The 170th Anniversary Of Karl Marx And Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto”(1848)

On The Occasion Of The 170th Anniversary Of Karl Marx And Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto”(1848)

A link to the Karl Marwx Achives for an on-line copy of the Communist Manifesto

By Political Commentator Frank Jackman

If anybody had asked me back when I was a kid, a kid growing up in the desperately poor, working poor but desperate nevertheless, Acre section of North Adamsville a town south of Boston in Massachusetts that I would be commemorating, no, honoring an anniversary of the publication in 1847 of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel’s seminal political document The Communist Manifesto in the year 2018 I would have said they were crazy. (I will not get into the issue of commemorating odd-ball year anniversaries of events, like a 170th anniversary, which in general I abhor since I have beaten that dead horse elsewhere and in any case such a whole historic event as here would draw a worthy exemption). Not because the document was, is, not worthy of talking about but back in the day, back in my teenage days I was adamantly an anti-communist in the tradition of almost all red scare Cold War post-war baby boomers who came of age, political under the threat of the nuclear bomb (some things seem to never change given the recent saber-rattling over the developments in North Korea by the American government).

Some, at least from that baby-boomer generation who have at least heard about the document which I cannot say is true for Generation X or the Millennials since they were not born under the sign of the red scare in a post-Soviet world, may be surprised that a backward working class kid in 1950s America would even had snuck a peek at that besotted document for fear of being tainted by the red scare coppers as pinko-red commie turn him in and be done with it.  Except I was very interested in politics even then and had heard about The Communist Manifesto by some from their photographs nefarious heavily bearded German guys who wanted back in the 1800s to upset the whole applecart and henceforth the root of all evil, the root of the international Communist conspiracy that would kill us in or beds if we were not vigilant against “Uncle Joe,” his successors or their hangers-on throughout the world and especially those “traitors” in America.

I had first heard about The Communist Manifesto in a political way although I was naïve as hell about the whole situation and about who I was working with in 1960. In the fall of that year, the fall of the famous Kennedy-Nixon fight for the American presidency where I was a serious partisan for Kennedy, our local, Massachusetts local, Irishman who made good I was also very, very interested in nuclear disarmament (a subject I still am interested in as the world have not gotten qualitively safer from that threat) and had gone to the Boston Common and participated in an anti-nuclear bomb rally (as the youngest participant by far) along with others from SANE (Doctor Spock’s organization) who had called the demonstration, the Quakers, and others. (Those others would include I later found out, many years later, members of the American Communist Party but not under that name but that of some “front” group. Of course by that time several years later I would have gone through three stages about American Communist Party members-from ho-hum so what if they are Commies we need all the forces we can muster to oppose the Vietnam War to being glad they were organizing like crazy against that war to disdain as they attempted to corral the youth movement into building bigger and better demonstrations against the war when that idea had worn out.) What got me going was when a bunch of people, guys, were harassing us, calling us “reds” and why didn’t we get the hell out of America and go to the Soviet Union. Along the way somebody, some guy mentioned The Communist Manifesto by that “Jew” Karl Marx. I had never hear of it although I was familiar with the name Karl Marx.               

Here’s the funny thing, funny in retrospect anyhow, I could not when I was interested in checking the Manifesto out for myself, find a copy in the school library or the public library. I never did find out the reason why and I was too timid once I saw it was not in the card catalogues to ask a librarian. Thus the way I got the document was looking through publications put out by the Government Printing Office, the U.S. government’s official printing operation. The reason they had printed it at the time, and it said right on the front page was that it had been a document used by the House Un-American Activities Committee and thus was part of the record of that nefarious entity (which in 1960 I think I found out later was almost run out of San Francisco by the demonstrations against it-one of the first breaks in the red scare Cold War phalanx).     

I made no pretense at the time nor do I now that I understood all that Marx was trying to get at. Certainly was clueless about the various polemics in Section Four against various other mostly pro-socialist opponents. (That part made greater sense later when I swear I went through almost every one of those oppositional ideas before coming to Marxism except maybe that exotic “feudal socialism” Marx vented against). What drew me in, although only haltingly at the time, was the idea that working people, my people, my family and friends, would get a better shake out of a socialist society, out of a classless society than we were getting at the time. But in those days I was hung up on some kind of career as a political operative, remember that Kennedy point earlier (not a candidate but the guy behind the candidate). So while I was never hostile to the ideas in that document and maybe have even been a “closet” social democrat masquerading as a liberal there was nothing operative for me then, certainly I was not in favor of revolution as the way forward for myself or my people.                

What changed things? I have written elsewhere about my induction into the American Army during the height of the Vietnam War and what that meant to me-and how I reacted to it by becoming a serious anti-war person (before I had been anti-war but in a wishy-washy way). Even then after I gave up the idea of a “normal” political career (that operative behind the scenes business) I was no Marxist but was in a search for some kind of way to change society short of revolution. (That is the period when I was engaging in those activities similar to the ones proposed by the groups Marx was polemicizing against in the Manifesto.)         

By 1971 it was clear that the American government under Nixon (that same Nixon was beaten to a gong by Kennedy) was not going to end the war in Vietnam. Didn’t give a damn about the whole thing. At that time I was hanging around a radical commune in Cambridge where we were trying to work out ideas (in isolation) about ending the fucking thing. That was the year on May Day when under the banner “if the government does not shut down the war, we will shut down the government” we attempted to do just that. Heady stuff and a dramatic move to the left on my part. All we got for that effort was tear gas, the police baton, and some days in Robert Kennedy Stadium (ironic, huh) for many thousands of good radicals and no end to the war.      

After that I, having picked up a copy of Marx’s The Communist Manifesto at the Red Bookstore in Cambridge,  began to sense that our isolated efforts were self-defeating if we didn’t have a larger force to bring down the damn system. Didn’t have in Marxian terms a class with the objective self-interest to lead the overturn. At the time, given the hostile attitude of the real American working class to us and to any ideas of socialism for the most part, I was unsure that such a strategy made sense.  What I knew was that was where the work had to be done. It has not been a fruitful struggle but nevertheless a necessary one even today when such ideas seem even more utopian than in my young adulthood. Some of what Marx talked about needs serious updating but the general premise of class struggle and the revolution as way forward as still solid. Just look around. Are the capitalists (the right now winning capitalists in the one-sided class war) going to give anything of value up? No way- we will have to take it away from them if we want to get that equalitarian society we dreamed about in our youth. As for the Manifesto a lot of it still reads like it was written yesterday.               

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