I am not a Marxist

Kevin Glass

Thus proclaimed the actor portraying Karl Marx at last Wednesday’s showing of Howard Zinn’s play, Marx in Soho at the Palace Theater. This event, co-sponsored by CORE 152 (The Challenge of Modernity) and the Sophomore Experience, was a fictitious one-man play in which Marx is sent back from heaven to try to clear his name.The actor portraying Marx’ denial that he is a Marxist got me to thinking that this play really would be something special. With this one line, I thought that he would launch into a diatribe of how people over the years have misinterpreted Marxism an that he would discuss a radical new way of interpreting his writings – perhaps an emphasis on the humanity, not the politics, of Marxist writings. Needless to say, I was very hopeful and excited about this performance after hearing these words.Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed, as the actor portraying Marx started discussing run-of-the-mill criticisms of historical examples of failed communism, the Soviet Union being the primary offender. The play degenerated into exactly what I expected: the actor portraying Marx simply reiterated every one of Marx’ thoughts and writings to the audience, with no particular insight into them whatsoever.Don’t get me wrong; this was a very well-written and well-performed play. Marx was portrayed as very down-to-earth and devoted family man and father, probably exactly the image that Zinn, a noted Socialist historian, had in mind when he wrote the play. This is what is so misleading. This odd portrayal of Marx as an ordinary family man struggling to get by ironically plays to people’s affection for working-class heroes; the Marx in Marx in Soho is the American dream in action. There have been many recent pop-culture phenomena that portray extremely radical ideology as very reasonable. Fight Club is a very good example of this. Once again, Fight Club is a great movie if taken for what it is: an interesting study of strange social effects of extremely unlikely situations. The anarchist message of the movie is a side note; nothing more. It is when people start to buy in to the ridiculous destructive ideology that the movie becomes dangerous.Marx in Soho draws on supposed ‘rational’ ideas that Marx had brought up in his writings. Some of them are deliberately misleading. The actor portraying Marx discussed, for example, the government executions in the Soviet Union that were carried out in the name of Communism. He then denies that Marx ever advocated capital punishment. Perhaps this is true; yet one cannot deny the overall forceful tone that Marx urges the proletariat to take in The Communist Manifesto.Although Marx never specifically tells the proletariat to revolt using violent means, there are many instances where Marx uses phrases like using “despotic inroads” to revolt, the support of “every revolutionary movement against social and political order” and the “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” Marx may not advocate his new Communist government using capital punishment, but there is no doubt that he will support a bloody and violent revolution to get there.The Marx of the play also discusses the 1871 Commune in Paris, and how it is the most glorious example of Communism at work in history. This is probably actually true. However, it was not exactly a glorious society. The Marx in the play, of course, describes a Communist paradise that existed during this time, and that it was crushed because the governments of the world could not allow such a shining example of Marxism to exist. This is stretching the truth, to say the least.The Parisian Commune had the National Guard on its side; this was a force consisting of hundreds of thousands of troops. The French army had only 12,000 troops after a devastating war with the Prussians. The Parisians had military might on their side. The fact that the Commune did not last was a testament to its ineffectiveness. Meetings were often disorganized and did not discuss relevant topics. They had military might and popular opinion on their side; the fact that they could not effectively lead with all this power is evidence that it could not sustain itself.Marx in the play also neglects to mention the bloodbath that occurred during and after the period in which the Commune was founded. The clergy, in particular, was dealt with harshly. Many priests and bishops were methodically executed, while some were not spared such an organized death and simply beaten to death by mobs. If this Commune was truly Marx’ idea of paradise, I do not believe many people would want a part of it.With all the half-truths and distorted information presented in this play, I wonder why the Sophomore Year Experience (SYE) would choose to sponsor such an event. Why is a play such as this getting money directly from the administration? I understand why this play is put on by CORE 152, a class that reads The Communist Manifesto. But why is an administration’s program, whose goals are to deliver “numerous programs and social events geared specifically towards sophomores, encouraging them to ask questions about their academic and career goals, become involved in the Colgate and Hamilton communities and form new bonds with members of their class,” sponsoring a so blatantly political play that takes a clear stance on very controversial issues? It is the job of political groups on campus to foster discourse in this arena, not the job of the administration. I would understand, even if I disagreed with the political repercussions, with a theoretical decision of the BAC to give money to the Colgate Communists to sponsor this play. I do not understand, nor do I agree, with the administration sponsoring pro-Marxist propaganda on this campus.As I said earlier, Marx in Soho is a harmless play when taken at face value. It’s funny, in a way, to see Karl Marx describing his struggles with ordinary family life, his friends stopping by to mooch, and Engels’ inability to understand Marx’ family. However, that was not the message of this play. This play carried political overtones trying to distort history to play into its writer, Howard Zinn’s, hands. I should hope that anyone who actually believed in the Marxist rhetoric which was presented went home and did their research. With Colgate University sponsoring blatantly political events like this, the only way we as a student body can find the truth is on our own.