Marxism as a verb
I was taught about Marx from my dad. He was the first influence in my life with regards to these things. And I think there is a difference between learning about Marx from books, and learning about Marx from people.
The academic types always see Marx idealistically, they see it as a promise of a future. They look at all the benefits, and make a rational choice that this future is preferable.
In other words, there are people who think Marx, and people who act Marx. And one of the first times I saw one of these acts was when he took me to work after school. I loved going with him, and learning things about his job.
How to ambush enemy patrols, or interrogate foreign spies, or how to tail someone without them knowing, or how to survive deep in the woods or the jungles. It was all very exciting to me.
We’d walk past all the cops who’d say hello to him, and then we’d go into a special elevator, and it would take us to the underground levels where the real government operated.
Where people hunted terrorists, and spies, and arms syndicates. Where all the walls were made out of thick white concrete, and could withstand a nuclear blast. Where they had armouries with hundreds of guns, that you could see through the steel bars as you walked past them. Where he’d open up special storage rooms, and everything inside was exciting.
Where you’d see something poke out from the edges of a cardboard box, and you’d pull at it, and suddenly you’d hear the rattle of a chain and you realised you just picked up a morning star flail. Because the station he was in was over a century old, and street gangs used to fight with things like that during the Bohemian days.
I remember speaking to older people born in the 30s and 40s, and how their parents had to worry about things like bandits and waylayers on the rural roads. A history that seems foreign to a rich European country, and yet was still in living memory.
But he also taught me something else. There was this guy who used to wait for us outside of his station, he didn’t work there, he was a civilian. He would always have a clean cut hairstyle, a modern looking suit, and wire frame glasses. He looked pretty young in retrospect, but since I was a child everyone seemed old to me. Probably early to mid 20s.
And he’d say hello to us, and he’d talk to my dad. And every time he’d discuss the ventilation systems in the facility. They had these HVAC units coming out of the rooftop, and he’d fixate on them and ask questions about them.
Turns out the guy had autism, and that was just his fixation. But my dad was the only one who bothered to give him the time of day. Everyone else walked past him, and saw him as a nuisance. My dad on the other hand didn’t. He recognise that this man, even if he was a bit peculiar, was still a man.
A person. And if he for some reason always wanted to discuss the HVAC units on the rooftop, then he should get to do that. He should be recognised and seen and treated like he had every right to be in the world with the rest of us.
And that’s when I saw the difference between Marxists and liberals. Liberals don’t really see people that way. They only see what they want to see in others. We were in a (officially speaking) neutral country, so Marxists and liberals were both common. Even though liberals would often repress and censor Marxists, there was no explicit law against Marxism as a personal belief.
So that’s when I saw how you act like a Marxist. First and foremost you must be egalitarian. That was my first lesson. He learned about this ideology through action, because the libraries and bookstores were censored after 1991. This was a time before the internet as we know it, so you only had what you could find. He always struggled to look for books on history, especially about Marxist history. He would read hundreds of books to try and find things past the biases and omissions of permitted literature.
So his theoretical knowledge had a deficit. He was unaware of tendencies, if you asked him about Lenin, or Kautsky, or Trotsky, or Stalin, he wouldn’t know a lot. He was cautious of the Soviets because of his work. He had a big ethical problem there, because he felt like a practitioner of state authority had a conflict of interest when it came to believing in such an authority.
He wanted citizens who questioned him and kept him in check. So on the surface he came off as a libertarian, but if you asked him some questions he would often express Lenin’s analysis of the state. He saw it as value neutral, as an instrument of exacting governing policy, and how it would therefore be inappropriate for him to either favour or oppose such an instrument and its practice. So you’d never see him agitate, or join protests, he thought it wasn’t his place to do that. That it should be the citizens who did it.
But that’s not to say he didn’t have his own ideas about direct action, because of his authority he could do things individually that most people could not. So he would do other things. He’d even break the law at times if he felt like someone was innocent or unfairly treated by the system.
Especially people with mental handicaps, or people who were homeless. He never saw those people as criminals and would keep police from touching them if he could.
He knew about the economics of Marx. He would often explain to me the principles of exploitation in labour, and how capital and labour are at odds with eachother. He explained how liberal propaganda works, and how they try to convince workers of how they will be rich tomorrow, and should therefore support the interests of rich people.
So he couldn’t teach me much theory is my point, all he could teach me was the philosophy and how to act like a Marxist. And that first lesson, how you should always give someone the time of day, was one of the most vital ones.
The second lesson he taught me was probably the most radical one. The one that separates ideologues and revisionists from revolutionaries. It is, simply put, that a Marxist always runs towards danger.
In his work he had to risk his life, he even killed people. He stopped arms syndicates, black marketers, terrorists and neo-nazis. He put corrupt police behind bars. He caught enemy spies. He did a lot of things like that. He fought bad guys for a living, but he also had the training and a salary to do it. He’d be the first to say there was nothing heroic about such things.
But what he did when he was off the clock on his own free time I find to be very interesting. That is once again when he acted like a Marxist. Sometimes he’d do smaller things, like convincing a wifebeater that it would be wise for him to leave our neighbourhood unless he wanted trouble.
But one that stuck with me was when the Estonia sank. One of the worst disasters of the Baltic sea. 852 people died that night. It was raining, and stormy, and the waters were cold. It was midnight, and he was in some hotel room after visiting a convention I think.
But he was also within walking distance of the harbour, and he knew some people on that boat. In fact he knew a lot of people on that boat, because one of his friends was celebrating an engagement party there. Within the span of some 3 hours, he lost a dozen personal friends to that storm.
And when word got out that the storm had come, he ran towards the danger. He got to the docks, he got into one of the rescue vessels, and he started pulling bodies out of the dark waters. Rain, storm, clouds, tempests, hundreds of dead bodies and screaming survivors, and he ran towards them. He did not care if the sea might take him as well. He had no obligations, he was not on duty, he volunteered to rescue.
He just did what he had to do. Not because he was an agent of the state, but because he knew that Marxism begins with a good citizenry. That the organised working class has an endeavour to be good citizens. That they wish to produce an order wherein people run towards the danger.
And at the time this happened, I was only a few months old. I was waiting at home for him to return, and he was out on a high risk rescue mission on a boat in the middle of a storm. Because he knew that he wasn’t the only one with a family who was worried. That there were almost a thousand people out in those cold waters, and that most would not come home to the people who worried about them.
And that’s Marxism.
When you see this. When you see how your own fears and your own life is no more valuable than that of a stranger’s. When you got every excuse not to do something, when you can say “I am not on duty, I just got a child, I have my reasons” etc. etc. but you don’t. Because who are you to say that, when others can’t even make such a choice? When they are trapped in death and misery regardless of their reasons not to be?
And I think that’s what’s missing from all the books on theory. The wider implications of these teachings. That no amount of thinking Marx will change anything. It’s the people with the right stuff, the people who know how to make Marxism into a verb that will change things for the better. That it is not some question of politics, or class dynamics, or ideological analysis, it is a question of whether or not, regardless of such things, you’d be willing to run towards the danger.
If I were to give a singular and central kind of essence as to what defines a reactionary, then I would say that the reactionary is a being who, in habitual tendency, is more inclined to explain the world’s problems than they are to solve them.
They produce a doctrine of conviction within themselves that permit them to run away from danger. That permit them to hide from a world that confronts them to act. And it doesn’t matter what authors you read, if this is what you find in your instincts, then you sadly have also become a reactionary.
The most radical content of Marx is, simply put, to always run towards the danger. To always think twice about those who need you to do so the most.