Karl Marx — failed humanist

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“The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”

 

“Religion is the opium of the people.”

 

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

 

—Karl Marx

The following story is an out-take from early drafts of The Novice.

When I came of age in the 1960s and 70s Karl Marx, like most revolutionaries, was popular. We’d lost trust in our parents’ generation and intended to change everything. Sure everything’s a big word, but you could feel it in the air. Somehow, this combination of stoned music, the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution, color TV, LSD, the Cold War, Northern Ireland, long hair, bra burning, the Paris Uprising, the Watts riots and the space race suggested the visceral certainty of a new tomorrow. Having dumped the utopian promises of traditional religion, we shifted our faith lock, stock and barrel to this world and started over. Who better to guide us than the father of Historical Materialism? Karl Marx had plumbed the roots of alienation and come up with answers.

I was in the Ponders End suburb of London, studying Social Science under a bevy of radical professors. My friend Tom Butler urged me to attend political meetings and I began to hang out with the ‘comrades.’ Gradually, I picked up the long-winded vocabulary of the sectarian Left and thought myself rather clever.

Barely weaned from Catholicism, I still held to ideas of mercy and compassion — values promised in Communism only after stage one: the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx’s vision here was vivid, but about his subsequent ‘withering away of the state’ and the ‘classless society,’ he was notably vague. In stark contrast to his alluring dream, the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century all ended up stuck in the dictatorship phase, and even that never landed in the hands of the proletariat. It was history as usual: the power-hungry rose to the top.

The reality of revolutionary politics in North London included motley groupings of disenchanted workers, soul searching IRA exiles and self-conscious, middle-class students. I felt no fraternity with the angry young workers who thumped pub counters ferociously when their beer mugs weren’t properly brimmed, and though I sympathized with the IRA cause, its members were by turns wraithlike and brutish. Seeing my meekness reflected in the spotty faces of fellow middle-class ‘revolutionaries,’ I quietly moved on.

This entailed living with three Northern lasses and indulging in what my former comrades called ‘counter-revolutionary self-indulgence.’ This included chatting all night long, listening to music, studying astrology and, soon enough, smoking pot. With their help, I let down my hair a little and became slightly less peculiar.

 

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