Back in the 1970’s an old college buddy was deeply involved with a local community radio station in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Among his storied duties included hosting an hour long talk program dealing with current affairs and observations. To this end, he would occasionally invite me to observe or participate. One Sunday evening I was at the station awaiting our turn in the studio when I overheard the guest on the radio defend the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. It transpired that the person in question was one of those faux radicals present on campus in the late 60’s and early 70’s reincarnated here as a hopeless apologlist for anything the Commissars in the Kremlin were engaged in. When the program was over, I confronted old Jim.
The question quickly boiled down to basic, as he understood it, Communist Ideology, with me questioning the legitimacy of the actions taken by the state. It was a reiteration of the old Orthodoxy, at least as it is past on in American schools, and I quickly pounced.
“What’s the difference between the state expropriating the fruits of labor and the Capitalist doing so. Is not the state simply the Capitalist writ large?”, I inquired. He was taken aback by the question, clearly not anticipating it. As I remember he responded with the usual canned platitudes.
“So I take it you’ve never read the ‘Paris Manuscripts of 1844’ (1) have you?” I asked.
“What’s that?” was his befuddled response.
I went about trying to explain to him that this is the work that preceeded all others. It was here that Marx began to hone his famous Theory of Alienation and lay the groundwork for his critique of Capital. It is the underpinning of all that will follow, including his ‘withering away of the state’. Marx, I contended would have been appalled at the spectre of the Soviet Union. If you want to see Communism in action, he would later write, look to the Paris Commune. This was an elected government briefly formed in Paris when the regime was toppled by the German invasion in the Franco-German war of 1871. It was, in fact, light years from the heavy handed Stalinist regime the remnants of which were still in place. Later, one of our mutual friends, taken aback by the exchange, said “he wasn’t ready for that was he’? “No,” said I, “He has not read his Marx”.
(1) Published under the title “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844”
The work is commonly referred to simply as the