Monday, May 05, 2008

Not now, nor ever, a member of the Communist Party

The great actress Tilda Swinton is interviewed in the latest issue of the mode magazine Mixte, and pictured in Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy. At one point, the interviewer asks her about what it’s like to work for Disney, as a communist, and she gives this answer:

French: « C’est ça qui est drôle. Ils ne m’auraient jamais ouvert la porte s’ils avaient su que j’étais communiste. J’adore l’idée qu’une communiste puisse participer à la participation d’une filme qui coûte des billions des dollars. Tout est une question d’équité, et vive le glamour pour tous ! C’est très communiste… »

English: “That’s what’s so funny. They never would have opened their doors for me if they knew that I was communist. I love the idea that a communist can take part in making a film that costs millions of dollars. It’s all a matter of equality: glamour for everyone! It’s very communist…” (translation: Moi)

I know that some people think that actors shouldn’t discuss their political views, but I’ve never understood that. Why not? In my personal experience, if anybody should keep their political opinions to themselves, it’s cab drivers! But, if George Clooney wants to critique supply side economics, or Winona Ryder wants to discuss Lenin’s contributions to Marxist thought, what harm can it do?

I’ve never been a communist myself. To me, the idea of living in a communal society is a total nightmare; it would be like having 30 roommates! I’d much rather be left alone for the most part. Also, I remember a communist once telling me that, come the revolution, the workers would be working for ourselves, and asking him, “But what about me? I really don’t like to work.” We went around and around on that for twenty minutes, with him saying, “No, you just hate working because you’re being exploited,” and me saying, “No, seriously, I’m just lazy. Where’s my revolution?”

Also, I just can’t buy dialectical materialism. Marx borrows the dialectic from Hegel, where it’s essentially Providence, and tries to improve it by making it material- conflicts over modes of production. He sort of puts the idea forth in the Communist Manifesto that capitalism will fall due to its internal contradictions, but that it’s going to need a revolution. Then he works out those internal contradictions in Kapital in a very “scientific” fashion. Okay, maybe the word isn’t scientific; maybe the way to describe Kapital is ‘as arid as the Sahara’. Nobody should be allowed to write like that without being licensed as an anesthesiologist. But, when you wade through it all, you still have to believe in a quasi-mystical force that is driving history, and that allows Marx to predict the future, and I just can’t. The whole “direction of history” game is fun to play, until you get stuck with someone like George Bush who actually believes that history has a direction. It was worse, no doubt, for people living in actual communist societies, who kept “sowing the seeds of their own destruction” by being on the wrong side of history.

So, I was never a communist, although I’ve known plenty of communists and former communists. I never thought of them as “Stalinists” or “useful idiots” or bad people; most often, they just wanted a more equitable society, and while I’d certainly like that too, I barely trust the state to build bridges without fucking up, so it’s a real stretch to trust them to eradicate inequality. Besides, economic inequality is as longstanding and as salient an aspect of human societies as the culture and religion that arise from it. I don’t want to live in a society without poor people and rich people; I want to live in one in which the former are actually able to work hard and become the latter.

You see where I’m going with this, eh? I’ve had a wide variety of friends over the years, and it’s becoming obvious to me that I probably couldn’t be President either. Drug addicts, sadomasochists, commies, Maoists, swingers, Satanists, radical feminists, hard-line conservatives, libertarians, skinheads, anarchists, Muslim anarchists; not to mention Greg and Holly! I mean, there’s very little that upsets me and I have a hunger to understand what makes people tick. I remember we even knew a depressive Nazi at one point, which was really weird because most of the people that we hung out with were either Hispanic or gay and he didn’t seem to care. I remember that he used to moan about how nobody else was ever nice to him, and we would say, “Well, yeah! You’re a fucking Nazi!”

Anyway, my point is that none of this ever rubbed off on me. I’ve always been secure enough in my own opinions to change them whenever better evidence presented itself, but not to be easily swayed by anyone else’s “grand narratives” as academics like to call them. So I’m not really shocked by Barack Obama’s weirder friends. He’s always struck me as the sort of person who realizes that you have to be everyone’s best friend if you want to get anything done. But I also am trying to get where people are coming from who are upset with him. Someone like my father might not have any screwy friends and he could well see it as reflecting poorly on Obama. I don’t imagine Claire’s accountant father hangs out with many ex-Weathermen.

But, in the end, I suspect that most rational people will judge the man by his works. I know I bitch a lot about Americans, but to be honest, I've always found them to be eminently fair-minded people with a strong vein of common sense. I think they understand that living in the world often involves looking past people's flaws to their common humanity.


narrator said...

Raised on Marxist Theory, but, in the end, it is just one more salvation theory, almost identical to Christianity. "In the end everyone will learn, and perfection will be achieved, and we will be redeemed in our heaven on earth where we'll all live happily and communally." And like Christianity, it is a wonderfully optimistic tale because it is inevitable.

But not really what you were talking about.

I think the guilt-by-association smear, whether from Stalin or McCarthy or Hillary Clinton is one of the worst kinds of thing to sell in politics. And I do think the people who won't reject this wouldn't have been considering voting for Obama in real ways anyway. I also think that Americans - for all their many faults - do believe in redemption. They believe that people change and learn - even if they were former Weatherman. It's a small group of absolutists out there - and that, of course, is the group most likely to be caught with overpriced prostitutes anyway.

gregvw said...

What are we doing in that crowd. I thought we were just garden-variety cranks.

Holly said...

It's a small group of absolutists out there - and that, of course, is the group most likely to be caught with overpriced prostitutes anyway.

Amen, Brother!

Rufus said...

Narrator: That's pretty much what I'm talking about. Marxism inherited the providential teleology from Hegel, that house organ of Prussian militarism.

Something I find fascinating is Francis Fukuyama's statement that he's now disliked at the White House because he no longer believes in Hegel's end of history and they do. But the end of history is always a good concept for militarism- the ends justify the means.

And I would agree that Marxism is very close to Christian end of times ideas.

I have a growing faith in Americans to be as fair-minded and decent as my parents are. That doesn't mean that Obama hasn't got a lot of shit to face- heck, I have distant relatives who won't even eat food if they think a black person prepared it, so they're never going to vote for him. But, overall, I think people realize that there are things more serious to consider than the price of people's haircuts or whether the candidate's priest once farted in a crowded elevator.

Greg: You and Holly were sort of the "other" category.

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