I love my public library in Albany. Not only is it located around the corner from my house, every weekend the staff piles cartons of books free for the taking in the parking lot.
Usually the giveaways turn out to be 15-year-old copies of Sunset magazine or a dog-eared abnormal psych textbook. But sometimes there are hidden jewels.
Last month I found buried in one box a 1962 paperback titled “The Communist Blueprint for the Future.”
Don’t call HUAC on me, but I have a soft spot for communism. Both my parents were party members in the ’30s and ’40s (common among big-city Jews of the time) and thus I grew up hearing bedtime stories about the glories of the Soviet Union. Not kidding.
As I came of age, I junked my parents’ adoration of the Workers’ Paradise, and fell in with vanilla-flavored liberalism. The collapse of the Soviet Union crushed my dad but delighted me.
Nevertheless, I forever remained curious how a political theory that in practice produced only real-world tyrannies could have enchanted so many for so long.
And so I grabbed the paperback.
No one writes stodgily like the apparatchiks of old. Just look at this: “The world’s greatest revolution and the Socialist reorganization of society, which has attained unprecedented heights in its development and prosperity, have confirmed in practice the historic truth of Leninism and have delivered a crushing blow to social-reformist ideology.”
Take that, Russian oligarchs of today!
In hindsight, the self-proclaimed scientifically inerrant theory behind Soviet society proved to be a cosmic joke, or would have if it hadn’t come at such a human price (see: Stalin, mass murder).
Still, on this Independence Day, as thousands of immigrant children tremble in federal cages, as an ascendant right wing threatens to dismantle established rights, and as those in power daily chip away at our shockingly fragile democracy, I am seeing the “communist blueprint” with fresh eyes.
Kind of makes me hope the workers of the world would unite already.
To wit, from the 1903 program of the Second Congress of the Russian Socialist-Democratic Labor Party (a precursor to the Bolsheviks), one finds this list of demands: universal suffrage, a legislative assembly, secret ballot, a progressive income tax, inviolability of person and dwelling, free compulsory public education, election of judges, separation of church and state, a 40-hour work week, the prohibition of child labor, free child care, “old-age” state insurance, factory safety inspections, and freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and unions.
There were other demands that wouldn’t pass muster with Americans then or now, such as the confiscation of church lands and private property.
But look at that list again. It is a virtual portrait of the American political and social contract for the past hundred years — a contract now under siege.
This administration is not interested merely in undoing the Obama legacy. It seeks to undo the social progress that began with Theodore Roosevelt’s trust busting, accelerated with FDR’s New Deal and became the settled social-political reality in postwar, post-civil rights America.
The administration’s buzz saw of governmental deregulation, its assault on public education and the social safety net, its widening of income inequality thanks to a regressive trillion-dollar tax cut, and its war on immigrants — which echoes the dark days of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese internment camps, and worse — point to a vision of a racist, isolated and radically unequal America.
Most ironic, who is Donald Trump’s best of besties? The arch-criminal Vladimir Putin, a mafia thug who imagines himself the next Peter the Great, restorer of the Russian Empire, a czar for a new world order.
Kind of makes me hope the workers of the world would unite already. If only there was some system that embodied the positive aspects of the blueprint without any inherent tyranny. Hey, I know: How about the liberal American democracy under which we have thrived for 75 years and which is now being dismantled brick by brick by tyrants in Washington, D.C.?
This is a depressing Fourth of July for me. My love of country now is akin to that of an adult child stressing over a gravely ill parent, one whose recovery is in doubt. I do what I can, but so much seems out of my hands.
Whatever I end up doing, I won’t be joining the Communist Party. I suspect hard-core communists are as doctrinaire and myopic today as their forbears 100 years ago.
However this plays out, I hope our country can recover its true greatness, and that the world will forgive us this unexpected and damaging detour. This aberrant unraveling of international diplomacy, trade, political discourse, social progress and constitutional norms was a horrendous mistake. It has to be.
Meanwhile, on this Fourth, I will look skyward for a firework or two over the Bay and hope it portends a change for the better. It’s a curse that the American personality is genetically optimistic. But there it is.
As Marx and Engels said, we have a world to win.