by J.D. Mullane
November 25, 2007
So I asked the kid with the "Proletariat" pin in his hat, "You a Communist?"
"I'm a Trotskyist. So are they," he said.
He referred to a group of men nearby, who, like him, stood behind a
folding table at an antiwar rally in Philadelphia. The table groaned
beneath stacks of socialist newspapers, copies of Marx and Engels'
"The Communist Manifesto," and other socialist tracts, some with
forbidding titles such as "The Truth About Dialectical Materialism."
He is 19 and from Pittsburgh. He said he comes from a family of steelworkers.
"Growing up, I saw them struggling, ordinary workers, you know,
struggling to make it," he said. "I was trying to find an answer to
why that was happening. I got the idea of becoming an anarchist, but
as I got a little older, you know, 16, 17, I started to read a lot
more of the theoretical side of it. I sided with Marx and with his
analysis of class struggle, and what is necessary to end that class struggle."
Basically, he said, "class struggle" will end when capitalism is
wiped away and replaced with Trotskyism. Workers unite, set prices
and control production. Everything will be done for the greater good,
not for the individual.
He agreed this did not work so well in the defunct Soviet Union. No
matter, he said. "It will work if it's done the right way."
He talked about "capitalism" and "imperialism" and how both are the
"greatest oppressors" of the "world proletariat." Vast personal
wealth appalls him. Private investment is for fools. Building
personal wealth through the stock market is beyond the means of all
but the rich.
I stopped him and asked, "Can I make a prediction?"
"Sure," he said.
"By the time you are 40, you will be a devoted capitalist."
"Look," I said, "I toyed with this stuff as a young man. I went to an
Angela Davis rally when she was running as the Communist Party's
candidate for president in 1984. I met Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.
Liked them both. But even Rubin became a devout corporate yuppie. So
can I tell you how it will end for you?"
The kid indulged me, the way a parent indulges a child who has a tale
about an imaginary friend.
"You will get tired of all this. I can't say when or where. But it
could be when you're at one of your Trotsky Club meetings, when you
hear your umpteenth lecture on dialectical materialism delivered by
some 50-something boomer who's still in college taking graduate
courses in library science.
"Maybe it will come at an antiwar rally, when you realize the songs,
the chants, the speeches and even some of the people haven't changed
in 40 years.
"Either this," I said, "or when you hit the Pennsylvania lottery for
$300 million. You'll say, "Proletariat? What proletariat?'"
The kid grumbled that it would be me who comes around to his way of thinking.
As we stood there, a man came to the folding table and perused the
papers, pamphlets and books. He grabbed a copy of "The Communist
Manifesto" and turned to walk away.
"Wait," called one of the Trotskyists. "You have to pay for that."
"I thought this was free," he said.
The Trotskyist said: "We paid for it, so you have to pay us for it."
Or, as a capitalist might say: Look, pal, there ain't no such thing
as a free lunch.
J.D. Mullane's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. E-mail: