Who's Afraid of the Big Bad socialist?
In Howard Zinn's play, Karl Marx is back, and he's pissed
Frightened yet? If the name "Karl Marx" isn't enough to give you the willies, how about the word "socialism"? No? "Communist" do anything for you?
Unlike Karl Marx, Howard Zinn isn't a household name, but he should be. Zinn wrote A People's History of the United States, which tears the conventional cover off American history and exposes our genocidal, union-busting, warmongering, profiteering national zeitgeist for what it is. Zinn also is the author of Marx in Soho, sponsored this week at the University of Texas by the International Socialist Organization.
"Zinn wrote the play in the mid-1990s, and in the late Nineties a colleague of mine published it," says Brian Jones, who has performed the one-man show all across the country. "We did it on a lark. We didn't really think anyone would buy me, a light-skinned black man, as Marx, but we did it for fun at a socialist conference in Chicago, and it worked. People started contacting me and asking me to come to other places, people who weren't in the ISO anarchists, radicals of other types. So I quit my job and started playing Marx full time.
"The premise of the play is that, after the fall of Stalinism, everyone is saying capitalism has triumphed, and Marx is angry. All his ideas are being twisted, so the powers that be send him back, but instead of sending him to Soho, London, where he lived, they send him to Soho, New York, right into the heart of capitalism. It's really about what Marx would say if he could see the world today."
The term "socialism" carries a stigma in this country, so should we be afraid? "Stalinism was an obscene perversion of socialism. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to live in Stalinist Russia," says Jones. "Socialism to me means worker's power. We work our whole lives to make a tiny group of people wealthy, and at the ends of our lives, we have nothing, relatively speaking. And now, with Bush taking away Social Security, we'll have less. Why should we work so hard?
"What if all of us were the bosses and the workers and we all decided what to do with the money, rather than all those decisions being made privately by the owners? At work, there's no democracy. The bosses decide what you're going to get paid, what your quality of life is, what the quality of life of your children is. No say, no democracy. That sphere is privately held. Then there's this other political sphere in which politicians manage everything. It effectively means there is no real democracy in our lives."
No democracy? Now there's something to fear. "I think the play is popular because a lot of people in this country are asking themselves questions. Why are things the way they are? Why couldn't the government provide health insurance for the 43 million people without it but managed to come up with billions for a war?"
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Marx in Soho will be performed Friday, Feb. 25, 8pm, and Saturday, Feb. 26, 2 and 8pm, in the Art Building auditorium, 23rd and San Jacinto. For more information, call 731-1025 or visit www.marxinsoho.com.