Feb. 21, 2011

The Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 3

by Mary Mackey

It's easy to love
through a cold spring
when the poles
of the willows
turn green
pollen falls like
a yellow curtain
and the scent of
Paper Whites
the air

but to love for a lifetime
takes talent

you have to mix yourself
with the strange
beauty of someone
wake each morning
for 72,000
mornings in
a row so
breathed and
bound and
that you can hardly
sort out
your arms

you have to
find forgiveness
in everything
even ink stains
and broken

you have to be willing to move through
the way the long
grasses move
in a field
when you careen
blindly toward
the other

there's never going to be anything
straight or predictable
about your path
except the
and the springing

you just go on walking for years
hand in hand
waist deep in the weeds
bent slightly forward
like two question
and all the while it

my dear
it burns beautifully above
and goes on
like a relentless

"The Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 3" by Mary Mackey, from Breaking the Fever. © Marsh Hawk Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was 163 years ago today that the most influential and best-selling political pamphlet of all time was first published: The Communist Manifesto, written by Marx and Engels and published on this day in 1848.

Marx and Engels' goal was not really to transform the world in some abstract ideological way. Rather, their aims were concrete and immediate. The Revolutions of 1848 were about to sweep across Europe. They wrote the Manifesto as a call to action aimed at proletariat across Western Europe, and as an advertisement or plug for a specific type of socialism — the version Marx and his colleagues and the Communist League promoted. There were a lot of versions of socialism already circulating around Europe.

Most of the ideas that went into the Communist Manifesto were brainstormed over the course of a week and a half in a room above an English pub — a pub called the Red Lion, located in the Soho district of London. The people doing the brainstorming were members of the newly formed Communist League, and their goal was to come up with something like a mission statement, a profession of faith, a manifesto. While several different people brainstormed the ideas, they gave Karl Marx the job of drafting them up into something publishable. He was supposed to get in done by New Year's Day, but he missed his deadline. He finished it, along with help from Engels, by early February — and it was on this day in 1848 that the pamphlet was finally published.

The Communist Manifesto begins: "A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.

"Where is the opposition party that has not been decried as communist by its opponents in power?"

And then Marx famously wrote in the first chapter: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."

In the second chapter he listed a set of demands the Communist League was making. These included free public schools for all children, the abolition of private property, a graduated income tax, nationalized banks, state-owned factories, and the merging of farming and manufacturing industries. The list also included a demand that inheritance rights be abolished.

The Manifesto ended:
"In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

"The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite!"

 At first no one really paid attention to the pamphlet. The Revolutions of 1848 — for which Marx and Engels were cheerleading so enthusiastically — came and went. Not much changed in Western Europe.

The first English edition of the Communist Manifesto came out in 1850, and it was not translated into Russian until 1882. It was several decades after that — and more than half century after Marx's publication — that the Bolshevik Revolutions of 1917 took place, leading Russia into a Communist state. By that time, Marx had been dead for many years, and thus died oblivious to his enormous legacy. The Communist Revolution in China came in 1949 — and so in 1950, just over a century after the publication of his manifesto, almost half of the people on earth lived under Marxist governments.

From the archives:

It's the birthday of writer Ha Jin, (books by this author) born in Liaoning Province in China (1956). His many award-winning books include Under the Red Flag (1997), Waiting (1999), and recently, A Good Fall (2009).

It's the birthday of W.H. Auden, (books by this author) born in York, England (1907). He went to Christ Church, Oxford, on a biology scholarship. He switched to English literature, met young poets who became his lifelong friends, and he glided into a literary career. Just before the start of World War II, he immigrated to the United States to teach English. Auden once said, "A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep." He published more than 400 poems, essays, plays, and opera librettos.

It's the birthday of Anaïs Nin, (books by this author) born in Neuilly, France (1903). She is best known for her diaries, which she began writing at age 11 and continued for more than 60 years — and which include accounts of her passionate love affair with Henry Miller in Paris. Anaïs Nin said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection."

It's the birthday of David Foster Wallace, (books by this author) born in Ithaca, New York (1962). He authored Infinite Jest (1996), which was 1,079 pages long with 388 footnotes. It was dense and intellectual, a futurist novel about addiction, tennis, and separatist groups, among many other subjects. But it was a best-seller, and it propelled Wallace into the literary spotlight. He was considered one of the country's most promising young novelists. He published a couple of books of short stories, and then he committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46. He was working on a novel at the time of his death, about a third of the way done. It's a novel about boredom. The book is due to be published this spring as The Pale King.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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