|Newspaper >> The bourgeois >> Karl Marx|
I am a seasoned journalist, and had spent at least three hours researching astute questions for my upcoming interview with the man some have called the greatest thinker of the last millennium. Nevertheless, I must confess the prospect of meeting such a significant and imposing intellect aroused in me feelings I had not experienced since I was a cub reporter buttering my crumpet for the editor of the Farnham Gazette.
The evening before, my nerves quite got the better of me, and I decided to ring one of my experienced colleagues in the industry for some advice.
‘Hello Lucy. Listen, you’ll never guess who I’m interviewing for the Bourgeois tomorrow.’
‘No, Karl Marx!.’
‘Was he the one with the eyebrows, or was he the mute one?’
‘No, not those Marx, the Bolshie one who wrote all the books. You know, workers of the world? Listen, do you think men with beards are sexy, or not?’
There was a thoughtful pause. ‘Maybe if they’ve got the intelligence thing, you know like Darwin, or Allan Ginsberg.’
I considered this. ‘What outfit should I wear? Something red?’
‘Mmmm, maybe, but keep it, you know, subtle. You’re aiming for Rosa Luxembourg, not Cherie Blair.’
The next day, my heart was pounding as I walk into a small restaurant in Highgate to meet the father of Communism. He is sitting at a table on his own, and rises to shake my hand. The first thing I notice about him is his enormous larger than life beard. It has an imposing presence all of its own. He orders coffee for us both, and I watch as, almost miraculously, a black orifice appears in the great white mass, and coffee disappears down it.
‘Aren’t you going to ask me any questions then?’ I realise the king of philosophy is addressing me, and that I am staring at his beard with my mouth open. Embarrassed, I collect me notes together and ask him my first question.
‘How long have you had a beard for then?’
‘Probably since I was about 18’, he replies, scratching his chin thoughtfully. ‘Beards were quite big in Germany at the time.’
‘Especially in Jewish families?’ I query. He shrugs non-committally. I sense that I have uncovered one of Karl’s insecurities, perhaps something about his Jewish identity that he is not altogether comfortable with.
‘Did you grow the beard to hide some aspect of your features that you were unhappy with, perhaps as a sensitive adolescent?’
‘I don’t think so.’ He says this conclusively. I intuitively know that beards are a difficult issue for Karl, and I decide to move on to another subject.
‘How do you feel that George Orwell used an aging pig to portray you in Animal Farm?’ Karl laughs at this point, a great booming laugh that fills the small restaurant and makes me wish that he wasn’t happily married with children.
‘Well, if you read the book, I think Orwell chose pigs as intelligent farmyard animals to represent the leaders and thinkers of the Communist movement. Now whether you think Orwell’s representation of Communism as a movement of literate intelligent pigs leading stupid, illiterate cattle…’
‘Horses, donkeys and sheep,’ I interject.
‘Right, so if you see Communism as a mass of uninformed beasts of burden being led from the top, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. But I don’t take it as a personal insult, no.’
‘Is there an animal you would have preferred to be?’ Karl looks exasperated. I think perhaps his rigid philosophical brain is not equipped to deal with my unorthodox approach.
‘I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it…A bear I suppose. How about a Russian bear? You can put that one down.’
I giggle. ‘Are you a bear in the bedroom?’
‘I don’t.. Oh, I see. No comment. Listen, your editor told me this interview was going to be about the Grundrisse.’ These are the words I hear later as I play back the Dictaphone, but at this moment all that I can think about is how much he looks like a big cross bear, with his powerful shoulders, and that great thrusting jawline plunging into waves of white fur. I resume my professional composure with an effort, and plough on with my next question.
‘Which do you like best, ‘Animal Farm,’ or ‘The Jungle Book?’
Karl looks at me impatiently. I would say sense of humour wasn’t his strong point, but then I guess Communist ideologues don’t really need a GSOH.
‘Well, apart from the fact that they’re both more or less stories about animals, I don’t really see how they’re comparable.’ He pauses. ‘Although, I suppose the Jungle Book was written by someone employed in the colonies, and the Jungle Book was used as a colonial sort of book, influencing the Cub Scout movement, whereas Animal Farm was written by a disillusioned ex-colonial employee who had some criticisms about the Communism played out…’ Karl seems to be floundering.
‘I prefer ‘The Jungle Book’ because it has more songs’, I tell him helpfully. I watch the magic cavern open once again as the last of his coffee is tipped down the oesophagus of the Father of Communism.
‘Last question’, he tells me.
‘Which song do you like best? ‘Lady in Red’, or ‘The Red Flag.’ Karl rolls his eyes.
‘To be honest, I’ve never cared much for either of them. Perhaps its time for the Left to get a new anthem. Maybe someone like Boney M or the fucking Communards can write something.' He stands up, grasps my hand briefly and walks out of the café.
I am left reeling from the historic encounter that I have just experienced. The waitress awakens me from my reverie. ‘That’s £4.80 for the coffees,’ she tells me. I tell her that my labour value is greater than hers, but clearly she is one of Communism’s cattle, for she fails to understand. I leave the café for the windy streets, my head swirling with strange and new ideas.