The revolution Will Be Published

Karl Marx provides coffee cake and a left-wing reading list.

I HAVEN'T TALKED to my friend Karl Marx in quite a while. What with the fall of the Wall and the total victory of market ideology, it became difficult finding anything to talk about that didn't get him dangerously worked up, and once you're over 180, you have to avoid too much excitement. So when I bumped into him at the Fremont Sunday Market, I was a little surprised to find him looking great and not a bit his usual cranky self. He even suggested I come by his place in Ballard for coffee. In the old days, you never knew whom you'd run into at Karl's (the house is actually in Emma's name, but everybody calls it "Karl's place.") There was usually some radical on a lecture tour in the spare bedroom, a hitchhiking anarchist crashing on the living room sofa, and teen runaways camping in the basement. That Sunday, to my surprise, things were livelier than ever. You would never have known, listening to the arguments round the kitchen table, that the Left had been consigned to the dustbin of history. But some things had definitely changed. Ten years ago, you wouldn't have found a trade union official there, sharing coffee cake and civil disobedience tips with a dreadlocked, big-A anarchist and an elderly nun in civilian clothes. The style of dialogue was different, too: less ideological, more down to earth, wide-ranging, better informed. But it was still shocking to hear a heavily pierced and tattooed kid in camouflage overalls defend a remark about American oil companies' complicity in providing arms to the "rebels" in Sudan by quoting from The Economist. KARL MUST HAVE noticed my dumbfounded look. Without a word, he took me by the elbow and steered me gently onto the porch before I could say something I'd regret. "You been away too long," he said in that burring Rhineland accent of his. "What you doing these days? Still writing? About what?" "Um . . . restaurants, mostly," I replied. I expected one of his withering sarcasms. Instead, he patted me gently on the shoulder and said, "Then you got a lot of catching up to do. The world is changing. Things are moving. Time to get back on board before the train leaves the station." I couldn't help it. "What planet have you been living on?" I yelled. "Look who's president! Look at the Cabinet! Look at Congress! Look at the media! This train's not going anywhere: It's being dismantled and sold off for scrap!" Didn't faze him. "A sideshow," he said. "Strictly for suckers. I'm surprised you fell for it. You're the one out of touch. You read Dave Korten?" "Dave who?" I said, thoroughly disoriented. "Korten. Lives on Bainbridge. He and his wife Fran spent nearly 30 years in the belly of the multinational beast and lived to tell about it. Wrote the book on it: When Corporations Rule the World (Kumarian Press, $15.95). Second edition's just out; get a copy and get with the program." "I don't need any primer in international capitalism," I huffed. "I've read Gramsci; I've read Lenin; I've read you, for Pete's sake!" He just grinned. "All outdated. Good basic stuff, but too ideological. Too theoretical. Too hierarchical. No understanding of the true source of political will. Your generation used to shout, 'Power to the people!' The kids now know better. 'Power from the people' is more like it. You read Subcomandante Marcos?" "The guy with the pipe and the ski mask?" I ask. "The same," he says. "If Che had been a poet, if Carlos Casta� had been a revolutionary, they might have written a book like Our Word Is Our Weapon (edited by Juana Ponce De Leon, Seven Stories Press, $27.95). Marcos knows that real power comes not from the barrel of a gun but the souls of real people. Read him and weep for your own lack of conviction." "You've been living with Emma too long," I retorted. "Taught me everything I know," he wisecracked. "At least about things like the inherent fascism of centralized power, the real lives of working people, and especially about women. How long's it been since you dipped into Anarchism, and Other Essays (by Emma Goldman, Dover, $8.95)?" "You've got a nerve preaching feminism to me, you old patriarch," I fumed. "Not at all," he said, grinning: "After all, like bell hooks says, 'Feminism Is for Everybody' (South End Press, $12); surely you recall the place where she says that—" "I've been busy," I snapped. "I've been meaning to read it but haven't had time." "You do have some catching up to do." He put down his omnipresent cup of organic shade-grown and started scrabbling through his pockets for a piece of scratch paper. "Let me just note down a few titles to get you started here; how about Jerry Mander's The Case Against the Global Economy (Sierra Club Books, $28)? Lots of great stuff in there. Oh, say, have you read Fast Food Nation (by Eric Schlosser, Houghton Mifflin Co., $25)? Enough to make a vegetarian out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. And King Leopold's Ghost (by Adam Hochschild, Houghton Mifflin Co., $15), about Belgium's heritage of destruction in Africa, makes Heart of Darkness look like a bedtime story . . ." THIS WAS GETTING out of hand. I said, "Hey, look, Karl, I didn't come over here for a reading list, you know." He stopped scribbling on the back of an envelope for a second and looked right at me. "Then why did you come over?" Which kind of stopped me. Why had I? Old time's sake? Or was I maybe in fact tired of irony, despair, the front page of the The New York Times chronicling reaction on a rampage? "OK, Karl, make your list," I said. "I guess I don't have to read anything I don't want to." "That's the spirit," he said with a grin. "And at least you can get your rocks off telling other people what they ought to be reading. That reminds me: You got any kids or grandkids? Oh, right, I forgot. But you must know some young people. There's one great book called the Teenage Liberation Handbook (by Grace Llewellyn, Lowry House, $19) and another one called Lies My Teacher Told Me (by James W. Loewen, Touchstone Books, $15), that one's real family reading; and Howie Zinn's People's History of the United States (HarperCollins, $30). . . ." I sighed, sat back, and waited for him to run out of envelope. rdowney@seattleweekly.com To access Karl's Top 25 Reading List for Resurgent Radicalism, graciously assembled by the folks at Left Bank Books Collective, visit www.seattleweekly.com/features/0123/books-radicallist.shtml .

 
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