There may indeed be more pressing issues pressing marxism for answers currently, but my interest was piqued by photo, and then a short youtube video, of Vladimir Ilych Lenin tenderly stroking a cat. Vladimir. Ilych. Lenin. tenderly. stroking. a cat. Fuck only knows why this should surprise me. After all, why not? Anyway, my spare time is divided, unevenly admittedly, between looking at funny pictures of cats, and reading the texts of Marx and marxism. My fascination, I assume, probably has something to do with the unexpected melding of these two worlds, presumably by some seemingly perfect cosmic accident.
Why had no one mentioned this to me? The Wikipedia page for Vlad ignores these happenings right until the end, when it states offhandedly: ‘He liked children and cats and his enthusiasms included bicycling, amateur photography, chess, skating, swimming, hunting, music and hiking.’ It doesn’t even tell us if his amateur photography was, or wasn’t, preoccupied with his cats. If it was, some important revisions to the history of the internet, as it is told, will need to be made. (So much for the brave new world of a crowd sourced and common encyclopaedia. Losers. I’m going back to the Snoopy Britannicas my mum bought me with supermarket points. Admittedly, they didn’t have an entry for Lenin, but Lemur and Leopard were generously treated.)
A second reason that I was somewhat agape is, I guess, that it seems as if right from James Bond’s arch enemy, Number 1 – whose criminal organisation Spectre haunted Europe, and later Latin America – and onwards throughout every spy movie since, the capitalist stooges charged with indoctrinating me intended that I react with disgust at the site of Lenin benevolently stroking puss, sage, sphynx-like gaze towards the camera. #Fail ideologues, I was near euphoric.*
You can imagine my absolute astonishment, then, when further investigation turned up a photo of Lenny, sitting on a couch with Brother José, holding not just a single cat mind, but two – two – adorable kittens.**
I am not the only one who has been intrigued by this cold-war cover up. Another, and better read (if not better red), comrade has also upturned these long neglected stones. Comrade Rustbelt Radical provides the most sensible analysis on this topic I was able to unearth in my several minutes of research. The comments below RR‘s fine post are also roughly the extent of my research. The findings of their in depth study are that Trots prefer cats, whilst Maoists, dogs, because cats embody class independence, whilst dogs rely on cross-class alliance. As the author admits there are some problems with this hypothesis. Leon Trotsky was himself very much a dog person. He had a pair of big Alsatian looking things called Benno and Stella that he used to use to ‘pick up chicks’ (Leon T’s words) so he could convert them to the particular brand of somnambulistic socialism he seems to have engendered. Here he is, with dogs, attempting to induce a deep revolutionary slumber with a stick:
On the other hand, Mao’s name shares a certain assonance with the sound English speakers use to describe the noise cats make – meow. This similarity is at least partly responsible for the people’s love of revolutionary meme leader Chairman Meow. What a guy!
Anyway, it should be clear that the above hypothesis is too rent by unresovable contradiction, too blocked by aporiatic impasse to be workable. No, we must go back the root of the thing. Not being learned enough to reach for the Hegel, or even an armchair Schlegel, I will have to be content with beginning with Marx. And this is where it gets interesting.*** Biographic evidence suggests that Karl was no slouch with the pussy or the puppy, himself. In 1864 when Wilhelm Wolff, noble protagonist of the proletariat, gave his last Wilhelm scream, he left Karl a not inconsiderable sum of money. Of the first purchases made with this bequest by the ever economical Marx were three dogs, two cats and two birds. What interests us here is of course the cats and the dogs, the two birds being beyond the scope of this analysis.
Of the dogs, we are lucky enough to have Marian Comyn’s first hand recollection:
Karl Marx was fond of dogs, and three small animals of no particular breed–of a mixture of many breeds indeed–formed important members of the household. One was called Toddy, another Whisky–the name of the third I forget, but I fancy that, too, was alcoholic. They were all three sociable little beasts, ever ready for a romp, and very affectionate. One day, after an absence of six weeks in Scotland, I went to see Eleanor and found her with her father in the drawing-room, playing with Whisky. Whisky at once transferred his attentions to me, greeting me with ebullient friendliness, but almost immediately he ran to the door and whined to have it opened for him.
‘He has gone down to Toddy, who has just presented him with some puppies.
She had hardly finished speaking before there was a scratching and scrambling in tile hall, and in bounded Whisky, shepherding Toddy. The little mother made straight for me, exchanged affabilities in friendly fashion, then hurried back to her family. Whisky meanwhile stood on the rug, wagging a proudly contented tail, and looking from one to the other, as who should say :
‘See how well I know how to do the right thing.’
Dr. Marx was much impressed by this exhibition of canine intelligence. He observed that it was clear the dog had gone downstairs to tell his little mate an old friend had arrived, and it was her bounden duty to come and pay her respects without delay. Toddy, like an exemplary wife, had torn herself away from her squealing babies, in order to do his bidding.
It is possible that Karl Marx was merely humouring a female visitor, but the more likely conclusion is that Karl Marx liked dogs. Karl Marx liked small annoying lap dogs. He named them after alcohol like a frat boy. Perhaps he took one in his tote bag when he went to read blue books in the British Library, we don’t know. Ol’ Beardo, covered in carbuncles, talking like a teenage girl to Toddy and Whiskey as he slips matching sweaters on them. The mind boggles.
It would be easy enough, here, to argue that he liked cats equally, given the dearth of evidence either way. However, if we turn to his theoretical writings there is a discernible hostility towards cats. Presumably Lenin, not unlike as he must have done to himself with Marx and Engels many slanders against Russia, would cover kitty’s ears when he read Marx’s anti-cat polemic.
For example, in Value, Price and Profit (1865!!!) Marx launches into a tirade against luxury cats, whilst dogs are left glaringly absent from reproach.
It is perfectly true that, considered as a whole, the working class spends, and must spend, its income upon necessaries. A general rise in the rate of wages would, therefore, produce a rise in the demand for, and consequently in the market prices of necessaries. The capitalists who produce these necessaries would be compensated for the risen wages by the rising market prices of their commodities. But how with the other capitalists who do not produce necessaries? And you must not fancy them a small body. If you consider that two-thirds of the national produce are consumed by one-fifth of the population — a member of the House of Commons stated it recently to be but one-seventh of the population — you will understand what an immense proportion of the national produce must be produced in the shape of luxuries, or be exchanged for luxuries, and what an immense amount of the necessaries themselves must be wasted upon flunkeys, horses, cats, and so forth, a waste we know from experience to become always much limited with the rising prices of necessaries.
Presumably snappy little dogs are weighed on the necessities side of the ledger… We have know way of knowing what one, or both, of the Marx’s cats had done to deserve such scorn, but we can assume it had something to do with taking a shit on the piles of notes that crowded Karl’s study. There may have been good reason for this catty crime against communism however, even in early writings Marx and Engels appear ambivalent towards cats. Engels, himself, owned a number of hounds for fox hunting, yet despite being unable to turn away strays of any kind, there is no record of him befriending cats.
In Vol. II of The German Ideology Marx and Engel’s launch a blistering attack against proponent of True Socialism, Rudolph Matthäi. Tellingly, Marx and Engels choice of example serves to firmly associate cats with the haphazard and heavy breathing Matthäi, meaning cats share equally in the ridicule.
Is not, on the contrary, the idea of “polar opposition” based upon the observation of a struggle between men and nature? First of all, an abstraction is made from a fact; then it is declared that the fact is based upon the abstraction. A very cheap method to produce the semblance of being profound and speculative in the German manner.
Fact: The cat eats the mouse.
Reflection: Cat — nature, mouse — nature, consumption of mouse by cat = consumption of nature by nature = self-consumption of nature.
Philosophic presentation of the fact: Devouring of the mouse by the cat is based upon the self-consumption of nature.
What does this all mean? Fuck knows, fuck all, and who gives a fuck, are all fine answers. More to come.
*Slightly less bored than usual
** This photo is in all likelihood fake. However, even the thought that someone would bother to fabricate such a thing fills me with a great optimism.
*** Doesn’t actually get more interesting here.