To say that the very concept of such a piece is difficult to even accept as a literary experiment would be an understatement of epic proportions – the analysis that such a piece requires, as well as the inevitable conclusions at which it will arrive, will most certainly submit to reality facts that might otherwise be suffered silently for the sake of some greater good and, indeed, still may be. But to ignore those topics which are most real to one’s experience and, by virtue, most relatable to other comrades and their varying experiences, is indeed to neglect one’s duty as a revolutionary writer and thinker.
Even the most primitive of Marxist scholars realizes that the class struggle – all that causes it and arises from it – reaches every facet of modern life. Indeed, one of the cornerstones of socialist thought is the acknowledgment that the constructs of class, and the perpetual contradictions and struggles surrounding it, are so pertinent in our daily lives that we can scarcely experience a moment without their shadow being cast. From our morning commute to our interactions with co-workers and strangers, from our grocery store trips to our stops at the gas station, from the moment we rise until the moment we sleep – and likely those hypnotic hours that transpire in between – we are besieged on all fronts by the inequities of our class designation and the despotic systems and regimes meant to keep us there.
Perhaps it was my naivety, either as a romantic, an idealist or a simple clod, that lead me to believe that there were yet places, thickets and caverns, hidden so deeply from the capitalist eye that they could not be reached by the breath of class conflict – places of refuge beyond the socio-political fray, places incapable of suffering the follies and tragedies of class dynamics. To my great dismay, though simultaneously to the benefit of my often sobering radical education, I have learned that in fact these places do not exist – there is no refuge, there is no safe cavern in which to climb to escape the clenching fist of class conflict.
And perhaps this story is more than an examination in the ways that class designations take their toll upon the heart and soul of two people so hopelessly devoted to one another for such a long time, perhaps it is also a testament to the way that life moves fore and aft like a careless tide. And as if apathetic in its tosses and turns, it decimates many a fine vessel, steered by competent and devoted captains, and leaves only remnants upon the bottom of the sea – wrecked vessels, tombs for the waterlogged carcasses of lovers with out-stretched arms frozen in time beneath the icy wake.
My wife and I met nearly 15 years ago and hardly a day has passed since that day that we have not been together. And, when apart, few indeed were the days where our voices and thoughts did not reach one another across any expanse imaginable. Never before had I met a woman like her – her auburn-colored hair fell in loose curls down her back, her eyes squinted when she smiled, she painted vivid pictures with both watercolors and words, she felt the world intensely and it felt her in return – and she has known my undivided devotion and unbounded affection every day since. In those early days of youthful passion and energy, it seemed as though the phalanx we had established between us could suffer no injuries – endless and energetic was our support for one another’s art and ideas; boundless was our unity of thought and vision and careless were our considerations for anything beyond that which orbited our warmth and adoration for one another. We lived in abject poverty in those days – eleven people in a crumbling house; paying the bills off of one source of income; stealing water and power from the neighbor’s house when ours was turned off; spending every dime on cheap beer, smelly pot and hot, black coffee – and we were happy.
But just as a clock shall continue to tick away the seconds, no matter how desperately you will it otherwise, so too does a life move ceaselessly toward some end which one can never see and, even if that were possible, could never comprehend or accept. After a decade, my wife and I were married on our tenth anniversary – a courthouse wedding with a two-month-old daughter in tow and me on a walker having just undergone hip replacement surgery – and nearly five years have passed since then. And with those years, the slow march of time has seemed to quicken its pace beneath the tweeting of the capitalist drill sergeant’s whistle, pushing my beloved wife into lockstep with her division and me far beyond the training grounds to the wooded hideout of my cadre.
I recently completed Nick Salvatore’s biography of Eugene V. Debs, Citizen and Socialist, and found most stunning the determination with which Debs persevered despite the lack of support from his wife, Kate. Most telling was the description of Debs’ first jaunt in prison – when upon his release Kate came to pick up the newly radicalized labor leader, she appeared in a chauffeured car, adorned with pearls, diamonds and furs. While I would never compare my lot to that of Debs, nor my wife’s disposition to that of the distanced tolerance of Kate, because the book is still so fresh in my mind, this connection between Debs and his wife seems so hauntingly familiar that I can’t help but mention it – both to illustrate the further assertions I plan to make and to indicate that such animosities in the home are nothing unique to revolutionaries and the ones they love beyond the struggle.
Within two years, our second child was born and my wife had accepted a new job as Executive Director of a local museum, one committed to the preservation of literary history and the promotion of socio-cultural relations within our city, as well as positions on various Boards of Directors and membership in numerous business associations representing the various interests of the bourgeois state. Our home life is tainted with it – rare indeed are the moments when her eyes are not glued to her phone, pining over messages from one business or social partner or another; aside from working six days a week, there are reasons of every sort for leaving our family at home while she socializes to strengthen her cultural and business ties – instead of dinner with our family, she will be hosting an event for couples while I stay home with our children; instead of a family vacation this summer, she’ll be traveling to an unnecessary conference in Paris while, yet again, I stay home with our children; when rarely we are out together, she is usually entranced by the conversations of one of the Montgomery Gentrification Council, as I prefer to call them, made up of the city’s “best people” – young bankers, entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists, trust fund babies and the snake oil salesmen of their ilk – while I sit idly in a corner, sneering at their plans to tear down more urban housing and insert a wall of franchise restaurants and bars. So confident am I in her complete lack of interest in the ambitions and convictions of my life, that I write this piece knowing well that her eyes will never rest upon it.
Simultaneously however, my life was changing as well. I had accepted and resigned from no less than three jobs, mainly because I desired more time at home with my family, and adapted to the life of a house husband – my days now are consumed with laundry and dishes, dressing and feeding the children each morning before they go to school and preparing their lunches; in the evenings, I’m preparing their dinners, drawing their baths and putting them to bed on the multitude of nights that my wife doesn’t come home in time for such trivialities. And while I stepped happily into this role, I also began to answer the call of revolution more fervently – while my children are away at school, I read and write constantly; I work to organize both my local socialist party and our newly founded feeding program; I communicate and work with comrades on problems relative to the movement and those within it. And as my awareness grows, as my eyes open ever wider to the conditions which cause the very suffering I have dedicated my life to opposing, I realize more clearly than ever that, in every traditional sense of the word, my wife has become a class traitor.
Do not misunderstand my assertions here – my wife is under no obligation or encouragement to subserviently heed the whims of me or our children; her desire to climb the social ladder, at least in practical terms, is a decision left wholly up to her and one that I have supported wholeheartedly in every effort she has endeavored; she is under no circumstances required to subscribe to or support the ideals that I so ardently profess to any who will listen. I make no accusations that my wife has failed in her duty as a wife or mother, only that she has made the conscious decision to put those familial roles on the back burner in order to climb the local socio-cultural ladder and, in doing so and withdrawing her support from my politico-cultural visions, has become the embodiment of all that I seek to one day see eliminated.
Similarly, I do not mean to insinuate that I am without fault. My career as a music teacher was short-lived because of poor funding for the arts, and this left me in despair; my career as a journalist was fraught with difficulty, whether that be the lack of interested publications or the oppressive weight of the editor’s pen, until finally it collapsed completely, and that left me in despair. What followed these expeditions of meaningful employment was a series of brief stints doing work I cared nothing for and dedicated little time or effort to – such malaise poisons the mind and slowly begins to atrophy all other endeavors, none more so than the ability to graciously give and receive love, and leads to the type of self-mutilation that only a drunkard knows. Just as the desire for petty bourgeois opulence is incomprehendible and in direct opposition to the revolutionary spirt, the revolutionary ideal must indeed appear as foolish, utopian adventurism to those who walk the gilded path.
I wish desperately that I could say that this were a guide for all of those men and women who may well be suffering beneath the same conditions, but unfortunately there are very few solutions to the types of problems I’ve described – love is as universal and necessary as the very rays of the sun, it is something that the soul can not live without and, like a narcotic, leaves one shaking and feverish when it is withdrawn in even the most modest of increments. Therefore, the solutions are few – obviously, one can abandon a relationship which no longer positively contributes to the emotional, physical and cultural needs of those within it. But this option is not for me – as a man who believes that parenthood is one of the most revolutionary acts in which a comrade can invest, the option of having limited access to my children is wholly unacceptable and I am happily willing to accept any slings which come my way for arriving at such a conclusion. Another option is for one party, or the other, to abandon that effort which is causing so much trauma to the family unit. Again, this option is not available to me – first and foremost, the petty bourgeoisie lifestyle which appeals more and more to my wife is something she will never allow her grip to slip from as she pines more and more for the meaningless trappings of the capitalist class; similarly, the revolutionary lifestyle which appeals so completely to me will never be sacrificed, as I see that the most effective way to fight for the children whom I adore is to fight for the future in which they will be forced to live – revolutionary principles, unlike those of the capitalist class and their petty bourgeois underlings, only serve to improve the lot of the family and instill in children those virtues which will serve them best in life. The hunt for money, prestige and power serves no purpose once we’re met with the grave; a raised fist, a love for humanity and a condemnation of oppression, however, will live on well past a person’s final day.
But there is a third option, one which is not easily palatable to those quick to anger: silently suffer the foolish socio-cultural errors of the one you love, remembering always that there was once so much more than these despicable ideals that drew you together, and wage the war alone. Do not sacrifice interactions with your children in order to get away from an ideologically impaired partner – to do so is to abandon the future of our movement, the children, who will only be educated properly if there remains a proper educator in the home; neither should one surrender the relationship they’ve established with their partner for, like a stone smooths in a moving stream, they too will eventually see the bitter fruit which will be reaped from their misguided actions.
However, if you choose this third option, which I have, you must be prepared for the results that will inevitably unfold upon your psyche – where once my wife was the center of my life, the rock to which I ran when all else seemed to be crumbling and unsteady, I now know loneliness much more than I’ve ever known it before; where once my wife was the person I turned to for affection and support, I now know indifference and opposition; where once my wife was the person I turned to for conversation and debate, I now know silence and an apathy for ideas unlike any I’ve known before. But in these conditions, I’ve learned things I could never have learned otherwise – while my wife has turned inward toward reaction to revolutionary ideas and actions, my children have embraced them wholly and regularly they refer to one another, as well as myself and those who venture into our home, as comrades; I’ve learned to lean on those whose education is similar to mine, those whose ambitions are the same as mine, and those whose unshakable belief in the necessity of socialism here and across all borders is in tune with mine – my comrades, most notably those within my grasp but, in much the same way, those who live the same experience as I from cities throughout this nation as well.
There is nothing in this world that will make me surrender my love for my wife and our family – not bourgeois reaction, not class conflict, not silence or apathy or opposition – for I still regard my own fatherhood as the most important and difficult job that I have ever been called to do. And further because, despite my wife having fallen into the hypnotic arms of those who seek to white-wash our cities at the expense of those who make up the toiling class, I still adore her above all others on this planet and will go on doing so until my last breath is eked out.
My wife is not to blame for these failings – no more so than I am myself – but the system which pits brother against brother in a bloody competition for money and power most certainly is. Where once it was only noticed in the streets – where cold and hungry bodies slept, where innocent men and women met their death, where toiling workers trampled to and from jobs which care not for them nor allow for them to survive – the class conflict has now entered our homes and is working its black magic flawlessly in dividing our families and taking from us the most important pieces of a life mired by depravation and struggle. And what an incredible strategy the capitalists use – a family left in ruins creates a demoralized and distracted comrade and reduces, one piece at a time, the number of essential gears needed to turn the capitalist system upon its back. In this sense – just as one converses with a liberal not yet radicalized or combats the elements of bourgeois society on capital steps and downtown thoroughfares – it is but another part of our duty to ensure that the encroachment of capitalist reaction not crumble the fortresses of our homes and the familial relations which blossom within them.
If the capitalist generals, using class conflict as their weapon of choice, choose to wage war on our families, we must be prepared to meet them just as we would any villain who seeks to take from us that which we have worked for, sacrificed for and, as a result, live for. Though class conflict may well be playing its cacophonous opus within my home, lulling some to the dance floor and pushing others to the corners, I will wage my battle with it by creating more enticing melodies for the ears of my children and the toes of my wife.
That which is constructed of love – with faith the caulk, adoration the frame and respect the foundation – can not be crushed by class contradictions, provided within that building there is a combatant willing to tirelessly fight, with every word and deed, to maintain that structure and keep safe all who find shelter within it.