The Philosopher Between the Capitalist and the Communist
Chapter 3 : A Philosopher Among the Communists
The philosopher was invited by King Solon to Athens. "If a city like ours can house justice and equality, then there must be enough room for truth, as well," Solon told one of his advisors, "Send for him, and make sure that he comes. The citizens couldn't be any more disappointed than to expect truth's messenger and not have him come." But the philosopher was not easy to find, having neither residence nor job.
The philosopher was never uncovered, but he found out about King Solon's request for his appearance in Athens. Of course, the philosopher had to grant this wish; "Any who seek out the truth shall find it -- You must only be wanting it, and I will be there." And so, the philosopher made that journey, struggling alone against the forces of nature for the only goal the philosopher could make, the eternal desire to spread the truth.
"You have a visitor, sire," a servant informs Solon at his palace, without the faintest reaction.
Walking down the long red carpet leading to Solon's throne was a man with deep eyes and long hair, moving without care or thought through the king's mob of armed soldiers.
"Are you... the philosopher?" Solon's eyes widened.
"Yes, I am truth's guardian," the philosopher spoke, "You wished for my presence, but, more than that, I thought we might have an interesting conversation."
"Truth's guardian -- in the Communist city! I like the sound of that!" a joyous smile drew across Solon's face, "Come come! Let us discuss outside of these formal settings. You can't have truth suddenly pop up in the midst of a conversation about empire management, now can you?"
The philosopher and the king walked side by side, with the Athenian palace to their backs, a pebble trail beneath their feet, and the clamors of the city people echoing out just ahead. "How are you feeling, philosopher? You feel welcome, right? Because I want the city of Communism to accept you and the truth with open arms."
The king went on. "Now let me tell you about the land of Communism -- every working person has food to eat, every child is guaranteed what they need, and everyone buying in the marketplace knows that they'll only get fresh food and appetizing wines. That's Communism! What part about it should I tell you about first? You must have a million questions."
"I've heard that the difference between Communism and Capitalism is work, and that's why you put so much emphasis on the workers. What is this difference?"
"We work to feed ourselves and sustain our community -- the Capitalists work to feed themselves and sustain their mansions; that is the difference! The workers here own the land, and when the land produces it harvests and the workshops their wares, these products are also owned by the workers. Everything is owned by everyone. Everyone has a reason for wanting greater productivity and increased output; everyone benefits when there's more bread for sale in the marketplace, everyone is happier when there's a physician around to take care of their children. That's the difference between Communism and Capitalism!"
"The Capitalists have productivity, work, and they share some of their benefits with the common people, don't they?"
"Yes, of course, they share some benefits, usually just enough to keep the working class alive and able to reproduce, like animals in cages."
"What specifically in the difference between their productivity and yours?"
"Easy -- ours is people-owned, people-managed, people-operated. Theirs is master-owned, master-managed, master-operated. The people rule here; and there, it is the masters of capital who rule. Not simply in the economic or social sense, but in the most important way – politically." The king paused, "Don't just think of us as the home of Communism, because not everyone wants total Communism. Think of us also as the home of Anti-Capitalism, because everyone the world over is trying to escape the Capitalism of Babylon."
"Why do you hate Capitalism and the Capitalists?"
"But, you're the philosopher, the holder and master of truth. You must know the answers to these questions already."
"The hold of truth, certainly, but I am the master of nothing. And while I may have heard a thing or two about Communism and Capitalism, I thought I would get something unique to hear it from you specifically."
"No, I have not yet talked with Hammurabi."
"But you intend to, right?"
"Perhaps. Shouldn't truth seek dialogue from all humanity?"
"Of course it should, but, it's just good that you came here first -- you will get the real truth here. There's no telling what lies that serpent would try to feed or what cunning he would use to get you to digest them. If you do try to get a meeting with him, after meeting with me anyway, then I advise extreme caution. You need a certain level of responsibility to go through that interview."
"Do you think the truth is irresponsible?"
"Well, I didn't mean you were being irresponsible, philosopher. It's just that it's prudent to be cautious among serpents, that's all. I know you will find your way there and back home okay. The guardian of truth won't run into that unexpected disaster that takes life and fortune from ordinary men."
"For a king, you seem awfully concerned with how truth views you."
"Well, it's not just truth, but how the philosopher views me, and... well..."
"Well, how the philosopher views you will influence how the people view you?"
"So, could you answer the question?" the philosopher asked, "Why do you hate Capitalism?"
"The people deserve the right to be their own masters, without someone telling them whether they have the right to work or not, the right to be paid or not, the right to participate in society's production and consumption or not."
"This is Athens," the philosopher smiled, "You can find that opinion in any cafe you look in from here to the city walls. Like inviting me here, is that an opinion you hold only because of what other people may think of you?"
"I'm not an Individualist like Hammurabi; I can accept personal insults if it means that everyone in society is guaranteed a meaningful existence they can be proud of with enough bread, wine, and luxury time to be fully satisfied."
"The more you take this discussion personally, the more difficult it will be to arrive at truth."
Just at that moment, as the king and philosopher strolled down the street, bodyguards trailing just second behinds, there was a great explosion of noise and commotion. A wagon had cracked in half, freeing its cargo into the marketplace -- a thousand chickens running in all directions, and just a few, old farmers struggling helplessly to crowd in each last one, with the bodyguards swooping in to check in on the object of their occupation. The king, not trying to lose any ground in the conversation with the philosopher, tried not to notice the scene, but knowing that he couldn't saying anything in depth, still replied, "Mmmm, the truth, right."
Having passed the thick of the marketplace, the philosopher and king continued their conversation, every now and then with a chicken darting in between their legs, furiously clucking at any that defied its new sense of freedom. "What was that, you were saying about the truth?" the philosopher inquired immediately.
"Oh, you know, the importance of being able to arrive at it."
"And what better way to praise the truth than to answer the question I had just asked several times. Why do you hate Capitalism?"
"I thought I answered that."
"You told me why you love Communism."
"I love it precisely because it is so un-Capitalist."
"And what is it about Capitalism you despise so much?"
"That there is someone in charge of your right to work or eat, and at any time, if they don't like you, either because you ask for too much or because you exercise your right to speak in opposition, then they can withdraw your right to work and eat. That is why we hate Capitalism; it is not merely that this right is regularly exercised in exposing the common masses to the worst suffering experienced during droughts, natural disasters, depressions, or the like -- this right is used to persecute the boldest, most ardent resisters of Capitalism in those lands, and we forever feel their misery. That is why we hate Capitalism in the Communist land; because every person wants to be in charge of their own lives and hates it when someone else is in charge of them."
"Well, no, not me, specifically, but in the Capitalist land, that is how things work, and there are many here who fled that tyranny, describing exactly why they despise the miserable tortures of so-called market economy. You should know."
"I have heard something like that."
"What?" the philosopher replied.
"Don't you have anything to say about our hatred of Capitalism? You demanded an answer so many times that I thought you'd have something to respond with!"
"The truth doesn't always have an opinion on everything. Sometimes the truth is less about knowing everything and more about having a good sense of curiosity."
"After meeting the guardian of truth, I'll believe that."
"So, you have equality?"
"Of course. That's the principle which has guided all of our actions in equalizing property: by guaranteeing that equality, we provide everything needed for the genius of each person to reach its maximum, while not overstocking the mind and body with so much luxury as to make for only idleness and waste. Why would you doubt our equality? We're Communists, you know."
"It's just that... I noticed you have police officers."
"... what are you talking about? What's that supposed to mean? Why would you say something like that? You're not plotting anything, are you?"
"You do have police officers, don't you?"
"Well, yes, of course -- every government on the planet has those. Coming here to complain that we, a government, have troops is like coming here and complaining that we have taxes. There is no government without its armed force and there is no armed force without that regular contribution by the common, working people."
"Can there be a people without a government?"
"Of course there can, but they wouldn't enjoy their lives very much, I know that."
"Well, at least you know that you depend upon them and they do not depend upon you."
"So, if you depend upon them and not them upon you -- doesn't that mean that a standing army and its tax-funded payroll are dependent upon the people's ability to provide recruits and the products of wealth, and not the people dependent upon their soldiers?"
"Expecting a government without troops and taxes is like expecting grass without greenery, or a king with tentacles instead of arms, or a people with various, tropical fruits where their heads should be!"
"Tropical fruit? You mean, like a grapefruit?"
"You're the purveyor of truth! If there is one who differs so much from as in that aspect, then show it to us! Show me a government on this planet without soldiers and public finances, I demand it!"
"I thought this meeting was about you showing me your government."
"Well, maybe it's about time you show me one that's better!"
"That doesn't make sense, since all I'm asking is why yours is the same in that one aspect of imperial force and wealth. I don't have a better one, necessarily -- but I do know a million that are exactly the same in that essential aspect. What's best in a group of identical objects?"
"But you already know our government and the traditions of its people -- you already know that we are the Communists, on the other side of the sea, they are Capitalists. You already know we're not identical."
"In management of policing and taxing affairs, aren't you, though?"
"Yes, and we breathe air and eat food the same way they do, too; is that proof that we're identical governments?"
"A million things the same, but that difference is what makes you unique. And do you really think you are unique?"
"Certainly! We are the Communists. There's not a single government in the entire world that has enacted social and economic policies like we have. And it's not just that we hate Capitalism -- what we have accomplished has attracted anti-Capitalists from every culture and language. It is not simply that what we have done is completely unique throughout all history; it is that others with their own ideas, even if they differ from ours, have been impressed and astonished at what we have done here with Communism."
"The global home of Anti-Capitalism, I guess?"
"You can be certain of that! Athens? Of course it is! History will remember that, I guarantee you," Solon replied.
"So, you accept non-Communists, as neighbors and friends and relatives and lovers, I presume, correct?"
"Well, yes, but they are extremely Communist-minded neighbors, friends, relatives, and lovers."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, as Communists, we fight for the ideal of the Commune. The Socialists don't want the commune to be at the center of everything, as we do -- they also want things like Family and Individuality and, I swear, some of them even want Religion. Communists want complete equality among workers; Socialists are only sadenned when they see the worst exploitation of Capitalism, and wish it didn't happen. That's the difference."
"And, the Collectivists?"
"They're the most like the Communists. They don't want the Commune, though, they want the Collective -- it's like a Commune, except there is greater emphasis on individuality and change. Some Collectivists are our best friends; some of them occasionally get caught raising revolts among our own peasants. We don't miss that kind when they walk past the rest of us Communists on their way to be hanged."
"What about the Unionists?"
"Well, the Unionists are all about the labor union. They want workers to organize in the workplace, to seize power over whoever is in charge of them, and then to unite up into an unbreakable, widespread net of small worker revolts. Clearly, there is not much thought behind it at all, not like the complexity required for our multi-level, Communist bureaucracy. How are you going to collect taxes efficiently with a bunch of small revolts over a widespread area? Not well, that's how. But they hate the Capitalists, maybe more than anyone else here, and we like them enough just for that."
"How about the Co-operativists?"
"They painfully remind me of the Unionists. A bunch of tiny revolts over a gigantic area; what more is there to describe? Sure, their tactics a bit different. Instead of merely fighting a Capitalist, they save up money, buy their own business, and become their own Capitalists. The Unionists sometimes become their own Capitalist when they take over a business from a boss, but the Co-operativists are deeply motivated by the principle of self-initiative and long-term sacrifice, all great for a Communist movement needing people and labor. Then again, Unionists aren't devoted to owning the business they work at, which the Co-operativists are. One of them hates Capitalism a little more, the other loves Communism a little more. But Athens takes them all, any fleeing Capitalism's tyranny."
"And what about the Marxists?"
"Don't even get me started on those Marxists. They are so difficult to understand. A Socialist wants to know when there's going to be an eight-hour workday; a Unionist wants to know when there's going to be a labor union hall in their neighborhood -- but the Marxist wants to know if the Communist movement has left the Era of Post-Manufacturing Socialism and has entered the Epoch of Utopian Socialist Reconstruction."
"So, what do you say to a question like that?"
"Sure, sure we've entered that epoch. They accept that answer a lot easier than the answers I give to the Socialists and Unionists."
"What about the Stalinists?"
"They're the same as the Maoists and the Trotskyists. All are complete Marxists, except they have different dates and names for the eras in their historical lineage chart. Also, for some reason, Maoists, Trotskyists, Stalinists, and Leninists -- they all hate each other, at varying degrees. Sometimes more than Capitalism, but they hate Capitalism enough to be welcome here with open arms."
"Do you call everyone you hate a Capitalist?"
"No, of course not. If we don't know what kind of -ist someone we hate is, then we just call them a Liberal. And if we really hate them, then we call them a Conservative."
Just at that point in the conversation, the pair reached a turn in the road. They had come to the end of the marketplace. "Let's go this way -- there are some really interesting neighborhoods you must see!"
"I'm sorry, Solon -- but it's time for me to leave," the philosopher replied.
"Hey, you don't have a name, do you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm the Communist King, but I'm also Solon; you're just the Philosopher. Haven't you got a personal name?"
"You can make up one for me, if you want."
"Olmo! You're Olmo!"
"It's a name from Italy -- there was a boy persecuted for truth there once, with this name; I bestow it to you."
"You have a good estimation of history. I'll give you that."
"Olmo, the Philosopher! Just think of that. When you're approaching a village in your travels, all of the children will be screaming and yelling in their high-pitched voices, 'Olmo is here! Olmo is here!' Don't you like the sound of that!"
"It definitely seems like you made up a name for me."
"You will be passing through our villages when you leave; there has to be some way for us to celebrate your presence, even as it vanishes before us. You will be missed, philosopher. Don't let the world forget it -- we Communists here in Athens created something unique, and when we did, we were friends of the Philosopher; we were friends of Olmo."
"I won't forget our meeting, and I definitely won't forget the journey or the people I met on it. Normally, my advice to kings that should have been sages is 'Let your strength come from your mind.' But to you, Solon, my advice is: 'The only person who is truly ignorant is the person who believes they have nothing left to learn.'"
"Huh, that sounds familiar -- Homer?"
"It's similar to something you've probably heard; but my meeting with you inspired me to give it a twist."
"So, what's the original saying, then?"
"That's something for you to ponder as I make my journey back home. Good luck, Solon. True fortune is yours, if only you want it."