In Plato’s cave, the shackled prisoner reaches enlightenment upon entering the real world. From there, he is portrayed as having achieved the ultimate level of knowledge. I don’t find myself entirely agreeing with Plato’s allegory, as I believe there is always more to discover on our journey to the goal of enlightenment. I see our knowledge as constantly evolving and growing. An occasion in which I can look back on and realize it was a form of “enlightenment”, only to later have the knowledge attained from such enlightenment evolve and change, is the very first book I had ever read on political theory; Marx for Beginners.
For those of you unaware, Marxism is a form of socioeconomic analysis focusing on class struggle. It originates from the works of Karl Marx and Fredierich Engels, and what you are most likely aware of, is that Marx and Engels wrote the “Communist Manifesto”. The Manifesto advocated for the creation of a socialist society that would transition into a communist one, and called for united proletarian revolution. Communism would entail very literal, absolute equality; all property being commonly owned, each individual working and being paid according to his own need. No social classes, no currency, no state. At the small, simple age of 13, I was entranced by the idea of a world where equality would be real; I had decided that I was to become a radical Communist, bring glorious proletariat revolution to the decidedly politically moderate Canada, and essentially become a miniature, 5 foot tall, female, Iranian-Canadian Che Guevara. I was decidedly obsessed, and I glorified the concept and some of its key figures: Lenin, Trotsky, Luxembourg, and Castro. On some level, I held the belief that criticisms of communism could only come from the privileged bourgeois, trying to induce a red scare. The fact that Communism was such a taboo only made it more alluring, and it didn’t end with that one book. Some samples of what I came to read include: the original Communist Manifesto, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, select few of Chomsky’s work, and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Of course, at 13 years old, I barely understood what I was reading.
Other factors spurred my intense passion for Communism further; my best friend’s grandparents were real life, Chilean Communists who had been persecuted by Pinochet, who were only happy to repeat their heroic tales of bravery in the face of Fascism. This was also only a year after the Occupy Wall Street Protests had died down. At the same time as my introduction to Marxism, I started to become a Feminist. With that, came the analysis of patriarchy, intersectionality, and oppression in works from authors such as Bell Hooks. The concept of privilege politics was introduced to me via feminist and anti-racist theory. Thus, my very first political beliefs were formed, and “radical” ones at that.
Upon reading the People’s History of the United States, I was appalled by the western world in which I had been brought up in. This too, felt like a form of enlightenment. I couldn’t fathom the horrors of history that had never been addressed, the injustice against indigenous peoples, the whitewashing of our history so as to make us appear to be the ever constant heroes. The anti-communist propaganda brought about in our culture through McCarthyism and the first and second Red Scare, historical events like the banning of the Communist party of Canada made me see that the society we lived in could be just as unjust as those we adored to criticize. I thought I really did have the world entirely figured out at that point; all we had to do was have an inter-sectional, feminist, anti-racist, LGBT inclusive, revolution to destroy Capitalism, Colonialism, and Imperialism!
In the 4 years (wow, it really doesn’t feel that long) since I discovered politics and the political spectrum, I’ve discovered again and again that it’s not as black and white as I once thought. That I was wrong about some things. The dictatorial figures I had felt were unfairly slandered by the West, Mao and Stalin, were discovered upon actually reading into historical accounts to be the murderous, in the case of Stalin, genocidal, cruel, and authoritarian figures they were said to be. After hearing the testimonies of those from Eastern Europe who suffered under Stalin, learning about the long, brutal spectre left by Communism on Eastern Europe, the testimonies of those from China who are still suffering from Mao’s legacy, I knew I could no longer place my ideology on a pedestal of glory. Fidel Castro himself may perhaps be the most morally-grey historical figure I have yet to read about. Turns out no ideology, no country, holds a monopoly on mass murder.
My view of privilege politics has evolved, I have come to view it as too simplistic and western-centric to adequately summarize the oppression of various marginalized groups worldwide, and too often misused. No ill will towards the passionate defendants of course. I can see where it’s coming from, it was my very first introduction to the concept of social justice, and I certainly agree with the basis that certain groups have an advantage over others on a systematic level. I still consider myself a Feminist, but my personal views on feminist issues such as pornography and prostitution have evolved time and time again. Most importantly, I have found that even those on a different side of the political spectrum or debate oftentimes want what they believe to be the best for the world, or if you discuss a concept long enough, you may find the two of you agreeing.
Except Fascists, screw Fascists.
So, how about that for enlightenment. Still, some things stay the same in ways: I hold steadfast that Communism has never been practiced correctly as real Communism is incompatible with the existence of a state, that the system does not necessarily require authoritarianism, and that when it comes to death toll, more so can be attributed to Capitalism than to Communism. That the Western World is still guilty of injustice upon injustice, genocide, exploitation of the “third world”, thriving off the legacy of colonialism, and that Western Imperialism has been responsible for poverty, destabilization, death, and dictatorships worldwide. Most importantly, that Capitalism as a system is unjust, violating the moral principles I hold steadfast that human life and liberty not just takes precedence over profit, but that the concepts of profit, wage labour, private ownership, and the free market is incompatible with the human right to life and liberty. Yet, I know that none of this makes it so that I can cast socialism as the unsung hero of the story.
Quite honestly, left-wing politics and socialism still form the foundation of my viewpoints. What I’m trying to communicate is that what we may initially believe to be enlightenment may evolve, may grow, and that we should never place our so called enlightenment on such a pedestal so as we become blinded to the idea that what we believe may be flawed, or even wrong. So, a note to our dearly departed Plato: There is always more to learn, there is always room for evolution. Even for great, dead, philosophers.
P.S. The comic book/movie adaption of said comic book, Persepolis, is a great non-fiction account of the Iranian Revolution. As well as a beautiful coming of age story!