The Joy of Marxism

The Three Marx GurusI am a Marxist. To the left is a rare photograph of my three principle gurus, Harpo, Groucho, and Chico. Last week at a press conference in New York, the Dalai Lama announced that he, too, was a Marxist. Unfortunately, we’re talking about two different kinds of Marxism.

Frankly, I don’t care if the Dalai Lama is a [Karl] Marxist or not. It’s not going to have much of an impact on the world economy. I don’t see eye to eye with the Dalai Lama on everything, but I think he is a nice guy and just about the only person in the world today consistently giving deep teachings on Madhyamaka philosophy and God love him for it. While I have not been able to find a complete transcript of the press conference, from what I’ve read about it apparently the Dalai Lama did draw a distinction between Marxism and Communism,  for whatever that is worth.

Now, as a True Marxist, I believe that a little socialism is a good thing and that too much capitalism can be bad. After all, as Groucho said, “Money cannot buy you happiness, and happiness cannot buy you money.”

Few are aware that Groucho was a student of Madhyamaka philosophy. Here’s a couple of passages that demonstrate what I mean.  The first comes from Nagarjuna’s Averting the Arguments (translated by JL Garfield):

If I had even one proposition,
It would be just as you have said.
Although if I had a proposition with the characteristic
that you described I would have that fault,
I have no proposition at all.
Thus, since all phenomena are empty,
at peace, by nature isolated, how could there be a proposition?

Groucho, the master philosopher, proclaimed this in Horse Feathers:

I don’t know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I’m against it!
Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood:
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it,
I’m against it!

Both avert every argument. There is essentially no difference between the two, except that Groucho’s verse rhymes. Where Nagarjuna rejects all propositions based on emptiness, Groucho rejects them based on contrariness. But contrariness is merely a state of being that is ultimately empty, so there you are.

Groucho’s sense of space and time is comparable to that of another Buddhist philosopher, Dogen. In Moon in a dewdrop, an anthology of Dogen’s works, Kazuaki Tanahashi writes, “To become familiar with Dogen’s concept of the time-being, we may need to remind ourselves that all phenomena are in motion, and that motion is perceived in relation to time.” He goes on to say that since every motion is relative, motion for one person may be stillness for another, and naturally the opposite would hold true.

There is a scene in Animal Crackers, where Groucho, as Capt. Spaulding, the African explorer, arrives past the time he was expected at the party. Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) is exasperated that her guest of honor is late, and when Groucho does finally make his entrance, it is only to say:

Hello, I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going. I’m glad I came but just the same I must be going. I’ll stay a week or two, I’ll stay the summer through, but I am telling you, I must be going.

From Mrs. Rittenhouse’s perspective, Groucho has just arrived and should be staying, and especially since he is the guest of honor, she expects him to be in motion no longer. However, Groucho’s penetrating insight into space and time and deep compassion compels him to tell his hostess that he is always in motion, and further suggests that time is a continuum not marked by coming and going. In this way, Groucho echoes Dogen’s words: “Should you reckon one-sidedly that time only goes by, you will not comprehend time as something that has not yet arrived.”

I much prefer the Marxism of Harpo, Groucho and Chico, to that of Karl. He had only one good line and that was about religion being the opiate of the people, and no jokes. The Marx Brothers, on the other hand, had plenty of jokes and awfully good lines, such as Chico’s “Mustard’s no good without roast beef,” and Harpo’s immortal “Honk, honk.”

I must also admit that in addition to being a Marxist, I am an Lennonist:

God is a concept by which we measure our pain. I’ll say it again. God is a concept by which we measure our pain.

I’m not sure what Lennon means by that exactly. I don’t know what anyone means. The only thing I know for sure is that everybody’s got something to hide except for me and my monkey.

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