DIALOGUES IN THE BRITISH LIBRARY
by R. A. Bolden
Karl Marx sat at the desk he usually occupied in the British Library. He removed the oval-shaped glasses that lived on his large Germanic nose and said to me, 'Frederick.'
I looked up from my writings, quite used to his annoying little interruptions.
'What separates man from animals is what man produces,' he said. 'For example we can't take an ape seriously if he just uses a rock to open nuts, but when he attaches a handle to the rock with a piece of vine or something to produce a hammer-like tool, then we can take him seriously.'
'That's absurd,' I said. 'Imagine an ape making a hammer.'
'Don't you see, at that point the inventor has a technological advantage over the other apes. He can gather more nuts more efficiently, thus having more food and a better lifestyle. He'll be able to attract a more suitable mate. With this invention, he becomes the ruling class.'
I thought about what he said. I'd known him since our days together in Paris and the idea didn't seem that far fetched to me. So I asked him, 'What would the ape do when another ape copies his hammer or invents a better one?'
Marx took out his stained yellow handkerchief and blew his nose into it like a honking goose. The librarian was looking at him again. She didn't like Germans. She even said so until Marx pointed out to her that the Royal Family was German. She turned her back and walked away saying, 'Well,' in a most disgusted manner.
Ever since then she eyed them suspiciously. Now she was looking in their direction talking to a colleague who was wagging her head in rhythm to what the librarian said.
Marx finished cleaning his nose and played with the handkerchief, which I might add carried on it, the symbol of the Free University in Berlin where Marx had studied. It was the remnant of a cloth napkin he'd stolen from a commemorative dinner for his old professor Hegel. He had it cut into pieces, the borders sewn and now he used it to wipe his nose.
Once I asked him about it and he said, 'When Hegel died his followers disbanded forming a group called the Young Hegelians who were left with their teacher's thoughts about man being able to be free within the confines of civil society. Of course, each of his students had his own ideas about man and freedom. However, most chose to follow that pretender Feuerbach who never realized that man needs an ideology to be free.' From that moment on, I knew Marx thought man could only be free with a German ideology and he intended on giving the world one.
By now the ritualistic nose blowing was over and Marx had folded and stuffed the over-used handkerchief back into his coat pocket and said, 'Yes, where were we, the apes and the hammer wasn't it.'
'In the state of nature in which the ape obviously lives, the wife and children are slaves of the husband.'
'What has that got to do with the hammer?' I asked.
'I'm going too fast for you Frederick. I'll go back a few steps. Having you around helps me keep things simple. If another ape copies his hammer, we have competition, which will probably descend quickly into war as Machiavelli predicted.'
'I agree with that,' I said, holding my anger.
Marx held up his hand to interrupt me. 'Let's assume there's another scenario. Let's assume the others don't copy his hammer but somehow show subservience to the inventor.'
I cleared my throat. I had him now. 'It's a bit much for a bunch of apes to acquiesce into a state of co-operation. Next you'll be saying this co-operation was the general will.'
Marx raised a buttock, farted loudly and scratched his crotch. He'd taken to using the English and said, 'Easy,' instead of excusing himself. 'I know this may be a bit much for you to comprehend; but humor me my dear friend. As I said earlier about the apes living in the state of nature and the wife and children being slaves of the husband, here we see the first signs of a division of labor. He assigns tasks to them to help produce the hammers.'
'That's it,' I cried.
'The solution to my thesis,' I said.
'What thesis? You never told me you were working on a thesis.'
'My notes,' I said.
'Those are nothing. They're just the ramblings of an inferior intellect.'
'No,' I said proudly. 'Now they're not, because I found the key to bring it all together. The division of labor is what alienates men from their lives. The proletariat works to get food then must work again to get more food, whereas the capitalist uses capital to buy work to get more capital. It's this class division that alienates the proletariat from his political life because he's forced to work on the production line doing the same old thing day in and day out for the duration of his existence with no time for political activism. And it's all here in my manifesto.'
'Your manifesto,' he said mockingly. 'Look everybody the little man has got a manifesto.' Marx stood up. 'You've been stealing my ideas,' he declared. 'Give me that.' He grabbed the paperwork out of my hands and proceeded to read the title aloud.
I tried to take it back but he moved away.
'This is my work,' he said.
'No, it's mine,' I replied.
'It's mine,' he said. 'You've been sitting here scribbling down my thought experiments like an amanuensis, compiling them into your own personal dissertation. Haven't you?'
'Give it back to me,' I said, holding out my hand.
'No chance, you've stolen my work.'
Rage engulfed me. I'd spent the best part of two years compiling those notes, writing by candlelight until my eyes hurt. I dived at him striking him across the mouth with my fist. He fell to the floor, but recovered quickly, kicking me in the groin. I groaned, my vision blurred, but I was motivated by my work, so I struck out again and missed. I saw him getting up. I lunged at him as the librarian stepped between us with a cane. I moved too slowly as it came down on the side of my head.
I awoke in a cell in Pentonville Prison. Despair was my only friend, as the smell of faeces and human sweat filled my nostrils. I realized the feel of those worn pages was lost. My thoughts equating a man's social obligations to his political destiny emerging as one body politic were now gone. The thief had stolen my life.
I felt violated. My work was the thing that mattered most to me. My work was my art. It was my food and drink. I craved it like some men wanted sex. My thesis would make the world a place where men thought of the welfare of other men and women regardless of race, or creed or religious baggage without the drive to profit from the needs of one another.
The cage door opened. An officer motioned me to come out. He told me I had been given Police bail. The librarian had spoken up for me saying this sort of behavior was not the norm. I was ordered to appear at court in two weeks time.
I walked into the daylight and there stood Marx. 'Now that's settled,' he said. 'I've made a new title for your little paper.'
I read, 'Capital by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.'
'Do you agree?'
'I agree,' I said, and shook his hand.
RAUF BOLDEN is an American born in Colorado. He studied languages at University where he became a polyglot speaking German, French and Dutch. As a yacht master, he spent twenty years sailing more than 100,000 nautical miles while circumnavigating the planet with his wife Jeannette Dean, an internationally known sailor and writer. They plan to sail around the world again being very much in love while continuing to write fiction and feature articles. Their motto for life is, "Never Ever Give Up.”