In 1818 Karl Marx was born and Mary Shelley wrote her novel “Frankenstein.” This was no coincidence, writes Russian-American scholar Vadislav (George) Krasnov in his collected essays “From the East To the West.” It was fate.
The pair helped usher in and embodied the romantic era that assumed all possibilities in an uncertain world. Just listen to your inner voice and follow its dictates to the paradise awaiting you. Appropriately, both were aspiring poets of some invention, but their voices led them in unexpected directions, a romantic reverse.
The wife of major romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary at 19 decided to write a ghost story about a Dr. Frankenstein who succeeded in bringing a dead body to life – monstrous life, as it turned out and despite his best intentions, enourmously destructive. That is how he has come down through the generations, the epitome of evil in contrast to the uplifting verse of Percy .
The young Marx revered Percy and imitated him. We don’t know if he read Frankenstein, but an early poem is suggestive:
“With disdain I will throw my gauntlet
Full in the face of the world
And see the collapse of this pigmy giant
Whose fall will not stifle my ardour.
Then I will wander godlike and victorious
Through the ruins of the world,
And giving my words an active force
I will be equal to the creator.”
Ten tears later, Marx produced the Communist Manifesto, which came close to remaking the world. Marx had found his calling and it wasn’t poetry. But would it have been possible without the poetry? Krasnov writes: “Unlke Frankenstein, Marx went in the direction of not animating a single human corpse but aiming at the creation of a totally new mankind.”
Dr. Frankenstein was appalled at the monster he had created and tried unsuccessfully to make him lifeless again. Krasnov thinks Marx, too, would have been revulsed by the monster Communism created in his name in Russia. And it couldn’t be undone, at least not for seventy-five years.
Krasnov writes admiringly of the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose life of grim hardship under Stalinist rule was the opposite of romantic. Yet through his writings about the suffering of millions in Soviet labor camps he was able to contribute significantly to the removal of that beast. It can be done.