One of my summer reads is Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. The story is quintessential late Twain; brutally ironic social critique. This is Clemens’ coming fully and finally to terms with the slave system he was born into. It has been on my list for a while and it’s a thrill to finally get to it. In the opening pages Twain has this wonderful description of the homes in the story’s fictional Missouri town of Dawson’s Landing:
When there was room on the ledge outside of the pots and boxes for a cat, the cat was there- in sunny weather- stretched at full length, asleep and blissfull, with her furry belly to the sun and a paw curved over her nose. Then the house was complete, and its contentment and peace were made manifest to the world by this symbol, whose testimony is infallible. A home without a cat- and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat- may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?
I grew up with cats and know where of Twain speaks. The furry companions in my life have been amongst the best relationships I’ve had. Lovers may come and go, but cats keep purring. When I walk the street and meet a cat I almost always stop for a chat. With very few exceptions, I’ve never met a cat that I didn’t have a rapport with. I regard them as damned near perfect creatures. As Twain’s Dawson’s Landing cat proves the peace of the home, Twain’s love of cats proves his own abundant humanity in my eyes. Not that it needed much further proof, but as per Twain, this evidence is infallible.
My appreciation, really awe, of the feline has led to my own particular theories about cats; who likes them and who doesn’t and what that might mean. There is something about a cat’s make-up that refuses the role of Master. We talk of a dog’s master, but I’ve never heard one speak of a cat’s master. They have no master and would resist the imposition of one to their last tuna-tinged breathe. Twain again (from “The Refuge of the Derelicts”):
That’s the way with a cat, you know — any cat; they don’t give a damn for discipline. And they can’t help it, they’re made so. But it ain’t really insubordination, when you come to look at it right and fair — it’s a word that don’t apply to a cat. A cat ain’t ever anybody’s slave or serf or servant, and can’t be — it ain’t in him to be. And so, he don’t have to obey anybody. He is the only creature in heaven or earth or anywhere that don’t have to obey somebody or other, including the angels. It sets him above the whole ruck, it puts him in a class by himself. He is independent. You understand the size of it? He is the only independent person there is. In heaven or anywhere else. There’s always somebody a king has to obey — a trollop, or a priest, or a ring, or a nation, or a deity or what not — but it ain’t so with a cat. A cat ain’t servant nor slave to anybody at all. He’s got all the independence there is, in Heaven or anywhere else, there ain’t any left over for anybody else. He’s your friend, if you like, but that’s the limit — equal terms, too, be you king or be you cobbler; you can’t play any I’m-better-than-you on a cat — no, sir! Yes, he’s your friend, if you like, but you got to treat him like a gentleman, there ain’t any other terms. The minute you don’t, he pulls freight.
Which brings me to my theory that in the world of Marxism and pets there exists a rift as wide as that separating the Permanent Revolution and Socialism in One Country. Now this theory is admittedly anecdotal and without a shred of materialism to back it up, but it is my firm belief, after years of observation, that Trotskyists like cats and Maoists like dogs.
This divergence is rooted in the Trot’s insistence on the independence of the class and the Maoist’s advocacy of the cross-class alliance. A dog’s whole life exists in a cross-class alliance and a dog in its natural state exists in a pack with Alphas, Betas, etc. It is tantamount to Mao’s 1949 advocacy of a People’s Democratic Dictatorship while a feline knows only the Dictatorship of the Pussycatiat. Dogs are their Master’s best friend because they are their charge. If it is love, it is the love of a benefactor. When you go for a walk you put a dog on a chain. Try putting a chain on a cat and you’ll assuredly need a band-aid or two. No, a cat “ain’t servant nor slave to anybody at all”.
Most Trotskyists I know have cats and many of them are named for one fallen hero of the class war or another; Rosa and Karl being amongst the most popular. Maoists name their dogs after their own heroes. I remember one member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade had a dog named Chen Boda. Now don’t get me wrong, I like dogs. Though on individual rather than class terms. It takes time for me to warm to a dog while with a cat it comes naturally and quick.
Yes, there are huge holes in my theory and this is why I have never brought it up at a branch meeting for a vote. For example, Trotsky had big, scary dogs in Coyoacán and I have never heard word of Trotsky’s cats (though I understand that a number of cats now roam the grounds of Trotsky’s final home). For a while I confused LT’s guard dogs’ names for the dogs of Robin Masters in Magnum PI; Zeus and Apollo. Now I have forgotten their names altogether. I also knew a professor with a dog named Trotsky, but he was no Trotskyist. Mao and meow is an alliteration, which though it proves nothing, points to possible problems as well.
What is indisputable is that Lenin was a fan of the pussy cat and both Trotskyists and Maoists claim Lenin as their own. It is also indisputable that Lenin rejected the Democratic Dictatorship for the Proletarian one. His appreciation of cats, while this is not proven, may have helped him to this conclusion. During his final convalescence a little purr ball was often curled up on his lap, giving him great comfort, we are sure, even as both his life and the Proletarian Dictatorship slipped away (Stalin, I am confident, was a dog man).
As with Twain, Lenin’s love of cats is testimony, despite the image of Lenin as an unfeeling, granite-chiseled caricature of a statue, of his immense humanity. Holes and all I stand by my theory. A revolutionary without a cat is a sop to the Popular Front. The working class must, like cats, demand its independence. Vivè la Felidae!