Embracing the Red Scare: A Guide to a Socialist Halloween

Happy Halloween, Comrades! We would like to issue the following public service announcement:

Please be careful in trick-or-treating, dressing up, and associating with ghosts and ghouls this holiday. We have been warned that Marxist theory may be hidden in your child’s chocolate bar and that your unsuspecting friend’s costumes may include subliminal messages displaying communist sympathies. Please stay safe, keep your eyes peeled, and if you feel at all tempted or drawn into the leftism on display this Halloween, report to your local YDSA chapter.

The Activist Editorial Board has compiled a guide to understanding the socialist theory on display in the monsters and spirits of Halloween!

Witches as Resistors: Federici’s Feminist Socialism

Witch hunts have come to be understood as devices of the patriarchy used to condemn, torture, and brutally murder women who resisted misogynistic oppression. Silvia Federici, a feminist Marxist scholar, has written extensively about witch hunting in medieval Europe as a specifically capitalist venture that sought to dispossess women of any power over their labor.

During the transition between a feudal and capitalist economy, women who refused to conform to their newly imposed role as mere vehicles of reproduction confined to the domestic sphere were seen as threats. In order for capitalism to be successful, the realms of reproduction (i.e. population growth) and production (i.e. of material goods, capital) had to be separated just as workers had to be from the products of their labor. Women who provided services related to abortion, contraception, or birthing were frequently deemed witches because they threatened men’s control over their wives as reproductive devices.

Federici compares women’s bodies to factories; both sites of exploitation in this patriarchal capitalist system. This is no less relevant today in the wake of Roe V. Wade’s upheaval and amidst the anti-trans legislation being passed by fundamentalists. This Halloween, embrace your witchy feminist queer anti-capitalist selves! 

The Capitalist in Dracula

The notorious Count Dracula was originally inspired by Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century Wallachian aristocrat. However, the modern story we retell is much more tied to the financialization and industrialization of 19th century Europe than any royal or aristocratic precedent. Dracula, although a count, is frugal and accumulative. The Italian literary critic Franco Moretti argues in the Dialectic of Fear that—in seeking constant survival (not enjoyment) through the exploitation of others livelihood—Dracula embodies capitalist impulses of self-perpetuation without reason, expenditure, or outlet (a twisted asceticism described in Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic).

In Stoker’s text, Jonathan Harker notices that Dracula’s castle is entirely bare of opulence, furniture, servants, bare except for massive piles of coins and gold. This wealth prompts the whole of the novel, as Jonathan is tasked with establishing Dracula’s trust and wealth transfer to London. Bloodsucking and exploitation have left Dracula enormously wealthy and powerful, but without friends, culture, or meaning beyond the continuous act of gross accumulation.

Marx, too, invokes the metaphor of vampire in Capital; he writes “capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” The undead threat of capital outlives any individual human, instead a permanent process and system of accumulation that requires constant new blood and sacrifice of humanity for its continuation.

The vampire hunters in Dracula, despite their fight against the capitalist vampire, are not socialist revolutionaries. Moretti lays out the case that their opposition is rooted in mixed ideologies of traditionalism, British nationalism, and inter-capitalist competition for ownership of land and political power. The cast of characters is made up of British Aristocrats, a wealthy Texan adventure seeker, and a financier. Socialists must build their own opposition to both parties of capital and aristocracy. This Halloween, discover what it means to be an anti-capitalist vampire hunter!

A Frankenstein of the Proletariat

Frankenstein’s creature, a flesh-amalgam so abominable its creator found it necessary to prosecute it upon birth. Dr.Victor Frankenstein, a bonafide grave-digging bourgeois anatomist, who of course is the one who would construct his unfortunate namesake. David McNally in his “Monsters of the Market” locates this monstrous relationship within British working-class history.

For capitalist relations to develop, they must disintegrate customary ties between peoples, while at the same time, transfiguring social relations at a human cost. As market relations developed in Britain, so did the criminally poor. Criminals of infinitesimally petty theft earned hanging at gallows in droves. Their lifeless bodies were bought by hungry Enlightenment anatomists. In their craze, not even final resting places were honored as this “corpse-economy” began to emerge. It’s this configuration that Frankenstein was written against. Mary Shelly grew up within earshot of the gallows and was a frequent visitor to her mother’s grave throughout her life. 

In addition, Mary Shelly’s parents and lover were all literary radicals. The Jacobins, Luddites, and Irish rebels inspired Shelly’s writing. The psychoses of the Doctor and his Creature are in fact a microcosm of our fractured society. The great alienating pain that Victor feels after the death of his mother eventually motivates his robbery of human graves and meshing their remains with animal parts. The clarion call of wealth and individual accomplishment distorts Victor’s personality into something monstrous. In the end, what he creates is a hideous conglomeration of bodies, whose birth he flees from. The Creature’s pleas for social connection and the recognition of commonality are curbed at every step by its creator in a relationship of intensifying violence, a “dialectic of monstrosity, violence and oppression.”

However, we can’t forget how the story of Frankenstein ends. Victor Frankenstein seeks out the Arctic to finally escape his creation, yet finds himself dying on a ship also facing calamity. On the course to the North pole, conditions begin to dramatically worsen and Victor catches a fatal case of pneumonia. When the sailors’ pleas to reverse course go unheard by the captain, the crew threatens mutiny. He is forced to acquiesce in the face of this collective strength. McNally interprets this aversion to social disaster as a promotion of  class compromise. However, in a world marred by increasing violence and global disaster, our answer must be democratic collective action to immediately change course.