January 15th, 2010
These days it seems that it is the left which champions smoking bans. I thought I'd see if I could dig up anything about the smoking habits of prominent figures in the Marxist pantheon.
Karl Marx himself was an "excessive" smoker of cigars from his student time until his death. According to Paul Lafargue:
Marx was a heavy smoker. “Capital,” he said to me once, “will not even pay for the cigars I smoked writing it.” But he was still heavier on matches. He so often forgot his pipe or cigar that he emptied an incredible number of boxes of matches in a short time to relight them.
Friedrich Engels, Marx's collaborator, was also a cigar smoker, as he relates in his Letters:
You see, I was painted when I was furious because the cigar would not draw. At that moment I looked so intelligent that the painter [G. W. Feistkorn] implored me to let myself be painted like that. I put aside all the bad cigars and smoked one of the awful things at every sitting. That was the worst torment for me.
Joseph Dietzgen, whom Marx described as the "philosopher of socialism", died at home smoking a cigar. He had taken a stroll in Lincoln Park, and was having a political discussion in a "vivacious and excited" manner about the "imminent collapse of capitalist production". He stopped in mid-sentence with his hand in the air - dead of paralysis of the heart.
Vladimir Lenin is a little ambiguous. In some accounts he was a lifelong non-smoker. But according to Zino Davidoff
At the age of five, Zino and his family fled from the pogroms and reached Geneva in 1911. Here Zino’s father opened a small tobacco shop that rapidly became a popular meeting point for exiled enemies of the tsar.
One of the exiles stuck in the young boy’s memory because he didn’t pay for his cigarettes and his father didn’t dare ask.
“He had a thin face, brilliant eyes, and spoke loudly as he demanded his cardboard-tipped “papirosi” or Russian cigarettes.
His name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who left Zurich in a sealed train in 1917 to return to his homeland, later adopting the name Lenin.
He's also reported to have enjoyed Havana cigars: But he's also reported to have quit smoking and become a hand-waving antismoker;
After quitting smoking, Lenin would theatrically open windows whenever a colleague dared to light up.
Lenin meanwhile seems to have pioneered the non-smoking train: he forced his fellow Bolsheviks to stub out their cigarettes when they travelled in the Sealed carriages from Switzerland to Russia to lead the revolution.
Stalin: is well known as a pipe smoker, but despite his popular image, was not a pipe smoker. He used the pipe only for effect at conference and public appearances. In private, he chained-smoked cigarettes.
As is confirmed in a Talk with Emil Ludwig in 1931
Ludwig: You are smoking a cigarette. Where is your legendary pipe, Mr. Stalin? You once said that words and legends pass, but deeds remain. Now believe me, there are millions of people abroad who do not know about some of your words and deeds, but who do know about your legendary pipe.
Stalin: I left my pipe at home.
Leon Trotsky smoked for some time, before giving up, as emerges from his autobiography
“Give me a cigarette,” I say to Kamenev. (In those years I still smoked, but only spasmodically.)
Elsewhere, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping were also avid smokers:
Both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping were heavy smokers. Mao reported liked foreign 555 cigarettes but also smoked Chinese-made Zhounghua. He brought in hand rollers from Yunnan to work in a special workshop near the Communist Party headquarters. Big Double Nine was Chiang Kai-shek’s favorite cigarette. Zhou Enlai smoked Zhadan.. Deng favored special Chinese-produced Panda cigarettes made from the tips of tobacco leaves that now sell for up to $100 a pack.
Ho Chi Minh too:
Usually Ho Chi Minh dressed in high-necked white garment, called a cu-nao, and wore open-toed rubber sandals. He was a chain-smoker, especially he loved American-made Salems.
Fidel Castro smoked cigars for much of his life, of course. And so did the asthmatic Ernesto Che Guevara:, who claimed smoking helped his asthma during his rather shorter life.
For Ernesto "Che" Guevara, cigar smoking was not a luxury, but very much a part of the business of revolution, a spiritual complement to lessen the hardships of a life filled with difficulties and dangers.
In his writings, he advised guerrilla fighters to include among the few and precious items to carry in their backpack: .... a canteen with fresh water, basic medicines and tobacco, "because a smoke in times of rest is a great companion to the solitary soldier."
Among the intellectuals, Bertholt Brecht smoked, as well as Jean Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir. I couldn't find anything about Antonio Gramsci, but since he argued that US Fordism had a stake in supporting purity movements, such as Prohibition and the regulation of smoking and sexuality, it seems unlikely that he supported the prohibition of alcohol or tobacco. His disciple Saul Alinsky:, who wrote Rules for Radicals, was very definitely a smoker
Even Alinsky's everyday habits and gestures are intended to demonstrate the uses of power. Once, while addressing students at an Eastern college in the campus chapel, he lit up a cigarette. The college president rose to tell him that smoking was not allowed, whereupon Alinsky started to leave. "No smoking, no speech," he announced. The embarrassed president at once relented: though having made his point, Alinsky refrained from smoking.
Alinsky would not have appealed to the Methodism in Hillary [Clinton]‘s personality. He was much too profane, cursing a blue streak, smoking non-stop, and insulting many people who were as earnest as she was.
Herbert Marcuse, author of One-dimensional Man, smoked cigars. Jacques Derrida preferred pipes.
Noam Chomsky, by contrast, would appear to accept every single thing that's ever been said against tobacco, given that he wrote:
The toll of tobacco use, including "passive smokers" who are seriously affected though they do not use tobacco themselves, is truly fearsome, overwhelming the lethal effects of other dangerous substances.
And even regards just about every other drug as less dangerous than tobacco:
So, for example, smoking is far more destructive than drugs by orders of magnitude.
So, where are we? It appears that, apart from Lenin, just about all the major figures in the Marxist pantheon were smokers. And even Lenin is a bit uncertain.
Modern enviro-Marxists would appear to have broken with Marx and Engels and Stalin and most of the rest of the classical Marxists in respect of smoking. What would Marx have made of his modern descendants? Most likely he'd have said: "I am not an antismoking Marxist."
Much the same goes for the Old Labour left in Britain. Prime Minister Clement Attlee was a pipe smoker. As was PM Harold Wilson. And Tony Benn. And Manny Shinwell. And many more. The modern UK antismoking left are a breed apart from both their Old Labour forebears and the Marxist revolutionaries before them.