This summer, I stumbled across a piece of fan fiction which is a hilarious exploration of how the wizarding world might respond to a communist in their midst. Written in the literary voice of a truly awful fan fiction author, Harry Potter Becomes a Communist nevertheless quite nicely captures the general principles of and relations between most contemporary political positions, especially libertarianism, liberalism, and communism.
Without further ado: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9655837/1/Harry-Potter-Becomes-A-Communist (Fair warning: pervasive language and one somewhat explicit but ironic bit of sex. Also, it’s a slightly lengthy story – but most of this post will make sense even if you don’t read the whole thing. If at all possible, I would suggest getting to at least Chapter 23 (The May Day Special!!) before reading on. Or if that’s too much, Chapter 11)
I would now like to engage in some analysis of this wonderfully silly story. I’ll begin with an outline of a few of the major characters.
Hermione: Hermione represents the most common contemporary manifestation of Leftist politics. She is willing to acknowledge that there are problems associated with capitalism, but believes they are manageable through internal reform and various social programs. In Marx’s view, this will always be insufficient and moderate liberals only serve to perpetuate the fundamental problems associated with capitalism.
Professor McGonagall: McGonagall represents fundamentally the same political position as Hermione, but is also strongly characterized as a racist for reasons which may not be immediately clear. We have not discussed in class how Marxism relates to race, but much of his discussion of religion in On the Jewish Question can be extended to race. In most of the developed world, all races have achieved full political emancipation, but this does not mean that certain racial groups do not experience systemic discrimination. Professor McGonagall refuses to notice these still-existing racist structures (indeed, she entirely dismisses race as a meaningful part of personal identity or a relevant social construction), and thus her persistent assertions that all races have achieved complete emancipation prevent the recognition and destruction of more hidden racial prejudices.
Professor Pepsi: Professor Halliburton Pepsi, named for two of the largest multinational corporations in the world, is the epitome of the capitalist bourgeoisie. Though Dumbledore is the political leader of Hogwarts, Professor Pepsi’s ownership of the means of production means he is the true possessor of political power. This is demonstrated throughout the story, as Dumbledore usually defers to his will. When his philosophy is challenged, Professor Pepsi falls back to two of the most common arguments heard from capitalists, the Without Incentives, Everyone Will Be Lazy argument and the You’re Young and Don’t Yet Understand the World non-argument. (Basically he sounds like my dad)
Dumbledore: Dumbledore’s libertarianism is mostly tangential to the story, but it illustrates the fundamental misunderstanding behind libertarian philosophy (at least from a Marxist perspective). Libertarians and communists begin from the same starting point – a love of and desire for the maximum amount of freedom. Libertarians fail to see, however, that unrestricted ownership of private property ultimately destroys freedom for the vast majority of society.
Harry: Harry is a very amusing but not terribly interesting character. His ridiculously strong and exaggerated convictions and over-the-top, obnoxious behavior lead me to perceive him as a caricature of a hot-headed and reactionary youth who is more interested in rebelling against authority than in truly understanding the philosophy he preaches (though he does seem to have a good grasp of Marx’s ideas).
The author adopts many tongue-in-cheek writing style oddities, some of which I believe are intended as more than just comic relief. For example, swearing is primarily the language of the proletariat, and Harry’s frequent use of expletives can be interpreted as a show of solidarity and a revolt against the oppressive language-policing of the bourgeoisie.
One of the most distinctive hallmarks of the author’s writing style is the creative invention of adverbs, such as proletarianly and capitalisticly. I initially thought this was merely for comedic purposes, but it occurred to me that the author could have intended a deeper significance. Most of the characters are composite figures – that is, they are not humanized and instead represent an abstract political identity which is an amalgam of many individuals. This can be seen as a portrayal of Marx’s idea that our class is ultimately the most significant part of our identity, and drives all of our words and actions. The application of class-denoting adverbs to character’s speech adds no meaningful emotional or narrative information (how, exactly, does one speak “socialistically”?), but serves to reinforce the idea that each character’s speech is primarily generated by their social class.
The author often highly sexualizes female characters in a way that is vaguely disconcerting. Accompanying this tendency is a fairy tale-like proclivity for a female character’s appearance to reflect her character (at least in Harry’s opinion). Given the author’s references to rape culture and other common components of liberal thought, it seems likely that he or she is aware of how problematic these tendencies are. One way to interpret this discrepancy is as a satirical exaggeration of a common fan fiction trope – my limited experience with fan fiction suggests that it tends to be highly sexually-oriented and teeming with an absurd overabundance of attractive people. I believe, however, that two Marxist interpretations may also be possible.
The author may simply be exaggerating the commodification of sex which capitalism inevitably creates. Indeed, Harry seems to explicitly condemn what he sees as capitalist-influenced conceptions of sexuality. There is, however, another more tenuous parallel which can be drawn, relating to Marx’s distinction between political emancipation and human emancipation. In this metaphor, we characterize Harry as “politically emancipated” from his sexuality – that is, he explicitly disavows its importance in his decision-making process and worldview. But his descriptions and language reveal that there are much deeper and more important structures at work (let’s call them collectively the -ahem- Mode of Reproduction), which ultimately drive his actions. Harry’s “political emancipation” from sexuality is at best irrelevant, and at worst, enables him to act in the sexist and superficial manner that he claims (politically) to condemn, just as societal political emancipation ultimately enables inequality and oppression. Obviously, Marx intended only to describe the structure of society rather than individuals, and I’m not trying to suggest that there is any real relation between the two phenomena. It is, however, an interesting analogy.
Despite the protagonist’s beliefs, I do not really see this work as advocating for a communist ideology; Harry’s character is just too exaggerated to be taken seriously. Additionally, there are a few harsh jabs at communist ideas (“False consciousness is when people think communism is bad. Since communism is good, it means they’re obviously insane.”) I suspect the author’s intention is merely to satirize all political positions while simultaneously poking fun at the fan fiction genre (Not being a regular consumer of fan fiction, I suspect I overlooked many of the fan fiction tropes parodied). If the author has a thesis in mind, it seems that it would be related to the lack of real communication between various political factions. The characters often articulate their positions in ways that both highlight their position’s weaknesses and refuse to truly engage with opposing positions, the latter of which seems to be a defining feature of contemporary politics.
Am I finding too much meaning in what was merely intended to be a light-hearted piece of fan fiction? Probably. My initial impression of the work as a brilliant piece of satire has decayed; I no longer discern any real profundity within. Nevertheless, it is clear that the author has a thorough and nuanced understanding of modern political relations, and it’s fun to speculate about possible layers of meaning. In any case, the author has created a thoughtful work of comedy which, even after multiple readings, still causes me to laugh out loud.