Leigh Claire La Berge is Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and author of
Every Paw Can Be a Claw: Revolutions with Cats, Revolutions against Capitalism, 1900–2000
Sabo-Tabbies: In which the role of cats in communicating revolutionary thought is considered, from Wobbly Ralph Chaplin’s famous black “sabo-tabby” or sabotage cat to Vladimir Lenin’s use of felines in Materialism and Empirio-criticism; in which Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin discuss imperialism with Luxemburg’s cat, Mimi; and in which “whores and cat-loving communists,” including Luxemburg, are assassinated in Berlin by the proto-fascist Freikorps after the failed revolution of 1918; Lev (Lion) Trotsky is called a tiger; Sergei Eisenstein dots his first feature film, Strike!, with cats.
Black Panthers: After World War II, communist cats and capitalist cats entered both domestic and international politics. At the height of monopoly capital’s Cold War, the police raided the Black Cat gay bar in Los Angeles three years before the famous Stonewall Riots and the CIA launched Operation Acoustic Kitty in which it used microphone-equipped cats to spy on the Soviets. The FBI trained its own focus on the Black Panthers, whose feline message of armed revolt resounded across the United States and indeed the world. As the Panthers called for the replacing of capitalism with an economic system of material and racial equality, neoliberal economists including Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek used their own feline language to insist capitalism must be bolstered and protected.