Of Marx and Men
Election 2012 is shaping up to be the most clearly defined clash of political ideologies since FDR's New Deal. The heart of the matter is the long-overdue awakening of a slumbering majority of constitutional traditionalists. This awakening has been triggered by a surge of authoritarian socialism, or more accurately, cultural Marxism advocated by a radical Obama administration to fashion a "fundamentally transformed" America.
If the 2008 election was about dumping free-market capitalism and America's constitutional liberties for a nascent Marxist police state, probably not too many people understood the issue. The 2012 election will be about ratifying or rescinding that choice, hopefully, without ambiguity. What's at stake is the preservation of America's unique ethos of creative individual liberty or a continuation of our accelerating descent into a coercive statist regime derivative of Marx.
Given Marxism's deadly history, it's stunning to realize that an increasingly aggressive constituency for such a dismally failed experiment exists, albeit traveling lightly concealed in its various postmodernist disguises. It's even more astonishing when you realize what an ill-conceived piece of nonsense the Marx-Engels Communist Manifesto actually is.
Under the circumstances, a brief look at the Manifesto and the two men, Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), who wrote it, seems worthwhile in the context of November's epochal election. As Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Despite a legacy of some two hundred million (and counting) deaths in his name, Marx remains the godfather of the left. Such perverse idolatry is perhaps symptomatic of the left's pathological lust for power to reshape the world into a "heaven on earth." Mass genocides in the name of "social justice" could come only from a seriously warped ideology.
To know Marx is to know the contemporary left as well. Both rest on duplicity, hypocrisy, and nihilism.
Ostensibly, Marx was filled with compassion for the proletariat and dedicated himself to its liberation from bourgeois exploitation. Tellingly, however, Marx's relationship with the proletariat was sterile and distant: "[Marx] was totally and incorrigibly deskbound ... and so far as we know [he] never set foot in a mill, factory, mine or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life" (1).
It's argued here that Marx's obsession with fomenting revolution can be seen not as a matter of compassion for the proletariat, but as a self-aggrandizing nihilism. Marx was fixated on revolution and the power he might inherit from it. The proletariat was a nascent force which could be marshaled to avenge Marx's personal grievances against a "world" in which he was a misfit.
For neither Lenin nor Marx was the revolution the answer to the question: what can be done for the proletariat? Rather the proletariat was the answer to the question: what can be done for the revolution? (2)
At age twenty-five, German-born Marx, a recent Ph.D., was denied a coveted teaching post at Bonn University by Prussian authorities. Soon after, Marx was exiled to Paris for his subsequently seditious writings as an erstwhile journalist. In the (1848) revolutionary climate of the times, Prussian authorities had little patience with radicals such as the young Marx had become during his time at university.
In Paris Marx met Engels, a fellow German exile, who shared Marx's passion for revolution. The two soon collaborated on the writing of the now-infamous Communist Manifesto. Engels also became Marx's enabler, even to the extent of financially supporting him and his family until Marx's death some four decades later.
Of the two men, only Engels' heart seems to have been in the right place insofar as the proletariat was concerned.
Over his entire life, Marx proved incapable of earning a living on his own. Marx's unwillingness to work forced his wife and six children to live in penury despite Engels' limited support. Three of those children died in early childhood, and two others committed suicide as young adults. The once-beautiful and aristocratic Jenny, Marx's wife, eventually died a haggard and broken woman.
Marx even rejected his mother when she, at last, refused to send him more money. He did not trouble himself to attend his father's funeral and shunned his adult siblings who had no material wealth to give him. Marx likewise refused to acknowledge paternity of a son born to him by his unpaid servant-housemaid. Marx persuaded his long-suffering enabler Engels to claim paternity (3). Such was Engels' misplaced commitment to free Marx to finish Capital -- which a procrastinating Marx never did. That burden also fell to Engels after Marx's death.
The Communist Manifesto
Though the writing of Capital consumed most of Marx's adult life, its worldly impact has been minor compared to The Communist Manifesto, a twelve-thousand word pamphlet written years earlier and completed in a matter of weeks. Written when Marx was twenty-nine and Engels twenty-seven, the Manifesto reflects a malign mix of idealistic fervor, disambiguation, and implausible assumptions for which the world has paid dearly.
The Manifesto rests on Marx's simplistic postulate that West European society then consisted of two mutually antagonistic classes of people: an exploited proletariat and the bourgeoisie as a venal class of selfish manufacturers and industrialists. Marx's over-simplified duality -- a hallmark of leftist ideology -- was based not on his witness, but on his arbitrary dialectic construct, the resolution of which, according to Marx, called for not a rational Hegelian synthesis, but violent revolution.
Nihilistic humors have always been present in the radical character. The revolutionary will ... involves a passion for destruction[.] But how could a responsible intellect ignore the destructive implications of such an attitude? (4)
Marx disingenuously asserted that a benevolent "dictatorship of the proletariat" would coalesce from the revolutionary ruins, function as if populated by saints for an indeterminate period, and eventually just "wither away," as Engels lamely offered. Leaving what in its wake neither Marx nor Engels ever explained. "Marx did not go into depth in terms of what this [dictatorship] would look like, presumably because he didn't know either[.]"
"This Marxist interpretation of history, with its final utopian-apocalyptic vision, has been criticized in the noncommunist world as historically inaccurate, scientifically untenable and logically absurd." Indeed.
And there's no reason for anyone to expect that any dictatorship would be benevolent. If Marx did not bother to understand this, his disciple Lenin certainly did:
Dictatorship is power directly based on violence and is constrained by no law. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is power acquired and kept by means of violence ... power unconstrained by any laws. (5)
Muravchik cites anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1817-1876), one of Marx's revolutionary contemporaries:
With remarkable prescience, [Bakunin] argued that only tyranny would result from the political revolution that Marx advocated: 'The so-called people's state will be nothing other than the quite despotic administration of the masses of the people by a new and very [restricted] aristocracy[.]' (6)
Marx and His Demon
Marx was unquestionably brilliant, but that fact doesn't certify wisdom or even rational behavior. Both Marx and his father Heinrich recognized a "demon" of ambition that drove Karl. In a March 2, 1837 letter to his son, the elder Marx wrote "And since [your] heart is obviously animated and governed by a demon not granted to all men, is that demon heavenly or Faustian?"
One answer came from Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), an Italian revolutionary and a contemporary of Marx, who once described him as "a destructive spirit whose heart was filled with hatred rather than love of mankind ... [and whose] overriding characteristic is boundless ambition and thirst for power[.]"
From a contemporary perspective, it would seem that Marx's "demon of ambition" was the manifestation of a narcissistic personality.
Marx was notorious for his rages at meetings attended by actual socialist proletarians, who were "anxious to transform society but moderate about the practical steps to this end [and they] did not share Marx's apocalyptic visions" (7). Marx was contemptuous of such actual proletarians, whom he and Engels would refer to as "ignorant curs" and "jackasses" (8).
[Men] with actual experience of factory conditions tended to be anti-violence [and were] skeptical about the apocalyptic revolution [Marx] claimed was not only necessary but inevitable. Some of Marx's most venomous assaults were directed against men of this type. (9)
"The aggression resulting from thwarted narcissism is gratified when projected onto a devalued minority[.]"
Such insights into Marx's character suggest that the self-obsessed Marx's focus on the proletariat was a matter of projection rather than compassion, which he obviously lacked.
Authoritarian collectivism (née Marxism) endures as much as a secular religious faith as it does as a dismally failed socio-economic system. "Consider the millions of people who were killed by Stalin and Mao: although these tyrants paid lip service to rationality, communism was little more than a political religion" (10). The "church" of this gnostic faith thrives embedded in our schools, universities, news media, and the communications and entertainment industries, which sermonize and proselytize relentlessly to mostly captive audiences.
For the past fifty years, collectivist forces ("missionaries") have been at work in America under the rubric of Critical Theory. America has been subversively conditioned into becoming another USSR lacking only a slick Svengali to charm the masses into acceptance. We now have an Obama presidency which has begun to smell of imperialism, if not nascent dictatorship.
It is imperative that the 2012 election be the start of a committed return to rationalism and the constitutional guarantees of individual liberty on which America was founded. Our constitutional protections from bullying government now are under assault. Tyranny waits in the wings.
In paraphrase of the closing words of Marx's Manifesto: Conservatives of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but the coming chains of a Fundamentally Transformed America!
1. Johnson, Paul, Intellectuals ,Harper Perennial, 1990, 60
2. Muravchik, Joshua, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, Encounter, San Fran., 2002, 114
3. Johnson, Ibid., 80
4. Horowitz, David H., The Politics of Bad Faith, The Free Press, NY, 1998, 29
5. Revel, Jean-Francois, Last Exit to Utopia, Encounter Books, NY, 2000, 106
6. Muravchik, Ibid., 87
7. Johnson, Ibid., 60
8. Muravchik, Ibid., 76
9. Johnson, Ibid., 61
10. Harris, Sam, The End of Faith, Norton, NY, 2004, 79.