Why the Left Loves Marx and Ignores Douglass
Two hundred years have passed since Karl Marx and Frederick Douglass, a pair of important 19th-century historical figures, were born. Marx's collectivist ideas are surging among America's young, while Douglass, a champion of civil rights and the first black man to receive a nominating vote for president of the United States, sits largely unnoticed in pop culture. The admiration lavished on Marx – whose communist ideology has led to hunger, misery, and tyranny wherever it has been implemented – should be accorded to Douglass, an iconic American scion of liberty.
Marx was born May 5, 1818 to a middle-class family in the old Germanic kingdom of Prussia. His father was an attorney, and his mother came from a prosperous business family. Marx grew up in a ten-room home, received a private education, and married a wealthy heiress. He never held a real job, living off his benefactors (those being his wife Jenny, writing partner Friedrich Engels, and wealthy uncle Benjamin Philips). Despite residing in posh European capitals, Marx raised his family in a dirty flat, languishing in poverty until he died of pleurisy in 1883. His governmental and economic theories, published in his books Manifesto of the Communist Party and Das Kapital, were not broadly adopted during his lifetime.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland, likely in February 1818; because of scanty birth records, he did not know the exact date. He never knew his father, and his mother died sometime in the 1820s. Douglass had no formal education, and his mistress was excoriated by his slavemaster for teaching him to read. He experienced extreme deprivation, abandonment, hunger, beatings, false imprisonment, betrayal, and dehumanization until he completed a fantastic escape from bondage on September 3, 1838. Douglass eked out a living as a day laborer and was a fugitive until the mid-1840s, when sympathetic British supporters purchased his freedom. Thereafter, Douglass grew into the most prominent antebellum abolitionist orator, met thrice with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, published three widely read autobiographies, and received federal appointments as marshal of the District of Columbia and ambassador to Haiti. In spite of his achievements, Douglass faced ridicule and racism from his opponents until his death in 1895.
Despite these résumés, the modern left, with its mainstream media mouthpiece, lionizes Marx and engages in willful blindness of Douglass. How is it that the smart set in our country today largely ignores the life lessons of a self-made ex-slave who rose to the height of international acclaim while glorifying the teachings of an obscure, slovenly grifter who left his offspring impoverished?
The left abhors the concept of republicanism, so it is easy for leftists to praise Marx, who did not subscribe to republican governing principles. Furthermore, as a European, Marx had nothing to do with the Republican Party. As feckless as the GOP has been in many eras of its existence, of the two major American parties, the Republicans have been better than the Democrats regarding the historical advance of freedom and representation. In Douglass's day, they were the anti-slavery party and were in favor of civil rights and the nascent women's suffrage movement. The left cannot permit any recitation of these facts, and, because Democrat journalists significantly outnumber Republicans, the media bury this information. To be a Republican today means constant media antipathy unless one is willing to criticize other Republicans. It would thus be quite inconvenient for America's journalistic Jacobins to praise Frederick Douglass – having grown up a slave under a tyrannical Democratic regime in the 1820s and 1830s – who explicitly labeled the Democrats the enemy of black Americans:
There was no path out of the Republican Party that did not lead directly into the Democratic Party – away from our friends and directly to our enemies.
I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.
Leftists romanticize violent agitators and are enamored of pie-in-the-sky utopianism, so they exalt Marx – a dreamer who advocated the use of force to create his socialist nirvana. As he wrote:
There is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.
The left must be reluctant to acknowledge Douglass in this regard because he shunned "revolutionary terror." Douglass declined when John Brown invited him to participate in his raid on the federal armory in 1859; thus, he lived to fight the political battle against slavery while Brown was captured and executed. He spent his post-Civil War career promoting the constitutional principles that "man's rights rest in three boxes ... the ballot box, jury box, and the cartridge box," yet Douglass was circumspect about government interventionism to address the problems of the freedmen. In 1865, Douglass proclaimed:
What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice[.] ... Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, "What shall we do with the Negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us[.] ... [I]f the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!
The modern left rails against the "1 percent" and uses taxation to confiscate the private property of individuals for collectivist ends. This amounts to legalized theft – a soft form of slavery in which the output of one man's labor is legally taken from him for consumption by another. The use of government force to impose this seizure of economic liberty would be fine and dandy with Marx, whose "theory ... may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property."[i] Douglass as a bondsman had the fruit of his labors stolen from him with legal imprimatur, until he managed to reach free soil. Taking his first job as a free man, Douglass described the joy of keeping his own pay:
[T]he dear lady put into my hand two silver half-dollars. To understand the emotion which swelled my heart as I clasped this money, realizing that I had no master who could take it from me – that it was mine – that my hands were my own, and could earn more of the precious coin – one must have been in some sense himself a slave.[ii]
Finally, and most potently, the left cannot possibly tolerate raising awareness of the man for whom H.R. 2989 was signed into law. Not only does this 2017 act intend to bring the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass to the fore, but it was authorized by leftists' most hated enemy in presidential history: Donald Trump. The left cannot allow the American people to positively associate President Trump with an entrepreneurial, free-thinking black civil rights hero. Instead, they uplift Marxist acolytes like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and publish puff pieces on the old wannabe despot (such as fashion magazine Teen Vogue's glowing profile) in order to keep the grubby Karl Marx in the limelight.
John Steinreich has an M.A. in Church history from Colorado Theological Seminary. He has authored two Christian-themed books available on Kindle: The Words of God? and A Great Cloud of Witnesses. His works are also on Lulu Press. He is currently developing a stage production on the life of Frederick Douglass: www.facebook.com/freementheater.