Dominic Sandbrook writes:
In many ways, the story of the 20th century was that of Marxism in action.
From the Russian Revolution in 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, one regime after another tried to put his revolutionary ideas into practice.
Venezuela still is!
Capitalism, Marx argued, was destined to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
Instead of bringing prosperity for all, economic growth would only widen the gap between a tiny, greedy elite and a huge, downtrodden and increasingly resentful majority.
Eventually, the working class, encouraged by a revolutionary vanguard, would seize the means of production in a violent uprising.
Then, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, human history would move into an entirely new age: no individual wealth, no class distinctions or economic ones. Mankind would have reached the promised land of communism.
So, how did Marx’s vision work out? Well, the death toll speaks for itself. In the Soviet Union alone, his disciple Stalin killed perhaps 12 million people.
In China, Chairman Mao killed even more. Many experts think that, during his purges, collectivisations and massacres in the Fifties and Sixties, 45 million people lost their lives.
In the most chilling example of all, Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge attempted to create a Marxist utopia overnight.
They forced the entire population of Cambodia’s cities into the countryside, killed every teacher, merchant and member of the middle-class and even murdered people for wearing glasses.
In their pursuit of Marx’s dream, the Khmer Rouge banned private property. Cambodians were limited to the ownership of a single spoon, but they had to eat communally.
Picking wild berries, for example, was seen as private enterprise, punishable by death.
But all those regimes just did it wrong. They should have been allowed two spoons, not one!
The idea they were all guilty of some dreadful misunderstanding, and were not true Marxists at all, strikes me as ludicrous.
The best example is Stalin. As the U.S. historian Stephen Kotkin has shown, the Soviet dictator was not a monster who happened to be a Marxist. He was a monster because he was a Marxist.
As a young man, Stalin studied Marx’s theories with obsessive dedication. Then, after winning power, he put them into practice.
Stalin did not kill millions of his own people because he was mad. He did it because he believed Marx’s theories required it.
He thought their deaths were a price worth paying for the collectivisation of agriculture, the end of private farms and the coming of a socialist society.
Life and liberty means nothing under Marxism.
In fact, violence had formed part of Marx’s worldview from the very beginning.
‘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,’ wrote Marx in 1848, ‘and that way is revolutionary terror’.
Here is Marx a year later, addressing his conservative adversaries: ‘We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you,’ he writes. ‘When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.’
The truth is that Marx’s vision was inherently violent. How could it be otherwise? How, without bloodshed, would you get your revolution? How would you abolish private property?
No country I know of has ever voted to abolish private property. It only happens via force.
Here is a crucial distinction between Marxism — which is often called a ‘political religion’ — and genuine religions.
Christianity, for example, abjures violence and Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek.
But Marxism is violent by definition. If Marxists turned the other cheek, they would never get their revolution.
The other difference is that most religions venerate the individual.
In Judaism and Christianity, the wellsprings of mainstream Western politics, individual life is sacred, because man is made in God’s image.
But, for Marxists, the individual is irrelevant. Man is merely the servant of history. All that matters is the collective, the grand sweep.
And if that means some people — Russian landowners, Chinese merchants, Cambodian teachers, Cuban dissidents — end up in mass graves, prison camps or psychiatric hospitals, that is just their tough luck.
A good contrast on the differences.
I understand why people still read Marx and why they take him seriously. What I will never understand, though, is why people put him on a pedestal, grovelling before his statue like worshippers in some weird cult.
How, for example, can Labour’s John McDonnell seriously think that Marx, a man born in 1818, has the answers to the problems confronting Britain in 2018?
And how can people ignore the damning evidence of the crimes committed in his name?
Good questions. Maybe a former President of the IUSY could answer them!