Are You a Marxist?


To my shock, dismay, and grief, a leading Shakespeare scholar recently referred to “neo-Marxists” in the English departments of our universities. He wasn’t criticizing such scholars; on the contrary, he called them “men and women of the greatest independence of mind.”

Funny how you can exempt yourself from the crimes of Marxism by adding the prefix neo. A neo-Nazi isn’t usually regarded as a higher life form than a regular old Nazi, but a neo-Marxist is supposed to be unrelated to the folks who gave the world the gulag, the reeducation camp, and the vast boneyards of Siberia, China, and Cambodia.

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What’s more, the original Marx is being honored with a fancy new edition of The Communist Manifesto, which is now 150 years old.

So Marx is good, and neo-Marxists are good. It was just the people who ruled countries in the name of Marx who were bad, you see. They “betrayed” Marx – Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and the rest of those brutes.

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Was there anything about Marx’s ideas that made them especially susceptible to “betrayal”? This is the question you’re not supposed to ask, because the answer is so obvious. When an idea is “betrayed” every single time it’s put into practice, the fault doesn’t lie with the practitioners alone.

There has never been a humane communist regime. Marxism is inherently totalitarian. It recognizes no moral limits on the state. It’s the most convenient ideology for aspiring tyrants; it also retains its appeal for intellectuals, who have proved equally skillful at rationalizing abuses of power and at exculpating themselves.

If the tyrants had really “betrayed” Marx, you’d expect the true-blue Marxists to be nervously vigilant against pseudo-Marxist despots. But they never are. They are always willing to trust every new ruler who acts in the holy name of Marxism.

The most successful ideology of the 20th century denied any divine element in man or the universe warranting modesty in the state. That meant the end of privacy. People were punished for their thoughts – even thoughts they hadn’t had yet, but which the Marxist rulers could predict they would have because of their class membership. (“Scientific” socialism didn’t have to wait until they had really committed crimes, not even thought-crimes.)

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Joseph Sobran (1946–2010), conservative turned libertarian, was one of the most significant American writers of his time. See his website and his intellectual journey.