I know that the states that have called themselves Marxist have historically been brutal, bloody, unjust, and all but unworkable. I also don’t have strong opinions about Marx’s economic analyses and predictions, since although I have some familiarity with them, I don’t have the expertise to evaluate them intelligently.
When I look at the life of Marx, though, and the lives of some who followed him, like Lenin, one thing especially stands out to me, and that is what we might call the intellectually activist character of their labours.
I have to admit that I am amazed by the industriousness with which these thinkers committed themselves to learning and understanding, and on the flip side, to political action and organization. They worked feverishly, tirelessly, and there are times when I admire that quality about them.
I don’t think that most of us really ought to spend all of our time and our energy striving to change the way society is structured. A major part of our effort should go toward shaping ourselves into someone good, and forming a family, a community, investing in it and enjoying it.
And yet, something in me can’t help but believe that there is a time for trying to make the world a better place, in big ways, as well. There is a time for people like the abolitionists, let’s say for example. There’s something of that character in all of us, to one degree or another. And a great many of us never tap into it, certainly not after our mid-twenties or so.
We can look at the world around us, and we will see many examples of injustice, of unjust systems that are direly in need of reform or rebirth.
We won’t know how to fix them, at first, even if some of us might be tempted to assume straight away that we will. Thus the need for a disciplined and fervent study of the problem and the related issues.
And even once we think we have some sense of what needs to be done, it won’t be clear how someone like you or me can make a difference. And indeed, at first we probably won’t be able to do anything of worth. We’ll need to perfect our hearts and minds and bodies for the job. We’ll need to cultivate a network of people who might be able to help us. We’ll need to perform the actions that might make a difference again and again, let them accumulate, let our skill grow, give more and more opportunities for our efforts to catch hold.
This isn’t the only thing we should be doing with our lives, but it is a good thing to do.
And it’s possible. We can find examples of it from history. For that, if for nothing else, we can thank people like Marx and his followers.
3 Replies to “What’s Fascinating About Marx and Marxists”
You comment about Marx and Marxists:
”I have to admit that I am amazed by the industriousness with which these thinkers committed themselves to learning and understanding, and on the flip side, to political action and organization. They worked feverishly, tirelessly, and there are times when I admire that quality about them.”
This reminds me of these lines from the poem by WB Yeats ‘The Second Coming’
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Probably because the best are busily living lives, as you suggest ‘…shaping ourselves into someone good, and forming a family, a community, investing in it and enjoying it.’ While the worst see it as their task to change the world according to some ideological vision they have.
Marxism as such is not designed to make the world a better place. It is designed to make the world hell, as is clear from Karl Marx’s poem ‘Invocation of One in Despair’. It has been remarkably successful in that endeavour.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Willem. I never would have thought to connect this pattern with those Yeats lines, but I can definitely see the logic. I’m not so sure that Marx’s poem should be read as straightforwardly as many are tempted to do; it’s clear to me that there’s at least a good dollop of irony in the poem and probably more complexities besides. My own view is that Marx was, at worst, a well-intentioned fool with several prominent personal vices. Marx fought for some commendable causes during his life, and there are strong reasons for believing that he would not have endorsed Stalin’s or even Lenin’s approach to communism. Those are facts that I don’t want to set aside lightly. Still, with that said, I have a feeling Yeats would think you’ve drawn out his insight in a very appropriate way.
“My own view is that Marx was, at worst, a well-intentioned fool with several prominent personal vices. ”
Still, Marx did design a system which is guaranteed to cause disunity and enmity between peoples. It is a system that sets groups of people against each other. The ‘proletariat’ versus the ‘bourgeoisie’. And in contemporary ‘cultural Marxism’, it is whites versus blacks, men versus women, gays versus straights, and so on.
Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. Marx’s system seems to designed in direct opposition to this. He pits people against each other, and seems to be intending conflict.
So I reckon your view of Marx is rosier than mine. The lines in his poem:
“For its bulwark, superstitious dread
For its marshal, blackest agony”
Seem to have been fulfilled so well in Marxist states as to be much more than coincidence. I have found reading ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ too difficult, so black and painful were the parts I have read. It is hard for me to believe that was not intended by Marx.