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.