Western societies must stop the spread of Marxism

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Appeared in the Financial Post, March 20, 2024
Western societies must stop the spread of Marxism

Recently in this paper, Jordan Peterson diagnosed the psychological grip woke activists have on ordinary people, urging conservatives to move beyond the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” and start fighting the philosophical battles at hand. I would argue the economic and philosophical problems originated in the same place—the seminal text of political economy, which became the handbook for bad economics and the woke movement alike. Put simply, it’s the political economy, stupid.

I speak of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Published in 1888 it opens with the simplistic declaration: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed.” In the rigid oppressor/oppressed scheme, which is the heart of woke ideology, everyone is either tyrant or victim, not based on one’s choices but by the accident of historical circumstances. If you are an oppressor, you can never be anything else.

And, most ominously, everything that’s contributed to historical oppression, including all customary civil rights and social institutions, must be destroyed and replaced with a new centrally-planned society. According to Marx and Engels, “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” To abolish private ownership is to abolish all individuality, replacing it with uniform group identity under the control of a totalitarian state.

And they didn’t stop there. They called for abolition of all forms of free buying and selling, all rights of inheritance, family structures, religion, private industry, parental control over education, etc. They called for the centralization of banking, industry, agriculture, all means of communication and all forms of transportation into the hands of “the State,” by which they meant themselves and their allies. “In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things,” they declared. “They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” (emphasis added)

It was through this tortured logic that Marx and Engels convinced their followers to gain power through force, strip people of their rights and impose brutal totalitarianism. After all, what we call “civil rights” and “personal freedoms” were merely the means by which oppressors have historically exercised power. Neither Marx nor Engels nor their allies asked whether their cure might be worse than the disease. Having declared that society is nothing but oppressors exploiting the oppressed, and having declared themselves the true Advocates for the oppressed, they were duty-bound to destroy society and impose what they called “communism,” an empty word that turned out to mean nothing more than them and their fellow lunatics taking charge.

Once you understand that every institution on which society has hitherto rested, down to motherhood and milk, is a target for overthrow, today’s woke revolution makes sense. The point is not to improve, it’s to destroy. Think of any tradition or institution that has thus far escaped attention from woke radicals and make a note. Within a year you will learn it too is under siege.

The 20th century taught us that Marxist theory is false and toxic, but once it takes root it spreads quickly, including in places where people believed “it couldn’t happen here.” From 1945 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 at least half the world lived under Marxist dictatorships. Why would such an odious doctrine become popular in so many societies? How can it be stopped once it begins to spread? After the fall of communism, we in the West stopped asking those questions, and forgot how to answer them.

Marxist doctrine spreads because the “oppressed” gain instant status and power without the need for personal virtues or accomplishments. The idea holds appeal, but only to our most selfish and cruel instincts. The oppressed become exempt from criticism, and come to believe they’re entitled to take everything the so-called oppressors have, by force if necessary, or to burn the whole system down for revenge.

The only remedy for this cult-like mindset, what Elon Musk called the “woke mind virus,” is to teach people a healthy and proper loathing of victim status. The young must be taught old-fashioned values of self-reliance and individual accountability. Coddled adults who embrace cultural Marxism and its seductive promise of victim status might eventually tire of its grim nihilism, but until they do they must not be allowed to exploit or misappropriate the compassion decent people feel towards genuine victims of oppression.

Peterson is right that the underlying battles are philosophical and psychological. Many people will only become engaged when cultural Marxism begins to destroy the economy, as eventually it must. Anyone who wants to prevent another outbreak of the political and psychological horrors of the Maoist and Soviet empires must recognize the lateness of the hour and equip themselves accordingly.

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