Feature photo via Sputnikmusic
“Revolution that divests itself of ethical values thereby lays the foundation of injustice, deceit, and oppression for the future society.”
-Emma Goldman, “My Disillusionment with Russia”
A few days ago I encountered something unsettling: Marxists in McGill’s McLennan library. As I was making the walk to the cafeteria, I passed a booth manned by visibly enthusiastic students. Without looking at the booth or its banners, I made eye contact with one of the students and smiled, prompting him to ask me: “Do you have a moment to talk about Marxism?” Completely taken aback, I stuttered a response: “No man… Marxism is revolutionary,” He responded with an air of surprise: “Yeah, that’s the point.”
I stood in silence for a moment, and then continued on my quest for caffeine. After a few days of separation, I feel the need to share some of what I’ve learned in my study of history at McGill with those who are unaware of what Marxism truly is, and the horrors that its proponents have inflicted on the world. So, to those standing behind the banners of that booth, and to all those who still think Marxism offers a model for positive change, I ask you: what kind of a revolution do you want?
I understand the appeal of Marxism. The motives and values at its ideological foundation are virtuous. The view of all humanity as inherently equal and deserving is compassionate. The opposition to repression and exploitation is rooted in a desire for universal liberty, and an empathetic perspective on why certain people struggle. The core tenet of Marxist philosophy is a push for a world in which everyone shares equally in both labour and its spoils, and this is founded on the inspiring idea that we are all one community, and that we are stronger together than we are apart.
These are all positive, powerful, and inspiring values, but we should be very careful in using the motives behind something to justify its means.
I completely subscribe to the values that underlie Marxism, but I reject its model for turning them into a reality. Marx and Engels proposed the creation of a society free of all divisions and antagonisms, but to achieve this they prescribed a model based entirely on those very foundations. Marxism prescribes the division of society into two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, with one’s location on either side of that arbitrary line determining their fate. Marx and Engels argued that the bourgeoisie, which consisted of everyone who had achieved a disproportionate degree of material success, had become successful only through the exploitation of others. The proletariat were everyone else, the masses, the oppressed. They viewed anyone who was materially successful as perpetrators and profiteers of oppression, and they viewed all state institutions and frameworks as bourgeois weapons of control.
So, what did they propose? To tear the whole system down, and the entire bourgeoisie class with it. In the Communist Manifesto and its appendices, Marx and Engels proposed a “radical onslaught upon private ownership”: the confiscation of all property owned by the bourgeoisie and the “rebels against the majority,” – i.e. anyone who opposed the revolution. They proposed that anyone who opposed them were de facto supporters of the “feudal” and “patriarchal” system of oppression that was the cause of all the world’s ills. They proposed that power over all spheres of society must become “concentrated… in the hands of the state” to restructure society, and that the state itself should then be abolished. They proposed revolution, they proposed totalitarianism, and their model for change necessitated bloodshed.
The most important question that should arise when reading the Communist Manifesto and its appendices is this: how could these ends possibly be achieved?
Marx and Engels did not only prescribe economic revolution. They stated that the bourgeoisie and indoctrinated proletariat would naturally resist revolution, and that forcefulness would be needed to achieve their goals. They were initially unopposed to operating within democratic channels, but stated that they would need to overcome resistance with force.
In the 20th century the glorious revolutions that Marx and Engels envisioned materialized, and they resulted in resounding catastrophes again, and again.
Marx and Engels were succeeded at the beginning of the 20th century by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin led the Russian revolutionary vanguard that Marxism prescribed, using a more modern adaptation of the original philosophies. He built upon the condemnation of institutions by stating that democracy would only be a façade under a bourgeoisie-dominated free market. His revolutionary movement seized power and consolidated it according to the Marxist model.
Even so, under Marxist rule the oppressive Russian society of old did not morph into an egalitarian Soviet utopia marked by cooperation and peaceful co-existence. Rather, it plummeted into the abyss. The power of the state became absolute, and all previous institutions and their frameworks were destroyed. Instead of following the democratic model of France or the United states, the revolutionary vanguard set up a government founded on the pretence that because the bourgeoisie had been eliminated ‒ and because they were the sole cause and perpetrators of corruption and evil ‒ there was no need to create frameworks that would inhibit maliciousness. The new government imploded without the checks and balances of democracy, and it quickly turned into a malevolent dictatorship. The state was never abolished, and the power that was consolidated was used to implement Marxist identity politics to their fullest extent.
In the newly formed Soviet Union the people living in the countryside were divided, in accordance with Marx’s model, into two categories: the Kulaks and the peasants. The Kulak class were the bourgeoisie, everyone in possession of a relatively high level of material wealth, and the peasants were the proletariat, the victims who had been oppressed in the process of the accumulation of that wealth.
Following the model set out by Marx and Engels, the Soviet revolutionaries seized the property of the Kulaks, and redistributed it among the peasants. But this could not be done peacefully, and after violently annexing the life’s work of an entire class of people, it is understandable that there would be some residual tensions. To deal with this, and as punishment for their victimization and oppression of the peasant class, the Kulaks were exiled to the inconceivably brutal gulag archipelago that would become their graves, if not for their bodies then at least for their souls.
Source: The Daily Mail
And what about the countryside? Did the removal of the Kulaks lead to a communal utopia in which everyone contributed equally and shared in the fruits of their labours? Absolutely not.
After the Kulaks were exiled, the means of production were dismantled and restructured, and the majority of the agricultural sector collapsed as a result. The new order ushered in by the Marxists subjected millions of people to a famine so dire that its casualties were in proportion to the Nazi Holocaust.
Contrary to the assertion of the Marxists, the entire Kulak class did not acquire their material success solely on the backs of the oppressed. Many of them had acquired their wealth because they were the best farmers, organizers, and leaders in their respective communities. And later in the 20th century, even more devastating famines followed the Marxist revolutions in China and Korea.
I am not proposing that our society is free of oppression, nor would I ever say that it is not systematically patriarchal. Our society is unequivocally both of these things, but Marxism does not offer a viable solution to the problem, and its diagnoses of the problem itself can do nothing but lead to patently violent and criminal outcomes. Fundamentally, Marxist ideology vilifies people along arbitrary lines. It rejects the validity of personal autonomy and it claims that institutional hierarchies determine human virtue and agency. Most consequentially, Marxism necessitates giving an almost absolute amount of power to a small group of people, and it allows them to restructure society according to their subjective interpretation of a utopia.
Marxism demands revolution, promotes the judgement of people along arbitrary lines, and necessitates tyranny.
So, to the students in McLennan who I am sure have nothing but the best intentions, I implore you to think about the implications of the ideology you are promoting. Do you think that wealth and success can only be achieved through oppression? Do you think that individuals cannot control their own lives? And do you think that the frameworks that hold our society together are exclusively corrupt?
I also implore you to think about the implications of the model for change that Marxism prescribes. Do you think that we should divide society along arbitrary lines and redistribute the private property of those selected by the state? Do you truly believe that tearing down everything that we have achieved is the way to keep moving forward?
To the students who stood behind that booth in the library, and to everyone reading this article, I ask you: what kind of a revolution do we need?