Monday, September 03, 2007

James Carroll: "Marxism has yet to be really tried"

James Carroll’s Labor Day column in the Boston Globe epitomizes the type of thinking that is charitably called sophomoric:

Yet the discrediting of the vision of Karl Marx by the 20th-century communisms that claimed him does not vitiate the original vision. Echoing what Mahatma Gandhi once said of Christianity, Marxism has yet to be really tried.

James, if you believe the 60 million dead in the Soviet Union and the tens of millions of uncounted dead in China are not enough to “vitiate the original vision” maybe you should spend a few weeks in the ruins of their concentration camps or among their unmarked graves and contemplate what these millions of dead might say to someone living in later times and in freedom who proposed giving the system that destroyed them another roll of the dice.

A system that one who spent decades in Stalin’s Gulag called:

“A primitive, superficial economic theory, it declared that only the worker creates value and failed to take into account the contribution of either organizers, engineers, transportation or marketing systems. It was mistaken when if forecast that the proletariat would be endlessly oppressed and would never achieve anything in a bourgeois democracy – if only we could shower people with as much food, clothing and leisure as they have gained under capitalism! It missed the point when it asserted that the prosperity of the European countries depended on their colonies – it was only after they had shaken the colonies off they they began to accomplish their “economic miracles”. It was mistaken through and through in its prediction that socialist could never come to power except through armed uprising. It miscalculated in thinking that the first uprising would take place in the advanced industrial countries – quite the reverse. And the picture of how the whole world would rapidly be overtaken by revolutions and how states would soon wither away was sheer delusion, sheer ignorance of human nature.”


Ken said...

Oddly missing the point. Some claim that one can have Marxism without Stalinism. That seems to be what Carroll is saying. So your listing the horrors of Stalinism sounds like intentionally missing the point.

flymorgue2 said...

Last we heard from Carroll (who did begin as a seminarian) he was having an existential meltdown, and here we learn that like the caveman, he is a man out of time, pining not for hairy mastadon pelts, but for 'nifty' workers' apparel - blue jeans - and equipment - pick-up trucks blasting Woody Guthrie.

All of Carroll's psychoses are on display in this essay - of course Communism wasn't given a good go of it, and the labor movement faltered on the rocks of Reaganism (wait, wasn't he an amiable dunce? save that for the next column) and the peace dividend wasn't harvested by Bushes (wait, what did Clinton do with it?) so that our infrastructure falls-down-goes-boom. I loved the final bit:

"It did not happen, for a lot of reasons - one of which is the hollowed out commitment of a movement that should have known better. What this nation needs is a revitalized reason to celebrate Labor Day."

We all just weren't good enough for Marxism. Stalin showed that 60 million couldn't live up to its lofty ideals, Mao and others contributed another 40 million to slake its thirst for proles. James, I guess we gots to try harder, of course once we somehow shake off that whammy put on us by Reagan.

Tired old cavemen like Carrol aside, Marxist-socialism will always attract the naive youthful idealist who can harden into the ruthless purist. Both those fetid "-isms," watered with the blood of a 100 million, must be fought at their roots. Che parody shirts are a start.

Harry said...


You wrote:
Some claim that one can have Marxism without Stalinism. That seems to be what Carroll is saying. So your listing the horrors of Stalinism sounds like intentionally missing the point.

Not so. I caught that point, but find it absurd.

If the Soviet and the Chinese attempts to build Marxist states failed and cost roughly 100 million lives, that makes a weak argument for trying to implement Marxism "correctly" yet another time.

I'm not nostalgic for trying Nazism again either, even though the body count was "only" 6-7 million from Nazism's first implementation.

Pat said...

I have to agree with Ken - neither Russia nor China represent Marxism or socialism or communism, so trotting them out is indeed completely missing the point. They are simply dictatorships, a form of government that has been tried plenty often with different names. Who thinks Stalin or Mao were really any different from Hitler? How many dictatorships have called themselves democracies? Does that make it true? Right, and it wasn't/isn't true for Russia and China either. The closest examples may be some of the more socialist European countries, and they seem to function pretty well. Certainly all of their health care systems are much better than ours by any measure. It remains true that Marxism has never been tried on a large scale, so who knows if it would work or not. Marxism is not incompatible with democracy. One is a political system, the other an economic system. We do have a tiny taste of Marxism here in the good ol' USA - it's called an ESOP.