Sunday, June 06, 2021

Communism is evolving. But the new version isn't any less toxic than the old

On Thursday, I debated against the cult Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek at the Cambridge Union. The motion? “This House believes that Marx was right.” It is extraordinary, on one level, that such a debate can still be held. No one would dream of discussing whether Torquemada or Mullah Omar or Anders Behring Breivik was right. In the grisly tally of murder, Marxism stands unchallenged. The abominable Atlantic slave trade claimed ten million lives. The Nazis, their evils protracted by the lights of perverted science, killed 17 million. Communism has so far slaughtered 100 million. Marx may not have killed anyone with his own hands. Neither, as far as we know, did Hitler, but no one tries to claim that this exculpates him from the horrors unleashed by his doctrines. Only communists get a special pass here. Every barbarity they inflict is explained away as “not real socialism”.

To see how absurd that is, imagine arguing that Hitler’s crimes were “not real fascism”. Fascism, like every other doctrine, is judged by its actual record. Only communism is treated as textbook theory, too pure and numinous to be sullied by real- world examples. Yet history has furnished us with some laboratory-standard experiments: China versus Taiwan, East Germany versus West Germany, North Korea versus South Korea. While free-marketeers are generally prepared to accept that, say, South Korea, marred by occasional corruption and abuses, is an imperfect capitalist state, Western communists resolutely refuse to allow similar inferences to be drawn about North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or anywhere else. Such, at any rate, were my arguments in the debate. But I was uneasily aware as I made them that they were unlikely to hit home. Marxism is more like a religious sect than a political creed. The more palpably absurd its tenets become, the more the faithful flaunt their piety by embracing them. Marx insisted that his doctrines were scientific truths rather than political opinions. Yet every prediction he made turned out to be wrong. The market system did not destroy the bourgeoisie – it enlarged it. It did not concentrate wealth in the hands of a tiny oligarchy – it increased it across the board. It did not exhaust resources – it kept finding more. Most obviously, it did not collapse under the weight of its contradictions.

Yet, in every generation, a new crop of devotees arises to explain that this time it will be different, this time the prophecy will be fulfilled. Marxists resemble nothing so much as doomsday cultists, constantly shifting the date of their Armageddon as it keeps failing to materialise. Then again, religions evolve, adapt, spawn heresies that sometimes displace them. During the debate, Žižek told me that he had become something of a hate figure among younger Leftist radicals because he diverged from the woke line on some gender and identity issues.

Read the rest here. (paywalled)

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