May 5 or Cinco de Mayo marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. Not to be outdone, The New York Times published an op-ed on Monday, almost a week in advance. Following its recent string of pro-socialist articles, the Times piece praises Marx as an inspiring revolutionary and dismisses the tyrannical impact of his ideas.
Jason Barker, professor of cultural studies in South Korea’s Kyung Hee University, fawningly declares that Marx had “an impact arguably greater and wider than any other philosopher’s before or after him.” According to Barker, Marx outshone Rene Descartes, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, and even the founder of philosophy himself, Socrates.
More than that, however, Barker emphatically claims that Marx was “right.” His headline declares, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” The professor also championed the Communist philosopher’s critique of capitalism.
“Educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement that Marx’s basic thesis — that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle in which the ruling-class minority appropriates the surplus labor of the working-class majority as profit — is correct,” Barker declares.
The Seoul professor admits that “Marx arrives at no magic formula,” but champions the Communist goal of “exiting the enormous social and economic contradictions that global capitalism entails (according to Oxfam, 82 percent of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the world’s richest 1 percent).”
Marx’s greatest economic achievement, according to Barker, was to craft “the critical weapons for undermining capitalism’s ideological claim to be the only game in town.”
Each of these claims is hogwash. Marx’s economic theory has not been proven correct — in fact, his predictions have failed to come to pass, and while wealth is far from equal, the free market system has enriched people beyond imagining over the past two hundred years.
“Marxism was and is a class analysis, pitting economic classes against each other in a zero-sum competition,” explains Stephen Hicks, a philosophy professor at Rockford University. “Successive rounds of capitalist competition would also pit the stronger parties against each other, yielding more winners and losers, until capitalism generated an economic social structure characterized by a few capitalists at the top and in control of the society’s economic resources while the rest of society was pushed into poverty.”
Given this perspective, Hicks points out Marx’s three definite predictions: the proletariate would increase and become poorer; the middle class would shrink into irrelevance; and the percentage of rich capitalist “winners” would shrink so small that the proletariat would easily overwhelm them.
Each prediction failed. “By the early twentieth century it seemed that all three of the predictions failed to characterize the development of the capitalist countries,” Hicks writes. “The class of manual laborers had both declined as a percentage of the population and become relatively better off. And the middle class had grown substantially both as a percentage of the population and in wealth, as had the upper class.”
Capitalism does not actually destroy itself, as Marx claimed. Rather, it has ushered in a period of unprecedented prosperity: running water, readily accessible electricity, refrigerators to preserve food and microwaves to warm it up, goods of all kinds widely accessible to all, automobiles in reach of the poorest Americans, televisions, laptops, smartphones — the list goes on. Yes, wealth is unequally distributed, but even the (comparatively) poor live lives their ancestors could never have dreamed of.
Marx did have a tremendous impact on history, however, and it wasn’t pretty. Marxist philosophy inspired the Communist Revolutions in Russia, China, and Cambodia. The worst state atrocities in history were committed by big government ideologues, and three of them were directly inspired by Marx.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin launched “purges” directly killing an estimated three million people, and his policies sparked a famine leading to the deaths of 18-45 million. Cambodian dictator Pol Pot killed an estimated 1.5 to 3 million people in the 1970s. Chinese dictator Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward led to the deadliest famine in history, costing more than 45 million lives in the late 1950s and early 1960s — and his “Cultural Revolution” tortured and killed tens of thousands.
Barker, the New York Times columnist, conveniently brushes these horrors away by arguing that Marx and Engles advocated for a “classless and stateless society.” “There is still a great deal to be learned from their disasters, but their philosophical relevance remains doubtful to say the least,” Baker argues.
Really?! An aggressive power-grasping ideology kills millions of people across the world, and this New York Times columnist dismisses those horrors as irrelevant to the ideas of Marx? It appears Barker is using the “Communism has never been tried” canard to escape the real horrors of what happens when people don’t just accept the Marxist ideals.
Tragically, Barker also emphatically endorses cultural Marxism, and the grasping for power to redefine reality that categorizes the worst aspects of the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) Left.
“It was the material world that determined all thinking,” Barker notes. “The key factor in Marx’s intellectual legacy in our present-day society is not ‘philosophy’ but ‘critique,’ or what he described in 1843 as ‘the ruthless criticism of all that exists: ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.’ ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it,’ he wrote in 1845.”
Unleash cultural Marxism. “Racial and sexual oppression have been added to the dynamic of class exploitation,” Barker argues. “Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, owe something of an unspoken debt to Marx through their unapologetic targeting of the ‘eternal truths’ of our age. Such movements recognize, as did Marx, that the ideas that rule every society are those of its ruling class and that overturning those ideas is fundamental to true revolutionary progress.”
Cultural Marxism, the rejection of truth in favor of a grasp for power to redefine reality itself, has come to dominate a large section of the Left, and what conservatives rightly find terrifying, Barker embraces as Marx’s great achievement.
“We have become used to the go-getting mantra that to effect social change we first have to change ourselves. But enlightened or rational thinking is not enough, since the norms of thinking are already skewed by the structures of male privilege and social hierarchy, even down to the language we use,” he argues. “Changing those norms entails changing the very foundations of society.”
Reason itself cannot be trusted, because reason depends on the cultural context of white heterosexual male oppression, or so the story goes. This kind of thinking has led at least one outspoken female student in South Africa to openly reject science because it “discriminates” against witchcraft. Some “feminist” scholars have even argued that objective truth and the scientific method are inherently “sexist.”
Such rejections of reason are a return to barbarism, not a new era of justice and equality. What good is equality if it entails rejecting the scientific progress responsible for modern prosperity?
Ironically, Barker champions cultural Marxism as a stepping-stone in “the transition to a new society where relations among people, rather than capital relations, finally determine an individual’s worth.”
Capitalism does not entail such dehumanization, however. Only in the market does labor count for more than personality, and even there human relationships prove essential for securing jobs and selling goods and services.
In a free market system, where government is limited and people are free to associate with whom they will, relations among people matter more than relations between people and the state. In a big government system, be it socialist or communist, all human worth is dictated by the all-intrusive state.
If Barker really wants a more humane system, perhaps he should reconsider John Locke, Adam Smith, and James Madison. Marx’s tyrannical rejection of truth enabled the horrors of the 20th century, while the grand lower-case liberal free-market project has unleashed unprecedented prosperity.
On Marx’s 200th birthday, more Americans are likely to celebrate a Mexican holiday, eating burritos and drinking margaritas. Thanks to the free market, they can choose how to spend their money and their time. If they think of Marx at all, they should remember the millions who died at the hands of tyrants emboldened by his ideas, and live a life dedicated more to truth than to power.