Sunday, 15 May 2011

Why is it still okay to call yourself a Marxist?

The Christ’s College Debating Society held exactly one debate and three or four heroically alcoholic formal dinners during its approximately two years of existence.  It contained some thrusting young Labourite tyros, quite a few natural Conservatives – and one erstwhile Fascist. (And, before you ask – no, it wasn’t me.

That’s how come our one and only debate featured, on one side, members of the British Union – i.e. the remnants of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. The opposition was provided by the “cream” of the Cambridge University Labour Club (which their subsequent electoral shenanigans almost destroyed).

I can’t remember a single thing about the debate, except that the British Union’s main speaker had marched with Mosley through the East End in the 1930s, and that the main Labourite speaker gave a surprisingly lame performance when faced with the very people he’d hated all his life.

How we got away with inviting self-proclaimed fascists onto college property, and why a mob of screaming Trotskyists didn’t break up the meeting, I’ll never know. (What I do know is that our main left-wing speaker is now a Conservative councillor in Kent, and the former fascist who invited the Mosleyites along has, as far as I can tell, been a Labour voter for decades.)

That was the last time I was at a meeting where someone stood up in public and described himself as a fascist. But a similar thing happened two nights ago at one of the poetry reading groups I regularly attend. I’d enjoyed a perfectly pleasant if confusing chat in the interval with a chap who sat down next to me and started talking about Robert Frost’s“Mending Wall”, the wonderful celebration of rural conservative wisdom I’d just recited. There were some confusing stuff about fences going up in Mongolia (!),  “neo-liberals” (huh?), and a slighting reference to G.K. Chesterton, which I was about to challenge (I’m an admirer), when the chairwoman brought the meeting to order.

When my interlocutor was introduced to the audience towards the end of the event, his self-penned description included the facts that he was a campaigner for Palestinian rights (practically a synonym for “terrorist sympathiser” in my book) and that his political outlook was “broadly Marxist” – which I presume means he’s a fan of brutally oppressive regimes and mass poverty, without the bit where educated, poetry-loving intellectuals die of starvation and exhaustion somewhere above the Arctic Circle.

Everyone beamed approvingly.

I couldn’t concentrate on the poem he was reading because I was imaging what sort of reception he’d have received if we’d been informed  that his political outlook was “largely Fascist” and/or that he was a campaigner for Israeli rights (an unlikely combination, admittedly). 

I somehow doubt whether everyone would have smiled benignly: I expect there would have been quite a few walk-outs.

So why is it seemingly all right to admit you’re an adherent of economic and socio-political theories which, whenever and wherever they’ve been put into practice in any way, shape or form, have created unimaginable suffering (unless you have the imagination of Hieronymous Bosch)?

Christopher Hitchens is another who refuses to relinquish the shameful label: "I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist". 

What’s the difference between that and saying, “I consider myself a very conservative Fascist”? 

Many extremely intelligent, sensitive people go through phases of believing in very silly political and economic theories which would be – or have already proved themselves to be – massively harmful when applied. And then they come to their senses and reject those ways of looking at the world and find something more sensible to believe in. If Marxists claim that their hero’s theories are merely an interesting way of interpreting the past, then fine – who cares? But Marx’s writings have been treated as a blueprint for organising society (in fact, the theory goes further – it predicts that this is how society will organise itself, in time).

Hundreds of millions of human beings have lived in fear, and tens of millions have died in terror – and, of course, still do – because middle-class intellectuals consider themselves to be ”broadly Marxist”. 

That some unlettered adults are still joining parties which are the latest manifestation of the 20th Century’s two most ruinous political philosophies is just about understandable – it’s easy to blame immigrants or rich people for the supposedly unsatisfactory nature of your condition. Students, of course,  are silly enough to believe in anything – one assumes they’ll eventually grow out of it. 

But how an educated person living in a free society in 2011 could  believe such evil, hate-filled twaddle - let alone admit to it in public - is beyond comprehension.


  1. Have you thought that there might be a bit of tactical leftery here? After all, what's more likely to get him a Blackberry full of phone numbers? Appealing to the inner Che in your female poetry fans by declaring that he's a bit TGMO. Or saying "I find my appreciation of Ferlinghetti is intensified when I look at him from a UKIP perspective"? I was once struck by the statement that a male feminist is some one who carries around the works of Simone de Beauvoir in the hope of going to bed with more intelligent women. Same idea. Doesn't work though.

    All that said, why didn't you challenge him? "How gritty of you". "I knew there must be one left'."You must be so pleased that history has proved you right."

    Are you losing your edge, Scott?
    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 09:56 PM

  2. I’m not sure sex is at the bottom of this (as it were). I think it’s more that it gives them an echo of the sheer thrill they felt being noble rebels when they were dick-headed 18-year olds, when life was in black and white and there was no room for ambiguity and they were being jolly brave.

    Your comments on carrying around “The Second Sex” suggests you’ve tried the old De Beauvoir ploy yourself. Can this be true?

    The person who read out the Marxist’s biog was the organiser, a terribly nice lady, who I would never dream of heckling. As for losing my edge, yes, probably – I’m certainly mellower than I was forty years ago. Besides, having spent 18 years working with left-wingers, I’ve learned there’s very little point in attempting to puncture their carapace of self-delusion. (However, I automatically enter attack mode if they actually make some daffy statement about one of their pet victim groups – a chap has his limits).
    Friday, May 20, 2011 - 04:46 PM