A quick reminder that Marx inspired one of the most malevolent spasms of evil in human history — and that may very well have been his goal
On Saturday, Karl Marx turns 200 years old. A German dissident who spent most of his days in exile, Marx devoted his life to the notion that a literal heaven-on-earth was just a revolution away. Instead, he ended up inspiring one of the most prolonged epics of suffering in modern history.
Amazingly, this seems to have done very little to tarnish Marx’s apparently Teflon reputation. He just got a fawning biopic. He got glowing birthday wishes in the New York Times. And this weekend, EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will be unveiling a statue of the man in Marx’s hometown of Trier, Germany.
Europe already had plenty of statues of Marx, although you might not know it because a lot of them got pulled down in the late 1980s. Here’s a quick reminder why people would have felt the need to do that.
Yes, the communist terror is Marx’s fault
In the understated words of writer Jonathan Chait, “the fact that every communist country in world history quickly turned into a repressive nightmare is kind of important.” Since 1917, whenever a country has tried to turn itself into a Marxist utopia, it’s only a matter of time before a whole lot of people are starving, imprisoned or shot. Indeed, just as the Titanic required 1,500 dead to become history’s most famous ship, Marx required epic spasms of bloodshed to become history’s most famous thinker. Without the Russian Revolution (and the revolutions it spawned) Marx would be “a not very important nineteenth-century philosopher,” wrote biographer Alan Ryan. A scientist would look at communism’s lengthy record of failure and conclude that the initial theory was obviously flawed. Despite this, the view persists that Marx’s ideas are still valid and have zero relation to the scores of mass graves created in his name. “It would be like blaming Jesus for the (Spanish) Inquisition,” reads a typical online retort. However, Marx was quite clear that he wanted his followers to impose his sweeping ideas on society using force. “The Communists … openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” reads one of the last lines of the Communist Manifesto. All the horrors that follow ultimately sprang from this core belief.
Marx may well have had some prescient critiques about capitalism, but in the words of author Andrew McAfee “there are so many thinkers about economics and technology who haven’t inspired mass murder and inhuman states.” The Black Book of Communism, published by European scholars in 1997, estimates that Communist governments killed 94 million people in the 20th century. There are no explicit calls for mass murder in Marx’s writings, but he was very enthusiastic about all the ingredients that made such atrocities possible. It was Marx who endorsed a “dictatorship of the proletariat” to remake society using “despotic inroads” if necessary. It was Marx who sought to tear down any existing power structures that could check the rise of a revolutionary tyrant. And it was Marx who taught that there were no such thing as “excesses” in a revolution, and that “hated individuals” should be sacrificed to “popular revenge.” It shouldn’t be all that surprising that so many of Marx’s followers interpreted his writings as a blank cheque on killing. Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin once told the writer Maxim Gorky that while be loved Beethoven, he could not listen to music too often, since it baffled him to hear beauty created by people who did not realize they lived in “a filthy hell.” “They ought to be beaten on the head, beaten mercilessly, although ideally we are against doing any violence to people,” Lenin added.