On the 170th anniversary of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto – can Marx be re-interpreted as a critic of late modernity? (Part Three)
By Mark Wegierski
It could be argued that Marxism, like most ideological systems, conveys a partial truth. In the nineteenth century, who could in good conscience support the exploitation of decent working people by various luxuriously-living overlords? Serious and reflective traditionalist thought had always been opposed to the cruel impositions of various iniquities. The arising of the labor movement in the nineteenth century was precisely what was needed to counter the monstrous power of capital.
In the minds of many Western liberals, Communism became associated with "decent values." As the recently caught elderly British woman-spy said of the Soviet Communists, "They only wanted to give medicine and food to their people." Obviously, what has happened is that the idealism of nineteenth-century workers' protests has been grotesquely transferred to Stalin's regime.
Interestingly enough, the Western apologists for the Soviet Union were virtually at their apogee precisely during what was later called the Stalinist period. It appears that when the Soviet Union was at its most "utopian" -- and claiming to create "a new human life" -- support for it was the strongest among Western intellectuals. After it had become more authoritarian (for example, under Brezhnev) rather than totalitarian -- it no longer excited the same degree of enthusiasm among Western intellectuals. One does see today, however, a return to aggressive defenses of Soviet Communism -- and even of Stalin -- among some Western Marxist intellectuals.
In the twentieth century, Western societies have moved through various wrenching social revolutions and transformations -- whose radical nature is not always apparent to observers. In today's consumerist, consumptionist society in America and Canada, the labor struggle is usually seen as part of a broader, left-liberal coalition of rich liberals and "recognized minority leaderships." Traditionalists and members of the so-called "disaligned Left" such as Christopher Lasch would be hoping for a renewed labor struggle that could be disattached from doctrinaire left-liberalism -- and from its putative acceptance of the ruling structures of the current-day managerial-therapeutic regime.
If one is looking for what might be good in Marx-inspired thought, there is clearly the aspect of social protest against exploitation. There is also the notion of comradely struggle for a better world. At the same time, persons struggling against injustice should be careful to properly identify what true injustice and victimization actually consist of, and to avoid falling into the trap of excessively-ranging ressentiment. For example, before the 1960s, the social democrats in most Western countries (such as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party in Canada), while ferociously fighting for equality and the betterment of the working majority, accepted most elements of traditional nation, family, and religion as simply a part of pre-political existence, which they had no desire to challenge. They were thus economically socialist, but socially conservative. The causes which animate much of today's Left (such as multiculturalism, feminism, gay rights, and cultural antinomianism) would have probably disgusted many of them. There is clearly something inappropriate happening when a wealthy, privileged left-liberal arrogantly condemns a decent, careworn, working man for the latter's supposed racism, sexism, or homophobia.
It could also be argued that, in today's world, when capitalism, as exemplified by globalization, is so overwhelmingly international (or transnational) and anti-traditional, the more independent-minded and less-politically-correct Left should be re-examining the importance of nations, nationalism, and nationhood as well as various traditionalisms, as part of the possible resistance to the incipient hypermodern dystopia.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.