A recent Simpson’s episode had a social worker saying this to Homer, “You are a drunken, childish buffoon.” To which Homer responds, “And this is society’s fault becauseÔø?” A succinct summation of Marxist thought.
It is difficult to cope with failure. We have all failed at some time in our lives. With this failure comes shame and guilt and, of course, excuses. We sputter out an explanation; “I was just,” “I didn’t know that,” “I didn’t mean to,” “It wasn’t my fault.” Often eye-rolling follows. Our parents hopefully teach us this lesson. Parents are so much more relieved to hear a child take responsibility for a mistake than to stammer out a long and complex excuse. People just aren’t interested in hearing excuses. That is, of course, in less the excuse is very interesting.
Marxism is a very interesting excuse. The poor, downtrodden and weak are only so because of parasitism from the rich, upper-class and strong. Through a complex and subtle use of the institutes of power the upper-classes keep a stranglehold on the members of the lower classes and thus successfully maintain their wealth and status at the expense of the poor. The poor should not be stigmatized. The downtrodden should not be blamed. The weak should not be liable. These are the lessons that Marxism holds as primary and unassailable.
Marxism is interesting for a variety of reasons. Primary amongst these is its historical truth. For the majority of human history such a parasitic situation has been the case. The feudal lords of medieval Europe accumulated vast amounts of wealth from the labor and degradation of the serf. Monarchies have usually seen Kings and Queens living in luxury and splendor that was, to say the least, in stark contrast to the lifestyle of the average citizen. In short, history has not been exceedingly kind to the working-man. It is precisely this evidence that led Marx to the startling and controversial conclusions of the Manifesto and Capital.
Since Marx, Marxism has been growing and changing, and, unfortunately, flourishing. Countless academicians and intellectuals have thrown their lot in with Marx and expounded upon his works. Again and again, the left has been profoundly changed and buttressed by such intellectuals. Now, in many ways, leftism is defined by such attitudes – a focusing on the trials and tribulations of the downtrodden. To be on the left, to be “liberal,” is to care about the weak, and stick up for them. Likewise, to be on the right, to be “conservative,” is to focus on, and care for, the powerful and strong. The line is thus drawn. Where one falls becomes a crucial moral as well as intellectual point.
When I watch sporting events in which I feel neutral about the outcome I will usually cheer for the underdog. Sometimes, my allegiance vacillates with the score – I cheer for whomever is behind. I think, from the cheering of the crowds, that most people feel the same way. Supporting the weak, in many arenas of human life, is seen as the morally superior, and obvious, position.
This may partially explain the attraction of leftism. It simply appeals to moral attitudes that are quite basic in all of us. However, Marxism, when codified as theory and entrenched in the mind of a believer, often becomes a universal sieve through which all ideas are strained and altered. Then, the concept of the poor as the oppressed becomes unilateral and unassailable.
It is the unilateral, categorical nature of this type of Marxist thought that makes it so damaging. Once a part of an individual’s filtering system, Marxist theory unquestionably sees all poor as victims. It becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for such a Marxist to justify any blame that could conceivably be placed on the underclass. A valuable eternal excuse is created. Thomas Sowell once offered a poignant reflection on the nature of excuses; “an excuse is better than an achievement. That is because an achievement, no matter how great, leaves you having to prove yourself again in the future. But an excuse can last for life.”
The line that is drawn in the sand becomes clear. Either one believes the poor and downtrodden are to blame for their position or they are not. It becomes apparent that those holding the latter position will be quick to create a strong welfare state, designed to use the same power structure that supposedly forced people into the gutter to pull them out, dust them off, and send them on their way.
This line – the clarity of this distinction – seems far too facile. Clearly, it is not the case that the poor, categorically, are either responsible for their situation or are not. The poor, like the rich, is a diverse blend of individual people each of whom deserves specific attention to deduce the moral status – the “blame” – of their position. It seems that, if pressed, even the staunchest Marxist will grant that at least some inhabiting the lower-classes may be to blame for their position.
But perhaps not. As said previously, Marxism is incredibly deft at creating excuses. Through the substantial use of concepts such as “hegemony,” Marxists can interpret the behavior and position of any possible person as fitting into the seamless matrix of power struggle and coercion that they have created. In fact, the ideological hole that they have drilled for themselves mandates such strict adherence to their philosophy. If someone has escaped, if there is a person whom cannot be explained as a determined product of environmental forces outside of their control, then the house of cards, so intricately constructed, collapses under the weight of falsity.
One upsetting aspect of this vision is the implicit determinism that transcends the entire philosophy. In almost any meaningful way the aspect of personal responsibility – the ability to claim fault and lay blame – has been completely and totally removed. Marxism equates to social determinism. This isn’t surprising, due to the roots out of which Marx’s philosophy grew – when Newtonian physics was king and science was held aloft as all-explanatory. Marx fancied himself as a “social scientist,” the latter part of the moniker meant to imply an impartiality of observation, a purity of evidence, and an inevitability of the conclusions. Marx was simply describing the impersonal forces that have shaped history and would inevitably shape the future. V.I. Lenin and his entourage of thinkers saw themselves as bringing about the inevitable – behaving not wholly unlike groups of particles that follow their path and produce results without objection and without fail.
Of course, the results have failed. The interpersonal forces that were to bring about a bold new society have only produced a failed Soviet Union and a quickly reforming Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, Marxist theory has remained intact, flourishing on college campuses and bohemian coffee houses. It has been mollified somewhat, with the majority of Marxist theorists focusing on explaining and criticizing current societal “problems” as opposed to offering and promoting a sweeping, inevitable vision of the future. However, the theory is no less deterministic. Now, the determined lives – created from socially caused actions and thoughts – of individuals are succinctly and neatly explained and excused by modern day Marxists.
Marxism, as a grand, sweeping vision, must be complete and seamless. It must offer an explanation for all human interaction. In short, it must make an excuse for everyone. Even Homer Simpson.