Two scholars remembered the birthday of Karl Marx: one had the basic facts about Marx, the other the basic facts about Marxism.
In an op-ed which appeared in The New York Times on May Day, Jason Barker, a British documentarian teaching at a university in South Korea, gave us personal tidbits about Marx that only his most devoted followers could find charming. “If ever there were a convincing case to be made for the dangers of philosophy, then surely it’s Marx’s discovery of Hegel, whose ‘grotesque craggy melody’ repelled him at first but which soon had him dancing deliriously through the streets of Berlin,” Barker writes. “As Marx confessed to his father in an equally delirious letter in November 1837, ‘I wanted to embrace every person standing on the street-corner.’”
It should be noted that Barker’s warm and fuzzy thoughts on the man whose philosophy when practiced led to mass genocide are widely shared in academia in America. Well do I recall sitting through a lecture at the Modern Language Association (MLA) by Montclair State University Professor Grover C. Furr in which he alleged that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was misunderstood. (One of Furr’s reviewers on Rate My Professor wrote, ” He’d better if he was in Communist Russia- and so would we!”)
Moreover, we have disturbing polls showing that among college students today, the idea that there is nothing wrong with communism is really taking hold.
The editors of The Black Book of Communism put the carnage from applied Marxism at 85-100 million. Barker, like American professors, glosses over this inconvenient body count in one paragraph: “The idea of the classless and stateless society would come to define both Marx’s and Engels’s idea of communism, and of course the subsequent and troubled history of the Communist ‘states’ (ironically enough!) that materialized during the 20th century. There is still a great deal to be learned from their disasters, but their philosophical relevance remains doubtful, to say the least.”
Ilya Somin, a professor of law at George Mason University, actually does find a great deal to be learned from their disasters. “While communism is most closely associated with Russia, where the first communist regime was established, it had equally horrendous effects on other nations around the world,” Somin wrote on the Reason.com blog. “The highest death toll for a communist regime was not in Russia, but in China. Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward was likely the biggest episode of mass murder in the entire history of the world.” Moreover, the editors of the Black Book of Communism found them philosophically relevant.
“Mao was goaded to surpass his Soviet mentors by a ‘Great Leap Forward’ beyond mere socialism, Moscow style, to full Communism, as Marx imagined it in the Communist Manifesto and the Critique of the Gotha Program,” the editors of The Black Book of Communism wrote. “And in 1966-1976, by directing the anarchy of the Cultural Revolution against his own Party, he proceeded to outdo Stalin’s Great Purge of his Party in 1937-1939 [720,000 executions].”
“When I was a small boy, my grandmother told me about a distant uncle who was living in China during the Cultural Revolution,” David Henry Hwang wrote in the forward to Ji Li Jiang’s Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. “He promised to send a picture of himself to his relatives in America,” Hwang wrote of his distant uncle.
“If conditions were good, he said, he would be standing. If they were bad, he would be sitting. In the photo he sent us, my grandmother whispered, he was laying down!”