It is time to send Karl Marx’s ghost back to the pavilion of has-beens
The fascination that too many people -- and more than a few in South Asia’s “intellectual” class -- have for Karl Marx is a sight to behold.
On his 200th birthday last week, we had the same drumbeat of paeans and apologia that seem to afflict his supposedly die-hard fans everywhere in the world.
The man was a loser.
In every sense of the word -- intellectually, morally, financially.
Though it is in poor taste to reflect ill of the departed, I absolve myself of the said sin in realizing that, in this case, the dead guy’s ideas caused more misery, deaths, and utter cruelty than almost any other single thinker of modern times.
The close to 10 million who perished under Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, the million or so sent to concentration camps in Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia, and the Kim family’s North Korean gulags, and the hundreds of thousands who were kicked out of their homes and hearths in Eastern Europe post-WWII are but only a fragment of the toll of the vapid ideology that Karl Marx spun.
The idea that a man who lived off of the charity of his friend (the industrialist scion Friedrich Engels) after conveniently avoiding actual fighting in a real revolution with an escape abroad would be some harbinger of proletariat revolt of the masses would be preposterous.
That it isn’t preposterous reflects on the deep seated faux contrarianism amongst effete intellectual elite whose very bread is buttered by the benefits of … you got it … the free market. I have lost count of the academics and civil society types here in the United States and in Bangladesh -- and many places in between -- whose adoration of Marxism is slapstick comedic in its high altar verbosity even without the jarring context of their entire livelihoods being a gift of capitalism, private philanthropy, and pluralist democracy.
Of the 50 odd countries that have tried Marxism as their operative economic maxim in the last years, not one has been a paradise that has attracted people from around the world
Private property, a notion Marx sought to abolish in human thinking, is the element of self-sustenance that is as ingrained in the homo sapiens of today as it was in his caveman ancestors. Basic psychology tells us, sociology confirms it, and history bears witness that having something to call your own is a desire as old as Adam and Eve themselves.
There is a reason that of the 50 odd countries that have tried Marxism as their operative economic maxim in the last years, not one -- you can write that down, not one -- has been a paradise that has attracted people from around the world to flock over to try their fortunes at the fount of prosperity.
In fact, exactly the opposite has happened: From Cuba to Cambodia, tens of thousands of the most entrepreneurial minds have left for the shores of capitalism, to build their lives in freedom.
Marxism doesn’t work in reality. And, on closer inspection, one doubts it works in theory either. Trust me, like many of its most emotional adherents, I too have a university degree or two or three, in economics and business. But I also live in the real world.
A system untethered to the deepest human longings and incentives does not work without state sponsored coercion … and that coercion is the Stalinist patina on Marxism. At some point, even that coercion fails to work. That, my friends, is the peroration of the whole thought process of Karl Marx.
Collectivism where everyone shares and cares sounds wonderful, but like utopia, it is a myth. Because myths are not organic, the seduction of force to make them real is palpable. And Marxists have almost invariably done so (perhaps the late Jyoti Basu in West Bengal was the exception?).
The results over the 80 years of practical Marxism have been predictable: Death and destitution, dictatorships that were unaccountable to anyone, and an exodus of the most productive minds to lands where the fruits of their labour would not be taken away from them and their dependents.
Marxist East Germany was a shantytown compared to free West Germany; South Korea is a first world economy sitting next to the world’s most repressive and impoverished country, North Korea; Cubans in Cuba haven’t seen cars built after 1960 while Cubans in Miami own several latest models per person … the difference is stunning.
Whether Karl Marx envisioned that his unnatural ideas will become the philosophical foundations for scores of Communist regimes, I do not know; I could even be charitable and assume that the German thinker would have been embarrassed knowing that in almost all the “workers paradises,” the Marxist bosses lived the lives of opulence and luxury that any capitalist billionaire would envy.
A double century at the crease of time tested folly is enough. It is time to end the innings of Marxism as a legitimate, humane philosophy, and send its author’s ghost back to the pavilion of has-beens.
Esam Sohail is a college administrator and social sciences lecturer in Kansas, USA.