Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
At the start of the fifth month of urban rioting, it’s obvious that the deaths of black men resisting arrest are not causing the disorder, any more than imaginary “systemic racism.” But these excuses are mere pretexts. What we are really witnessing is the manifestation of a Marxist ideology and methodology over 150 years old. This intellectual virus has waxed and waned over that time, but has survived for one reason: The liberal democracies have adopted policies that accept and legitimize the technocratic, redistributionist, centralized Leviathan state.
Such endorsement of basically collectivist economic and social policies has created in the body politic the potential space in which Marxism can slumber until it erupts into an epidemic.
Many of us are puzzled by the endorsement of socialism on the part of the richest, freest, best- nourished people who ever existed. We point out socialism’s failures, from the failed revolutions of 1848 to the outbreak of World War I, when socialist political parties across Europe voted to finance a war in which millions of men fought, suffered, and died for the flags of their countries–– nations that Marxist doctrine claimed were transitory, parochial epiphenomena destined to disappear when communism triumphed and the red “heaven on earth” joined mankind in one global, collectivist identity.
But Marxist theory had been proven false decades before the Great War. As the great historian of the Soviet Union Robert Conquest pointed out, by the late 19th century “the Marxist predictions of a capitalist failure to expand production, of a fall in the rate of profit, a decrease in wages, of increasing proletarian impoverishment and the resulting approach of revolutionary crisis in the industrial countries had all proved false.” The proletariat didn’t get poorer, it became middle class consumers.
The Russian revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union fostered for over half a century the illusion that communism and socialism were still viable. The Soviet regime, of course, was a Potemkin great power, which survived only because Western traitors had given Stalin the technical information necessary for creating atomic weapons. Yet the USSR was still able to spread Marxism across the globe, and to nourish the hopes of Western intellectuals that some fashion of collectivism could still usher in the communist paradise of perfect equality and social justice.
A disease that should have been eradicated thus persisted. In this country, the rise of progressivism successfully altered the Constitutional order to create a technocratic regime of federal bureaus and agencies. This unelected, unaccountable apparat increasingly has encroached on the power and autonomy of states, cities, businesses, churches, families, and individuals by massive, intricate regulatory regimes. Like Marxism, their power was based on pretenses to “scientific” knowledge that in fact comprised scientism: ideological beliefs dressed up in the jargon and quantitative formulae of real science. The consequences are the “soft despotism” Tocqueville predicted when Karl Marx was a callow youth studying Hegel in Berlin.
Marxism thus was kept alive in its “kinder, gentler” guise of progressivism. FDR’s expansion of federal agencies and redistributive programs was the critical change that gave basic ideas of Marxism a place to hide. Meanwhile, socialism found fertile soil in the Great Depression, successfully marketed as the failure of capitalism, when in fact it was prolonged by dirigiste schemes that tried to micromanage a system that is in the main self-regulating. This false narrative was seemingly validated by America’s success in rapidly creating the world’s greatest army and defeating Germany and Japan.
But that was a category error: intrusive, temporary policies and government involvement in the market are necessary in times of war; but they can become instruments of malign government interference in times of peace if allowed to live and metastasize. And, as they have in the U.S., the citizens become hooked on entitlements, and began to view them as rights, undermining the critical assumption of the Founding that true human rights are inherent in human nature, and are not the gift of any government comprising flawed human beings vulnerable to the corruption of power.
By the time of the next great expansion of the federal government, Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” legislation in the Sixties, this unconstitutional expansion of government intrusion was accepted as a legitimate function of government, and at times increased by Republican presidents and Congresses. No amount of subsequent serial failure of such technocratic hubris has been able to stop the institutionalizing of basically socialist assumptions. The result has been the bipartisan “managerial elite,” a political guild that defines how politics is conducted, what aims it should pursue, and who is qualified to run for office––self-styled political “experts” rather than people with practical wisdom and experience in the real world.
More important, this legitimizing of the redistributionist socialist-lite Leviathan created a political ecological niche for a Marxism, hard or soft, that had already found a comfortable home in universities, think-tanks, and culture both high, middle-brow, and low. Cultural Marxism, the idea that revolution requires altering cultural productions, mores, and morals flourished in this niche, from which it trickled down into the public-school curriculum. Indeed, Black Lives Matter ideology will soon join the ahistorical “1619 Project” and Howard’s Zinn’s historically challenged agitprop, A People’s History of America, in American junior highs and high schools.
Thus the political regime of big government redistributing wealth to finance entitlements was reinforced by Cultural Marxist theorizing. Especially important was the exploitation of racial discontents kept alive by intellectually bankrupt ideas like Critical Race Theory, the notion that Caucasians are inherently and irredeemably racist, and that this racism is manifested in public and political and social institutions. This discontent, publicized and exaggerated by a compliant media, becomes a permanent “crisis” useful for leveraging power for one political faction at the expense of the people.
Hence the Black Lives Matter movement, and its Brown Shirt enforcers Antifa. Their founders and leaders are self-professed “trained Marxists” who are exploiting the lockdowns and hysteria over the coronavirus. They despise Joe Biden and the Democrat Party as part of the ruling class, the feckless fatcats and Fabians who haven’t used their power to effect the radical changes the revolution demands.
But BLM are not stupid. They see the opportunity created by irrational Trump hatred and the coronavirus. They have taken the measure of bougie and plutocratic blue-state mayors and governors who can be brow-beaten into giving them––as the mayor of Baltimore said in 2015 during the riots over Freddie Gray’s death in police custody–– “space to destroy,” and so create telegenic disorder and violence they can blame on Donald Trump.
Hence BLM and its ilk have made a tactical alliance with the Democrat Party, which has embraced much of its radical wing’s policy prescriptions like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. All involve greater government intrusion into the economy, more redistribution of productive people’s money, expansion of regulations and agency functionaries, and more power for themselves, the leaders who have already strong-armed millions of dollars from corporations, and who can expect to enjoy influence and government billets in a Biden administration.
Of course, the bulk of the protestors and rioters––badly educated, filled with nonsense from university “studies” departments, and idled by the lockdowns––are indulging the romance of revolution on the cheap, given the low odds of arrest, and even lower ones of being charged, tried, and if convicted, spending time in prison. But remember, every revolution is accomplished by a minority of true believers using expendable fellow-travelers as shock-troops and cannon-fodder. Don’t forget, in 1917 a mere 10,000 Bolsheviks seized control of a great empire of 126 million.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, then, was not the “end of history,” for the virus of Marxism lived on in the institutions of the West, including the U.S. where progressivism had institutionalized many of its features. It has been biding its time, waiting for crises from World War I to the coronavirus to give them opportunities to expand from its receptive spaces in government, education, and culture, and seize control and finish the job of “fundamentally transforming America.”
Finally, we are now seeing the ground being prepared for the final demolition of the Constitutional order: the elimination of its institutions to check and balance power, whether of the majority or minority, through changes such as getting rid of the electoral college, packing the Supreme Court, making the number of senators based on population; and weakening the Bill of Rights by revising or eliminating the First and Second Amendments, already happening with draconian gun laws and “cancel culture” silencing of dissident voices deviating from the “woke” gospel.
This election ultimately will be a referendum on whether we the people should undergo that “transformation,” or vote to check the latest Marxist assault and keep our freedom. As it has been for centuries, the choice will be between freedom and tyranny.