Persistent Leftists Aren’t Necessarily Persistent Marxists

A question that has been batted about on this website is whether the woke Left is Marxist, albeit representative of a Marxism that stresses racial, gender, and expressive inequalities rather than socioeconomic divisions. My answer to this question is at least provisionally “no.” Unless I see evidence to the contrary, it seems to me the differences between traditional Marxism and the Left that is now oppressing onetime Western democracies are too great to warrant an affirmative response. Like another contributor to this website, I do not believe that the cultural and political struggle in which we are engaged is primarily about race. American blacks are expendable foot soldiers in a struggle that white elites are waging, mostly against white Deplorables.

 In Germany the supposed Right, whom publishing houses and newspaper editors are now ostracizing, include former East German freedom fighters, like Vera Lengsfeld, Uwe Tellkamp, and Monika Maron, who should be hailed as friends of liberty. Such literary figures have dared to complain about censorship and government-encouraged violence against dissenters, particularly as regards immigration and COVID restrictions. In France, it is the Muslim population that the Left mobilizes to fight a “fascist” threat; and critics now refer to the French Left as “Islamo-gauchiste.”  In Germany, Turks, Syrians, and other descendants of Third World immigrants (only a minority of whom are black) are joining the government- and media-supported “Struggle against the Right.” Non-American elites are pushing the same anti-Western, anti-bourgeois, and totalitarian leftist agenda as their American counterparts but doing so mostly without black protesters. 

One may however question whether these activists are Marxist. As Victor Davis Hanson points out: “Those whites smeared for having privilege, usually do not have it; those who smear them, white and non-white, usually do.” There is no Marxist movement I am aware of whose members come largely from Martha’s Vineyard, the Chicago North Shore, Kamala Harris’ Los Angeles Country Club, and other locations where the leisure class hangs out. We are now witnessing limousine liberalism on steroids, and it looks nothing like European Communist parties circa 1948, with their working-class base and generally Puritanical morals. Genuine Marxists, like Gyula Thürmer, head of the now reformed Hungarian Communist Party, are grousing about the false identity of the Western rich, who falsely claim to represent the radical Left. According to Thürmer, Eastern Europe has abandoned  Communist regimes to be taken over by George Soros and his anti-national, socially radical cohorts.  This old Commie may have a point. 

Further, one ceases to represent Marxism if one shifts the conversation from socioeconomic conflict to the social discrimination bewailed by the transgendered and gays. These psychological concerns do not flow from a recognizable Marxist ideology. There is, moreover, little shared ground between traditional working-class grievances and the demand for sex hormone therapy for grade school children who wish to change their gender. One must show a greater similarity between these alleged victims of discrimination to prove a significant relationship. 

Hitler claimed to be struggling for disadvantaged Aryans. Did that mean that the Nazis were Marxists? Mussolini, in declaring war on the English and French in July 1940, spoke of waging a crusade for his proletariat nation against “democratic capitalist plutocrats.” Was Mussolini then a Marxist because he appealed to a victimized nation against its supposed victimizers?  Calling for a struggle against enemies designated as victimizers does not by itself prove Marxist credentials.

Characterizing one’s enemies as Marxists, however, has become an established practice in the American Conservative Movement because that movement’s founders came out of the Cold War and the protracted battle against Communism. But that habit does not turn all the adversaries of American conservatives into Communists or Marxists. Although new enemies may be as pernicious as old ones, they are not necessarily the same.

But there is continuity in the radical Left (as I have discovered from my own research). A certain pattern can be discerned in adherents of an older Left moving on to champion a later one. Often the same people have traveled from one Left to another because of their cultural and emotional orientation.  Does anyone believe that Jerrold Nadler and those of a certain age in his 10th Congressional District in Lower Manhattan had the slightest difficulty moving from Communist-front causes into solidarity with BLM and LGBT? The late Congresswoman Bella Abzug went from being a hardline Communist (who supported the Soviet-Nazi pact in 1939) to a radical feminist and a fan of Castro’s Cuba. Carl Bernstein, who came from a radical leftist home, has embraced just about every Left that has come along during his long lifetime. Minnesota progressives (who are mostly of Scandinavian ancestry) have seemed equally happy voting for socialists or supporting the very BLM-friendly Governor Tim Waltz and the Antifa-sympathizer Attorney General Keith Ellison. It might be best to focus on those who reflexively align with the Left rather than worrying about a persistent Marxist ideology.   

About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

Photo: (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

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