Certain words and phrases tip off listeners to abject stupidity. "I think I'll buy another vowel" is one of them, as is "What this world is missing is a comic-book, er, graphic biography of Ronald Reagan." One phrase that tops them all has to be "Marxism has never really been tried," the mind-boggling assertion written by James Carroll and printed by the Boston Globe for its Labor Day opinion section (via Harry Forbes):
The 19th-century dream of a workers' vanguard leading to a better world was both betrayed and realized, and in each case, labor was undercut. The betrayal occurred when tyrants, in advancing the cause of "the people," actually advanced themselves. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" turned out to be mere dictatorship. Yet the discrediting of the vision of Karl Marx by the 20th-century communisms that claimed him does not vitiate the original vision. Echoing what Mahatma Gandhi once said of Christianity, Marxism has yet to be really tried.
The realization of the workers' dream occurred, across the same decades of the 20th century, when regulated capitalism made its adjustments, and a vast population of working people was able to lay solid claim to the middle class. But affluence had an inherently co-opting effect, as was powerfully displayed during the American civil rights movement, when the labor virtue of solidarity was trumped by racism, and union members mostly found themselves on the wrong side of history. The curious phenomenon of "Reagan Democrats" saw workers recruited into a reactionary political movement that undercuts their own interests.
James Carroll really could use an editor, and apparently the Boston Globe has none to spare. Essentially, what Carroll argues here is that Marxism succeeded in capitalism -- and then failed as workers achieved ever-higher standards of living. The point, for people like Carroll, isn't improving living standards, but in a nihilistic overthrow of society in which the workers organize to ensure an equality of result rather than equal opportunity.
Well, that's exactly what happened in the Soviet Union, China, and other nations that either willingly adopted Marxism or had it thrust upon them. The proletariat overthrew the monied interests and confiscated everything in the name of the people. They achieved what Marx had argued would be the beginning of mankind's march to Utopia, and for decades, the cognoscenti of the Left tossed adulation towards these countries as the embodiment of Marxism and the future of Man.
What happened? Marxism utterly failed. It failed to account for a very human impulse of economic motivation, which is to say, people wanted to see the fruits of their own labor. Once everyone was more or less guaranteed to get the same as everyone else, the main motivation for productivity disappeared -- on the farms, in the factories, and in the service industries. Marxism became a shortage-management system, and a bad one at that.
Carroll would like to elide that particular part of history, as Walter Duranty managed to win a Pulitzer doing seventy years ago. However, millions of people starved in some of the most bountiful land on Earth as Five Year Plans failed to produce enough food to feed the proletariat. In both the Soviet Union and China, the death tolls of famines reached in the tens of millions, while in the free world, such famines never occurred. Where people owned property and had profit motive to produce, the same period generated an agricultural revolution that virtually eliminated starvation in a generation.
Marxism didn't just cripple economic life, either. Its strict power structure kept the people from challenging the leaders of their societies. It produced Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, men who barely flinched at the massive famine deaths, especially while ordering the deaths of thousands more for political purposes. Marxism in its practiced form turned out to be one of the most evil philosophies ever designed, and only the tenacity of the free West kept it from encircling all nations in its oppressive and deadly grip.
The rest of James Carroll's screed fares almost as poorly. In one telling point, he laments the shift of industry to the information economy, and mourns the death of economic nationalization to "globalization". What happened to "Workers of the world, unite?" Didn't Marxism anticipate globalization -- even demand it? He correctly notes that the keyboard has replaced the factory as a center of innovation, and in the same breath calls that a development that "destroys freedom".
I'd love to take a hit of whatever Carroll's smoking today.
One could expect this kind of incoherent diatribe on the front web page of International ANSWER, a well-known Stalinist apologist group. Boston readers might expect more from their largest newspaper. Or, perhaps not.