FrontPageMagazine.com | May 27,
IT HAS BEEN HARDLY A DECADE since the statues of Lenin were toppled
throughout the Soviet empire and the head of Karl Marx was severed once
and for all from any connection to a body politic. Yet the lips of the
severed head continue to move.
In the West leading intellectualsmany who would not allow themselves
to be called Marxistsprofess to hear a message they insist is relevant
to our times. Thus the rush to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication
of the Communist Manifesto, the only text that most of the millions of
soldiers in Marxist vanguards around the world ever read.
The Manifesto was an incitement to totalitarian ambitions whose results
were far bloodier than those inspired by Mein Kampf. In it Marx announced
the doom of free market societies, declared the liberal bourgeoisie to
be a "ruling class" and the democratic state its puppet, summoned proletarians
and their intellectual vanguard to begin civil wars in their own countries,
and thereby launched the most destructive movement in human history.
Yet this birthday celebration in the commanding heights of our political
culture is marked not by judgments of its historical malevolence or even
by cautionary admonitions to potential disciples, but by fulsome praise
for its brilliant analyses and even more preposterously for its analytic
profundity and prescience. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles
Times, not to mention usual suspects like The Nation, have embarrassed
themselves by asserting the indispensability of this tract for understanding
the failings of the very system which brought Marxism to its kneescapitalism.
We might expect this of a former Communist and present-day Marxist like
Eric Hobsbawm, who contributed the egregious introduction to an anniversary
edition of the Manifesto published by the New Left Review's Verso Press.
But it is passing strange to be presented with so historically unconscious
a statement from the New York Times. Given the current state of the intellectual
culture, it is no doubt appropriate that the Times would pick a professor
of English literature for the task (English departments being virtually
the last redoubts of the Marxist faith this side of Havana). But it is
ironic that the professor, Steven Marcus, should be a protégé
of Lionel Trilling, one of the most perceptive liberal critics of Marxism.
For Marcus has written nothing less than a birthday ode to the irascible
and demonic genius from Trier, under the title "Marx's Masterpiece at 150."
Degeneration of the Academic Left According to Marcus and the Times:
"The Manifesto was and is a work of immense autonomous historical importance.
It marks the accession of social and intellectual consciousness to a new
stage of inclusiveness. It has become part of an integral modern sensibility
. . . and it remains so, after the demise of Soviet Communism and its satellite
regimes, the descent into moribundity of Marxist movements in the world
and the end of the cold war."
To be sure, on America's benighted college campuses, unfortunately and
deplorably, this description of Marxism's currency is accurate. Marxism,
or some kitsch version of it, has indeed become "part of an integral modern
sensibility." But what about the real world, outside the ivory tower?
Of even more consequence is the Times's endorsement of this degeneration
of intellectual lifewhat should properly be regarded as a social disaster.
Instead of digesting the lessons of the Communist holocaust, closing the
Marxist tent, throwing the Manifesto in the intellectual garbage bin where
it belongs, dusting off the volumes by Von Mises and Hayek, which actually
predicted the Communist fall andfor the first time in one's lifethinking
about how to make bourgeois democracy work, the Times apparently would
like its progressive readers to believe that none of this sordid revolutionary
history has any relevance to the important and present task of continuing
the civil war the Manifesto first incited:
A decade after those world-historical occurrences, the Manifesto continues
to yield itself to our reading in the new light that its enduring insights
into social existence generate. It emerges ever more distinctly as an unsurpassed
dramatic representation, diagnosis and prophetic array of visionary judgments
on the modern world . . . . A century and a half afterward, it remains
a classic expression of the society it anatomized and whose doom it prematurely
Prematurely! Are we to understand by this that the Times thinks the
bloody apocalypse Marx gleefully hoped for is yet to come? The answer is
obviously yes if the Manifesto has "enduring insights" into capitalist
economy. And what exactly is it that the Manifesto is alleged to have diagnosed?
This, after all, is the decisive issue. Is the Manifesto correct in what
it says about "social existence"?
In fact the Manifesto is so self-evidently wrong in its fundamental
analyses and judgments that its author could not begin to explain how the
article praising his bankrupt and discredited war cry could appear in the
Times at all. How is it that the leading institution of the "ruling class"
press, in the principal bourgeois nation on the planet, could feature such
Marxist tripe? Nor is this question incidental to the core problem of a
text whose principal thesis claiming to analyze complex societies on the
basis of a single structureeconomic classis announced in its very first
line: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class
The Manifesto's Message is: Civil War This hypothesis is really
the essence and sum of the Manifesto which is not a call to thought, butand
this should never be forgottena call to arms. The striking (and reprehensible)
thesis of the Manifesto is that democratic societies are not really different
in kind from the aristocratic and slave societies that required revolutions
to overthrow. Despite surface appearances, despite the fact that in contrast
to all previous societies, democracy makes the people "sovereign"democratic
capitalism is "unmasked" by Marx as an "oppressive" and tyrannical society
like all the rest, and therefore requires extra-legal and violent means
to liberate its victims from its yoke. That is why those who have been
inspired by the Manifesto have declared war on the liberal societies of
the West and have spilled so much blood and spread so much misery in our
The meaning of the first sentence of the Manifesto, then, is this: All
(non-socialist) societies are divided into classes that are "oppressed"
and those who oppress them. Capitalism is no different, even though its
revolutions may have instituted democratic political structures designed
to enfranchise the "oppressed." For the very idea of democracy in a society
where private property exists, according to the Manifesto, is an illusion:
"The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the
common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." In other words, democratic elections
are a sham. Civil war is the political answer to humanity's problems: "Workers
of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains." The solution
to all fundamental social problemsto war, to poverty, to economic inequalitylies
in a conflict that will rip society apart and create a new revolutionary
world from its ruins. This is the enduring and poisonous message of the
Manifesto, and why its believers have left such a trail of human slaughter
in their path as they set about to create a progressive future.
Almost every important analytic thesis of the Manifestoincluding its
opening statementis patently false. History is not the history of class
struggle, as defined by Marx, i.e., the struggle of economic oppressor
and oppressed. Not even the historical event which provided the basis for
Marx's theoretical model, the French Revolution, is explicable in these
terms. Historians like Simon Schama and Francis Furet have established,
beyond any reasonable doubt, that capitalism was already thriving under
the monarchy, and it was the nobility, not the bourgeoisie, that upended
the ancien régime). When we look at the twentieth century, whose
course has largely been determined by forces of nationalism and racism,
which Marx utterly discounted, the hopeless inadequacy of his theories
becomes impossible except for those blinded by faithto ignore.
According to Marx, the bourgeois epoch possesses a distinctive feature:
"It has simplified the class antagonisms: Society as a whole is more and
more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes,
directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat." But, of course,
it hasn't. Which is one reason why Marxism has failed, as a program, in
all the industrialized countries.
In fact, much of the Marxist critique of capitalism reflects nothing
so much as a romantic longing for a feudal past in which social status
was pre-ordained and irrevocable, and stamped every individual with a destiny
and a grace:
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured
and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the
lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
Of course, it has not exactly done this either. More likely it has turned
physician, lawyer, scientist, and poet into entrepreneurs themselves. In
the open societies created by capitalist revolutionaries, they can set
up as independent contractors; they can incorporate themselves; and they
can move up the social and economic scale to heights undreamed of when
their status may have been "reverential" but where it was also fixed by
the immutable relations of an authentic "class society," which bourgeois
society is not. The complexity and fluidity of class structure in developed
capitalist societies has made a mockery of the core principles of Marxist
The Manifesto's False Vision of the Social Future Marx was a first-rate
intellect and a brilliant writer, and his descriptions of the progressive
economic expansion of market societies under the leadership of the "bourgeoisie"
are memorable and provide most of the basis for claims that the Manifesto
is an accurate and "prescient" work. Marx famously extolled the capitalist
class for constantly "revolutionizing the forces of production," concluding:
"The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created
more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding
This sentence encapsulates both the seductive power of Marx's writing
and the sinister import of his theory. The description would seem to be
an endorsement of capitalism, indicating the immense value to all members
of society in the encouragement it has provided to an entrepreneurial class
to create more social wealth than the world has ever known. It would hardly
seem to provide an argument for the permanent war that Marx goes on to
advocate against the bourgeoisie in the name of human progress. But even
in the sentence quoted, one sees how the theory is designed to cancel the
praise. Marx identifies the creative entrepreneurs as "rulers" in a sense
designed to parallel that of absolutist monarchs and slave-owners, and
thus to detach them from the reality of their achievement and from the
fact that they earn the power they accumulate, and thus to incite social
resentment and hatred against them. The theory further postulates that
the productive forces these entrepreneurs have created have "outgrown"
them, and make it necessary to destroy their "rule."
In Marx's colorful prose: "Modern bourgeois society . . . is like the
sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world
whom he has called up by his spells." Marx is referring here to the business
cycle and its economic crises.
In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs,
would have seemed an absurditythe epidemic of over-production. Society
suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it
appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the
supply of every means of subsistence.
According to Marx the bourgeoisie is at war with the very forces of
production that it has called into being ("The weapons with which the bourgeoisie
felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.")
And there is more. The forces of production called into being by the bourgeoisie
have also created a class, the proletariat, which is its victim and its
antagonist. The proletariat has no property itself, and therefore is in
a position to abolish private property which is the "condition" of bourgeois
production and bourgeois oppression, to remove the bourgeois "rulers" from
their corporate thrones and to create a cooperative society in which the
economy can be organized according to a "social plan." This development
emanating from the logic of History that Marx has discovered, has all the
inevitability of a natural force:
The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie,
replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary
combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore,
cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces
and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above
all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat
are equally inevitable.
Well, not really.
The Manifesto's Poisonous Legacy Under the spell of prose like this,
whole generations of "progressives" have been blinded to the obvious bounties
of democratic capitalist societies and encouraged to make war on them,
and with a nihilistic fury inspired by illusions of "social justice" producing
human tragedy beyond measure. The heirs of Marx are still at it. In the
wake of the Communist catastrophe, they are willing to acknowledge only
that Marx's economic categories are too narrow and that the proletariat
has failed to make the revolution. But the core Marxist model, the model
which proposes that democratic societies are oppressive and tyrannical,
that they deserve not fundamental allegiance and constructive attention
but venomous scorn and nihilistic rejection, that democratic processes
and institutions are a sham, that the just solution to social problems
lies along the path of civil confrontation and political warfarethis model
is alive and well among radical feminists, racial separatists, queer nationalists,
and the rag-tag intellectual army of post-modernists, critical theorists,
and kitsch Marxists that inhabit our universities and evidently our editorial
rooms as well.
Contrary to the Times, and other institutions of the "bourgeois" media
that have followed its lead, what needs to be emphasized on this 150th
anniversary of The Communist Manifesto is that Marx was totally, tragically,
destructively wrong. He was wrong about the oppressive nature of the bourgeoisie
and the outmoded nature of capitalist production, wrong about the increasing
misery of the working class, and wrong about its liberating powers, wrong
about the increasing concentration of wealth and the increasing polarization
of class under capitalism, wrong about the labor theory of value and the
falling rate of profit, and wrong about the possibility of creating an
advanced and democratic industrial society by abolishing private property
and the market in order to adopt a "social plan."
If Marx's economics were already outdated and false when he wrote the
Manifesto, even worse was his political ignorance. He was, in particular,
disastrously deaf to all the resonances of the Anglo-American constitutional
tradition and the accumulated democratic wisdom ascending from the Magna
Carta to the American Constitution. Here in its implacable arrogance is
how the "visionary" prophet who wrote the Manifesto actually saw the political
When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared,
and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association
of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character.
Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one
class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with
the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize
itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling
class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production,
then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions
for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will
thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.
One billion people have been impounded in totalitarian states and gulags,
and one hundred million people have been murdered in our lifetime by Marxists
acting on these false premises. That they should be endorsed today by anyone
at all is a moral disgrace. This is what we should remember on the 150th
anniversary of Marx's destructive work. Political power is not "merely
the organized power of one class for oppressing another." In democratic
market societies, where social mobility is fluid, the people are sovereign
and the rule of law prevails, classes do not "oppress" one another, and
those who inflame the passions of revolution are inciting their followers
to criminal acts. Period.
Conclusion Private property may be the basis of class divisions, as
Marxists claim, but private property has been proven by all history to
be the indispensable bulwark of human liberty, the only basis for producing
general economic prosperity and social wealth that human beings have yet
discovered. There are no democratic societies, or industrial societies
or post-industrial societies that are not based on private property and
economic markets. Those who make war on private property, make war on human
liberty and human well-being.
As noted above, the writer of the Times review is a professor of English
literature. At any other moment in our intellectual history his choice
for an assignment of this importance might be dismissed as mere happenstance.
But Marcus's views reflect the appalling state of literary studies in American
colleges, which under the aegis of tenured radicals have become a pretext
for teaching Marxist kitsch under rubrics like "post-modernism," "post-structuralism,"
and "critical" and "cultural" studies. These pseudo-Marxists share Marx's
hatred of all bourgeois societies like our own. As the professor, himself,
put it in the Times: "Whether it is regarded as capitalist democracy as
civil society, as the welfare state in transition or as the modern social
contract, bourgeois society remains alive and well which means of course,
as it always has, that it is in a hell of a state."
The sub-text is that American society is a society to be rejected and
despised as a social hell, that its institutions are institutions to be
subverted and destroyed. This is the curriculum in all too many college
classrooms today. This is the real meaning of The Communist Manifesto on
its 150th anniversary, and of the celebrations of the Manifesto by an intellectual
class whose own record in this bloodiest of centuries, is a sordid and
sorry one of apology and support for the totalitarian enemies of America
both abroad and within.
David Horowitz is
the author of numerous books including an autobiography, Radical Son, which
has been described as “the first great autobiography of his generation,”
and which chronicles his odyssey from radical activism to the current positions
he holds. Among his other books are The Politics of Bad Faith, Hating Whitey
and Other Progressive Causes and The Art of Political War. The Art of Political
War was described by White House political strategist Karl Rove as “the
perfect guide to winning on the political battlefield.” Horowitz’s latest
book, Uncivil Wars, was published in January this year, and chronicles
his crusade against intolerance and racial McCarthyism on college campuses
Click here to read more about David