Iain Martin's Letter

Low Marx: reasons to be happy on 200th birthday of an architect of so much human misery

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  5 May 2018

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It would be wrong to read too much into England’s local election results. Westminster media hype is high and turnout is low in these affairs. Only around a third of voters show up, and not every local authority seat is up for grabs. While it is sometimes possible to discern long-term trends, such as the long and significant rise of the Lib Dems in the run up to 2010 when they eventually held the balance of power at Westminster, there are plenty of examples of parties doing well at local elections and then falling short in a general election. So, don’t over interpret local elections.

Still, this week’s outcome was extremely funny. Even if just for the look on the faces of the Corbynistas when they realised that Magic Grandpa – Socialist Santa Jeremy Corbyn – had come unstuck. Although of late the stricken Tories have had a miserable run (almost as miserable as the voters) and the Marxists of Momentum have been running a noisy campaign, the Conservatives somehow still made some gains.

The longer term fundamentals have not changed for the Conservatives, however. They have to get on and plot a proper solution to the housing crisis for first time buyers; rediscover public sector reform and improvement of the public realm; revivify British capitalism; and find new leadership their party can rally round at the next election post-Brexit. The pressure should be on, but these results buy them a little time to reorganise.

If a modest celebration by the Tories is in order, they should not forget the scale of the task. Up against the most far left Labour leader in 35 years, someone a year ago they hoped to smash to smithereens, they are overjoyed to have simply held on in Wandsworth. Yes, Wandsworth! That is the affluent London borough which has more moped-riding dads and Mumsnet readers per square hundred metres than anywhere on earth. Yet, the Tories are still running neck and neck against a Labour leadership group that is Marxist, advised by former Communists.

Indeed, celebration is premature. The ideas underpinning Corbynism are undergoing a strange revival that should trouble anyone who believes in the effectiveness of market mechanisms.

Marxist ideas that were until quite recently thought discredited and done for are back being heralded, and this is even before the West encounters an economic downturn that it is overdue. When that crunch comes, and economic history and the cycle suggests it will come at some point, those reclaiming Marx will say that they have the answer.

This weekend it is the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday, which is another chance for critics of the father of Communism to marvel that it is even possible to regard Marx as a positive figure. Fittingly, in a spirit of ultra-liberal idiocy the New York Times  even ran a piece this week in which it was declared that Marx was right.

In terms of celebrations, the Chinese leadership has led the way. On Friday China’s leader for life – Xi Jinping – gave a speech in which he described Marx as the “greatest thinker in human history.” The regime’s propaganda machine has been churning out studies of the work of Marx, suggesting that we should look once again to the old rogue for inspiration. While China has deviated from the path of true socialism, by accepting the need for profit to drive and incentivise investment and expansion, the government still wants to be identified with the more romantic elements of Marx’s philosophy to bolster its claim that disagreement, dispute and democratic choice is a distraction from the pursuit of a class mission and national expansion.

This weekend, the 18ft high statue of Marx gifted by China to the town that is the birthplace of Marx will be unveiled. Trier in Germany is visited by more than 100,000 Chinese tourists a year pay inghomage.

Incredibly, Jean Claude-Juncker, the President of the European Commission, is attending and making a speech on Marx and the way his ideas can inspire reform of the EU. Isn’t the EU in enough trouble already?.

Juncker’s spokesman defended his attendance.

“After decades of experience in politics at a national and European level, President Juncker is very well aware of the historical facts and sensitivities and whatever peoples’ views on Karl Marx. I think that nobody can deny that Karl Marx is a figure who shaped history in one way or another.”

That’s one way of putting it. Marx shaped history “in one way or another.” His ideas whenever implemented have proved a disaster, and somewhere between 70m and 100m deaths can be attributed to the actions of Communist regimes enacting one version or another of his Marxist creed ever since the calamitous Russian Revolution of 1917.

Yet it – somehow – remains possible in polite company to say that Marx is a mixed bag or misunderstood, as though his ideas were never tried properly. Think of him as the equivalent of Jimi Hendrix. It is not his fault that he ushered in heavy metal – Hendrix, I mean, not Karl Marx. Likewise, say supporters, Marx attracted a lot of disciples who got overly excited and out of hand. His true philosophy has never been tried, they say.

That is balls. The problem with Marxism is that it has been tried, repeatedly. It rests on a view of human behaviour and incentives that requires the market to be obliterated. The basic means of exchange – with profit acting as the powerful incentive that drives innovation – will be replaced by a magical communal system, scientifically organised and planned. When it doesn’t work – and it never has, anywhere – it then becomes necessary to introduce coercion and to target those bold enough to object to the madness. The tyranny and violence that follow are not some unfortunate side effect of decent ideas done badly. They are a direct consequence of Marx’s core ideas being duff.

Surely Marx was  a skilled writer and historical thinker? Yes, but Hitler was a skilled propagandist, political strategist and military thinker, until the summer of 1941. A statue of the monster Hitler would not get commissioned and unveiled by the President of the European Commission, so why should the monstrous Marx continue to get a free pass?

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution,” Marx wrote. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries unite!”

The proletarians – in Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Africa and South Africa – had rather a lot to lose in Karl’s catastrophic experiment, it turned out.

The reason to be happy I mentioned in the headline? The Corbyn leadership believes in these ideas, properly, although it plays it down, fearful of what the voters would make of the unvarnished version.

The writing of Corbyn’s closest associates for decades is littered with Marxism. They have not hidden it. Then those people by a series of disasters and cock-ups took control of one of Britain’s great mainstream parties, the moderate centre-left Labour party, and subverted it. Now, there is a glimmer of hope that sensible voters are starting to work out properly what this lot are about, and that underpinning their worldview is a nasty intolerance of dissent and economic freedom.

Have a good weekend.