Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thoughts on Marxism

I knew upon entering graduate school that many of my views would be challenged, and that the challenge would come primarily from the (far) Left. This specter didn’t bother me; I believe in a healthy exchange of ideas. Thus, I considered graduate school to be an opportunity to test my values and political views. If my views were going to be regularly trounced, I would reexamine them. No matter what occurred, my intellectual curiosity would be stimulated and enriched from the experience.

Nevertheless, as I begin my third semester I cannot help but to be amazed by the persistence of Marxist theory within the humanities, or at least the Journalism and Mass Communications department. Last fall, a professor in our department gave a presentation about her area of expertise. She repeatedly brought up Marxism during her talk. I asked why she relied so heavily on Marxism when the historical record proved that it was a failed ideology. She replied that it was a helpful paradigm through which to examine society in the past and present.

Her answer satisfied me. I believe it can be useful to examine issues by viewing them through differing paradigms. The problem with Marxism, however, is that it is very reductionist; it aims to describe vast complex phenomena using largely economic arguments. Therefore, in some cases Marxist theory may elucidate some understanding of certain phenomenon—and it is certainly an interesting way of critiquing the capitalist system—but it has severe limitations.

It seems that once a person becomes enamored with Marxist thought, they start applying it to nearly every problem on the planet. Therefore, they might use the Marxist perspective to examine race relations in America; or to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict; or to explain Islamic fundamentalism, etc. The problem, however, is that Marxist theory adds no profound understanding to the aforementioned issues. If anything, relying on it muddles and confuses the issues further, because those issues involve the legacy of slavery, race relations, history, competing nationalisms, and religion. Economics may be a factor to a certain degree, but it is hardly the only factor, or the most significant.

“That’s Not Real Marxism”

Another curious phenomenon occurs when debating the merits of Marxism in class (Truth be told, the merits of Marxism, or lack thereof, would not be discussed much were it not for me, as I have usually been the sole dissenter.). Whenever it is pointed out that every attempt to reify Marxism has ended up in totalitarianism and depressed economies, the proponents of Marxism reply that those examples were not practicing “real Marxism.” This argument is a copout.

The Soviet Union, the Eastern bloc states, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and many other countries and movements in the world all shared roots in Marxist ideology. And another thing that all had or have in common is that to one degree or another, they restricted the freedom of their citizens; had depressed economies (sometimes resulting in mass-starvation); and promoted a paranoid view of the outside world to their citizenry. Finally, throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc states lent widespread support to any terrorist group that added “popular” or “red” to its name, thus indicating a disturbing trend of support for illegal, violent political groups.

The lone exception to the rule is China, whose economy is booming thanks to adopting capitalist free market policies. Nevertheless, personal freedoms remain restricted, making China a semi-benevolent fascist dictatorship that is communist in name only.

Even in the face of the historical record, the Marxist proponent will maintain that the aforementioned states were still not practicing real Marxism.

But wait a minute!—If those countries were not practicing real Marxism, why did so many leftist intellectuals in the West support or sympathize with them during the Cold War?

I was told that once the true nature of those countries became apparent, leftist intellectuals rescinded their support.

Hmmm… well, maybe some did, but many did not.

The result of all this is that Marxism is still held up as a utopian ideal against which the capitalist system of the United States is compared. Naturally, when compared to utopia, capitalism will always get an F. Excuse me, then, if I find such a position to be a hypocritical and intellectual copout.

Other Problems with the Marxist world view

For the Marxist, American capitalist society represents and promotes values that they strongly disagree with, even abhor. Because American actions are predicated on and motivated by a system that is rotten and immoral at its core—according to the Marxist—it follows that almost anything the US does will be viewed as inherently misguided, mistaken, and wrong. The Marxist reduces all US actions to nothing more than a quest for power and resources and scoffs at all arguments indicating otherwise.

The result of this world view is that it prevents the committed Marxist from appreciating the complexities and nuances that actually motivates American (and other capitalist-based countries) actions in the world. While it is true that all states act in their perceived best interests—and I would never propose that America hasn’t made its share of mistakes—by reducing all American actions to nothing more than a pursuit of wealth and power, the Marxist ultimately cripples his/her ability to rationally comment on the issues of the day. It ensures that their views are relegated to the fringe, or for some reason, fairly large numbers of academics in the humanities.

A final note

I should like to add that despite any profound disagreements I have had with a few members of the faculty, I have always been treated with politeness and professionalism, even warmth. There is no atmosphere of intellectual intimidation. In my opinion, the graduate program in department of Journalism and Mass Communications at UW-Milwaukee is top-notch.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

your blog came up on this topic on google blog. check out this fourm,

3:18 PM  
Blogger airforcewife said...

I'm so glad that you are allowed to challenge and yet not be intimidated. For my own thought, that is the best of it, since we get a chance to learn how to buttress our own arguments effectively without being shouted down by people with no argument.

My brother is having the same experience, which leads me to believe that I might need to end up getting my M.Ed in Wisconsin or at Arizona State (Rutgers is so waaaayyyy out of the running!).

The main problem with Marxism is that it embraces a view of humanity that is at odds with man's actual behavior. I'd like to think that I would do what is right and altruistic even if there were no actual incentive to do so... But I know that an awful lot of people don't even have that pretention about themselves.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Capitalist running dog! Cuba is proof that a truly idyllic Marxist society can be achieved.

¡Viva la Revolucion!

Red Ryan

1:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

see web stats