Jack Kinzler, Rise! Magazine
Born on May 5th, 1818 in the small German town of Trier, Karl Marx has a legacy spanning almost two centuries, with this year commemorating the 199th anniversary of his birth. Now standing as a giant in philosophy and economics in the annals of time, it would seem that Karl Marx has become more of a deity than a human. The reverence that modern day communists hold for his contributions to the emancipation of the working class against the bourgeoisie is entirely understandable. There is always the risk, though, that the admiration of champions in the struggle for liberation will revert into a dogmatic worship.
In Marxists circles, you will have no trouble finding those who revere the image of Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Mao ZeDong, Karl Marx, etc., and not their ideas. More than theorists, they are corrupted into paternal figures whose ideas are lost with their metamorphosis. It’s not a matter of critically examining the works of revolutionaries within their historical context, but instead hoping to transplant Lenin out of the Russia of 1917 and into the mire of 2017s global capitalism. Lenin and Mao are now only corpses; only their ideas, shortcomings, and unique struggles against imperialism may persevere. To ridicule the works of Trotsky because of a bizarre fetishization of Stalin is not to be an admirable Marxist but a zealot who is only looking to view current revolutionary struggle through a fractured and outdated lens.
A claim usually made in defense of the deification of Stalin and the Kim family is that we need to look at the historic context of their situations. Interestingly enough, seemingly as Marxists secondarily and Stalin fanboys firstly, those who make this claim as a defense of their idols also fail to do the same. When we’re discussing the historic context in terms of building a new revolutionary movement in our era or examining the short comings of those in the past, it’s not enough to critique or defend past revolutionaries but also to understand the conditions lived by the working class. Our struggle is for an uprising against capitalism not to see who can best bend over backwards to excuse every atrocity committed by so-called “socialists”.
The revolutionary figures of the past deserve to be examined in order to discover crucial details that may assist with our current struggles. Karl Marx is not your father, he was a philosopher. Possibly, because of the actions of those who fetishize revolutionary figures, an argumentative tactic used against communism is not to debate the ideas but to instead attack the person. Plenty of articles exist, citing dubious sources, that attempt to not dismantle the ideas put out by Karl Marx but to attack the man himself. It’s a pathetic attempt to change the goalposts in an argument by insinuating that either there is a fault with communism because of the personal debauchery of individual communists or that these people did not act “communist enough”. When it comes to the misinformation around Karl Marx, the stories get quite spectacular.
Cheating on his wife with the maid and getting her pregnant, Engles taking the blame for the child, several of the Marx children dying due to poor conditions, and also his house was dirty. “He never worked a day in his life!” the reactionary will scream, somehow ignoring the hundreds of articles and books that Marx had written. Reducing labor to toil while simultaneously claiming that ownership is work. They say you may only criticize capitalism or validate your argument by fitting their own personal parameters. If you have not owned a small-business, you apparently are not qualified to talk about the depraved nature of capitalism. If you haven’t spent your life in physical toil and only criticize it, you’re a pampered intellectual. Rather than taking on the actual ideas and criticisms, it’s easier to suggest that a person cannot act against capitalism because they do not have the same absurd qualifications as these capitalist apostles.
Similarly, instead of discussing the ideas which Marx contributed to the building of modern revolutionary struggle or helping push for socialist reforms, he can be painted as a villain. When confronted with these dubious claims, it not only disrupts a real argument but introduces invalidated assumptions which may only be combated with our own assumptions. Certainly, each of us could go into heavy studies over each mundane day of Karl Marx’s life but our concern is revolution, not to become biographers. The issue is not whether the claims made against Marxist thinkers are true but if they even matter. For those who would enjoy frivolously pissing away their time, they may go ahead and study up to deflect or acknowledge the truth in these claims. While combating and examining such claims would make for interesting biographical work, it does little for an argument of facts. Tread with caution when dealing with personal attacks against revolutionary figures as you risk stepping right into a bear trap.
Communism is not suddenly destroyed as an idea merely because Che Guevara enjoyed cigars or that Karl Marx enjoyed drinking. Even deplorable accusations do not discredit the ideas of communism. True, as communists we may see our political identity influence how we live our lives. As you would expect a follower of Christ to be more forgiving and charitable, you would expect communists to be aware of their privileges in imperialist nations or to show kindness towards other workers. That there exist bad Christians or communists who enjoy bourgeois pastimes does not discredit our community as a whole or the ideas which they hold. It’s merely an assumption that the politics of an individual would be reflected in their daily lives. You may exist as both a communist and a misanthrope, there’s no contradiction there.
Police apologists often argue that we can not judge the actions of a “few bad officers” on the entirety of the police force or the classic, “my uncle is a cop and he is a nice guy.” We do not care about how kind your uncle is. We do not care if a business owner pays all their taxes. We are concerned with the power structures which allow those to abuse others. While individuals should be indicted for their crimes against the people, it ignores the underlying issues when we place the blame of police brutality or exploitation within capitalism on a single individual. Take for instance the recent death of David Rockefeller who perished on March 20th 2017. His death was marked by commemorative articles, trumping up his accomplishments as a businessman, further adding to the entrepreneurial mythos that plagues modern America. Many celebrated his death, being perceived by some as a strike against capitalism while others perceived it as a strike against the “New World Order”.
Many leftists choose to dance on the grave of David Rockefeller while the giant of capitalism continues to devastate the working class. It’s tantamount to throwing a celebration of putting out one office fire while the rest of the building drowns in a torrent of fire. The system that enabled David Rockefeller and every murderous police officer will continue, oftentimes incentivizing actions antagonistic to the interests of the working class. That there may exist business owners with kind hearts does not negate all the exploitation of capitalism and that there exist bad cops doesn’t mean we should solely demonize the individual but also dismantle their system. Unless you are specifically having an argument about the life of Marx, do not allow people to resort to such childish tactics to derail an argument.
“A subtle form of trolling involving “bad-faith” questions. You disingenuously frame your conversation as a sincere request to be enlightened, placing the burden of educating you entirely on the other party. If your bait is successful, the other party may engage, painstakingly laying out their logic and evidence in the false hope of helping someone learn. In fact you are attempting to harass or waste the time of the other party, and have no intention of truly entertaining their point of view.”
It should be noted that many people who attempt to discredit communism by playing up the missteps of personal lives are not actually interested in a conversation. When these tactics are used, it should be clear going forward that the individual is “sea-lioning” by attempting to wear you out with never ending assumptions. Your opponent is not going to be convinced to communism if you manage to combat each absurd claim about Karl Marx that they make up. While engaging about the misconceptions around the ideas of communism is beneficial for the audience, no one benefits from a drawn out argument over the personal life of Karl Marx. If you are involved in a debate online and personal attacks to defame the image of revolutionaries gets thrown around, call them out for their tactic and shift back to discussing the ideas of communism. Do not allow the troll to have a home-field advantage, pull them back into the real conversation.
In short, do not fall to turning our shared revolutionary icons into deities to be worshiped, rather than learned from. We can only hope to educate ourselves through the lived experiences of the working classes and how past revolutionaries have incited upheaval. Dwelling over the personal lives of revolutionaries and engaging with those who build their arguments with ad-hominems of figures both render absolutely nothing for building revolutionary potential or making beneficial discourse.