As somebody who has experienced “not the real socialism”(TM) for the first fifteen years of my life, I seriously never expected that a few decades on I would have to deal with the problem of socialism in anything other than a historical manner, reminiscing about the surreal old days of my childhood or perhaps joking on the occasion of Noam Chomsky’s 125th birthday. Even five years ago, if someone had told me that by 2020 the radical left will be on the march again and presenting a serious political challenge to the status quo, I would have been quite taken aback, firstly by the presence before me of the time traveler and secondly by the message itself. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been; as a lifelong pessimist I’m well equipped to expect the worst in life. Ideas, whether good or bad, never die and politics is very much cyclical. Despite fervent hopes, History does not end; as Ronald Reagan once observed, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”.
If the prospect of a new era of communism, perhaps this time in the West rather than the East, sounds too alarmist to you, well perhaps it is, but I believe it’s better to err on the side of alarmism than complacency, lulled into a false sense of security that democracy, liberty, capitalism are all so self-evidently good and essentially robust and stable that nothing can derail the centuries-long march of progress. The truth of the matter is that the institutions we cherish are not going to defend themselves, and the hard left is very much advancing, with the tacit and not so tacit acquiescence from the mainstream left, which deludes itself into thinking that it can ride the tiger and use it to savage the right without instead being used itself and eventually outsmarted and outplayed (by hard or radical left I mean those critics who view the present political and economic system as a failure and argue it needs to be “radically transformed”, whether by peaceful or revolutionary and violent means. Do I see reds under every bed? Nope, but if it looks, walks and quacks like a Marxist quackery…).
I have been carping on about these issues lately like a broken record, but Yoram Hazony explains it and expounds on it much better than I ever could in his long piece at Quillette titled “The Challenge of Marxism”. Marx had died 150 years ago, the Soviet empire some 30 years ago, yet Marxism itself, rejigged for the new century and adopted to changing realities and sensibilities, is ironically perhaps more popular and influential, certainly in the English-speaking democracies, than it has ever been at any other point in the past. It’s a zombie ideology, and the Wokeing Dead are now rampaging through the land. As Hazony writes:
For a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most Americans and Europeans regarded Marxism as an enemy that had been defeated once and for all. But they were wrong. A mere 30 years later, Marxism is back, and making an astonishingly successful bid to seize control of the most important American media companies, universities and schools, major corporations and philanthropic organizations, and even the courts, the government bureaucracy, and some churches. As American cities succumb to rioting, arson, and looting, it appears as though the liberal custodians of many of these institutions—from the New York Times to Princeton University—have despaired of regaining control of them, and are instead adopting a policy of accommodation. That is, they are attempting to appease their Marxist employees by giving in to some of their demands in the hope of not being swept away entirely.
We don’t know what will happen for certain. But based on the experience of recent years, we can venture a pretty good guess. Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. Anti-Marxist liberals are about to find themselves in much the same situation that has characterized conservatives, nationalists, and Christians for some time now: They are about to find themselves in the opposition.
This means that some brave liberals will soon be waging war on the very institutions they so recently controlled. They will try to build up alternative educational and media platforms in the shadow of the prestigious, wealthy, powerful institutions they have lost. Meanwhile, others will continue to work in the mainstream media, universities, tech companies, philanthropies, and government bureaucracy, learning to keep their liberalism to themselves and to let their colleagues believe that they too are Marxists—just as many conservatives learned long ago how to keep their conservatism to themselves and let their colleagues believe they are liberals.
Hazony’s piece is a call to recognise the threat and to not underestimate it because it might seem so outlandish and unlikely. It is also an impassionate plea for the mainstream left to wake up and cooperate with the mainstream right against the enemy which sees both of them as essentially illegitimate. The chances the mainstream left will heed the call? Zero, I would say, even if some brave individuals here and there are speaking out against the new barbarians.
As John Philpott Curran, an Irish lawyer and independence advocate – and not Thomas Jefferson – had said, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance, which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.” I, for one, don’t want my life to be bookended by socialism in whatever version or guise. That there once were a few people who thought it was a good idea used to mildly amusing and a little bit sad. That there are now significantly more such people is no longer funny. Vigilant yet?