By Tim Stanley
1 November 2013
Cambodian killing fields (AP)
I can't quite believe that I've just sat through ten minutes of BBC television in which British journalists Owen Jones and Zoe Williams have defended Karl Marx as the prophet of the End of Capitalism. Unbelievable because I had thought Marxism was over with the fall of the Berlin Wall – when we discovered that socialism was one part bloodshed, one part farce. But unbelievable also because you'd have to be a pretty lacking in moral sensitivity to defend a thinker whose work sent millions of people to an early grave.
I don't want to have to rehearse the numbers but, apparently, they're not being taught in schools anymore – so here goes. Sixty-five million were murdered in China – starved, hounded to suicide, shot as class traitors. Twenty million in the USSR, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Africa. The nightmare of Cambodia (2 million dead) is especially vivid. "Reactionaries" were sorted out from the base population on the grounds of being supporters of the old regime, having gone to school or just for wearing glasses. They were taken to the side of paddy fields and hacked to death by teenagers.
It's possible to argue that Marx was an economist rather than a politician – that he only analysed the failings of Capitalism and never offered the blue-print for building socialism that would end in disaster in the 20th century. But that misses the point that Marx's analysis was what informed that blue-print and, so, he bears intellectual responsibility for it. His view that all human relations are shaped by economics and that everything we do is measured in purely material terms reduced the individual to a pawn in a historic war between competing classes. You're not a person – you're either an exploiter or an alienated peasant. At least the crowned tyrants who preceded him had some sense of the value of the human soul; at least they saw their power as limited by God, tradition and a passing respect for conscience. After Marx, all these things stood in the way of progress and could be brushed aside with the swish of a signature on a death list. Throw into the mix Karl's belief that the working-class could not lose – historical determinism – and you get the kind of fanatical, anti-human view of life that would end inevitably in gulags. "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss," said the teenage vanguard of the Cambodian communists. Compelling logic to the intellectually unformed.
Of course, there's a distinction between socialism as evolved through democratic reform movements and the poisonous philosophy of Karl Marx. But what's troubling is that a new generation of Leftists – when either occupying Wall Street or the BBC – doesn't bother to make it. It speaks to a kind of moral amnesia, a forgetfulness about the facts of the past and an inability to judge what is really right and wrong. The Tea Party is EVIL because it's on the Right and it wants to cut spending. The Conservative Party is EVIL because it wants to reform the benefits system. Libertarians are EVIL because they want to wind down the welfare state. Actually a) the real effects of these systems of conservative thought are slight and b) they're all about deconstructing power rather than hording and abusing it. If you want real EVIL – if you must throw that word around with adolescent abandon – you'll find it in the communist regime of North Korea, the Islamic fascism of al-Qaeda or the dark souls of individuals who rob, murder and rape.
I write about this subject with the ferocity of a convert. I was once a Marxist and I once fooled myself that there was a distinction between economic analysis and practical despotism. There isn't. I wish this could be patiently explained to the dumb kids who put Marx on their wall and wail about the unique EVIL of a capitalist system that has actually lifted millions from misery and proven to be a close ally of democracy. It's an education every bit as vital as the one we give about fascism.