March 23, 2016


Reminder: Liberalism Is Working, and Marxism Has Always Failed (Jonathan Chait , 3/23/16, ny mAG)

Sanders's success does not reflect any Marxist tendency. It does, however, reflect a generalized hunger for radical solutions, discontent with the Obama administration's pace of progress, and a generational weakening of the Democratic Party's identification with liberalism over socialism. It has never been exactly clear what Sanders means when he calls himself "socialist." Years ago, he supported the Socialist Workers Party, a Marxist group that favored the nationalization of industry. Today he endorses a "revolution" in metaphorical rather than literal terms, and holds up Denmark as the closest thing to a real-world model for his ideas. But, while "socialism" has meant different things throughout history, Denmark is not really a socialist economy. As Jonathan Cohn explained, it combines generous welfare benefits and high-quality public infrastructure with highly flexible labor markets -- an amped-up version of what left-wing critics derisively call "neoliberalism." While Denmark's success suggests that a modern economy can afford to fund more generous social benefits, it does not reveal an alternative to the market system.

It is on politics, not economics, where the influence of Marxist ideas has been most keenly felt. Enough time has passed since the demise of the Soviet Union to allow Marxist models to thrive without answering for communist regimes. In his fascinating profile of Jacobin, Dylan Matthews notes, "The magazine is not going to defend Stalin's collectivizations or Mao's Great Leap Forward or really any other aspect of 'actually existing communism.'" But the fact that every communist country in world history quickly turned into a repressive nightmare is kind of important.

Many Marxist theorists have long attempted to rescue their theory from its real-world adherents by attributing its failures to idiosyncratic personal flaws of the leaders who took power (Lenin, Stalin, Mao ... ). But the same patterns have replicated themselves in enough governments under enough leaders to make it perfectly obvious that the flaw rests in the theory itself. Marxist governments trample on individual rights because Marxist theory does not care about individual rights. Marxism is a theory of class justice. The only political rights it respects are those exercised by members of the oppressed class, with different left-wing ideological strands defining those classes in economic, racial, or gender terms, or sometimes all at once. Unlike liberalism, which sees rights as a positive-sum good that can expand or contract for society as a whole, Marxists (and other left-wing critics of liberalism) think of political rights as a zero-sum conflict. Either they are exercised on behalf of oppression or against it. Any Marxist government immediately sets about snuffing out the political rights of parties or ideas deemed reactionary (a category that also inevitably expands to describe any challenge to the powers that be). Repression is woven into Marxism's ideological fabric.

Posted by at March 23, 2016 1:15 PM