September 14, 2020


The Specter Haunting Marxism (Andrew Latham, September 14th, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)

[M]arx and Engels were racists, plain and simple. This claim goes far beyond the intellectual faults and fantasies laid out above. This is a claim that these two icons of the Left--these revolutionaries admired so unquestioningly by so many--were, in fact, racists in the plain sense of the word: They hated and loathed the racialized, immutably inferior, Other. They systematically attributed to racialized groups certain innate or biological character traits, then placed those groups on a hierarchical scale, with some being naturally inferior and others superior. They believed that those 'races' endowed with superior qualities were 'bearers of progress,' while those endowed with inferior ones tended to hold humanity back. In their fundamental assumptions regarding the human condition, historical progress, and the communist utopia, they were racists through and through.

In this, both Marx and Engels reflected and perpetuated the scientific racism of their time. This racism used skin-color variations to divide humanity into a limited number of races, each endowed with specific and immutable characteristics and ranked hierarchically, with white on top and black at the bottom. The 'inferior' races--the Indian, the 'Bushman or Australian Negro,' the Slav, etc.--were regarded either as degenerations from a single common race of humans (the monogenic view) or as independently evolving distinct skin-color races (the polygenic view). Whatever the sources of this racial differentiation, it was understood to be an immutable characteristic of the human race. Marx and Engels drank deeply at this racist trough.

Based on the historical evidence we have, this claim is simply incontrovertible. To be sure, the evidence of racism in the writings of Marx and Engels is scattered and haphazard. It is to be found in their private correspondence, works that went unpublished during their lifetimes, such as The German Ideology, and major published works such as Marx's Capital and Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England. But, whatever the genre and however scattered the references, there is a consistency to their treatment of race. And it is this consistency that allows us to reconstruct their half-articulated 'theory' of race and lay bare the racist assumptions built into both their scholarly theories and their personal beliefs.

Let us begin with their views on the innate character of the races. First, Marx and Engels viewed the white race as the most evolved and its societies as the most advanced. Disturbingly, but undeniably, there is more than a hint of Aryanism their talk about relations of production and class struggle. By Aryanism, of course, I do not mean the 4th-century Christian heresy launched by the Alexandrian priest Arius. Rather, I am referring to the ideas of the 19th-century scholar A.J. de Gobineau as set forth in his manifesto, The Inequality of the Races. In this work, which was hugely popular and which set the stage for a 19th-century regrounding of racism in 'science,' Gobineau argued that all the most worthy ancient and modern civilizations were the creation of the white race, which was naturally at the apex of the world's racial pyramid, and was the driving force of human progress. It was Gobineau's writing that gave form to the already half-baked ideas of 'Aryan superiority,' then circulating in Europe--'Aryan genius,' 'Aryan creativity,' and 'Aryan blood'--that were ultimately to have such a murderous career both within and beyond their European birthplace. And it was Gobineau's ideas that, beneath a light mantle of historical materialist jargon, were to find their way into the collective thought-system of Marx and Engels. The white race was the vanguard of human development; the white working class, the agent of historical progress. All other races either had to submit to the redemptive ministrations of the white historical vanguard or be exterminated.

It is in this light that one must view Marx's and Engels' reference in A Contribution to Critique of Political Economy and elsewhere to 'civilized' and 'uncivilized' races. Similarly, it is impossible to make of Engels when he writes in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, that the Germans are a 'highly gifted' branch of the Aryan race, or when he tries elsewhere to explain the Germans 'superior development' as a race, without reference to the ambient Aryanism of his time and place.

Posted by at September 14, 2020 5:38 PM