To a carpenter with a hammer,” it has been said, “every problem looks like a nail.” To Karl Marx, assembling communism from a wild and variegated international socialism, every social problem in the modern world arose from economic class disparities. And if one put a class disparity eye loop to one’s eye, the Marxian theory made some sort of rough nonsense.
Abraham Lincoln’s view of the relationship between labor and capital was more faithful to the realities of the modern world than were Marxian fables.
There is not, nor could there be, a permanent and unvarying class structure in the United States, Lincoln said:
“… there is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life… Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of conditions to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which, if surrendered, will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.”
In practice, Marxism was cordite laid at the door of economic theory itself. The first duty of the revolutionary, Marx thought, was not, as Hegel had supposed, to understand history, but rather to remake the modern world. In his “Eleven Theses on Feuerbach,” Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it,” words engraved on his tombstone in Highgate Cemetery, London, England.
Marx supposed communism could be successful only in the developed world. A Prussian, stateless after 1845, Marx thought that advanced nations such as Germany, certainly not Russia, would be fertile ground for communism. But Hegel’s “god of history” had the deciding word. Marxism could gain no foothold in developed nations. But fascism as defined by Mussolini in Italy – “Everything in the state; nothing outside the state; nothing above the state” – and Stalin’s variant of communism drove the republican idea that animated Lincoln from the field in Italy and Germany. You cannot install communism without breaking a few eggs – with a hammer.
In wartime Italy, Antonio Gramsci offered, from his prison cell, a theory that explained why communism had failed to take root in developed nations, even as it put forth luxuriant blooms in war ruined post Czarist Russia.
Communism could succeed in highly developed states, Gramsci theorized, if it were first to infiltrate and overcome cultural institutions: the family, the school, the artistic community, the church, political parties, media outlets, independent court systems, and most especially, a Western prophylactic that would prevent the rise to power of new Caesars such as Hitler in Germany and Stalin in Russia – constitutional government and the division of political power into three co-equal and separate branches of government. These stubborn, organic modalities of Western civilization are what G.K. Chesterton and others used to call “the little platoons of democracy.” Once undermined, the resistance to the communist state among developed nations would collapse. Gramsci called this process “the long march through the institutions.”
Critical Race Theory has replaced class with race in its slow march through our post-modern pedagogical wilderness, but its end point is Gramscian Marxism. The Critical Race Theorist sees race everywhere. It lies at the root of all social disorders. It is the noose with which the theorist may hang the whole of western history; for the principal mission of Critical Race Theory is to change history by a quiet revolution in which the march of boots into the future is heard only as pleasant applause.
Approaching 80, Bob Dylan, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize winner in literature, opened the doors of Hell to receive both Marx and Freud in his album, Rough and Rowdy Ways:
Stand over there by the cypress tree
Where the Trojan women and children were sold into slavery
Long before the first Crusade
Way back before England or America were made
Step right into the burning hell
Where some of the best-known enemies of mankind dwell
Mr. Freud with his dreams, Mr. Marx with his axe
See the rawhide lash rip the skin from their backs
Critical Race Theory, of course, regards as racist any ardent defense of Western Civilization. It belongs in a pedagogical Hell of its own.
Donald Pesci lives in Vernon and is the writer of the Red Notes from a Blue State blog.