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The Survival of Marxism in the West

Date de publication: 14.09.2017

"Anarchy = Fun" reads the graffiti at an extreme left-wing demonstration during the G20 in Hamburg, 7 July 2017

The survival and renaissance of Marxism in the West after the end of the Cold War

   

 

John Laughland 

 

 

Russian Historical Society,

Moscow, 14 September 2017

 

  

One hundred years ago, on 8 November 1917, the new Soviet government passed its first legislative act.  This was Lenin's decree on peace, which he read out to the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. Throughout the existence of the USSR, Soviet propaganda often referred back to this decree: the concept of peace was not only one of the central pillars of Marxism, it was also to become one of the central planks of Soviet propaganda both at home and abroad.  We all remember how huge graffiti of doves of peace adorned buildings around the USSR and how the Soviet state garnered considerable support in the West through its support for peace movements around the world during the Cold War.

It was appropriate for the Soviet regime to give prominence to this concept because it is indeed a central concept of Marxism-Leninism.  Lenin's decree on peace was more just a call for an end to the First World War.  It was, instead, a proclamation of a new theory of international relations - one which was to prove immensely influential.  Lenin argued that what he called a "just and democratic peace" would come about only when there was no more oppression of weak nations by powerful ones.  "If any nation whatsoever," he declared, " is forcibly retained within the borders of a given state ... such incorporation is annexation, i.e. seizure and violence."  Lenin also said quite explicitly that socialism - "the freedom from all forms of slavery and exploitation" - was the key to world peace and that revolutionary workers' struggle was the key to such freedom.  Although the ideas themselves predated Lenin, this was the first time that a head of government had made such a declaration.

Two months to the day after Lenin made his speech to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, on 8 January 1918, the American president, Woodrow Wilson, made a similar speech to the United States Congress.  In it, he announced his the famous Fourteen Points.  In his statement of general principles, he echoed two of the key principles Lenin had laid down: the promise to abolish secret diplomacy between states and the claim that the age of territorial conquest by states was over.  Just as Lenin had said, "By a just or democratic peace, the government means an immediate peace, without the seizure of foreign lands, without the forcible incorporation of foreign nations ..." and "The government abolishes secret diplomacy and announces its firm intention to conduct all negotiations quite openly in view of the people," so Wilson said, "The day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by; so also is the day of secret covenants entered into in the interest of particular governments ..."  The end to secret diplomacy was Point I of the Fourteen Points; the principle of national self-determination informed many of the other other Points.  Incidentally, these same sentiments - about the evils of secret diplomacy and the freedom of nations - were also made by the very Wilsonian President George W. Bush in a speech delivered at Riga in 2005.[1]

The fact that Wilson echoed Lenin should not surprise us.  He had, after all, given personal support to the Russian revolutionaries, especially by supplying Trotsky with an American passport which enabled him to return to Russia in June 1917.[2]  The Cold War lay decades in the future.  But the swiftness with which Marxist-Leninist ideas made their way into the bloodstream of Western political discourse in 1917-1918 set a pattern which was to be followed in future decades.

For example, on 20 - 23 April 1949, the first World Congress of Partisans of Peace was held in Paris.  Two thousand delegates from seventy countries attended the Congress, which was concluded by a massive public meeting in a football stadium.  These were the first months of the Cold War and the division of Europe had just begun: NATO had been created on 4 April 1949 and the Federal Republic of Germany was created, dividing Germany, on 23 May.  The founding congress of the Cominform in 1947 had taken the specific decision that peace propaganda was a major political weapon and this was an early manifestation of this policy.[3]  A year after the World Peace Congress, indeed, the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, expressed his concern at the success of Soviet peace propaganda in a private meeting with the US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, on 8 May 1950.  Schuman told Acheson, "We must counter the powerful Communist peace propaganda theme, which is making dangerous headway in non-Communist circles."[4]

The very next day, on 9 May 1950, Schuman read out the Schuman Declaration creating the Coal and Steel Community.  The Coal and Steel Community was the first step in pooling the primary materials of war, with a view to creating a West European army, as the French Prime Minister, René Pleven, was to announce as the "European Defence Community" on 4 October 1950.  But Schuman presented his plan, which was effectively a plan for the militarisation of Europe and the remilitarisation of Germany, as a plan for peace.  "World peace ..." are the first words of the Schuman declaration, and ever since then the European Union has presented itself above all as an organisation devoted to securing peace: indeed, it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

The reason why it is right to draw attention to this historical parallel is that there are very close similarities between the theory of peace outlined in Lenin's peace decree, and peddled for seventy years by Communist ideology, and the theory of peace propagated by the European Union.  To be sure, the EU no longer argues in terms of socialism, the proletariat or the international class struggle.  But it does subscribe to the same Marxist theory of statehood.  In the EU, as for Marx and Lenin, the state is nothing but a system of oppression and a cause of war.  The key to peace is to overcome the state, by dissolving in internationalism and by insisting on certain internal policies within it: this is the theory of the Democratic Peace.  Nationalism is abhorred in the EU just as much as in Marxism-Leninism.  Moreover, the European Union pretends to embody a historically new form of international relations between states, in exactly the same way as Communist ideologues said the countries of the Socialist bloc had done.  We can therefore say that the spirit of Lenin's decree on peace remains alive and well, one hundred years on, at least in Brussels.

We should never forget that the reason why these ideas are powerful in the West today is that they grew powerful during the Cold War, when Marxism and other forms of left-liberal thought seized the imagination of a very wide section of intellectuals, especially university teachers.  Above all, these ideas permeated popular culture in the West:  I have on many occasions drawn attention to the similarity between the theory of statehood of Lenin - "So long as the state exists, there is no freedom.  When there will be freedom, there will be no state" [5] and that of John Lennon: "Imagine there's no countries ... imagine all the people living life in peace." Lenin created the Soviet state so his influence collapsed once the USSR collapsed; but the Gramscian influence of Marxism on institutions in the West was much deeper and longer-lasting.  To put it bluntly, there were probably more convinced Marxists in the West than in the East in the final decades of the Cold War.

This has led to a situation in which there are at least seven core Marxist beliefs which remain alive and well and even dominant in the West today - not economic beliefs, to be sure, because those have been discredited by the collapse of the Soviet system but political, philosophical and metaphysical ones.

I have already mentioned, first, the ideology of peace and I have said that this is used permanently to justify the existence and constant reinforcement of both the EU and NATO.  I have also mentioned, second, the associated theory of statehood which is the key to the European ideology.  Closely associated with both these ideas, and implicit in Lenin's peace decree, is the ultimate Marxist concept, that of revolution: just as the state is viewed as nothing but an instrument of oppression, from which people need to escape either through world socialism (Marx and Lenin) or through human rights and supranationalism (the EU), so revolution is seen as an unqualified good in the West today.  Revolutions in Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Serbia etc. etc. - the famous "colour revolutions" - are unequivocally welcomed.  The West even has its own technician of revolution, the American academic, the American academic and Oxford graduate, Gene Sharp, whose theories about the required conditions for revolution bear a very strong resemblance to those of Lenin.

The fourth Marxist concept which is now dominant in the West flows from the first two.  If the state is bad and "the people" are good, then all vertical expressions of power are rejected as oppressive while only horizontal expressions of power are allowed.  When a revolution is supported by the West, the head of state in the country concerned is always personally demonised: the propaganda seeks to de-legitimise all sense of statehood or nationhood, and all sense of political authority, by reducing the head of state to a mere gangster. We see this in the extreme personalisation of the Western image of Russian politics today, where everything is reduced to Putin; we see it in the widespread use of the term "pro-Assad forces" to describe the Syrian army.  The idea that a people might feel a sense of pride in looking up to its leader is anathema:  Western ideology rejects such verticality as abominable and presents its own horizontality as the only acceptable model.  This is especially clear in the EU, where all the governing bodies are committees - the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament - where meetings are held around physically circular structures - tables or hemicycles and whose names remind us of those of Soviet institutions.  Even the word "summit meeting" has been abolished - the word "summit", meaning the top of a mountain, evokes politically incorrect height and verticality.

The fifth Marxist concept which grips the West is that of the withering away of the state as a result of economics.  Popularised by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, this concept is a key pillar of the ideology of globalisation which gripped the Western imagination in the 1990s and remains powerful today. Just as Engels said that the state would soon be condemned to the Museum of Antiquities along with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe, so prophets of globalisation like Vaclav Havel, Tony Blair and Strobe Talbott (a former Deputy Secretary of State) have been happy to dismiss the sovereign state as an anachronism from the 19th or 17th century because of technological developments like the growth of international communication and financial deregulation.  As Emmanuel Todd said two days ago, "The global trend towards uniformity is the axiom of globalisation."[6]  If I read you the following quotation, "National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to ... freedom of commerce, to the world market ... " many people would regard it is a rather banal statement of the dogmas of 21st century globalisation.  In fact, this quotation is from Chapter 2 of The Communist Manifesto.  "The worker has no country" could be a slogan from Marx and Engels (which it is) - or a statement of one of the four freedoms of the European Union.

Sixth, the belief in progress.  This is perhaps the most monumental similarity between yesterdays Marxists and today's post-modernists.  For both ideologies, the world is a great eschatological battleground between the progress they embody and the various forces of reaction which are forever lurking in the shadows, threatening humanity's progress towards glorious sunlit uplands.  In 2013 I heard a former Austrian Foreign Minister say that the European Union was “the most advanced political project in the history of humanity”. [7]  When confronted with such statements, I prefer to make no comment.

Seventh, and finally, the metaphysical core of Marxism has been fully transposed to Western post-modernism and post-humanism to become the core belief of our times.  In the Dialektik der Natur of 1883, Engels drew on Darwinism to expound a theory of general change in reality itself: he wrote, "Everything rigid was dissolved, everything fixed has evaporated, everything which had been held to be eternal became transitory, the whole of nature was proved to be moving in eternal flux and circulation."[8]  What Marxists said about the state applied to everything, including to social arrangements, to human nature, and to nature itself.  In today's West, this Heracliteanism holds full sway in sexual politics: the LGBTI ideology holds that there is a whole rainbow of human sexual choices and indeed of sexual identity; that the family, like the state, can evolve and disappear, and that even human nature can be changed.[9]  Engels' theory of truth, as expounded in the Anti-Dühring, has found its greatest pupil in the immensely influential liberal philosopher, Karl Popper, who like Engels vehemently rejected the Aristotelian theory of truth and argued instead that truth is unknowable and therefore only a matter for conjecture.[10

For all these reasons, I believe that we can say today without exaggeration, 100 years after the Russian revolution, "a spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism."

 



[1] President Discusses Freedom and Democracy in Latvia, The Small Guild Hall, Riga, Latvia, 7 May 2005, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050507-8.html

[2] Antony C. SUTTON, Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution, (New York: Arlington House, 1974), p. 25 (as reprinted by Clairview Books, UK in 2016)

[3] Gerhard WETTIG, Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, The Emergence and Development of East-West Conflict 1939 - 1953 (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), p. 197

[4] US State Department, Office of the Historian, Foreign Relations of the United States, Western Europe, Volume III, p. 1008 (Telegram from the Secretary of State to the Acting Secretary of State, Paris, May 8, 1950)

[5] V. I. LENIN, The State and Revolution, 1917, Chapter 5, Part 4.

[6] "L'axiome de la mondialisation, c'est l'uniformisation du monde." See "Eric Zemmour - Emmanuel Todd : l'affrontement inédit entre deux inclassables," Le Figaro, 12 September 2017.

[7] Colloque "Communiquer l”Europe," Ambassade de Roumanie, Paris, 13 novembre 2013.

[8] Friedrich ENGELS, Dialektik der Natur, in Marx Engels Werke Band 20 (Berlin:  Dietz Verlag, 1990) p.312.

[9] Gabriele KUBY, Die globale sexuelle Revolution, Zerstörung der Freiheit im Namen der Freiheit (Kisslegg: Fe-Medienverlag, 2013).

[10] Karl POPPER, The World of Parmenides: Essays on the pre-Socratic Enlightenment (London & New York: Routledge, 1998).



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