The global left turns more ludicrous, its dominance more insufferable, by the day.
The latest sign comes from Britain, where eco-activists are blocking highways, causing snaking gridlock and inflicting suffering on working-class people trying to get to work on time. In the United States, meanwhile, leftist criminal-justice “reforms” are wreaking havoc on low-income communities, while proponents like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jumaane Williams shelter safely in tony neighborhoods.
The left’s flagrant hypocrisy is all too familiar: the private-jetting liberals lecturing you on how your personal consumption is responsible for climate change, the champagne socialists taking it upon themselves to police your speech according to increasingly convoluted codes, the elected Democrats more interested in courting the affections (and donations!) of celebs than they are in materially alleviating the suffering of the poor and working class.
But here’s what you should know: Such hypocrisy isn’t an aberration. Rather, it’s a fundamental aspect of leftism going back to the 19th century, to the time of Karl Marx — who, whatever else may be said about him, absolutely reviled this kind of thing.
Marx, of course, is generally considered to be the great progenitor of the left, but nothing can be further from the truth. Socialism had existed as a political concept well before Marx was even born. And even the term “left” dates back to the 18th century, to the seating division of left and right in the French Revolutionary National Assembly.
During Marx’s lifetime, the left in Europe was a collection of anarchists, utopians, middle-class reformers, mutualists, Christian socialists and every other variety of political philosophy nominally opposed to capitalism. Marx and his longtime collaborator Friedrich Engels came onto the scene in the midst of it all.
Their method, known as dialectical materialism, systematically analyzed the way capitalism works and how it might collapse. This view didn’t fit neatly into any left-right distinction, and you’d be pressed to find a single mention of either label in any of their written output. Rather, the pair focused squarely on the struggle between those who owned the means of production, the bourgeoisie, and those who toiled for the first group, the workers.
In this titanic struggle, Marx and Engels thought, what was called the left often acted against workers, notwithstanding leftists’ social-justice rhetoric.
A good amount of Marx’s written output was dedicated to attacking this or that leftist movement of the day. The title of his pamphlet “The Poverty of Philosophy” was a burn on the French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s “The Philosophy of Poverty.” He called the revolutionary anarchist Mikhail Bakunin “a man devoid of all theoretical knowledge.” He and Engels devoted an entire chapter of “The Communist Manifesto” to lambasting idealistic forms of socialism. That’s a lot of ink spilled going after the biggest figures of the left.
What made the left obnoxious, for Marx, was its faith in the notion that ideas and subjective beliefs and moral abstractions, rather than material economic realities, move history. The middle-class leftists of the 19th century, for example, put a lot of hope in reforming the manners and mores of working people, instead of seeking to address material inequalities between classes. In doing so, they merely preserved the existing order.
Sound familiar? Nearly two centuries later, the left is still in the business of spreading moral uplift (moral by its own lights, that is) in ways that paradoxically worsen the conditions of working people, while strengthening the position of large shareholders and the professionals who service them: America is divided, because your thoughts are racist! We don’t have true equality, because you are subconsciously transphobic! There is no justice, because you cling to the backward notion that police are good, actually! The earth is literally burning up, because working-class people insist on their barbeques.
You needn’t be a Marxist to see Marx’s point: that for all the “revolutionary” sound and fury of the left, most leftism in practice immiserates working people. Yes, even Marx hated the left.
Edwin Aponte is the founder and publisher of The Bellows.