Twilight of the Ex-Marxists

It seems that it is much better for the readability of one’s work as well as the sense of one’s political judgement to either be a Marxist and stay one, or never to become one in the first place: ex-Marxists tend to combine the worst of both worlds. What defines the ex-Marxist’s clichéd and rigid worldview? His own overwhelming sense of superiority. The ex-Marxist feels that he is the conscience of the intellectual world, because he has joined the Devil and left him again, and therefore best knows his sly tricks. But more than that, his sense of superiority demands that he always assume that when he was a Marxist, everyone should have been a Marxist and it was ‘logical’ to do so, and that when he left Marxism, everyone should have left Marxism, and it is criminal not to have done so. His intellectual trajectory was not just the best one, but also the only intellectually possible one, and everyone who does not follow this pattern must be either evil or deluded, a flaw that is best pointed out by amateur psychoanalysis undertaken on the person involved.

A great example of this can be found in the person of the historian Tony Judt, who has an obvious (and deserved) admiration for the great Communist historian and countryman Eric Hobsbawm, but cannot for the life of him figure out why someone so obviously competent has not, too, become an ex-Marxist; therefore, in an essay on him in the New York Review of Books, Judt spent the better part of it trying to find out what hidden delusion drives Hobsbawm to not acknowledge the Light of ex-Marxism, much like Catholics used to try and figure out what devilry possessed the nonbelievers.1 Nothing is more comical therefore that when he refers to Hobsbawm’s clear distaste for the pretenses of professional ex-Marxists (“there are certain clubs I do not wish to be a member of”), Judt states that by taking this position, Hobsbawm has “provincialized himself”. Indeed! Nothing of course is as ‘provincial’ as Communism, which has operated and inspired people worldwide for over 150 years and has brought revolutions everywhere from Cuba to China and from Ethiopia to Russia, for better or for worse; whereas we are then left to assume that the arrogant but contentless ex-Marxist liberalism of Tony Judt c.s. is the very height of international prestige. It is no surprise then that Judt himself is left in his essay collection Reappraisals2 incomprehendingly wondering why the Americans won’t have a nicer foreign policy and why such valiant anti-Communist warriors like Adam Michnik have suddenly become right-wing warmongerers.

What is more, however, is the enormous capacity for hypocrisy that is granted to the ex-Marxist once he has put himself on his intellectual pedestal. He accuses Marxists of being ideological, because they never seem to doubt, which is after all since Descartes the highest virtue of the intellectual; but when a Marxist does doubt, this indicates the futility and incorrectness of the enterprise to begin with. Moreover, the ex-Marxist himself doubts even less than the average religious individual, having all the zeal of the newly (re)converted, and possessing the infallible judgement that ex-Marxism is somehow assumed to inspire. The best example of this is Sidney Hook, who was proud of his independence of thought, his pragmatism, and his commitment to democratic dialogue and many more of such liberal niceties; but none of this prevented this professional ex-Marxist from calling for the law that would bar any Communist from holding a teaching job anywhere in the United States. This from the author who considered his first ‘rule of democratic discourse’ to be: “Nothing and no one is immune from criticism”!

Indeed, it is not that Marxism has much to fear from ‘apostates’ of this kind – they reveal their own political ineptitude by the great disarray that has appeared in their ranks ever since the war adventure of the Anglo-American coalition in Iraq has collapsed into ignominy. A great number of these respected ex-Marxist intellectuals, constituting the ‘Republic of Letters’ that Judt is so fond of appealing to (although this republic is truly less elected and less constitutional than any Roman aristocrat could have dreamt of) supported this war, since they have abandoned their bad reasons for supporting Marxism for equally bad reasons to support liberalism. Their bluster has for this reason somewhat lessened of late, as it is hard to convince anyone of the reality of your cloak of Moral Authority when hundreds of thousands die across the world in its name, precisely the one thing that these ex-Marxists so strongly hold against the political practice they were once part of – such a cloak becomes thin indeed to wear in the current storms. It is telling that the current generation of ex-Marxists, essentially the second such generation, is possibly more cynical and war-loving than the first one that was bred in the icy atmosphere of the Cold War (at least Richard Rorty, son of one such ex-Marxist, was however honest enough to admit he gladly supported the CIA during the Cold War, unlike most of the current crop of holier-than-thou armchair moralists). One is tempted to say with the Evangelist: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.3

1.Tony Judt, “Eric Hobsbawm and the Romance of Communism”, in: New York Review of Books (November 20, 2003).->
2.Tony Judt, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (New York, NY 2009).->
3.Matthew 23:15->

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