Why Socialists Should Drop Marx
June 1989By John C. Cort
John C. Cort is a Boston-area writer and the author of the recently released Christian Socialism: An Informal History. He has worked as a reporter, editor, union organizer, and Peace Corps and antipoverty official.
Karl Marx was a giant and a genius. Isaiah Berlin has reminded us that he wrote the most formidable, sustained, and elaborate indictment ever delivered against an entire social order, and, to use Marxs own words about another chronicle, he wrote it in letters of blood and fire. Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian archbishop the walls of whose residence are pockmarked by the machine-gun fire of right-wing death squads, has paid this tribute to Marx: When a man attracts millions of human beings when a man makes the powerful of the earth tremble with fear and hate, this man deserves to be studied.
Although there were and are great socialists who preceded and followed Marx, none has been able to equal him for sheer intellectual dazzle and power. Although some of these have been religious socialists of one sort or another, none could really claim to be in the same class. I also think it only fair, though painful, to point out that, taken by and large, the social efforts of the Christian churches, particularly in the 19th century, look pretty feeble alongside the personal and intellectual contributions of Marx and those who followed his lead.
So I agree with Archbishop Camara that Marx deserves to be studied, yes, and also remembered with gratitude for his indictment of the evils of capitalism. But should he be retained as a dominant theorist of the worldwide democratic socialist movement, a major, if not the major, source of ideas, strategy, or, for that matter, analysis? I think the answer to that question is No.
C. Wright Mills, one of the most intelligent, sophisticated, and lucid Marxists of the 20th century, wrote a book, The Marxists, in which he listed the 17 major propositions in the Marxian opus. He analyzed each of them in the light of Marxs time and our time, and concluded that every one of them was either wrong, ambiguous or inadequate. And yet Mills remained a faithful Marxist, a fact which has always struck me as an extraordinary triumph of faith over reason.
You have two options:
- Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
- Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.
If you're already a subscriber log-in here.