Posted on | November 19, 2011 | 103 Comments
NYPD arrest Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, Oct. 1
“In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”
– William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)
“We have a class called 21st Century Challenges and Choices. They’re studying the current world. They went on a field trip to see Occupy Denver.”
– Dierdre Cryor, principal, St. Mary’s Academy
“We want them to see the democratic process in action.”
– Celia Bard, Social Studies Department chair, St. Mary’s Academy
“You’re f–king up our future. . . . What do you think we learn at school? This is what we learned about. . . . We’re the 99 percent.”
– 17-year-old student, St. Mary’s Academy
Workers World Party national conference, New York, Oct. 8
“An epic battle is underway for the direction of our country. The Occupy movement is not alone. . . . We stand with the courageous young people who have sparked this movement and join with the occupiers who are putting themselves on the line to transform our nation and achieve a secure and sustainable future. . . . The time has come to put people before profits.”
– “Communist Party heralds Occupy Wall Street movement,” Oct. 18, 2011, CPUSA.org
“How do you tell a Communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”
– Ronald Reagan, Sept. 25, 1987
During today’s first anniversary broadcast of Da Tech Guy‘s radio show on WCRN, Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom was discussing his video of Catholic schoolgirls who took part in an Occupy Denver protest against last weekend’s BlogCon:
In discussing the beliefs of the Occupiers, including these 17-year-old girls who attend a private Catholic academy where the tuition is $14,000 a year, Jeff suggested they had been “indoctrinated.” This called to mind Buckley’s description of indoctrination in Up From Liberalism, and made me wonder how these girls were taught that they are “the 99 percent” on whose behalf the Occupiers claim to speak.
Born in 1994, these girls cannot possibly have any useful memory of political events prior to the Bush presidency. They were in first grade during the 2000 election and were 14 when Obama was elected. Therefore whatever “knowledge” they have of history is what they have been taught, and the content of that curriculum undoubtedly accounts for their sympathy with the Occupy movement.
These girls are scarcely alone in that regard. An entire generation of youth has been taught to view the radical protest movements of the Sixties as unquestionably righteous. Young people may never have heard of Mario Savio, Tom Hayden, Stokely Carmichael, Bill Ayers or Abbie Hoffman, but they have been rigorously indoctrinated with the worldview of the 1960s New Left. And so when they behold the spectacle of left-wing protests like the Occupy movement, it touches a chord that resonates, evoking the heroic conception of revolutionary struggle instilled in them by their teachers, by TV and movies, and by the news media.
‘Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out’
Hagiographic treatment of Sixties radicalism convinces young people, who can know nothing of that long-ago era except what they have been taught, that the New Left represented all that was good and right, and that the protest movements of the 1960s were a glorious triumph. One wishes these kids could be de-programmed by exposure to such eyewitness testimony as Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe, or perhaps even some seminal gonzo journalism:
“In 1965 Berkeley was the axis of what was just beginning to be called the ‘New Left.’ Its lenders were radical, but they were also deeply committed to the society they wanted to change.
“Now, in 1967, there is not much doubt that Berkeley has gone through a revolution of some kind, but the end result is not exactly what the original leaders had in mind. Many one-time activists have forsaken politics entirely and turned to drugs. . . .
“The hippies, who had never really believed they were the wave of the future anyway, saw the  election results as brutal confirmation of the futility of fighting the establishment on its own terms. There had to be a whole new scene, they said, and the only way to do it was to make the big move — either figuratively or literally — from Berkeley to the Haight-Ashbury, from pragmatism to mysticism, from politics to dope. . . . The thrust is no longer for ‘change’ or ‘progress’ or ‘revolution,’ but merely to escape, to live on the far perimeter of a world that might have been.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, “The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies,” May 1967, collected in The Great Shark Hunt (1979)
Thompson was always a man of the Left, but harbored no illusions about the Left’s failures. He watched young idealists follow the New Left downward, as the movement splintered and descended into a futile festival of drugged and disorganized (yet ironically herdlike) “non-conformity” that became known as the counter-culture.
Not everyone in the New Left followed Timothy Leary’s advice to “tune in, turn on and drop out,” however. Many of the radicals made the Long March Through the Institutions. This is how Bill Ayers, a terrorist leader who spent years as a fugitive wanted by the FBI, eventually became an influential academic, along with many others who shared his revolutionary vision if not his penchant for revolutionary violence.
“We are a guerrilla organization. We are communist women and men . . . deeply affected by the historic events of our time in the struggle against U.S. imperialism.”
– Bill Ayers, et. al., “Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism,” manifesto of the Weather Underground, 1974
In all the 2008 uproar about Ayers’s association with Barack Obama, few seemed to take alarm at the thought that, from 1987 onward, Ayers was a professor of education — a teacher of teachers — at the University of Illinois. Ayers’s acceptance within academia suggests that many other administrators and faculty were sympathetic to his radicalism. And if, for the past quarter-century, admirers of Marxist revolutionaries have been so influential in our nation’s most prestigious educational institutions, are we surprised to find 17-year-olds sympathizing with the Occupy mobs?
Understanding Marx and Lenin
Marxism is a philosophy based on a theory of history, and anyone who does not understand this theory — “dialectical materialism,” as it is usually known — is ill-equipped to discuss what the Left believes, and how their beliefs are now propagated through the education system, through news media and through popular entertainment.
A disciple of the German philosopher Georg Hegel, Karl Marx believed and taught that history develops through a dialectical process: Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Marx insisted that this process of development leads inevitably to social revolution, as changes in material conditions empower a rising class in their struggle to displace the ruling class, which had attained its dominant position during an earlier era. The supremacy of the ruling class had been made obsolete by new developments, and thus the triumph of the rising class was historically inevitable.
This was how, Marx taught, the era of feudalism had ended with the rise of the bourgeoisie — the capitalistic merchant class, which displaced the hereditary aristocracy in the French Revolution. (It can be said that Marx, like many 19th-century Germans, was afflicted with a bad case of “revolution envy.”) Based on this understanding of history, Marx then prophesied that the very same material conditions that had empowered the bourgeois merchant class – innovations in science and technology, the growth of modern industry, the spread of democratic government — would inevitably lead to another revolution: The rise of the proletariat (industrial workers) to challenge the dominance of the bourgeoisie.
Above and beyond Marx’s specific critique of industrial capitalism as a system whereby the wealthy exploited and oppressed the workers, it was his belief in class struggle as a permanent fact of human existence and material conditions as a force for revolutionary upheaval that distinguished Marxism from other socialist theories of the 19th century.
Marx boasted that his Communism was “scientific socialism,” which he contrasted to the “idealistic” schemes of others. The famed Communist Manifesto of 1848 advocated specific measures such as the progressive income tax and free public education as part of a party platform, these ideas were not original to Marx and his co-author Friedrich Engels. Rather, the party platform incorporated a list of reform proposals that were broadly popular among socialists of the era. What distinguished Marx and Engels — the basis of their claim to leadership of a proletarian revolution they forecast as the inevitable result of a forthcoming crisis in the bourgeois capitalist system — was their assertion that this was an outcome they had discerned through their scientific understanding of historical development.
The Revolutionary Vanguard
Those who have read Socialism by Ludwig von Mises and A Conservative History of the American Left by Dan Flynn will know that there have been many other varieties of socialism promulgated over the years. Yet it was Marx’s “scientific socialism” that laid the philosophical foundation for the 20th-century revolutions that brought about Communist regimes in Russia, China, Cuba and elsewhere. This was largely due to the work of Vladimir Lenin, which is why revolutionary communism (as contrasted to the slow-motion “reform” methods of democratical socialism, i.e., the European-style Welfare State) is properly known as Marxism-Leninism.
Lenin’s place in the revolutionary pantheon was secured not only by his leadership of the Bolshevik Revolution, but also by his two clever additions to Marxist theory.
Lenin’s first innovation was the concept that became known as “democratic centralism.” In a complex argument (elaborated in the 1902 treatise “What Is to Be Done?”), Lenin set forth his principles of leadership, advocating both his own party’s role as the legitimate “vanguard” of the proletarian revolution and the party leadership’s authority to act without internal dissent. Mocking socialist rivals whom he accused of “infantile playing at ‘democratic’ forms,” Lenin demanded “the consolidation of militant Marxism” to make it “the genuine vanguard of the most revolutionary class.” This argument was, in essence, Lenin’s way of issuing himself a license for dictatorship.
The second of Lenin’s innovations was the concept of imperialism. Marx had taught for decades, until his death in 1883, that the crisis of industrial capitalism was both inevitable and imminent. By the early 20th century, however, even Marx’s most devout disciples could see that this crisis had failed to arrive. Capitalism was flourishing and the economic condition of workers were improving. In his 1916 treatise Imperialism, Lenin offered an explanation: Through their colonial empires, the leading industrial nations were parasitically expropriating resources from undeveloped parts of the world. The excess wealth thus gained was what had prevented the crisis prophesied by Marx.
“Imperialism . . . means high monopoly profits for a handful of very rich countries [and] makes it economically possible to bribe the upper strata of the proletariat,” Lenin wrote.
We can view the concept of imperialism two ways: First, as a genuine effort to explain the delayed crisis in capitalism, and second, as a cynical effort by Lenin to undermine socialist support for the World War that was then raging. The two greatest “imperial” powers were England and France, with whom Russia was allied. Russia was also an empire, of course, but was not a major industrial power and did not have overseas colonies like the English and French. By attacking “imperialism,” then, Lenin was accusing the Tsarist regime of helping its allies defend their own empires which, according to his theory, were being parasitically exploited to shore up decadent bourgeois capitalism.
As subversive wartime propaganda, then, “Imperialism” served many purposes, and it is remarkable to note how it is also during wartime that the American Left revives Lenin’s ancient accusations. Bill Ayers and his Weather Underground comrades saw themselves engaged in a “struggle against U.S. imperialism,” and isn’t this what anti-war protesters meant when they accused the Bush administration of fighting a “war for oil” in Iraq?
Marxism by Osmosis
Certainly, the teenage prep-school girls who made that field trip to Occupy Denver never read Marx or Lenin, and they probably wouldn’t know Bill Ayers from Justin Bieber. The same can be said for most of the rest of the ill-informed mobs who have assembled themselves under the “Occupy” banner. They cannot articulate any rational agenda, but are motivated only by a general resentment of “the rich,’ whom the Occupiers vaguely understand to be unfairly exploiting “the 99 percent” in some way.
If the Occupiers are in any sense Marxist, then, they have absorbed their Marxism by some mysterious process of cultural osmosis, because it is impossible to imagine any of those nitwits taking time to work their way through “Imperialism” or “What Is to Be Done?” (And forget about Das Kapital, a book so notoriously unreadable that I doubt even the most devout Communists ever got past the second chapter.) What is important to understand is that Marxism is a belief system, and that a person may be influenced by Marxist ideas without ever realizing the origins of these ideas.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama’s critics often called him a “radical,” a “socialist” or even a “Marxist” and were either dismissed as hysterics or condemned for “McCarthyism.” It was not widely noted that, for those too young to remember America’s Cold War struggle against Soviet tyranny, the accusation of “Marxism” doesn’t carry much weight, while “McCarthyism” is at most something they’ve read about in books. (Stan Evans’s Blacklisted by History probably isn’t on the collegiate reading list.) Voters who were 25 in 2008 were in first grade when the Berlin Wall came down. If they have some idea that the Soviet empire was a bad thing, they have little idea of why it was bad. And this ignorance is no accident.
To explain why the Bolshevik experiment failed so spectacularly would require that students be taught the errors of socialism, which would necessarily require an explanation of the superiority of the market economy to the socialist planned economy. And the left-wing orientation of today’s academic establishment — “Down With Capitalist Education!” to quote a sign in a protest today by Cal State university faculty — pretty much prohibits any such explanation.
Seventeen-year-olds taught that they are “the 99 percent” and that advocates of economic freedom are “f–king up our future” have not been merely miseducated, but have been quite literally indoctrinated. But as Buckley said, they would be “outraged by the sugggestion” that they have not arrived at their beliefs “by independent intellectual exertion.”
These young people have not been taught Marx and Lenin. Rather, they have had their heads stuffed with nebulous ideas about “equality,” “rights” and “social justice” by teachers (and journalists and movie producers) who cherish romantic mythology about the righteous glories of Sixties radical movements.
“We want them to see the democratic process in action,” their teacher said, as if obnoxious trespassers attempting to disrupt a conference are the essence of “the democratic process.”
Jim Hoft asked the teacher whether she’d ever taken her students to a Tea Party rally, and she said no, “This is the first time we’ve done anything like this.” OK, so why now? What was it about Occupy Denver that deserved a field trip, whereas the past two years of Tea Party events never merited study as part of “the democratic process”?
By Reagan’s definition, the Denver teacher and her students are neither Communists nor anti-Communists, having neither read nor understood Marx and Lenin. In the past five decades, however, the New Left’s worldview has been sufficiently diffused throughout our culture that many people readily believe what are essentially Marxist ideas: Greedy capitalists are engaged in exploitation of the downtrodden toiling masses, and mass movements that demand punitive action against the rich are part of “the democratic process” – in a way that Tea Party rallies in defense of economic freedom are not.
We naturally recoil at the thought that a Catholic girls’ school would teach its students to take up the revolutionary banner of class struggle, but this is indeed what we must conclude when we hear a 17-year-old declare, “We’re the 99 percent.”
Somewhere, Bill Ayers must be smiling.
1. Social conflict is based on class conflict which is caused by ownership of private property. Therefore,
2. there is nothing reprehensible about an act of violence which abolishes or destroys private property since it will ultimately lead to more social unity.
3. Unity of the individual and society is the highest form of freedom, and those who fail to conform deserve — at the least — disdain. A good Marxist would say they deserve destruction.
4. Under capitalism, people have no control over the condition of their lives.
5. Socialism refutes or deposes objective economic laws.
6. All economic failure can only, ultimately, be an effect of the resistance of the possessing class (the 1%) to social unity.
Indeed, this contemptuous attitude toward the wealthy, and the belief that “the System” (i.e., capitalism) is the source of all social ills, is now so pervasive on the Left that many people take it for granted.
When I deride the Occupiers as “the kind of commie scum who give commie scum a bad name,” this is taken as a jest and why so? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, even conservative Americans have ceased to think about communist subversion as a serious threat. Yet as shown by the photo of the Workers World Party conference and the quote from CPUSA at the top of the post, there are still avowed Marxists among us. If self-declared Marxist organizations have difficulty attracting members nowadays, it is not necessarily because of the declining popularity of Marxist ideas, but rather because of competition from the Democratic Party, where such ideas are now warmly embraced.