In your September 19 edition, Hank Roth of Raleigh slammed one of your earlier articles as being "hysterical, reactionary, and a simplification of 'dialectics.'" Then he surprised me (and wrecked his credentials as a true keeper of the faith) by babbling that "the object of socialism was to create a democratic classless society incompatible with repression." Although that sounds nice -- and undoubtedly wins many adherents amongst tipsy and/or naive college sophomores -- it does not in any way resemble proper Marxian dialectical materialism. Marx saw the rise of communism as the logically necessary next step in the social and economic development of a technologically-advanced society. Its ascendancy could not be effectively argued for or against, aided or hindered, since it was an unstoppable result of the exhaustion of capitalism. Any sort of moral justification or discussion of communism's "goals" is thus rendered irrelevant, and can only serve to allay fears while the scientifically inevitable grows nearer.
Of course, it was just that sort of thinking that permitted Marx and his acolytes to ignore the problem of how economic calculation would take place in an economic system shorn of the mechanism of a free market. As any child can see, centrally-planned economies function poorly at best, and can usually prevent total collapse only by importing capital and technology from the "corrupt" freer countries. Although Roth condemned the Soviets for operating "a very distorted form of socialism," they never deviated from its very definition, state control over the means of production. Claiming that any other goal is more important to socialism is a lie, and smacks of quibbling over ideological niceties.
Even the rise of the Party power elite was not an aberration, as Marx
predicted its existence (unfortunately without estimating how long it would
take to wither away). Although bootlickers, torturers, and murderers are
notoriously hard to dislodge from government, to be consistent Mr. Roth
should be demanding that the average Soviet citizen quit grumbling about
freedom, ignore the state-engineered deaths of tens of millions of their
countrymen, and wait for nature to take its course. After all, the terror
and hunger is undoubtedly good for their ethical development, for as that
old radical Ayn Rand pointed out decades ago, "Soviet Russia is the full,
actual, literal, consistent embodiment of the morality of altruism . . .
If service and self-sacrifice are a moral ideal, and if the 'selfishness'
of human nature prevents men from leaping into sacrificial furnaces, there
is no reason . . . why a dictator should not push them in at the point of
I apologize for covering the same territory twice, but Hank Roth's latest letter (Spectator, October 17) was too stilted to pass up. Although you were polite enough to provide him with an opportunity to explain exactly what he meant in his earlier ramblings, the poor slob blew it by further mangling Marx and trashing history.
Mr. Roth continues to jumble up his terms. For example, he uses "dialectics" and "dialectical materialism" interchangeably (ditto "socialism" and "communism"), as if they meant the same thing! I don't know where he picked that up, but I was taught that dialectics refers to methods of argumentation used to prove or disprove the truth of something via logic or reasoning. Dialectical materialism, on the other hand, is a Marxian construct which marries the materialist philosophy of Ludwig von Feuerbach (1804-1872) with the peculiar brand of dialectics formulated by Georg Hegel (1770-1831).
Feuerbach's materialist conception of history stands upon two somewhat contradictory theses. The first asserts that a man's thoughts are directed by his economic environment. Marx was referring to this in Das Kapital when he accused Descartes of seeing "with the eyes of the manufacturing period, as distinguished from the eyes of the Middle Ages." The second premise is the more familiar notion that a man's selfish class interests will determine how he thinks.
Hegel's dialectics were summarized quite nicely by Leonard Peikoff in his book The Ominous Parallels. The philosopher believed that "reality is a dynamic cosmic mind or thought-process, which in various contexts is referred to as the Absolute, the Spirit, the World-Reason, God, etc. According to Hegel, it is the essential nature of this entity to undergo a constant process of evolution or development, unfolding itself in various stages. In one of these stages, the Absolute 'externalizes' itself, assuming the form of a material world. Continuing its career, it takes on the appearance of a multiplicity of human beings, each seemingly distinct from the others, each seemingly an autonomous individual with his own personal thoughts and desires." The totalitarian implications of this line of thought were spelled out quite explicitly in Hegel's Philosophy of Right: "A single person, I need hardly say, is something subordinate, and as such he must dedicate himself to the ethical whole. Hence if the state claims life, the individual must surrender it.
Marx was a voracious reader who fused the work of Feuerbach and Hegel (as well as Darwin, Hobbes, and others) into his own conception of human nature. He fashioned a complex weave of thought that depicted social progress as a ziggurat, with each plateau leading inexorably to the next. "True Socialism" (in Marx's specialized sense), is the only possible future, and since it is indeed the ultimate will of Geist (the indwelling spirit of man), no man or group of men can impede or aid the outcome.
Unfortunately for tens of millions of innocents, the Marxists were not willing to wait for their own "scientific" prediction to come about. Marx himself admitted that the transition would be costly, and that there was, "only one means to curtail, simplify and localize the bloody agony of the old society and the bloody birth-pangs of the new, only one means -- the revolutionary terror." Mr. Roth's other two favorite communists were similarly disposed. Leon Trotsky, vocal defender of the Cheka (the secret police organization that mutated into the KGB) and renowned butcher of the Kronstadt uprising, put it coyly: "We shall not enter into the kingdom of socialism in white gloves on a polished floor." Lenin, as usual, was blunter: "We'll ask the man, where do you stand on the revolution? Are you for it or against it? If he's against it, we'll stand him against a wall."
That is Marxist socialism. Mr. Roth's pitiable attempts to pass it off as some sort of namby-pamby Utopia with Ovaltine rivers and candy-cane trees just make him look imbecilic.
Jeepers creepers, will somebody please take Hank Roth's crayons away! His latest attempt to dismiss my admittedly cruel-spirited attacks and win new recruits to the Marxist "cause" (already a tough job these days -- sort of like selling bikinis in a leper colony) incredibly managed to make the poor guy seem even more foolish. He deigned to skip over every point I made but one, choosing only to deny that Marx swiped the notion of historical determinism from Georg Hegel. Of course the facts of the matter forced him into a particularly squirmy bit of equivocation, claiming that it could not be true since Hegel had different goals than Marx. (Huh?) Certainly Hegel's dialectics attempted to deify the Prussian monarchy rather than a dictatorship of the proletariat, but even a cursory glance at his work reveals his tremendous influence on Marx. Karl Popper (who to the best of my knowledge has never been described as a "right-revisionist" hack), in his The Open Society and its Enemies, was impolite enough to charge Marx with simply substituting the concept of "class" for "nation" in order to "replace Hegel's 'Spirit' by matter, and by material and economic interests."
Of course, I can understand why Mr. Roth would want to haggle over Marxism's dubious parentage rather than to straightforwardly examine its spectacular failures and unprecedented taste for blood. A lot of comrades are unable to admit that the only Marxists that they can unhesitatingly point to as stainless prophets of a more perfect future were those lucky enough to expire before attaining a position of power. Unfortunately, even most of them had the distressing habit of expressing their true goals. A good example of this group is Rosa Luxemburg, whom many Marxists consider a particularly worthwhile martyr, who told the Independent Socialists in December of 1918 that socialism "does not mean getting together in a parliament and deciding on laws. For us socialism means the smashing of the ruling classes with all the brutality that the proletariat is able to develop in its struggle."
Mr. Roth will undoubtedly attempt to salvage a bit of face by sputtering about the horrors supposedly brought upon the ever-suffering proletariat by that nasty old bogeyman, capitalism. In the hopes of sparing your already bored readers that absurdity, please allow me to finish off with a gentle reminder of an often unrecognized accomplishment of the Industrial Revolution, courtesy of Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek (from his introduction to Capitalism and the Historians):