• American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas; Darío Fernández-Morera; Praeger; 204 pages.
Darío Fernández-Morera aims with this publication to find the reasons why American intellectuals continue to believe and seek to further Marxist ideas in this country — despite witnessing the spectacular failures of Marxism in Russia, East Germany, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and even Albania and Nicaragua; despite seeing Marxist practitioners (often their peers) in other countries quickly resorting to tyranny and terrorism to implement their ideas; despite the overthrow of Marxist regimes by citizens who had lived for generations under the regimes (counter to the Marxist idea that the culture itself is responsible for shaping the ideas of its citizens). In finding those reasons, Fernández-Morera, an associate professor of comparative literature and Hispanic studies at Northwestern University, examines the history and consequences of this socioeconomic system and the reactions to them by the system's supporters overseas and in America.
Fernández-Morera divides the history of Marxism and the materialist ideology into three ages. First is Early Marxism, beginning with the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and ending in 1917. From then is the Age of Advanced Marxism, which saw a rapid increase in the number of societies based upon the ideas of Marx and which concluded in the 1980s. This present age is the Age of Late Marxism; the continued preference in this age among the American professoriate for Marxist ideas — the materialist approach — is what concerns Fernandez-Morera.
The materialistic approach
Fernández-Morera begins by describing the Marxist approach to education and follows that with the Marxist pursuit of power and approach to ethics. Following those examinations, Fernández-Morera explores materialists' defenses for Marxism and the problems with the Marxist approach.
The lack of objective truth in materialist discourse is a major topic for Fernández-Morera. In Marxism, truth is contextual within the society — it is not absolute or abstract. As V.I. Lenin taught: "One of the basic principles of dialectics is that there is no such thing as abstract truth, and what is concrete, in which the second dominates the first, characterizes the materialist approach to knowledge and truth."
Such a viewpoint led to, in Russia, China, Poland, Bulgaria and so on, what Fernández-Morera calls "the most colossal institutionalized lying the world has ever seen." Basically, "truth" is constructed according to the present needs of the Marxist regime; nothing is really true.
Of course, Fernández-Morera catches the obvious irony that such a tenet is inherently self-defeating. Materialists untidily address this problem by excepting materialism itself from the tenet. Lenin, again: "The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true."
Fernandez-Morera discusses how Marxists seek to discard other objective standards — liberty, oppression, superiority — along with truth. One in particular, the notion of individual excellence, materialists immediately and vigorously seek to quell. An American example that unfortunately is still relevant is the issue of what method to use in teaching children to read. It involves the teachings of John Dewey, the famous educator, who, according to 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, promoted the use of whole-word instruction over phonics because the latter leads to individual learning. According to Gatto:
In 1896 John Dewey said that independent, self-reliant people would be a counterproductive anachronism in the collective society of the future. He advocated that the phonics method of teaching reading be abandoned and replaced by the whole-word method, not because the latter was more efficient (he admitted it was less efficient), but because reading hard books produces independent thinkers, thinkers who cannot be socialized very easily. By socialized Dewey meant conditioned to a program of social objectives administered by the best social thinkers in government.
The materialist approach to equality — based, Fernández-Morera explains, on the idea that all concepts are socially and therefore politically shaped, unable to exist beyond the barriers of class — is a conscious governmental exercise in seeking, valuing and rewarding mediocrity. The existence of superior students, of course, would imply the existence of superiority, of human excellence.
"Thus the superintendent of the Chicago school system," writes Fernández-Morera, "hopes to initiate school programs that keep top students from going to magnet schools and instead make them stay in the inferior schools within their neighborhoods. In other words, the superior student must be forced to remain at the level of the inferior."
Objective concepts do exist, however, Fernández-Morera writes, and their existence is the downfall of Marxism. In 1990, he writes,
Alexander Yakovlev, one of Gorbachev's aids, indicted an entire epistemological system when he told delegates at the 28th Communist Party Congress that, in effect, for three generations all their institutional power, all their class power, all their command of the means of information and distribution of truth, and all their political control of the means of state coercion (what French Marxist professor [Louis] Althusser, speaking of course of the evil Capitalist West, called "the State Ideological Apparatuses": the legal and educational system, the media, etc.) and of every presumably hegemonic factor, could not alter an objective truth: That their socioeconomic system was inferior. It was therefore time to accept that there is such a thing as an independent and objective truth: "A decision of this congress, or a decision of the Central Committee, cannot change the fact that the volume of labor production in South Korea is 10 times that of the North, nor the fact that people in West Germany live far better than people in the East."
This conclusion, ironically, was foreseen by Leon Trotsky, who said that if human nature in all historical conditions reacts to the forced labor necessitated by socialism with poor productivity, then socialism itself is fundamentally flawed and "you can erect a monument over the grave of Socialism."
Through the looking glass
While that monument is gleefully being prepared in formerly Iron Curtain countries, to American professors Marxism is neither dead nor even moribund. Fernández-Morera explains the uniquely Marxist way American socialists deny that socialism is empirically an inferior system. A "plausible anecdote" concerning Duke University serves to illustrate this denial:
An eminent American practitioner of materialist discourse [Fernández-Morera does not name the professor, only saying he was a "famous Marxist professor at Duke"] in the field of "literary criticism and theory" seeks out a Russian delegation of scholars and managers visiting the United States to learn about the Capitalist system. The American professor then proceeds vigorously to admonish these seasoned veteran students of Marx, Lenin, and Plekhanov on the really correct meaning of the teachings of Marx, Lenin, and Plekhanov.
"In other words: academic practitioners of materialist discourse cannot recognize themselves — no matter how massive the evidence — in the historical "Other" and its horrors," Fernández-Morera concludes. "What they see in the mirror of history is, at best, something entirely different and, at worst, a lamentable "distortion" of themselves and their beloved ideas."
Such a looking-glass distortion enables American socialists to use denial to argue against dismissing Marxism. As Fernández-Morera writes, the apologists explain that failing socialist regimes were not actually socialist; therefore, socialism is not the cause of the failure. "With this outright denial," Fernández-Morera writes, "materialist discourse disposes of all possible empirical arguments against its (always potentially) beneficial effects."
Another defense, the ideological basis behind the environmentalist and animal-rights movements, arrogates one of the primary drawbacks of Marxism: that it produces a scarcity of goods. As Fernández-Morera shows, Late Marxists, ignoring (as only materialists can) that nineteenth-century materialists promised abundance through socialism, now offer an "ecologically correct" argument that because Capitalistic consumption threatens the earth through pollution and depletion of natural resources, "the ubiquitous scarcity and rationing consistently brought about by the diligent application of Marx's teachings can now be seen as the only route of salvation left to the planet."
(Another contemporary political movement in American, feminism, is firmly rooted in Marxism, Fernández-Morera shows. The structure of non-individualist feminism and Marxism is similar, with the word "male" in feminist discourse replacing "the bourgeois" and "Capitalism"; in other words, feminist theory is Marxist theory with the notion of class replaced by the notion of gender. The irony of this "feminist mimicking" also does not escape Fernández-Morera. "With their contemporary makeup removed, the fundamentals of the non-individualist version of feminism and 'women studies,'" Fernández-Morera remarks, "turn out to be those developed by bearded, middle-class, white paterfamilias in nineteenth-century Germany.")
Marxism's survival in the American academy, therefore, Fernández-Morera finds, is due either to professors' denial of its failures, proud acceptance of its failures or arrogant belief that it would not fail under their control. It owes in part to a belief that Fernández-Morera called the "Hope Springs Eternal" defense, which is that just because Marxism has failed every time it has been tried does not imply that it will fail the next time it is tried. This belief, as delineated by Fernández-Morera, runs thus: "Where an engineer, a businessman, and even a politician may fail, a professor can succeed — because the blank page, unlike other forms of reality, takes everything without answering back."
There is an even simpler reason, too, Fernández-Morera writes:
Perhaps one reason, which one might call "ideological" in the materialist sense, is that, having become institutionalized, materialist discourse is now the bread and butter of so many professors that it would take a revolution like those that occurred in some socialist countries for them to give it up. These academicians find it difficult to accept that there is little difference between their discourse and the discourse of the failed societies of the Age of Late Marxism, because accepting it would require carrying out a great deal of intellectual and emotional excavation and abandoning much intellectual and emotional baggage. They would have to admit not only that they were wrong, but that wittingly or not they were accomplices to what has been arguably the most murderous and durable form of twentieth-century despotism.
To that end, Fernández-Morera writes, they have constructed for themselves their own small, socialist states on their campuses. American higher education today is "a socialist microstate," Fernández-Morera says. Universities use racial preferences in admissions (similar to class preferences used in universities in socialist countries), have socialized medical care for students, have public housing and even employ meal tickets for students.
Furthermore, as Peter Brimelow said, universities are exhibiting the same signs of deterioration as seen in socialized economies: "1) politicized allocation of resources, 2) proliferating bureaucratic overhead, 3) chronic mismatching of supply and demand, 4) susceptibility to top-down panaceas, usually requiring more input and 5) qualitative and quantitative collapse."
The reasons why American academics continue to bed, Miss Emily-like, with Marxism are important to consider, but more importantly they are considered relatively moot by those from formerly Marxist countries.
"Those of us who have lived under socialism exhibit the once bitten, twice shy syndrome," explained former Soviet academician Vladimir Bukovsky in To Choose Freedom. "Perhaps Western socialism is in fact different and will produce different results. But we observe with growing apprehension the ominously familiar personality types, misconceptions, and attempts to institute this system of thought."