A Marxist sees the light

posted: October 28, 2022

tl;dr: That time I bore witness to an academic Marxist giving up the dream for revolution...

“It’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen!,” she kept repeating while hunched over, crying, and being comforted by an older female friend who, like her, was also in academia.

“It” was a Marxist communist revolution in the United States of America. “She” was a housemate of two friends of mine at Cornell University in the spring of 1985 or 1986 (I can’t quite place the year). She wasn’t a friend of my two friends: she was just someone agreeable to them who was willing to rent a room in a house for a single semester, which is an odd duration of time to rent a place in a college town like Ithaca. I had stopped by to visit my two friends and we happened to witness a portion of this cathartic episode.

My two friends and I were perhaps part of the reason she came to her realization. We were all engineering students headed towards plentiful employment opportunities upon graduation. Two of us were already employed and fairly well-paid as engineering co-op students. I can’t remember her field of study, but I’m pretty sure it was something in the liberal arts or social sciences.

A horizontal red rectangle, in the upper left corner of which is a yellow hammer and sickle below a yellow outline of a 5-pointed star

The flag of the (defunct) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

There were more important reasons for her decision, of course. Ronald Reagan was in the White House after winning a second term by carrying 49 of 50 states, still by far the largest margin of victory for the Presidency in my lifetime. It was “morning in America”: the inflation of the 1970s had been whipped, finally, and the economy was growing. The country was ramping up its defenses to challenge the Soviet Union in the Cold War. A few years later, in 1989, the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall fell, and in 1991 the Marxist state of the Soviet Union dissolved. She likely saw the handwriting on the wall.

There have always been Marxists in academia, in my lifetime. There tends to be a much higher percentage of them in non-STEM subjects, i.e. outside of the hard sciences. Academia, like Marxism itself, is fairly disconnected from the real world. A varying fraction, depending on subject area, of what they teach in academia doesn’t have any practical application. I can see why Marx’s vision of a classless, moneyless society, where resources come from each according to his ability and go to each according to his need, appeals to academics. It sounds great in theory but it fails in practice. It goes against the very human nature to want to freely trade and to own at least some private property. You end up with an all-powerful state to enforce all the restrictions that Marxism requires, and things devolve from there.

My friend’s housemate has been right for more than 35 years so far: the U.S. has not become a Marxist state. During that time the U.S. has drifted to what I describe as state-directed capitalism. Also during that time the most populous self-declared communist state, China, has drifted further away from Marx and towards state-directed capitalism, although the Chinese Communist Party’s degree of state direction and control still exceeds the U.S. government’s. Convergence is happening. Public-private coordination is also a central tenet of the World Economic Forum.

I think the politicians in the U.S. and China like having some capitalism in the economy: it generates wealth, innovation, and greater efficiencies, which the politicians can and do personally profit from. If, like me, you are disgusted by politicians and government insiders profiting from insider trading, there is a positive side to it: it keeps them from completely eliminating the private sector. Same with the revolving door between government jobs and private sector jobs.

Academia is now populated with students, and some young faculty, who were not alive to witness the demise of the Soviet Union. Marxism seems to be rising in popularity, but I still don’t foresee it succeeding in the United States. State-directed capitalism, with too much state and not enough capitalism, is a more realistic fear I have.