by ProfDave, ©2022
(Jan. 13, 2022) — Did it occur to you that Donald Trump was running against Donald Trump in 2020? More people voted against Trump than for Biden. Personally, I voted against Hillary in ’16 and against Kamala in ’20. I did so out of fear – fear of radical social policies and Marxism. Those who voted against Trump professed to do so out of fear of Fascism, racism, sexism and homophobia. Political rhetoric has descended to the level of accusing anyone to the right of Fidel Castro of being a Nazi and anyone to the left of Herbert Hoover of being a Communist.
Truly, there are some neo-Nazis and neo-communists in the world today. Extremism occupies the lunatic fringes of American politics, but gains strength by the rhetoric of fear. The average conservative, Republican or even populist has little in common with what we fear from Fascism. The average liberal, Democrat or even progressive may not have anything in common with what we fear from Marxism. May I suggest we face fear and see if we can defuse it?
What does the left really mean when they accuse Trump supporters of Fascism? Mostly the roll-back of Democratic policies – a justified fear. But Fascism? Historically, the connections with European fascist parties of ninety years ago is tenuous. Fascism was a movement that sought to coopt all segments of society – business, labor, veterans, churches – to face national crises (the “red menace” and the depression) behind a single charismatic leader. It was a movement without any real ideology except leadership and scapegoating (of the Jews). It used hyper-nationalism and anticommunism. It was characterized by employing organized violence and intimidation as political tools. One thing Fascism definitely was not was conservative. However, neo-fascist “militias” feed on the fear of the left and on left-wing mob violence. The indiscriminate use of the term drains it of its meaning and only spreads hatred. Oh – hatred is a characteristic of both Fascism and Marxism.
What do people fear from “Fascism?” Setting aside substantive policy issues, no moderates want to see a dictator who exerts power beyond law and constitution – on the right or the left. The left particularly fears a charismatic leader whose popularity sweeps away all they call progressive. Moderates in general fear political violence – from either side. Fascist violence tended to be highly planned and paramilitary. Marxist violence tended to be angry mobs. We all fear any form of scapegoating. Historically it was Jews and Gypsies, today it might be minority racial and LGBT activism (a moving target).
What can we do to moderate these fears? 1) Differences in policy and underlying worldviews cannot be helped, but conservative positions based on traditional values of faith, family and freedom must be accepted as legitimate and rational – not Fascist, racist, sexist or homophobic. 2) Any Republican who wins executive office will have to be a charismatic leader – that doesn’t ipso facto, make him/her a dictator. He/she would do well to make a big deal of respecting and operating within the law and the constitution. 3) Conservatives need to clearly reject extremism and violence at every opportunity, even at the risk of offending allies. 4) Conservatives need to be polite and gracious to all minorities, even when the welfare of the nation does not meet their demands. Our democracy functions by a majority rule that protects minorities but does not necessarily obey them. 5) Liberals need to cut back on the venom, hyperbole and invective. Everyone who disagrees is not a Nazi. Yelling louder is not a rational argument. Convince instead of cancelling. Grant clemency to misunderstanding and legitimacy to differences of opinion.
What are conservatives afraid of? Conservatives, moderates and just about anybody over 50 shudders at the sound of “Marx.” Young progressives have forgotten that was the name that killed one hundred million people and reduced a third of the globe to slavery during the cold war. Living examples include North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and the People’s Republic of China. With the possible exception of China, they are all miserable social and economic failures and without exception brutally repressive regimes that have no qualms about starving and slaughtering their own people. We need to be sure progressives are not like them.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels analyzed the troubles of the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century according to dialectical materialism. They described their cause in terms of an evolutionary socio-economic conflict between labor and capital and prophesied an inevitable revolution leading to a dictatorship of the proletariat (labor) and an ultimate Communist collective society, “the workers’ paradise.” Elements of Marx’s theories were taken in different directions of European labor movements, by the Communist International, and by university intellectuals. Besides the Bolshevik and Maoist revolutionary Marx, there is a parliamentary Marx, an existential Marx, a Liberation Marx, and a CRT Marx – perhaps even a progressive Marx. Will the real Karl Marx please stand up? How much of the past 170 years and dozens of “Marxist” movements really belong to him?
What are the dangers conservatives fear from Marxism? The first danger they fear is bloody revolution and dictatorship. Marx foretold a violent clash between the masses and their masters – global civil war like World War I. Lenin used mob action in strategic locations of society to overthrow the new Russian Republic. The Communist International fomented the violent overthrow of governments around the world, took over Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam by force – not by constitutional or even popular means. Existing systems, civil order, social and economic structures were destroyed as a first step towards the cooperative utopia that never came. We do not want that here.
A second danger seen is militant atheism and Marxist ethics. Stamping out religion is one of the primary goals of Marxist ideology. Not only is the free exercise of religion suppressed, but there are no ten commandments in Marxism. What is right and wrong depend on the party. The ends – the utopian future – justify any means whatever (deceit, misappropriation, mass arrest, torture, assassination, mass starvation). Absolutely nothing is intrinsically wrong. Atheism and moral relativism are less severe in western socialist and labor parties that must compete for influence in multi-party democracies. Atheism is limited to a secular preference and corrupt and illegal means are checked by an independent judiciary and their political minority position. Is the difference one of principle or simply one of power?
A third danger feared is the loss of political, personal and economic freedom. Without total control, socialist parties encourage extensive regulation and state-owned monopolies over wide swaths of industry and life. As long as truth and justice remain independent of Marxist control, objective cost/benefit analysis of these measures can be taken in the public square. Once total control is established, there will be only one political party, only one set of candidates and no more dissent allowed. Contrary voices are cancelled and silenced. Personal and economic freedom will be at an end – freedom to move about, launch a business, buy property, raise crops for personal consumption, and many other things. Products will be rationed and there will be only one brand of automobile and breakfast cereal. Private property will be confiscation. Education and information will be controlled by the party. There will be secret police, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Our words and social media accounts will be censored.
And finally, social and economic collapse is feared as the prosperity and domestic tranquility of America, built on freedom, equal opportunity and private enterprise is lost to a command economy. Initiative and success will be discouraged. Flexibility will be lost to centralization, optimism drained and faith suppressed – the Cuba syndrome. Suspicion and corruption will infiltrate the massive bureaucracies – the Venezuela syndrome.
Can Marx-ophobia be mollified? Those who wish to use the name of Marx and the concepts of Marxism, socialism and communism positively need to address the fears of conservatives honestly. First, stop using the language of revolution and destruction and demonstrate commitment to democratic processes, civil law and renewing the existing structures of society. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Mob violence needs to be publicly and repeatedly renounced as a political weapon.
Second, the left needs to demonstrate commitment to objective truth, law and justice – even when it does not serve their propaganda. They need to respect the faith and values of others.
Third, progressives need to settle for policy influence short of control. Cancel culture and social media censorship smell of totalitarianism. Means matter.
And finally, the left needs to show concern for both individual freedom and for the unintended and/or destructive consequences of their policies – like inflation and the border crisis. Give before you take away. In America we have proven Karl Marx wrong. Cooperation and legal competition have provided freedom and well-being for the working family far beyond the dreams of communism. We should not have to destroy and enslave each other to get what is rightfully ours. We can cooperate without class warfare – or race or gender or sexuality wars. Most of us agree that cooperation is better than conflict. Let’s work on it.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.