Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A resurgence of Marxism? Why and how it might happen

Folks have been complaining virtually since the time that he was inaugurated that President Obama is a socialist.  But it's more likely that, should Mitt Romney be elected president and conservative Republicans become politically dominant again -- which I don't anticipate -- we would see a resurrection of Marxism.

Come again?  Wouldn't conservative principles bring prosperity to all?  Uh -- no, only a privileged few, who would then jimmy the system to make sure they stayed at the top of the food chain.   Indeed, similar to what we had during the second term of George W. Bush, the "jobless recovery" and all that.

What does that have to do with Marxism?  Only everything, because a lot of people are oblivious to the very conditions that create the climate in which Marxism can thrive.  What's required first is an economic elite that uses its power to perpetuate it and run roughshod over those of a lower social status.  Then, you have to have a religious elite that works hand-in-glove with the economic elite to give it moral sanction.  (Indeed, I consider the 1980s the "dark days" of evangelicalism because during the previous decade it had literally been bought off. If you think I'm kidding, consider that issues of poverty have always been all but ignored in Christian broadcast media.)

A history lesson from the Great Depression, which followed the "roaring '20s":  Only a relative few, mostly in urban areas, enjoyed the perks of wealth that came largely through the stock market and the financial sector; on the other hand, the rural Midwest was suffering through a drought and times were hard elsewhere.  But what did it matter?  Well, we soon found out after the stock market crash, which led to 25 percent unemployment.  And the church, which should have critiqued the culture, to my knowledge was nowhere to be found.

It was during the Depression that Marxist ideology became noticeable, if not all that popular, in America, and the political left was understandably quite concerned.  So President Franklin D. Roosevelt, among other things, placed restrictions on banks and other financial institutions to keep them from raping the system the way they had before.  The business community, which wasn't hurting all that much, deeply resented him as a result.  (And he was ready for a showdown, uttering his famous clause, "I welcome their hatred.")

Organized labor also did its part, purging its ranks of Communists and even receiving support from Roman Catholic clergy.  It was also fortunate that the civil-rights movement started in black Southern churches rather than with the small Communist cells that were operating in Southern cities in that day.  (Even despite Martin Luther King Jr.'s consistent denunciation of Communism, he was still vilified as a Communist.)

The elites, however, began fighting back in the 1950s, organizing and funding think-tanks that promoted free-market ideology with few if any restrictions, and by the 1980s organized labor in the private-sector was pretty much dead.  Moreover, the religious right was born in the late 1970s as a reaction to the Carter Administration's threat to check into the tax-exempt status of private Southern academies that he suspected may have been founded to circumvent court-ordered desegregation of public schools; it too hated on labor unions and "government."  (That was why they tried to remove Bill Clinton as president -- it correctly saw him as a major threat to its worldview.)

But right now the modern conservative movement has a real problem.  In a recent column in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. made this salient point: "Romney, [vice-presidential hopeful Paul] Ryan and the entire right know that their most deeply held belief -- the one on which they won’t compromise -- is rejected by the vast majority of Americans. That’s their faith that every problem in the economy and in society can be solved by throwing more money at rich people through tax cuts." 

And that's the place where Marx's "Communist Manifesto" might get a hearing.  Keep in mind that he didn't so much call for "class warfare" but recognized that it already existed.  (The Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, make the same point, but those passages are completely ignored by most evangelical Christians.)  So if we don't want a resurgence of Marxism, it would behoove us "to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with [our] God" [Micah 6:8b].