513. Difficulty at the beginning (VIII)
The true legacy left by Marx is not Communism as such—or even his theory of surplus value. The true legacy left by Marx, the legacy that remains today, can be described as a model. The model is as follows: society is divided into two classes with contradictory interests, a ruling class and an oppressed class; although other classes exist, these are falling into the category of the oppressed; it is historically inevitable that this class struggle will intensify and that the oppressed will triumph, so bringing about a new golden age where people authentically relate to each other and all the possibilities of technology are realised—in the interim, most social phenomena (arts, science, customs) can be interpreted as being the creation of the ruling class and are designed to sustain their rule.
The first iteration talked about “the proletariat” and “the bourgeoisie”; and, a long time ago now, those two terms meant something—today they mean nothing, neither class exists. However, the basic model developed by Marx remains entirely operable: you can slot any social phenomena you want into the class categories if you wish—“PoC” and “white supremacists” or “non-gender conforming” and “the cis”. It all works just as well; and you do not even have to demand socialism—just something nebulous, such as “social justice”.
The schema is flexible and it can be modified and applied to any country. It is a mythology, not a science—it is not falsifiable; and yet it is deeply satisfying, especially in an age when most people no longer believe traditional religions. Everyone feels “alienated” to an extent, because the division of labour is alienating—man was not born to do one task over and over again every day; and Marxisant theories promise to overcome just that—although, this is the utopian element, without impairing the wealth produced by the division of labour. It is a great story: the struggle between oppressed and oppressor that, though difficult, eventually leads to a utopia.
Marx never said that the proletariat would necessarily become poorer and poorer; he saw that as a possibility, not a certainty. What he did say was that class struggle will intensify as the contradictions between the classes and technology become more acute. Hence the conservatives who say, “We’re richer than ever,” do not really answer the Marxisant critics—besides, a major appeal of Marxist-derived theories is not wealth but the promise that alienation will be overcome; the Marxist appeal has always been primarily spiritual.
The conservative who identifies Critical Theory, Gender Theory, Critical Race Theory, and so on as “Marxist” is basically right; the underlying framework is the same as far as politics goes—different material fills the empty slots. However, this is bad rhetoric, for the leftist interlocutor just laughs at the conservative: “He says it’s Marxism. Marxism. C’mon, it’s completely different—he’s an ignorant uneducated racist.” The conservative plays straight into his enemy’s worldview: he is an ignorant old bigot who is unable to distinguish between Brezhnev and a non-binary gender queer. The leftist is half-right: the content of his theory is different from Marxism—although functionally it is quite the same. Then again, it would be obtuse to say to me if I replaced my decrepit Ford with a Tesla, “Oh yeah, I see you’ve a new car. A car’s a car, isn’t it?”
The right, as exemplified by men like James Lindsay, cannot win by identifying their enemies as “Marxists”—even though the basic model is the same; and you would think they were deluded if you took them to a car lot and they said: “All I see is cars. A car is a car.” Ultimately, the problem exists because the right cannot give a rhetorical answer—dialectic is the left’s domain. The answer to the Marxisant lecturer in Gender Studies is a public caning—for them to be banned from teaching; and not to call them “a Marxist”. Yet this is the answer the contemporary right cannot give.