The Specter Haunting Marxism
Marx and Engels are still revered in certain circles, as is the system of thought they invented in the 19th century. Indeed, on the Left, they are treated with the reverence that used to be reserved in the U.S. for the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. But there is a specter haunting the hagiographies of these two icons of the Left. And it is the same one haunting the hagiographies of those once-deemed-great icons of the American mainstream – the specter of racism.
Now at first glance, that seems a bit much. Weren’t Marx and Engels the champions of the oppressed? Didn’t they call for a revolution to overthrow structural capitalism in all its nefarious guises? Didn’t they extol the dignity of every human being in the face of state-sanctioned violence and oppression? Didn’t they stand for liberation and equality and justice? And didn’t they stand against an irredeemably evil bourgeoisie, the source of all that was wrong with the world, and call them out for their arrogance and ignorance?
Well, no. Quite apart from the monstrousness of the ideology they spawned, there is plenty of evidence that racist themes and tropes did suffuse the thinking of both Marx and Engels. To put it in theological terms, they were guilty of three sins. The first was a sin of omission. Marxism”s foundational writings evince a profound indifference to, or perhaps ignorance of, race as an analytical category. The founding fathers of Marxism simply could not fit it into their formal theory of history, except perhaps
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