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Willful Ignorance of European Marxism

I once knew a person on Facebook who was reasonably intelligent, a network engineer by profession, but alas has been infected by that strange political expression of methodological individualism. In other words, they were a Libertarian, of the capital 'L', good ol' U.S.A variety. Now I have some sympathy for such people, especially when what they are talking about in terms of civil rights and liberties, self-governance, and so forth. I have a lot less sympathy for their perspective when they think that individual property rights should be able to extend beyond the personal property into the realm of private ownership of capital and especially land.

But in general, they seemed like a reasonable person. Indeed, their posts were often of the critical variety, expressing how unsure we should be of our own political and economic theories and how we must subject them to deep and considered criticism, and self-criticism and they're found wanting to make appropriate changes. They railed against political partisanship that would condemn the actions of one politician yet excuse the same from another. They argued against selection and confirmation biases. On the surface, this seems all very good.

Until it became increasingly evident that they didn't mean their own political and economic theories. Try as I might raise the issue, for example, of how many even pro-capitalist classic liberals and Libertarians were a supporter of site-rental for public income, they constantly chose avoidance of the topic. In fact, the only the time I could get to acknowledge the significant influence of peers and the environment on one's own supposedly independent decision-making was the abstract level of the Asch conformity experiments. That shocked them - and naturally enough I raised the examples of the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment in what was really a forlorn hope that they would come to understand that an individual consciousness is deeply socially embedded.

It perhaps should be expected but the issue of Marxism, and specifically the influence of Marxism in Europe was brought up. I don't particularly like the term as it assigns to an individual both an entire ideological framework with many variations, and it is by no means as all-encompassing as a more general, non-personal term such as socialism. Understandably, they weren't a fan of Marxism, but they really only conceived it in terms of the East European Stalinist version and didn't really understand that either. Naturally enough they were all too fast to point out how successful capitalism had been and how poor the eastern block was. They were not terribly happy when I pointed out that GDP per capita (PPP) collapsed after the fall of the eastern bloc and remained below the levels of the late 1980s until the mid-2000s at least - and the median was usually worse. Many saw falls in life expectancy etc. Like most eastern European and former Soviet countries, the new found "freedom" meant 15+ years of having their incomes halved or worse, their life shortened, their education decline, and nobody wanting to have children anymore. It was pretty miserable, even if things have improved since then.

Now it became curious when they claimed that Marxism has no influence over contemporary European politics. Admitting that they knew little about the subject (a good start!) they couldn't bring themselves to acknowledge however that Marxism had influence in western European democracies or contemporary political theory. I raised the example of the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, the British Central Labour College, and L'office universitaire de recherche socialiste - all of whom produced volumes of work - recognised as the among the best contributions in political and cultural theory in the twentieth century - on this very topic. I raised well known works such as Jurgen Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus (published in English as "Legitmation Crisis"), Suhrkamp, 1973, Tony Benn, Arguments for Socialism, Penguin Books, 1980, Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, Oxford University Press, 2002, Axel Honneth, The Idea of Socialism, Wiley, 2016. I even pointed out the founding document of European social democracy in the post-WWII environment - explicitly recognised its Marxist influences. I pointed out, as an example, that the Marxist Die Linke party in Germany was the leading party of the government in Thuringia, and junior coalition partner in Brandenburg and in Berlin.

None of this was to any avail - and if this was to no avail, the numerous other elaborations (e.g., Sinn Féin, Progressive Party in Cyprus, Syriza in Greece etc) would be likewise. Their ideological blindness caused them to be wilfully and astoundingly ignorant of the massive contribution and correlation with western Marxist thought with European social democracy. Something which is trivially accepted in Europe itself suddenly becomes a point of debate because they can't be bothered learning - which is annoying to any person who has formally studied this subject. Eventually, I just gave up. There is no point discussing a subject with a person who does not want to learn, but all the more frustrating because they demand of others the sort of good criteria that they don't apply to themselves. Instead, I just joined Die Linke instead (which now goes with my membership to the Australian Labor Party, the New Zeland Labour Party, and Parti Socialiste of France, which sort of matches my center-to-far-left political orientation).

Die Linke were good enough to process my membership prior to actual payment; on arrival on Berlin a few weeks ago I went to sort this out. Following a visit to Karl-Liebknecht-Straße in central Berlin, named after the co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany, I visited the Marx-Engels Forum, and took the opportunity to promenade down Karl Marx Allee, on my way to Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, named after the other co-founder of the Communist Party of Germany, to visit Karl-Liebknecht-Haus and pay my membership fees (and had a chuckle over the Zero Euro Marx Commemorative Note printed by the German city of Trier). But rest assured, Marxism has no influence here - as long as you engage in willful ignorance.

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