In Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove General Jack Ripper, addressing Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, said “I can no longer sit back and allow communist infiltration, communist indoctrination, communist subversion and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all our precious bodily fluids.” (Ripper was so fearful that he started a nuclear war.)
Kubrick’s masterpiece was released in 1964 when communism was depicted by capitalist governments, by newspapers and by compliant academics as the greatest threat to civilisation. The appellation “communist” was meant as an insult and as a accusation.
Today, “communist” is used less by political opponents, partly because it is easy to deny: Communism is, wrongly, associated with an absence of democracy and, thus, someone who is not a communist but accused of being one can refute the description with ease.
The deceitful distractors prefer to label those they wish to silence as “Marxists.” Despite having co-authored ‘The Communist Manifesto’ Marx cannot be characterised as a definite opponent of democracy even by anti-Marxists. Marx existed in an epoch without universal suffrage; he wanted more people to be able to vote, not fewer. However, “Marxist” as an intended accusation or insult has greater strength than “socialist” which many non-left-wing politicians and activists are happy to receive as a description.
People and organisations in all aspects of life and work can have a racketeer’s or racketeer’s gofer’s accusatory finger pointed at them accompanied by an exclamation of “Marxist.” Politicians, journalists, academics, union leaders, teachers, medical professionals, judges, magistrates, footballers, charities, barristers, lawyers, thespians, musicians, etc. are labelled “Marxist” whenever they contest conservative policy, decisions and opinions or whenever they support or enact any activity that hampers exploitation or helps people to fight for their rights and freedoms.
The range of possible actions that elicit cries of “Marxist” is wide. Support for tackling climate change, opposition to further privatisation of public services, the existence of social housing, the existence of legal aid and being anti-racist, all of which are sensible humane perspectives, are routinely described as “Marxist.” Anything that challenges or even just attempts to dampen full exploitation of people by the wealthiest is dismissed.
Most of the targets of the supposed insult are policies, proposals or ideas that share underlying principles with Marxism. That is unsurprising because Marx’s influence extends well beyond communists and he was influenced by socialist, democratic and even liberal ideas.
Partial accuracy of being labelled “Marxist” should cancel the accusatory intent of its use. It would do so if the accused accepted the description. Most recipients should acknowledge that what they support for and fight for is uncontroversially compatible with analysis by and aims of Marx. More pertinently, they should realise that their objectives are in opposition to those of exploitative capitalism.
All political adjectives and nouns have fluid definitions; invariably, they are applied with political intent. Some self-penned Marxists fail to understand key aims and objectives of Marxism, and some recipients of others’ description of them as Marxist are clearly not so, but people whose focus is fighting for the same aims as Marx need not be perturbed if described as “Marxists.”
Embrace being called a “Marxist.”
Embrace being a Marxist.