Today's Communism a shadow of its former self. Leftism gone astray. Society's offal its focus, Marx and Engels would say . . .
In fact, Marx and Engels did say.
After serving a brief stint in a New Left party in my early twenties, I joined the youth group of the Communist Party in 1976 and the Party itself shortly afterward. I left in 1987.
My rationale for doing so, though the words to describe it I discovered after the fact, was supplied by André Gide: If Christianity had been successful, communism wouldn't have been necessary.
This sketch is an attempt to contrast what the Left primarily looked like in the U.S. and Western Europe, vs. what it has become, especially in the last few years.
Under the theoretical tutelage of German-born philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who had declaimed that the working class in the West had been co-opted by modern consumer society, had been embourgeoisified, as he put it, and impetus for revolutionary transformation would have to come from the underclass. Buying into that, the American Left made two major deviations from traditional socialism.
First, race was elevated to the status of class as foundation of social conflict and struggle; it has now completely supplanted it. A typical slogan at protests in the 1970s was Black and White, Unite and Fight. Now one hears the likes of White Silence is Violence. To employ its parlance, the Left is transparently no longer interested in combating racialism to unite the working class. It is single-mindedly conducting a campaign of hereditary collective racial guilt. In perpetuity.
Second, the Left shifted its allegiance from the proletariat, particularly workers in basic industries like mining and steel and automobile production, to what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of modern communism, called the lumpenproletariat.
That social stratum would have been referred to as the dregs of society, social outcasts, the downtrodden and dispossessed, in recent decades the underclass — more accurately, the urban criminal underclass.
It started with the Black Panther Party and assorted offshoots of the New Left, especially the Students for a Democratic Society. Leftist concerns over the conditions of wage earners, urban artisans and rural peasants gave way to preoccupation with prisoners' rights and rights of criminal offenders, drug abusers, prostitutes and other marginalized demographics. It is that strain of the Marxist Left that has won out over its left-wing rivals of the 1960s and 1970s, even to the extent of achieving dominance in key institutions.
Socialists and communists no longer focused on the rights and plights of the Haymarket Martyrs, Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti and the like, but as often as not on career criminals portrayed as abused by police. Strikers were out, bail jumpers were in.
The enshrinement of the lumpenproletariat as the "revolutionary vanguard" in the country, and as the major concern of the Left, was elevated to a qualitatively advanced level with the death of George Floyd in 2020. Floyd had a criminal past and a lengthy history of drug abuse and had engaged in a criminal action while under the influence of several illicit substances on the day he died.
His iconic image has overshadowed that of even such earlier revolutionary heroes and martyrs as Che Guevara.
We might recall what the authors of the Communist Manifesto said about the Left's heroes of our day.
Frederick Engels had this in his book The Peasant War in Germany, about uprisings in German states in the 1500s:
The lumpenproletariat, this scum of the decaying elements of all classes, which establishes headquarters in all the big cities, is the worst of all possible allies. It is an absolutely venal, an absolutely brazen crew. If the French workers, in the course of the Revolution, inscribed on the houses: Mort aux voleurs! (Death to the thieves!) and even shot down many, they did it, not out of enthusiasm for property, but because they rightly considered it necessary to hold that band at arm’s length. Every leader of the workers who utilizes these gutter-proletarians as guards or supports, proves himself by this action alone a traitor to the movement.
His colleague Karl Marx wrote in his book about Napoleon III’s ascension to power, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:
[Louis] Bonaparte...was constantly accompanied by persons affiliated with the Society of December 10. This society dates from the year 1849. On the pretext of founding a benevolent society, the lumpenproletariat of Paris had been organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist general at the head of the whole.
Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars - in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème; from this kindred element Bonaparte formed the core of the Society of December 10. A “benevolent society” - insofar as, like Bonaparte, all its members felt the need of benefiting themselves at the expense of the laboring nation.
This Bonaparte, who constitutes himself chief of the lumpenproletariat, who here alone rediscovers in mass form the interests which he personally pursues, who recognizes in this scum, offal, refuse of all classes the only class upon which he can base himself unconditionally, is the real Bonaparte, the Bonaparte sans phrase.
The final line of the Communist Manifesto, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” is out of date for today's leftists, Marxists among them.