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  • Writer's pictureCorey Lee Wilson

Marxism and Progressivism: A Play in Two Acts

From Dr. Raymond M. Berger, “Marxism and Progressivism: A Play in Two Acts” published 2018 in The Times of Israel, about why every Marxist government in history has been a repressive nightmare, the section is drawn from.

Today’s progressives believe they are onto something new. But the progressive script is an old theatrical play with the same drama as the earlier communist play. It stars the same protagonists dressed up with different names. And despite the hype of the performance, when the curtain comes down after the finale, both plays are equally unsatisfying.

Yesterday’s Communism

Communist theory was first expounded by the nineteenth century philosopher, Karl Marx. Marx crafted a morality play. He observed economic changes wrought by the early industrial revolution in Western Europe, and he correctly perceived the inherent injustice in the evolving economic system.

This was high drama, complete with villains and downtrodden heroes. The villains were the bourgeoisie, the owners of industry or what Marx called the “means of production.” The downtrodden heroes were the proletariat or workers.

When the enclosure movement threw the serfs off the manor and into the towns and cities, they were robbed of their former dignity and means of livelihood. Forced to resort to selling their labor as their only means of survival, they became wage slaves. Gone was the pride of craftsmanship and the stability of manor life. As the bourgeoisie exploited the “surplus labor”—that is, the money value created by proletariat labor—the proletarian was robbed of the fruits of his labor.

Even worse, he was now subject to the wild swings of economic expansion and contraction and hence to misery and insecurity. At the same time, societal wealth became increasingly concentrated in the hands of the small bourgeoisie class while the proletariat remained impoverished.

The system was maintained by a false consciousness in which the proletariat failed to recognize the “class structure” of society and the exploitive nature of the bourgeois class and the system of capitalism.

The play’s drama was advanced by revolutionaries—like Marx—who alerted the proletariat to their exploitation and encouraged them to overthrow the capitalist system. The workers would inevitably open their eyes. According to Marx, this would lead to a revolution and a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

But despite the dictatorial nature of this transitional phase, the new paradigm would result in a just society in which each contributed according to his ability and took according to his need. Thus, the unjust capitalist society would be replaced by a just and classless society.

The central purpose of twentieth century communism was to “set things right.”

Today’s Progressivism

Berger continues that today’s progressive movement—different from the American Progressive movement of the late nineteenth century—repackaged this Marxist theory with new actors and injustices but the same old drama.

The epic struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is replaced by the morally laden struggles between privileged and oppressed actors with new names. In this contemporary version of Marxist drama, people of color are pitted against a white male power structure supported by a mysterious but powerful force of institutional racism. Women are pitted against a male patriarchy that invades not only the workplace but intrudes into the very intimacy of the home to wreak injustice.

As the blinders of the new false consciousness fall from the eyes of the oppressed, new oppressed groups emerge. Some are based on “sexual minority status”—gay people, transsexuals, intersex, non-gender conforming—others on physical traits—the disabled, the unattractive, fat people. In place of an exploitive bourgeoisie there are heterosexists, cis-gender persons, those who exploit the disabled and those who engage in “lookism,” that is, those who exploit others due to their appearance.

Added to these colorful actors are the multitude of colonized people of the third world and their exploitive evil colonizers. Because this is a drama, the respective roles of colonizer and colonized are always simplified, with few benefits but much evil attributed to colonization. And even long after the departure of the colonizers from formerly colonized lands, the injustice of the original colonial sin is said to persist, as every problem of the newly independent peoples is attributed to the legacy of colonialism.

In the same way, injustices based on race and ethnicity are said to live on, in the form of the legacy of racism, even after much of the oppression is alleviated.

More recently the world has seen a northward migration of millions from impoverished and violent lands in the south. Amidst the confusion of roles—are these immigrants, migrants, or refugees?—these folks join the long line of oppressed people who are unjustly exploited and abused in their adopted countries. There is nothing more dramatic and poignant than these huddled masses, to use the words of poet Emma Lazarus.

These are new actors in an old drama around the struggle between persecutor and victim, between exploiter and exploited. Marx’s focus on labor has now extended to every conceivable human difference, as if the very existence of difference is morally wrong.

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