Monday, February 13, 2006

Pour Marx

I've just been listening to Friday's edition of Radio 4's Any Questions, and got rather irate. You see, from the general consensus - 'Aren't these Muslims being silly' 'of course it's not racism' 'bring back borstal' etc - a sudden controversy arose. The panellists were asked who had been the biggest single influence on their political philosophy. Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill were trotted out to general approval, until suddenly Ali Ansari said that his was Karl Marx. Shock! Horror! Outrage!

Ann Leslie - one of those rentasnobs that the BBC feel the need to get on from time to time - decided that this simply wasn't on. 'That's just wrong though Ali' she exclaims. He has 'inspired the most genocidal regimes in history'. Basically, you get this from time to time, and it seems to be acceptable to expound such a few, so I just want to respond.

For the time being I want to leave aside the claim that Mao and Stalin committed genocide. Both were vile human beings, and both committed mass murder, but genocide means something far more specific, that I do not think they were committing. I'll also ignore the rank hypocrisy of a Daily Mail columnist talking about complicity in genocide.

However, I want to dispute the claim that they were 'inspired' by Marx. I do not believe that Mao and Stalin were inspired by anything except their own greed, hubris and lunacy. Marx may have appeared in their propaganda, but I don't think there is a shred of Marx in their actions. From reading Marx I am completely unable to see where the seeds of Stalinism were sown. Marx's work is inspirational, liberating and supremely confident. The reality of the USSR was drab, terrorising, murderous conformity. If someone says that through reading Marx (and Marx alone) they got the idea of mass starvation and population control, then they are either a liar, or are reading a different Marx.

Anyway, for every vicious dictator claiming the tradition of Marx, I can find thousands of ordinary people who have found inspiration in him, for whom he has been a guiding light in fighting against oppression, offering a genuine vision of how the world works and how to change it. What Ann Leslie seems unwilling to admit is that significant numbers of those fighting Stalin, Mao and their oppressive regimes still looked to Marx. Why do people still look to him today when fighting inequality and injustice? The true Marx is one that questions authority, hopes for change, defends equality and true freedom and most of all desires the liberation of human creativity. It might be beyond a Daily Mail columnist to understand why thousands of the oppressed and exploited find a vision of liberation so appealing, but it is not beyond me.

That is why I am a Marxist, and that is why I am happy to defend him, especially against vile, right wing ideologues.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A week in the life of an activist...

In the past week I have 1) Voted to no confidence the CUSU President. 2) Passed radical policy to go to NUS that I never thought would pass in a million years. 3) Written an essay on non-Classical Logic. 4) Attended a vigil to mark the death of the 100th British soldier, also remembering all of the victims of the war. 5) Given out 400 leaflets in one morning for said vigil. 6) Produced a Cambridge Respect newsletter type thing. 7) Given 150 or so copies out of it after the Union debate with George Galloway and Tony Benn. 8) Had a brief conversation with Galloway, without actually hearing him speak. 9) Shaken a holocaust survivor's hand, and sorted out a room and Overhead Projector for him to use (this proved the hardest of all, believe it or not), and again not actually hear his speech in the end. 10) Gone to London and back in a day for the SWP New Member's School.

This has, admittedly, been probably my busiest week in Cambridge. The 100th British soldier dying in the same week as the no-confidence motion being brought and Galloway speaking at the Union made it hardly an average week. What I realised was that I was missing all the interesting stuff that I was actually arranging. I especially regret not hearing the holocaust survivor speak, since it was apparently an extraordinary experience. Still, I wouldn't have done any of it differently.

Hopefully I'll soon give my account of what little of the Union debate I was able to hear, since it threw up a lot of important questions, none of which got resolved.