People are naturally reluctant to stigmatize the use of Marxist language by those who would furiously resist the imputation of Marxism, but surely it is a matter of some significance for our intellectual and political life if those who call themselves — of all things — “liberal” are prepared to assume the Marxist world-view as readily as is, say, Senator Ted Kennedy. His recent attack on George Bush’s electoral mandate, denying its existence if and only if it entails the appointment of “reactionary” judges or the adoption of “reactionary” measures, is pure Marxist-Leninism. To the Marxist, the socialist utopia is an historical inevitability, and therefore those who oppose it in any way, or try to prevent it from coming about, are merely “reacting” to what they cannot change and so becoming at best a bit of grit in the gears of the revolutionary machine.
On this reasoning, even if the “reactionaries” were in the majority as they appeared to be among American voters in 2004, they would still be not only reactionary but even anti-democratic, since the long term interests of democracy lie with the Revolution. This is why Kennedy denies Bush a mandate. Even with a majority behind him, the President can never claim a democratic warrant for reactionary policies or appointees, since democracy is by definition socialist and, to use the current euphemism, “progressive.” The “reactionary” is so called because he can only react negatively, not accomplish anything positively. To the Marxist habit of thought adopted by the Senator there can be nothing positive but the socialist utopia. Everything else is mere “reaction,” an historical nullity. As in so many other ways, the Marxist worldview is very far from being extinguished, though its 20th century avatar in the form of the Soviet state has vanished.
Kennedy is actually fairly typical of the more committed sort of academic “liberal” in appearing still to swear by at least one of the essential props of Marxist thinking, namely the historical inevitability of “progressive” measures. Another, even more common assumption is of the reducibility of all culture to an account of power relationships. Those whose discussions of history or literature depend on terms like “racist,” “sexist,” “imperialist” and “homophobic” nearly always assume that the world is divided into exploiters and exploited, just as Marx did. The Leninist question, cui bono?, came into existence precisely in order to render all authority, other than that wielded in the name of the proletariat — if not necessarily by the proletariat — illegitimate. Those who share that aim ought, like Senator Kennedy, at least to be counted as neo-Marxians, even if they disavow the ownership of the means of production and distribution.
Another bit of Marx-speak is the use of the word “fascist” to mean, well, “reactionary” — or, indeed, anything the speaker doesn’t like. Once again, it was highly ideological thinking back in the heyday of Marxism-Leninism which reasoned that, if anything which did not serve the Revolution was “fascist” or “reactionary,” anyone who was not a communist must therefore be a fascist. That’s why the neo-Marxists of ANSWER and others describe the democratically elected government of their country — though without an ideology, youth movement, uniforms, street thugs, or any but the most rudimentary of concentration camps — as “fascist.” One of the anti-Bush balls taking place at the inauguration was a “Noise Against Fascism” rally at the Black Cat nightclub by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, according to the Washington Post.
But then the fascist may be going the way of the Nazi who, as we noted in this space in connection with Prince Harry’s fancy dress costume, has become a comic bogeyman, a painted devil got up to look ridiculous just to show, perhaps, that we’re not afraid of him anymore. That’s why we don’t blink at what would otherwise be the grotesque disproportion implied in the use of a term like “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld.” And the same thing is now happening to “fascist.” I notice, for instance, that Jemima Lewis in the London Sunday Telegraph describes New York as “probably the most body-fascist city on earth.” Those who use the word — I would say misuse the word — to describe their political opponents are often the same people who applaud the efforts of Michael Moore and others to make the wicked and/or stupid men and women of the Bush administration into figures of fun. Which is more insulting, to call a man a fascist or a buffoon? Or are the two, perhaps, the same thing?
Of the epithet “fascist,” at least, the recipient might reply as Leontes does in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale to the imputation of tyranny:
Were I a tyrant,
Where were her life? She durst not call me so
If she did know me one.
The same paradox is implicit in the easy charge of “fascism” or “Nazism.” Those who make it must do so just because they know it isn’t true.