June 27, 2005

Karl Marx

If you log on to the BBC Radio 4 you can vote for the greatest philosopher of all time! This is a by-product of a series of programs hosted by Melvyn Bragg on the History of Ideas. Now I guess most people are familiar with only a couple of names like Socrates, Aristotle, or Plato from Greece, perhaps Aquinas and Augustine if you’re Christian, or Maimonides if you are a Jew. Modern philosophy arguably begins with Descartes (1596-1650) but then after Voltaire (1694-1791) the French fall away, and although some like to claim that Sartre was a philosopher, we rational Anglo-Saxons don’t rate him. We go for our "empirical" practical giants: Hobbes (1588-1679), Locke (1632-1704), and Hume (1711-1776). The Germans have a list of heavy hitters (actually there wasn’t a Germany there yet but from that area). There was Liebnitz (1646-1716), Kant ( 1724-1804), and (again if you think he’s a philosopher) Hegel (1770-1831). I refuse to include the Nazi-loving Heidegger, but I am a great fan of the earlier Husserl (1859 –1938). Wittgenstein (Anglo-Austrian) has been the biggest influence on my thinking, but he’s long gone, and I have to say in general current philosophy leaves me cold and uninterested.

Now not one of these giants heads the BBC poll. No, it is a man who, as far as I am concerned, was not a philosopher at all. If anything he was a social economist with some absolutely crackpot theories, a Jew who hated Jews, and the man indirectly responsible for more deaths than any other human being ever. I refer to Karl Marx.

His best idea is his Messianic dream of a perfect world devoid of oppression, domination and inequalities, giving "each according to his need". It’s a lovely dream which goes back in Judaism two and half thousand years to our prophets. He didn’t invent it. I confess I do agree with his choice of who was responsible for most of human suffering at the time that he wrote--the Church and the rich. Religion was, according to him "the opiate of the masses", a tool whereby the aristocracy, in league with the Church (or whatever religion), conspired to hold down the poor, promising them "gravy tomorrow", while they indulged themselves in this world. The industrial revolution saw millions of men, women, and children enslaved under the cruel workhouse and factory systems, receiving a pittance to barely survive on, while the bourgeoisie were flourishing on the backs of "the toiling masses". Just think Les Miserables or Charles Dickens. Marx’s analysis of the problem was correct. His suggestion as to why was half correct. But his solution was lunacy.

The forced socialization that was carried out in his name, in various guises, across the world to eradicate poverty, corruption, and exploitation merely replaced one awful system with a far worse and more dangerous one. For while the old system at least paid lip service to the sanctity of life, Marxism proclaimed the dispensability of humans and the right to destroy those who stood in the way of the greater good. The end justified the means. Untold millions suffered in Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba and countless other failed experiments. Not to mention the Kibbutz movement in the list of failed ideals, though despite the emotional damage Bruno Bettleheim described, I don’t think any died as a direct result!

The crimes committed in Marx's name make the worst excesses of religion look positively benign. The end NEVER justifies the means. Any politician, let alone thinker, who argues thus ought to be hanged, drawn and quartered, slowly.

So why has Marxism so dominated the western academic world? Why does it persist in any way at all? How do we explain the unholy alliance between a brilliant thinker like Noam Chomsky and a guttersnipe like George Galloway?

I can sympathize with the Marxist critique of religion, particularly when it gets involved in politics. Indeed, I could bring plenty of examples from within Judaism to support their case that religion is often more concerned with power and keeping others under control than with making the world a better place for everyone. There is and has been a lot wrong with religion, but it does have some saving graces that Marxism does not. Hence the flight from Marxist regimes the moment compulsion is removed.

Why do Marxist sympathisers, particularly BBC pundits such as John Pilger, express such antagonism to Judaism or Jews, specifically? Is it because we support a Jewish State? If they objected to all forms of nationalism because they’d rather see a benign universal government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" (no, Marx did not say that) then I could understand, even sympathize to some degree. But why single out Israel to hate?

Why is Marx the man that most thinking, cultured Britons think is the greatest philosopher of all time? Because when you are a failed academic or politician or anything else, and you feel you are not getting your due while other, inferior beings are richer or appear to be doing better and enjoying themselves, you respond with hatred. We see this in disenfranchised or unemployed Muslims, neo-Nazis, drunken hooligans, underpaid academics, and even alienated Jews. Just as the destructive anti-globalization, anti-capitalism movement appeals to Marxist rebels (or spoilt trust fund kids looking for a cause), so anyone looking at any other group that survives and thrives and wins the battle for survival, is filled with envy and bitterness.

They used to say the difference between Europe and the USA was that in the US if you see a wealthy man you say to yourself, "If I work hard I can get that too," but in Europe you'd say, "Come the revolution I’ll take it away from the bastard." The solution to poverty is industry and motivation (though, to be fair, it also requires bully nations to give the poor ones a fair chance if they’re willing to try for it ).

Once upon a time many intellectuals supported Marxism as the antidote to Fascism. Then, slowly, they realized they are virtually the same evil with different names. The fact that Marx is still so popular shows how failing ideas are sustained by failing individuals who always blame others, look for scapegoats and, more often than not, pick on the Jews. You can tell an ideology stinks when its proponents stink.

Marxism is the philosophy of envy and destruction. It should have been buried in Highgate cemetery with its author. Sadly the poison persists.

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June 15, 2005

Africa Aid

The pop charity bandwagon is rolling again. Scruffy old Irish pop singers are reviving their careers by going back to Africa and World Poverty and bringing the banality of pop lyric clichés to a very serious and heart rending problem. Anything that brings charity to the forefront of the public mind (which is usually hypnotized into throwing immoral sums of money away on the most selfish, ephemeral and transient of fads) can’t be all bad but to claim that people power demonstrating against selfish rich white men and women will change Africa is absolute codswallop. Far more money has been pored into Africa than any other continent. Band Aid and other clones raised millions for famine relief. And the result? Nada. And to add the AIDS issue to the pot is further dishonesty because the worst affected country is one of the richest, South Africa.

Africa seems to be an almost doomed continent--doomed to its own mismanagement. I remember the tremendous enthusiasm that the retreat of colonialism ushered in forty years or so ago. Now at last Africa would be run by Africans and escape from the often cruel and arbitrary regimes that European powers imposed upon them. I remember Kwame Nkrumah the first President of Ghana, a wise statesman and a symbol of the new African leader. And I was friendly with some members of the Tubman family that provided enlightened (if self-interested) rule in Liberia.

Tragically, everything began to unravel with civil wars and regime changes. At the same time, colonial powers such as France (to name the worst offender) supported and financed corrupt black dictators, to retain power and control over natural resources. (That was why France encouraged the Hutu massacres.)

Patrice Lumumba was assassinated because of his left wing his views, by thugs paid by the CIA with the connivance of the so-called UN Peacekeepers as well as Belgium. The war in Angola was sustained by rival powers for a generation thanks to Unita getting its hands on diamonds. Uganda was all but destroyed by Idi Amin, and Kenya sunk into a mire of its own corruption. Ethiopia was torn apart, and Sudan veered from one extreme to another. The old British Colonies of East Africa were slowly allowed to decay, either intentionally or unintentionally, by men like Kaunda or Mugabe, who started out as enlightened thinkers and ended up brute bullies. The richest country, Nigeria, has been pulled apart ever since Biafra, divided along warring ethnic lines and subject to rapacious military dictators and gangs of economic terrorists.

I campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa as an active member of the anti-Apartheid movement, and in return the Durban conference brands Jews as racists. And although the Mandela transition was a miracle, all the signs are there, under Mbeki, of a State increasingly corrupt and reluctant to rein in far more corrupt neighbours, and unwilling to take good advice on health matters because the do-gooders are perceived as ‘white’.

Wherever one looks in Africa today the picture is all but disastrous with a few notable exceptions from every point of view. And no one gives a damn. So in Darfur there is genocide, mass rape and looting going on, as I write. Nothing is being done. Africa is telling everyone else to keep out and the white doctors of Medecin Sans Frontier are being forced out on trumped-up charges, but the bloody UN can’t agree to do anything. And almost every year somewhere in Africa there is a famine because fighting prevents farmers from harvesting--not because there is no money but because it is not being used honestly or wisely.

Why send more aid to Africa unless you seriously address the root cause of the problem? It is true that, halachically speaking, even if a wastrel comes to your door you must help keep him alive. But the truest form of charity is to help someone become self-sufficient. To do this in Africa there must be regime change, but the West cannot do this because it is either corrupt like France or self-interested like the USA or unwilling to interfere in internal affairs like the rest of Africa and the UN. And to make matters worse any white state is accused of cultural imperialism but most of the black states won’t do a bloody thing because Mugabe, or whoever, is black.

If Africa either cannot or will not change itself, then what is the logic of pouring money in?

Geldof blames the G8 countries for imposing debts, but it was the black regimes that asked for the money--not to improve their countries but to line the pockets of the dictators and oligarchies, and the West encouraged them

There is the separate issue of free trade which is the real problem. But all world powers are almost equally to blame. China undercuts all other textile and cheap manufacturing. The EU is pretty immoral with its Common Agricultural Policy and the US protects and subsidizes many of its industries. The fact is that free economies produce the wealth that helps its citizens escape poverty. This is why China has been spectacularly successful in raising living standards, far better than incompetent, dirigist economies like India. It’s not that China is a democracy. It isn’t. But it now encourages free enterprise. It learnt from its Maoist mistakes.

I have serious reservations about democracies. Most of them are corrupt in various and varying degrees and democracy is often a mask for oligarchy and self-interest. So I do not agree that democracy, in itself, will bring change. India is proof of that. But free economy produces results. And yet, and yet, the big powers bully the weaker ones and actually do not help them trade fairly or freely against the big over protected giants.

If we cannot get regime change then at least let’s go for economic change. Either one or the other. Meanwhile, Africa and its friends should stop blaming the West. The Colonial powers have a lot to answer for, it’s true. But not everything. Slavery was encouraged by African chieftains. They delivered their own people to cruel white slave traders for the moolah. Current African chieftains beggar their own people for personal gain. Until this is addressed the only people to do well out of pop concerts will be the pop stars.

Blaming only one side is futile. Being honest includes seeing one’s own faults, not only those of others. Geldof’s cheap barbs at the G8 are easy crowd pleasers, and Lord knows the G8 is not made up of saints. You might argue that at least the pop guys are raising the issue. They are. But they are disguising the real problems which, incidentally make them richer.

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