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Acton Commentary: Marxism’s Last (and First) Stronghold

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My commentary on Western Europe’s fascination with Marxist symbolism was published today on the Web site of the Acton Institute. Excerpt:

Marxism, we’re often told, is dead. While Communism as a system of authoritarian power still exists in countries like China, Marxism’s contemporary hold over people’s minds, many claim, is nothing compared to its glory days between the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in October 1917 and the Berlin Wall’s fall twenty years ago.

In many respects, such observations are true. But in other senses, they are not. We need only look at Western Europe—the place where Marxist thought first emerged and took root. One trivial, albeit disturbing sign is many young West Europeans’ willingness to wear t-shirts emblazoned with the Communist hammer and sickle or Che Guevara images. If you want confirmation of this, just take a stroll through downtown Amsterdam, Stockholm, or Rome.

No doubt, in many cases the t-shirt images are simply reflections of youthful rebelliousness. But it’s difficult to refrain from asking wearers of such clothing whether they also possess a t-shirt inscribed with the Nazi swastika. They would surely be deeply offended at such a suggestion. But their willingness to parade the hammer and sickle reflects either historical ignorance or a failure to accept that it is as much a symbol of terroristic criminal regimes as the swastika: just ask any survivors of Stalin’s Gulag, Vietnam’s “re-education” camps, or the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields.

Then there is the persistent grip of Marxist-inspired mythology on Western Europe’s historical imagination. A good example is Karl Marx’s presentation of nineteenth-century capitalism as a period in which a small group became wealthy and millions were impoverished. This remains an article of faith for the European left and some on the European right.

Read “Marxism’s Last (and First) Stronghold,” on the main Acton Institute Web site.

Samuel Gregg


  • The topic would be incomplete without some reference to the White House as a new home for Communists, considering the recent exit of Van Jones. One has to wonder if the Ivy League schools might not be a continuing source of many forms of socialists, as a testament to the Italian contribution to the movement. Perhaps a study of the political preferences of Affirmative Action graduates, and entrenched biases of tenured instructors would be informative.

    I have noticed that the value of tenure has been in the op-eds more often lately. There is a good op-ed today (09-09-09) at columnists.

  • “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.” — CHE GUEVARA

  • Che was fighting against

    – American Oligarchy (United Fruit, Texaco, U.S. Sugar)
    – The US based Mafia (1959 Havana)
    – The Monroe Doctrine rationale for Latin American Imperialism (Bay of Pigs)
    – The idea of Banana Republics (Arbenz 1953 coup)

    It just kills Conservatives that such a heroic man will not go away. That is because these troglodytes cant fathom that he lives in the hearts of the hungry and the oppressed and that ideas never die.

    Hence Che Lives on !

  • When I contrast the humanitarian life styles of Che Guevara and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I am reminded of how much difference truth in charity makes in the outcomes of our actions.

  • John Couretas

    Che Guevara was all about “love” right? A hero of the oppressed? Really?

    See “The Killing Machine: Che Guevara, from Communist Firebrand to Capitalist Brand” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa here:


    No man is without some redeeming qualities. In the case of Che Guevara, those qualities may help us to measure the gulf that separates reality from myth. His honesty (well, partial honesty) meant that he left written testimony of his cruelties, including the really ugly, though not the ugliest, stuff. His courage—what Castro described as “his way, in every difficult and dangerous moment, of doing the most difficult and dangerous thing”—meant that he did not live to take full responsibility for Cuba’s hell. Myth can tell you as much about an era as truth. And so it is that thanks to Che’s own testimonials to his thoughts and his deeds, and thanks also to his premature departure, we may know exactly how deluded so many of our contemporaries are about so much.

    Guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths. In April 1967, speaking from experience, he summed up his homicidal idea of justice in his “Message to the Tricontinental”: “hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine.” His earlier writings are also peppered with this rhetorical and ideological violence. Although his former girlfriend Chichina Ferreyra doubts that the original version of the diaries of his motorcycle trip contains the observation that “I feel my nostrils dilate savoring the acrid smell of gunpowder and blood of the enemy,” Guevara did share with Granado at that very young age this exclamation: “Revolution without firing a shot? You’re crazy.” At other times the young bohemian seemed unable to distinguish between the levity of death as a spectacle and the tragedy of a revolution’s victims. In a letter to his mother in 1954, written in Guatemala, where he witnessed the overthrow of the revolutionary government of Jacobo Arbenz, he wrote: “It was all a lot of fun, what with the bombs, speeches, and other distractions to break the monotony I was living in.”

    Guevara’s disposition when he traveled with Castro from Mexico to Cuba aboard the Granma is captured in a phrase in a letter to his wife that he penned on January 28, 1957, not long after disembarking, which was published in her book Ernesto: A Memoir of Che Guevara in Sierra Maestra: “Here in the Cuban jungle, alive and bloodthirsty.” This mentality had been reinforced by his conviction that Arbenz had lost power because he had failed to execute his potential enemies. An earlier letter to his former girlfriend Tita Infante had observed that “if there had been some executions, the government would have maintained the capacity to return the blows.” It is hardly a surprise that during the armed struggle against Batista, and then after the triumphant entry into Havana, Guevara murdered or oversaw the executions in summary trials of scores of people — proven enemies, suspected enemies, and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • jmt

    I find it surprising that the fall of the Iron Curtain and the increased interaction with Eastern Europeans who experienced Communism first hand has not educated Western Europeans about the results of the ideas they are promoting. Every time I see one of these on an obviously comfortable, well-off iPod-wearing American or European teenager, the idea of “airhead” comes across much more strongly than the idea of “revolutionary.” None of these kids could stand a day on the starvation rations that Cubans had to live on under Communism.

    Also, I wouldn’t take ol’ Greg and Marcos’s comments up there too seriously. If you click on their names you will see that they are in fact free market capitalists in disguise. They run an internet store that sells Che Guevara merchandise. At $17.99 per T shirt, plus shipping, they must be making a brisk profit. They object to Dr. Gregg’s article because it’s bad for business. Whether they know it or not, they are performing a public service. Their merchandise helps us distinguish the stupid kids from the smart ones.

  • With so many connecting our current president with Saul Alinski, this is a perfect topic to transfer an excerpt of a review of Rules for Radicals on Amazon:

    Alinsky was a `transformational Marxist’ in the mould of Antonio Gramsci, who promoted the strategy of a `long march through the institutions’ by capturing the culture and turning it inside out as the most effective means of overturning western society.

    The dedication of Alinsky’s book for community organizers – “Rules for Radicals” – says:

    “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer”

  • Marxism lives on because it is so firmly embedded in cultural institutions. When the Left wrested control of academia from those who struggling to keep Western Civilization’s Judeo Christian roots firmly in place and well watered, they ripped up the plants and laid a concrete foundation containing copious amounts of Marxism. Despising Western Civ’s vineyard, the Left built obscene monoliths to their Progressive ideology. Today culture wanders around these structures wondering whatever happened the beauty the world once held. Every now and then someone knocks down one of the small, decaying structures, rips up the foundation and finds clean, fertile soil. In that soil they plant something like Acton and a wonderful garden arises. And when one discovers a group like Acton it is as if they have found a lush garden in the midst of dark and decaying city, and that person wonders why there aren’t more places like this.

    Why indeed.

  • Frank the Bunny

    “Che Guevara is an inspiration for every human being who loves freedom, we will always honor his memory.” — NELSON MANDELA

    * I trust his opinion more than anonymous internet chatters whose biggest worry is if Mom washed their socks.