Readers of Boomer age and older will immediately experience a variety of feelings when seeing this word, but it's crucial to understanding what's going on in today's political climate in the US. What follows is somewhat simplified, but hopefully reasonably clear.
In the beginning was Karl Marx. Or if you prefer, Hegel. Marxist thought basically focused on a radical alteration of society whereby the owners of the means of production (capitalists) would be overthrown by the workers they exploited (the proletariat) to create a radical egalitarian society where Everyman would get and give only what he or she would need and where no one would be exploited.
Lovely idea but a little impractical, so it was refined a bit by Engels and a bit later, by Lenin. As they focused things, Marxist philosophy took on more of its 20th century hallmarks: a hatred of the middle class (with much to lose to both the wealthy and impoverished, their comfort zone was a primary obstacle to radical revolution) and a lust for the destruction of organized religion which was then seen (fairly accurately at the time) as powerfully supporting and underpinning the status quo.
As the Russian Revolution unfolded, this pure idea stream--like the Christian religion--splintered into numerous offshoots, each purporting to possess exclusively the last word on Marxist Utopian thought. The result, like the various Protestant churches, was a bewildering variety of organizational flavors, among them the Reds and the Whites, the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks, the Marxist-Leninists, the Trotskyites, the Stalinists, etc. For those of us not of this persuasion, the terms tend to have the look and feel of NFL team names like the Browns, the Steelers, the Packers, etc. For most people, these flavors are all the same. And by the time the 1940s and 1950s rolled around, most of us simply used the term "Communist" to describe them.
It was a pretty useful term in its time, as it was a good general descriptor for left-wing radicals who:
- Worshipped at the Church of Karl Marx
- Believed that Western Capitalism (especially in the US and the UK) was the enemy of the people
- Hated the middle class ("petit bourgeoisie") as perhaps the greatest obstacle to a successful revolution
- Were convinced that only the bloody overthrow of Western Capitalist Democracies could ever provide justice for the working class
- Quietly acknowledged that real "patriots" would ultimately deliver their wayward countries to the coming world socialist order under One Government, presumably located in Moscow
So, under the Communist label, the various flavors of Marxism were attacked, particularly circa 1940-1975 or so, as a malevolent force that did not observe Western values, boundaries, democracies, or power structures and sought to overthrow them by any means necessary.
This was the Communism that Joe McCarthy attacked in the Truman and Eisenhower years. The educational and media establishments have over the years focused on McCarthy's very real abuse of power and office in his pursuit of Communist subversives in the American government and elsewhere. But they've failed to acknowledge one simple fact: McCarthy could never have credibly launched his inquiries unless there were at least some truth in them. The vilification of McCarthy into our New Satan over the years has been a convenient way to paper over the unassailable fact that during and after World War II, the Marxists we called Communists were hellbent, one way or another, for overthrowing Western Democracy and replacing it with a dictatorship of the proletariat.
We're going to temporarily use the term Communist here and elsewhere to describe its various tenets before confusing you by trying to define its current flavors which are, in and of themselves, meant to confuse. Our next post describes some speech and thought patterns people need to be aware of--patterns used by ur-, current, and post-Communists to obfuscate and confuse.