It was in university political science classes that I first learned about Marxism.

My professors hurled terms at me like “Dialectical Materialism” and “Means of Production” … wait maybe it was “Dialectical Production” and “Means of Materialism”, I can’t remember.

However, what I do recall from those classes is that Marxists wanted to improve the lot of the “proletariat”, also known as the downtrodden and oppressed masses.

But nowadays a new variant of Marxism has emerged, one which ignores the downtrodden and oppressed masses and seeks to improve the lot of the super-rich capitalistic elites.

Now before I go on, let me explain why I think this odd ideological turnaround happened.

For one thing, you need to know that when Marxism was actually first implemented in 1920s Russia, it turned out to be a bigger flop than the Justice League movie.

Basically, forced famines and gulags and state terror, didn’t result in the anticipated workers’ paradise.

So eventually, this led to what Marxist theorists call “revisionism.”

In other words, people began to revise Marxism to make it, you know less genocidal, which led to the creation of “Democratic Socialism” and here in Canada to “New Democratic Socialism.”

Essentially, it was a kinder, gentler brand of Marxism, but it still focused on helping the downtrodden and oppressed masses.

And because this new brand of easy-going Marxism still had a “radical panache” to it, it naturally became popular with society’s trendy set: celebrities, intellectuals and “Limousine liberals.”

But then the trendy set began to realize something: they really didn’t like the downtrodden and oppressed masses.

After all, from their perspective, the downtrodden and oppressed masses were an uneducated rabble, who lacked the sophistication and refinement needed to appreciate things that were really important, such as government-funded art or Margaret Atwood novels.

So over time, the trendy types did a little revising of their own and developed another brand of Marxism, one which cut the downtrodden and oppressed masses totally out the picture.

I call it “Marxism for Millionaires”.

The main proponent of this ideology, by the way, is our very own, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a man who wouldn’t know a downtrodden and oppressed mass if he tripped over it.

Indeed, Trudeau, who comes from a wealthy family, likes to cavort with millionaires at fundraising events, he parties with Hollywood celebrities, and vacations on private island resorts in the Bahamas.

Then there are Trudeau’s associates, such as his chief fundraiser, Stephen Bronfman, who has so much money that Canada apparently can’t hold it all, which is why some of it reportedly ended up in Cayman Islands bank account.

And let’s not forget Bill Morneau, Trudeau’s Finance Minister, who …. well, I don’t want to get sued or to have CBC pundits attack me, so let me just put it this way: Morneau gives greedy capitalists a bad name.

At any rate, my point is, when Morneau and Trudeau and Bronfman gather at some villa in the south of France, they probably sip chardonnays and discuss trust funds or share prices or tax havens, and not the plight of the downtrodden and oppressed.

In fact, Trudeau took tax dollars paid out by the downtrodden and oppressed masses to subsidize Bombardier, a big corporation, which used the money for the important economic purpose of giving its executives a raise.

Please note too, that in his fight against climate change, Trudeau isn’t taxing limousines or private jets or yachts, but he is taxing gasoline and heating oil, which will impose economic pain on the downtrodden and oppressed masses.

I wonder what Karl Marx would say about all this?

He’d probably blame it on “Dialectical Materialism”


  1. I agree that Trudeau is a bit of a smug, neoliberal shit-head. He talks all of the talk, without doing any of the subsequent walk. (Though I do think there is something to be said for establishing a positive national discourse that supports and uplifts Canadians from historically oppressed minorities—e.g., people in the LGBTQ community, First Nations people, etc. In this sense, at least, he gives a lot of people a much-needed sense of security. I promise you that’s true and not some bullshit-y line.)

    But it’s clear that Gerry Nicholls has no fucking clue what Marxism is. Nor does he understand, evidently, the difference between Leninism and Stalinism (nor the difference between those concepts and the Frankfurt School, nor post-Marxism, nor critical theory, etc. etc.) Fine, whatever—his point still stands, more or less.

    But I’m tired of people using strawman versions of Marxism to make their arguments. It’s lazy and it appeals to the lowest common denominator. Plenty of people (both staunchly conservative capitalists and tent-dwelling Leftists) have an actual understanding of what Marxism is. They understand that, as far as political, economic, and philosophical theories go, it’s probably one of the richest and most complex ever devised—not least because of the fact that decades of scholars and political theorists have grappled with and improved upon its ideas. Stalin was just one of thousands of such people; it’s truly unfortunate and misleading when folks hold him and his policies up as the quintessence of what happens when people decide to implement Marxist ideas. I would counter with a much more promising example: that of the kibbutzim.

    Anyway, that’s about all I have to comment. I get where Nicholls is coming from, and I want to try to sympathize with him. But his lazy use of Marxism as a foil for his argument is just…boring and un-engaging. If this news outlet wants a serious readership (and not just a following of trolls), then it should consider hiring writers who are a bit smarter—or, at least, who are willing to write with a bit more intelligence and conviction.

  2. Earl, I think Gerry Nichols has a very good understanding of what Communism is. It’s people like you who study its’ every nuance to death that can’t see it for what it is; an ideology that ignores the basic driving human need to compete and succeed as an individual.
    You can hold up Kibbutzim as a shining example of Marxism, but conveniently sidestep the facts that they were entirely voluntary, and protected by a capitalist system. Any form of Marxism has to have complete control over an entire country, as it cannot compete with free markets. It also requires secret police, a slave labour force, and a huge amount of misinformation and propaganda.
    You can parrot the age-old line about how Marxism just wasn’t implemented the right way, or what a wonderful system it could be, but let’s face it, it’s been tried enough times by disparate groups spanning the entire 20th century that we can safely say it’s a cruel, flawed system that has killed more people than any war. It’s actually such a brilliantly evil system that nobody even knows how many were killed in any one country, never mind worldwide.
    And who cares how rich and complex the philosophy behind Marxism is? What a condescending thing to say, as if a simple mechanic like me can’t quite appreciate the intricacies and deep thoughts that went into a system so stained with the blood of its’ adherents.
    Sometimes Earl, simpler is better.

  3. Keith,

    I can appreciate your perspective here. Let me first apologize if I offended you with my comments. In no way did I mean that access to the complexity Marx’s thought is only available to certain classes of people. In fact it was, as you know, designed specifically for people across the entirety of the class spectrum.

    To be honest, Keith, I find your writing to be more salient and interesting than Nicholls’. I’ll concede your point about Kibbutzim—they were upheld by a capitalist system; and, what’s more, they likely only work because the size of such communities is small enough to protect against issues related to the distribution of goods. My point was not that the kibbutzim are proof that communism is a better system than capitalism, only that to hold up Stalinism as the quintessence of Marxism is very misleading, because there *are* examples of functional Marxism implemented at the societal level, which have a lot to teach us.

    I do stand by my argument that Nicholls is lazy with his use of Marxism as a strawman that enables his main assertion. And I disagree that there’s no point in studying Marxism seriously. The people who have taken the time to study and revise Marxism are those who understand exactly just how devastating its implementation in the USSR and China was/has been. What they spent their careers doing was not an attempt to justify a corrupt ideology, but rather an attempt to salvage the most redeeming, humanistic ideas from a very busy and complex system of thought.

    The truth is that capitalism has also killed millions upon millions worldwide. Colonialism is just one form of this—and I’ll remind you that colonialism arose and progressed as a capitalist system, in which entire populations were actually or functionally enslaved in order to produce raw materials that were then processed and sold for profit in the metropolises of the empire. But there are other ways in which capitalism has harmed the globe. The globalization of trade has lead to mass-scale warfare (e.g. the Iraq war) in which thousands of civilians were killed. And, more generally, neoliberalism has led to the manipulation of less wealthy countries by much wealthier ones, starving and exploiting the innocent people who populate the former. All of this doesn’t even cover the extent to which capitalism (specifically, the energy industry) continues to destroy our planet and deplete its natural resources.

    So there we have it: two systems, capitalism and communism, both of which have wreaked their own genre of havoc on Earth. I’m not even going to argue here that one is better than the other. I’m certainly not learned enough to know what a good version of communism would look like. But I *am* experienced enough to know that what we have now, and incredibly capitalistic society, is *not* good in any way that can be justified. It is good only for the very few. The 1%, as people say. That’s actually true. And it’s especially true in the United States, where government is smaller than it is in Canada and has less of an interest in social welfare (i.e. social democracy). In fact, the aspects of Canada that are most supportive to blue-collar workers like you (and like me, as a matter of fact) are the more socialist aspects—the aspects that have to do with the redistribution of taxes as a common good.

    All of this is to say that both systems are very complicated, and neither is *evidently* better than the other. It takes more than what Nicholls has written here to argue compellingly in either direction.

  4. Well, Earl, I would certainly take issue with your view that capitalism is no better, and likely worse, than Communism.

    I spent quite a bit of time working in Russia in the 90’s, and this was a topic that was debated frequently between Russians as well as us Westerners. The Old Ways defenders were always young university graduates who had been able to avoid Army conscription and were generally insulated from any hardship by family connections. The ones who argued against Communism were sick of not having any choice in anything, of having to line up all day for bread, of being told when and where they could travel. They appreciated the new Russia, flawed as it was (and is) because they could make their own choices, and live with the consequences. Once freed of the tyrannical yoke of their Communist overlords, people will never invite it back in.

    You make some statements that just don’t stand up to scrutiny. For one thing, colonialism is not a form of Capitalism, but a form of Mercantilism. Mercantilism is what Marx was railing against in Das Kapital, and also what Adam Smith wrote against in Wealth of Nations. It is what we today would call Crony Capitalism; the ability of some to control government policies for their own financial enrichment.
    Now even though Adam Smith hated Mercantilism, Marxists do not differentiate between Mercantilism and Capitalism. For Marxists (and leftists in general) anything other than hard-left Socialism is defined as Capitalism. To a normal, self-employed working stiff like me, Capitalism is the means to produce a living, support my family, and enjoy a decent standard of living unencumbered by State intrusion. And yes, I pay my taxes. More than most.

    The globalisation of trade has not caused an increase in war and suffering, but in my opinion has led to more stability as nations dependent on each other for trade do not like to see their customers as mortal adversaries. This keeps old adversaries like China and the U.S. from serious conflict over Taiwan or North Korea, and forces them to resolve things diplomatically.
    Your use of Iraq to buttress your point was specious. You can blame the Iraq conflict on geopolitics, a vendetta, or bad intel, and support any of those more easily than blaming globalisation. Anyone who thinks spending a Trillion dollars to secure cheap oil is good business practice hasn’t really thought it through. The same arguments were made by leftist useful-idiots like Noam Chomsky in regards to Afghanistan. Yes, resource rich Shangri-La Afghanistan, that bastion of natural resource development. And yes, the same Chomsky who for 20 years called the Killing Fields a “misunderstood agrarian revolution”.

    You call Nichols writing lazy, and that he uses Marxism as a straw man in his argument, but I would submit that blaming all the world’s problems on a broadly misunderstood definition of Capitalism is also lazy. Marxism, in any guise, has lifted exactly nobody out of poverty, but has definitely mired millions in destitution. Capitalism, even though you see it as ugly and earth-destroying, has given us a brilliant standard of living. The desire to compete and succeed leads to breakthroughs in every field of endeavor. State-controlled enterprises have given us next to nothing in innovation or invention, unless you count multiple levels of bureaucracy and regulation as something necessary for human achievement.

    As far as your point about the 1%, tell me this; would you rather have been poor 60 years ago, or today? Poverty is a totally different condition today compared to what it was when my parents were children. And to think that there wasn’t a “1%” in those days is to deny historic reality. There are far more mechanisms in place today to protect and support people in trouble than there were before, and they are funded primarily by the top earners in the country. The top quintile of earners in Canada pay over half the tax contributions, so maybe they shouldn’t be vilified in this phony class war that leftists seem to want to propagate in their constant hunger for other people’s money.

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