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.

  5. Alright Keith, let me address those points. I’ll try to do this briefly, since there’s much you’ve gotten wrong here:

    1) “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.” —> Don’t equate soviet communism with Marxism. Any Marxist will tell you that they have nothing but disdain for what the USSR did throughout it’s near-century of existence. Stalinism and Leninism were both poor attempts at implementing a twisted understanding of what Marx intended (though, granted, Lenin did not have the conquerer’s spirit that Stalin had). What’s more: even if they *had* succeeded at creating a truly Marxist state, who’s to say that it would have worked perfectly? It’s another strawman to claim that contemporary Marxists adhere to the word of Marx like orthodox Christians adhere to the Bible. Once again, I’ll remind you that the entirety of 20th century scholarship on Marx was devoted to figuring out what parts of this theory were impractical, and what parts made sense/were redeemable. Leaning on the USSR and your experience there (which is a logical fallacy) is a lazy way of arguing that Marxism ‘doesn’t work’. Developing a state from a political and economic theory is obviously incredibly difficult—not to mention one that goes against centuries of opposed concepts of the economy. The point of Marixist studies following the death of Marx himself has been to study the human condition under capitalism and seek a path of liberation. I would personally wager that Marxist studies have contributed more to the understanding of capitalism (how it works, how people fare under it, etc.), and especially late capitalism, than any other branch of theory.

    2) “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.” —> A few things here. If you think that mercantilism is what Marx rails against in Das Kapital, then you clearly have not read Das Kapital (or maybe you’ve read only an excerpt or two). Marx read Wealth of Nations, and he disagreed vehemently with both Adam Smith’s own distinction between mercantilism and capitalism, and his theorization of a better global economy modeled after domestic capitalism (which, of course, did exist in Marx’s time). The colonies were themselves made into modes of production, both under mercantilist colonialism and *especially* under late 19th and 20th century colonialism. The problem with Adam Smith is that his thinking was directed only at ways to increase the wealth of, well, nations. History has of course proved him right in his thinking that a system of free international trade and a conception of wealth as not being finite but scalable would make nations wealthier (though I would caveat this with *certain* nations, but we’ll get to that later). But he had little to no concern for how the people of the colonies and the people within his own nation would actually fare under conditions of capitalism over time. Marx, on the other hand, was very interest in this line of thought. And much of his theory developed in response to the conditions of the worker under capitalism. Certainly, those conditions have evolved over time, but in no way for the better. Any improvement of working conditions has come through legislation and unionization, both of which are in stark opposition to the movement of capitalist industries (and are usually opposed by such industries).

    3) “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.” —> Sadly, that’s true. You participating in capitalism is the only way you can earn money, which is the only way you can afford to live and eat. That’s absolutely true. But the fact is that you have been conditioned to see this way of life as the best possible one. Through the culture industry (a term coined by the Frankfurt school), you’ve been taught that working a 9-5 every day, having a handful of hours each evening to eat and watch TV and work out, and then going out and do it all over again until you die is humankind’s highest form of achievement. And sure, maybe you find satisfaction in your job. But that’s pretty rare. The vast majority of working-class people are not so fortunate. They are trapped in a system of production (the value of which produce they cannot see themselves, what Marxists call “alienation”) that entitles them to money, which in turn sustains them so that they don’t drop dead. Your “standard of living” is manufactured. Aside from food, medicine, shelter, and education (and a handful of other things), none of what you own is something that you need. And, in fact, countries with big governments (like Canada and Scandinavian nations) do more to provide those basic needs to their citizens than countries like the US. I’m not sure if I’d rather be poor now or poor a few decades ago. But I’d sure as hell rather be poor in Norway than poor in the US. Your belief that capitalism gives you a good standard of living is based on a conception of “living” that means having enough to survive each day so that you can produce something for someone else the next. Where is the freedom in that?

    4) “The globalisation of trade has not caused an increase in war and suffering, but in my opinion has led to more stability” —> You’re absolutely right that the globalization of trade has benefited the world’s superpowers. But it has been disastrous for everyone else, particularly those countries some call “third world.” The bigger nations use their economic leverage to gouge poorer nations into dirt-cheap and vastly disadvantageous trade deals, which in turn hampers the organic growth of the markets in the poorer nations, creating poverty, sickness, and death. And when the superpowers don’t get what they want, they either invade or they impose brutal sanctions designed to choke those nations off. (Separately, to your strange rant about Chomsky: I never brought him up nor used him to defend my arguments. Unsure why you are fixated on him).

    5) “Anyone who thinks spending a Trillion dollars to secure cheap oil is good business practice hasn’t really thought it through.” —> If you think our decades of struggle in the Gulf War began with the knowledge that trillions would be spent on it, you must think our politicians prophets. Of course they didn’t know that. They thought it would be a much quicker operation. It is widely known that the US invaded the gulf to take control of its resources. You can look that up if you’d like. Or not, I don’t really care. The only reason that Republican congressmen have been willing to denounce the Iraq War (a war they supported only a few years prior) is that the true economic toll of that operation has only recently been understood. They are touting their morals only retroactively.

    6) “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.” —> Also a lot to unpack here. Yes, competition produces progress in most fields of endeavor. But there are three problems with leaning on this to argue for capitalism. 1) You assume that the government is incapable of generating progress in certain areas; Canada and the Scandinavian countries, for example, have contributed immensely to scientific and medical advancements, all through government support and without the influence of private industry. 2) You assume that the best society is the one that can produce advancements in *all* fields of endeavor (including all kinds of products from kitchen utensils to facial-recognition software); again, this is a form of indoctrination produced by capitalist systems—the notion that having more and better things will give you a better life; and capitalists are able to point to people who have less and who suffer because of it and say “hey, look, we *are* right,” but the problem is that capitalism has so fully established a grip on the planet that no one can escape it, meaning that if you don’t have the newest and best things, you actually will suffer—there is no room in the system for people who want to live in a different way. 3) You neglect to think about the negative effects of competition—namely, that there are often many more people who stand to lose from competition than who stand to gain from it. Take, for example, the current debate around net neutrality: The ISPs stand to gain immensely from a more competitive market, and this might even produce faster and higher quality forms of internet and streaming capabilities. But the people who miss out are the poor people; they are the people who might have to pay extra to access the service or new outlet they like, simply because the provider they have (and there is an oligopoly of providers, so not much “choice” there) has made a deal with a different group of services and outlets. Or take the pharmaceutical industry: why do you think drug prices are so insanely high in the United States? Free market capitalism, that’s why. Moving on: you don’t even address my point about man-made climate change, which is caused by capitalist industry. Maybe you don’t believe in climate change. But that would be a bummer.

    7) Finally, to your paragraph about the 1%. Of course the 1% has always existed in some form—I would never deny that. It’s something that needs to be undone, though. If you think that the poor people in this country don’t suffer from the fact that most of the wealth is unjustly concentrated among a small group of élites, then you are gravely mistaken. In the US it’s worse, because at least here we have a decent welfare system. And you’re right that the richest people in Canada pay half the country’s taxes—as it should be, in a mostly capitalist system that produced such wealth gap in the first place. Also, the top 20% is much, much more populated that the top 1%. A more equal distribution of wealth would indeed mean less money for government spending; but it would also mean much less *need* for government spending, because the issues arising from poverty and lack of opportunity would be greatly reduced.

    I know it’s easy to paint “leftists” with a broad stroke. I’m not some college-aged, entitled shit who just discovered Marxism in his intro to philosophy class. I’m also not someone who wants to bring about some Marxist utopia in Canada. Like I said before, I don’t know how to design and build a good government around Marxism. And I’m not sure anyone could get it right, even if they did know how. But my problem with people who disregard Marxism as the flimsy, tested-and-flawed tool of the Left, is that they consequently don’t ever really engage with the good ideas that Marxists do have. It’s honestly arrogant to say that every academic or working-class person who has spent his/her time thinking about Marxism is fundamentally misguided. That’s a sizable chunk of the world population.

    The thing is that us Marxists (again, a very complex term covering a diverse group of people) really care about understanding both capitalism and socialism at a deep level. But people like you only really care about seriously considering one side of that debate. I wasn’t born a leftist, I wasn’t brought up in a leftist household, and I didn’t go to a particularly leftist college. But I did and do feel a deep dissatisfaction with my life as a contributor to a system of capital, and I used this dissatisfied energy to deepen my understanding of the system in which I live, and of the alternatives that others have theorized. I’m a regular person just like you, and I want something better for myself and for others. I’m tired of seeing people break their backs to feed their families because their wages are too low. I’m tired of watching Western nations throw developing nations around like rag dolls. And I’m tired of being told that wanting a simpler lifestyle, in which I can produce something meaningful and enjoy the Earth I was born into, is lazy and unproductive. Fuck capitalist productivity. I scraped barnacles off of ship hulls for 10 years. Every day I hated it, every day I could not see that which my labor produced, because I was so alienated from it, and every day I told myself that this is what life is. I told myself that with the promotion I was seeking I could buy a comfier couch and a better TV and have a better time at home after 6 p.m. I told myself that if I saved up I could take a week and a half in the Dominican Republic. I told myself that these things are what it means to be free.

    But that’s not freedom. It’s hard to see your way out of capitalist indoctrination, because it is so all-encompassing. But think of the billions who suffer needlessly under it. Maybe you don’t. But most do. I refuse to accept that as the status quo. And you should too.

  6. Sorry Earl, been busy trying to get through a typical Capitalist-induced busy work-week, or I would have read your reply earlier.
    I couldn’t disagree with you more on any of your points. You want to force me to defend my views on Capitalism, which you see as a real, all-consuming, evil force that dominates the world, but you are able to deflect every point made about Marxism by simply denying that it’s ever been tried “the right way”. But scholars are still studying Marxist theory, so maybe a new revolution in some far-flung corner of the world will magically get it right, without the usual slave labour, killing fields, and attendant butchery that seems to accompany all the other Marxist movements.
    We are so far apart in our worldviews that we’ll never see each other’s viewpoints. My experience in life has led me to believe that less State intrusion makes it easier to succeed, and obviously you believe in a massive Welfare State. I have been flat broke twice in my adult life, my wife has had serious lifelong health issues, and I am supporting my adult daughter (with a heart condition) and my granddaughter. I am self employed, so we do it by ourselves. Don’t presume to think I need a bigger TV, or a new car, or some fancy goddamn vacation to feel successful or productive, because my idea of success is entirely different from what you seem to think us pro-Capitalist types are all about. I work for my family, and don’t want any help. That’s it. I’ve never owned a new car or new house, and don’t take too many vacations longer than four days of camping.

    You say Capitalism has become so dominant that people cannot live a simpler life, and are forced to work against their will just to survive. I call bullshit. People can get caught up in all the greed, the “keep up with the Jones'” mentality, or they can keep their lives simple. Even here in the free-market wasteland of Alberta, I have friends who live small and enjoy themselves. What is different about Capitalism is choice. Marxism, even though you deny it’s ever been implemented properly, takes away choice. Work as hard as you like, you’re still not getting any farther ahead than the lazy drunk next to you. Even though you can afford that bigger apartment or that newer car, you can’t get it because the State says so. The State controls everything. And to compare Scandinavia, who all Socialists look to as Mecca, with the U.S. is apples to oranges. Northern European countries are small, concentrated centres of ethnically homogenous people, who haven’t had any sizeable immigration until two years ago. Quite the opposite of the U.S., U.K., Germany, or France.

    I would suggest you look up a book by Thomas Sowell called Economic Facts and Fallacies. In it, he shows how people are misled on a range of issues by agenda-driven politicians and activists. He gives empirical data and countless real-world examples to buttress his arguments, and demonstrates how wrong we have been on things such as wealth redistribution, taxation, property rights, and even race relations. It was a life changing read for me, but my guess is that my recommending Sowell to you will garner the same reaction as you recommending Noam Chomsky to me.

    Life isn’t fair, no matter what system we labour under. Their will always be hunger, suffering, and deprivation. I, however, will always believe that more government inevitably leads to less opportunity. Marxism, Socialism, and Communism do not raise people up. People do that on their own if given the opportunity.


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