Back in the 70s, the late author Tom Wolfe put out a hard- hitting, satirical piece entitled, “Radical Chic.” It was a put down of a ritzy party given by the famed composer, Leonard Bernstein, at his hi-rise temple in Manhattan, NY. The gathering was to raise money for the Black Panthers. The essay was later part of a successful book by Wolfe entitled, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.
Not everybody was amused by Wolfe’s put down of a generous soul, such as Bernstein. Nevertheless, Wolfe’s reputation as a wordsmith was made by that low-based wallop. Go figure!
Enter British author Paul Johnson and his book, Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky, published in 1988. It’s a literary hit job on some of the biggest names of the last few centuries. It makes Wolfe’s hatchet job on Bernstein look mild in comparison. Johnson doesn’t take any prisoners. He showed no mercy towards the living or the dead, and in some cases, maybe he was right to do so.
Johnson ripped into icons such as Karl Marx, Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others, and even bloodied the holy of holies — James Baldwin. He also took digs at the Left’s reigning guru, Noam Chomsky, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and one of America’s greatest men of letters — the one, the only — Ernest Hemingway. Johnson claimed these icons selfishly put their ideas before people.
A reviewer, Roger Kimball, labeled Johnson’s tome, “a devastating and often hilarious dissection of egghead hubris, pomposity, and malice.” The following sums up the gist of his dark thoughts on the “credentials” of only one of those lofty intellectuals: Marx. However, I think it’s representative of his book as a whole.
Johnson stated that the founder of the Communist Movement, Marx, was a scholar, with a bushy beard to prove it. He spent many hours hanging out in a London library, he tells us. But then the author just as quickly undercuts Marx’s bookish aspirations, writing, “In a deeper sense he was not really a scholar at all. He was was not interested in finding the truth, but in ‘proclaiming’ it … Marx was anti-scientific.”
Johnson underscored how Marx, a supposed champion of the working class, “never set foot in a mill, factory or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life.” He preferred to hobnob with “middle class intellectuals,” who wouldn’t dare to contradict him. The ones who did were quickly demonized and or banished, Johnson said.
On the writing front, Marx’s “misuse of sources was systematic,” Johnson wrote. “His book, Capital, according to respected scholars cited by Johnson, was “structurally dishonest” and to label it scientific, was “preposterous.” On a personal front, one of his fellow revolutionaries, found Marx “intolerably dirty.”
“Marx found planning, let alone writing, a major book not only difficult but impossible; even Capitalis a series of essays, “Johnson continued, “glued together without any real form.” His greatest gift, Johnson insisted “was as a polemical journalist.”
In one of his pamphlets, Marx encouraged “mob violence” and was willing to “support assassinations.” In due course, Johnson wrote, Marx’s followers, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung practiced, on an “enormous scale, the violence which Marx felt in his heart, and which his work exudes.”
Marx was always broke, but he was still able to keep a mistress on the side. He also had a maid, Helen, who he kept but “paid nothing.” (No unions back then.) Later, she, too, Johnson revealed, “became his mistress.”
A fellow traveler, Michael Bakunin, summed Marx up this way: “He does not believe in God but he believed much in himself and makes everyone serve himself. His heart is not full of love but of bitterness and he has very little sympathy for the human race.”
Johnson continued his degrading of Marx’s reputation by quoting his mother, Henriette, who had cut him off from any financial support. She made this bitter wish about her son: “I would hope Karl would accumulate capital instead of just writing about it!”
“Marx,” Johnson declared, “was totally and incorrigibly desk bound. Nothing on earth would get him out of the library and the study … There is no evidence Marx ever talked to any peasants or the landowners and looked at the conditions on the spot (that they regularly complained about) … He viewed (the actual workers in the movement) with contempt; and saw them as revolutionary cannon-fodder, and nothing more.”
It is relevant to note that a best-selling book came out in 1997. Its title was The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. It was penned by European academics. It is a damning indictment of Marx’s intellectual legacy.
It underscored how Communist regimes from particularly China (65 million dead), the Soviet Union (20 million dead), and a host of other countries, “turned mass crimes into full-blown systems of government and are responsible for a greater number of victims than Nazism or any other political system.” The final total of dead under these repressive regime is estimated at (triple gasp) 94 million! Not all scholars agree on the final numbers.
Marx died in 1883, so he never witnessed what his idea of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” looked like. Soon Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, in the Soviet Union, would make his ideas into a lethal, bloody reality that would kill and imprison millions and shake the world to its very foundation.
Johnson’s book includes much more than his enlightening chapter on Marx as a false prophet for mankind. It is one darn good read and highly recommended.
Bill Hughes is a native of Baltimore. He’s an attorney, author, professional actor and hobbyist photographer. In his salad days, he worked on the docks as a longshoreman. Bill also played on three championship soccer teams: sandlot with Jules Morstein; high school at Calvert Hall; and college at the University of Baltimore.