In October 1921, as the Bolsheviks prepared to launch a massive social engineering project that would kill millions, Vladimir Lenin, speaking at the second All-Russian Congress of Political Education Departments, coined the bedrock principle of Marxist power politics, encapsulating in two words the binary nature of tyranny: Kto kogo? (pronounced “KTO-KahVO” in Russian, and literally translated as “Who gets whom?” in the sense of prison yard politics.) Today, more than a quarter century since the collapse of the Soviet empire, Lenin’s dictum lives on, not just in post-Soviet Russia but also in the West, where it has morphed into a modern day categorical imperative of extremist politics that has all but displaced what remains of civil discourse. Though always at home with the hard Left, the kto-kogo principle has since permeated across the political spectrum in the West. In the process, the center—once the preferred agora for democratic discourse where the citizenry would negotiate the boundaries of political compromise—has been all but hollowed out.
The neo-Marxist unmaking of Western politics and the attendant deconstruction of Western culture—both the fruits of the long-running and mutually reinforcing projects of the post-1960s left in Europe and in the United States—have reached the point where group identity politics has begun to crowd out the foundational assumptions about individual citizenship and the functioning of republican government. This is reinforced by the decomposition of discursive language across the West. The increased monopolization of Western educational systems by neo-Marxists, most prominent in higher education but also by now solidly entrenched in elementary and secondary schools’ curricula, continues to deepen the disconnect between what remains of the bourgeois culture and a utopian postmodern ideal of a borderless open society of morphing identities, relativized ethics, and fluid loyalties. The college educated are less and less willing—or even able—to speak the language of the populus, all but ensuring that intergenerational communication across the West, so vital to cultural transmission, will eventually grind to a halt. Today the foundational values of future Western elites and those of the mainstream of society have already become disconnected to the point where the most basic terminology concerning belief systems is fast becoming untranslatable.
In academia, Derridean postmodern “textuality,” which not long ago used to rule the day, has been superseded by neo-Marxism, in no small part because the former eschewed larger “social justice” issues, levitating above the here-and-now into a rarified “self-referential, recursive” space. In hindsight, Marx continues to have a much more profound effect across academia than the postwar French nihilists, as faculty hires and curricular changes in humanities departments at American colleges and universities in particular have skewed in favor of ethnic and gender studies.
The neo-Marxist ascendency is not limited to university campuses. The reluctance of a large number of politicians to explicitly tie the writings of Karl Marx and his overall legacy to the organized repression and murder perpetrated by multiple communist regimes since the beginning of the twentieth century remains puzzling to say the least. Lest you missed it, in May an 18-foot-tall mega statue of Karl Marx was donated by China to Germany and unveiled in the city of Trier to commemorate the German’s 200th birthday, occasioning laudatory comments about the man and his oeuvre from such luminaries as the head of the European Commission. It was a bizarre spectacle protested by locals in Trier, but almost uniformly praised by the commentariat.
Meanwhile, in the increasingly fragmented media, serious reporting has been overtaken by politicized editorializing. In an era when bursts of ever-coarser tweeting, the intentional over- and underreporting of events, and even outright manipulation based on the outlet’s political bias are increasingly the norm, the citizenry is left with an ever-smaller pool of usable information from which to form an opinion on the key political and cultural issues of the day. Today, the West is at a point where the systemic foundations central to democracy may soon be displaced by the triumph of a set of elite norms—norms that purport to be rationalist but are adhered to by their boosters with religious fervor—making political compromises ever-harder to reach.
To appreciate the extent to which decades of neo-Marxist dogma and practice have crept into public discourse in Western democracies, one has to factor in not just the decline of standards and manners, but the gradual disappearance of the overall sense of reciprocity that is indispensable to the functioning of a democratic society. The Leninist mindset has triumphed first and foremost at the level of elite culture in the West, where a growing coarseness and deep sense of entitlement have so completely poisoned the public discourse. As though channeling Vladimir Mayakovsky’s vision of what a revolutionary proletarian language should sound like, the public sphere has been brutalized by the mainstreaming of prison culture, and the lacing of music, movies, television and increasingly everyday conversations with expressions intended to shock rather than to communicate. The disappearance of the general acceptance of a dress code and other accoutrements of public engagement once deemed basic is further evidence of the overall deterioration of the public sphere now shaped by the post-1960s neo-Marxist revolutionary zeal.
At the core of the neo-Marxist agenda ascendant across the West is the implicit conviction that the individual, who is the building block of the modern democratic state, will eventually be displaced and supplanted by a collage of group identities, be they racial, ethnic, gender or class. Amidst uncontrolled immigration flows, the debasement of the value of citizenship is being presented as inclusivity and non-discrimination. Finally, the erstwhile commitment to free speech and open debate, with the goal of persuasion through reason and the marshalling of superior arguments—the very foundation of the Western democratic tradition—has been replaced by the Leninist desire to annihilate one’s opponent. And so amidst the deepening political chaos in the West, the kto-kogo imperative ultimately means that the outcome is not a reasoned argument but the crude binary: “we” win, “they” disappear.
There is still time for Western democratic societies to stop the neo-Marxist revolutionaries in their tracks. But this will require courage to speak plainly about the need to restore the value of citizenship, as well as a take-no-prisoners determination to preserve the centrality of the individual and the attendant primacy of mutuality in a democracy over and above claims made by any groups pleading special treatment.