A specter was haunting the dorm halls: the specter of Marxism. And like many other college kids, it haunted me for my entire college career.
Thankfully, I have since been exorcised of the red spirit, and now can only look with shame at the cringe-inducing beliefs and attitudes I once held. It was like I was a different person back then.
Despite this embarrassment however, I did gain some valuable insight during my dance with the dialectic. For starters, I experienced what it was like to live inside the mind of a Leftist (cue shuddering), in all of its divisive, dogmatic, and excuse-making stupor.
Scary, yes. But also educational.
It allowed me to peer not only into myself, but also into the general psychological state of unfulfilled and frustrated men. It allowed me to witness firsthand why I and others could be so susceptible to a mass movement like Marxism.
I am still sometimes haunted by the ghosts (or specters) of communist past, but like Scrooge’s encounter with phantoms, they also taught me some unforgettable lessons:
1. Mass Movements Make You Lazy
I honestly wasn’t lazy before I was drawn under the red banner. After I entered the fold however, I started basing my self-esteem not on my personal accomplishments, as many psychologists suggest we should, but rather on identification with a belief.
Instead of going out and taking risks to achieve concrete goals (e.g. making money, getting laid, writing, working out, etc.), I got my daily dose of endorphins by raising my fist in solidarity with my ideological comrades. It was nice to be all snug in my dorm room draped in a swarm of socialist paperbacks, and having a great sense of self-worth because I could do something like debunk Trotsky’s reactionary views on internationalism. I was happy because I was “right.”
After all, it was much easier to raise a fist in front of a protest sign than it was to raise a barbell at a gym.
Losing myself in a larger egalitarian identity, like the Working Class, helped mask my lack of accomplishments and confidence. My “achievements” as a Marxist amounted to possessing an impressive bookshelf of revolutionary literature and having my name on a party’s membership roster. I was able to shift the personal burden of ambition onto the collective.
As the witty and biting Eric Hoffer pointed out in The True Believer, “We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility.” We do it with “a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the many which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority” (31-33).
By losing myself in the masses I soothed myself and became lazy. The masses became the opiate of the masses.
2. Most Ideologies Make You Resentful
In an all-encompassing worldview like Marxism, everything in life can be explained by its doctrine. For me, the doctrine was the class struggle dialectic.
Didn’t have money? It was because of the exploitative wealthy. Didn’t have confidence? It was because of my monotonous and soul-crushing Working Class upbringing. Received a low grade in school? It was because my boss made me work the day before the test.
Nothing could ever be my fault or responsibility. The capitalists were the main culprits behind everything. And yes I mean everything.
(During the winter, I even implicated the plutocrats in ruining my day with snow. They were behind climate change after all.)
I couldn’t look at anything without my Das Kapital goggles. No matter where I turned I always saw the iron-fisted, suited-and-booted billionaire screwing me over. The rich were my enemy, and their overthrow became the focus of my life.
It made me concentrate on destroying my oppressors instead of improving myself. And it felt so good. Fantasizing about crushing the capitalist menace gave me a rush, and it felt even better when I got to shout at CEOs during protests. It was the same guilty pleasure I had experienced in high school when I saw the girlfriend-stealing jock accidentally drop his books all over the floor.
But seeing a high school alpha embarrass himself didn’t get me laid. And flinging epithets at corporate titans didn’t make me rich.
I was too busy trying to pull down my enemy instead of trying to lift up myself. All my energy and focus went towards destruction of others rather than construction of self. Or, to paraphrase a Chinese proverb, I was cutting my foot to fit the shoe, when I should have been going out and earning enough to buy a bigger shoe.
3. Too Much Politics Keeps You From Enjoying Life
A political faith charms and distracts through two primary ways: duty and guilt. As a disciple of the infamous bearded economist, I was a victim of both.
Being born in the First World, I came prepackaged with tremendous privilege, as well as an accompanying obligation to feel guilty about said privilege. My Marxism magnified this guilt, to the point where it was even more conscience-searing than Original Sin. And this is coming from someone who went to Catholic school from K-12.
How could I enjoy my morning coffee while the global majority lived in squalor? How could I go on a laughter-filled bar crawl through Manhattan with my best friends when I could be building revolution instead? Indeed, how could I even buy my clothing and shoes when they were manufactured by sleepless child laborers in Bangladesh?
It was my duty to liberate the proletariat. But I was shirking my duty by having fun.
Not even time with my family was exempt from the fog of guilt. Some people don’t even have families, so it would be the grossest act of elitism to relish in my privilege. How dare I waste time with such a bourgeois construct.
And then there were all the downtrodden I was completely unaware of. I constantly read the news to make sure I knew about everyone who was oppressed, so that I could sour my soul and make sure I wasn’t too happy. If I was enjoying life too much, it was a sign that I was abandoning my revolutionary obligation.
It was my duty to feel guilty. Life became part of the background. It became something I simply went through, not something I enjoyed. Family and friends, memories and moments; they were all part of the background.
Such a penitential and life-denying mode of existence is no way to live. I concur with Emerson: “I do not wish to expiate, but to live.”
This trip down Leftist lane doesn’t vindicate conservatives. All worldviews have their enabling, resentful, and life-denying aspects. Don’t let them get the best of you.
You can still become lazy by losing yourself in a larger identity, whether the identity is the Working Class, the church, the white race, MGTOW, or the feminist sisterhood.
And no one is exempt from having his ideology blind him to the beauties of life, be he Leninist or Libertarian. Do not let an abstract political cobweb bind you on your pilgrimage through life. If I accomplished anything in my socialist days, it was learning this simple lesson.
And I didn’t accomplish much during those days, so that’s saying something.