From Socialist Voice, August 2010

Why Reville has missed the reality of Marxism

It is curious that the associate professor of biochemistry at UCC, the scientist William Reville, should be inclined to pen such half-baked, ill-informed tittle-tattle as he does in a recent Irish Times article on the supposed “reality” of Marxism. The “analysis” offered is not only unscientific but is simply ideological hogwash that would struggle to register a pass grade at an undergraduate course in political science at his own university.
     While it is questionable whether ink should be wasted on responding to such a poorly conceived article, it is useful nonetheless to engage with his points, given that anti-communism appears to be once again in vogue among the European elites.
     The central argument that Reville appears to advance is that the European intellectual community should be “embarrassed” by the “easy ride” it gave to communism over the twentieth century. Why? For the reason that communism, “the deadliest ideology,” “led . . . inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture and slave labour camps . . . [and] was responsible for the deaths of some 180 million human beings during the 20th century” (emphasis added).
     It is odd that a scientist such as Reville would seemingly advance such an unscientific assertion for the fundamental premise of his argument. For a start, it is difficult to see how what Reville clumsily labels “communism” could be seen to be either “deadly” or indeed the “deadliest.” For a practising scientist, it is a rather juvenile understanding of what the scientific community might call “causation.” If the intellectual body of social, philosophical and economic thought that constitutes Marxism is to be disregarded because it caused “starvation, torture and slave labour camps,” he might be prepared to readily reject a whole host of other social, philosophical and economic thinking. Would Reville propose that those sympathetic to Catholicism be also “embarrassed,” given the fundamentalist savagery of the Crusades? the Inquisition? or indeed the “starvation and torture” practised by the religious orders in this country during the twentieth century? Would Reville be prepared to write a similar article on the “deadly” nature of Catholicism? One suspects not.
     Indeed, even working within the parameters of Reville’s thesis, his argument that communism is the “deadliest ideology” is not supported by the facts. The Nobel Prizewinning economist Amartya Sen estimated that the excess of mortality in India over China—close to 4 million a year—was due to the latter’s relatively equitable distribution of health-care resources. Supposing we now apply Reville’s methodology to India alone, then the liberal-capitalist experiment since 1947 has caused more deaths there than in the supposed history of communism.
     Monetarist economics, which also claims to be “scientific” and to have discovered “laws” about society, might equally be subjected to the same type of critique and, using Reville’s logic, be treated as “deadly.” The IMF’s monetarist approach towards giving priority to price stability and fiscal restraint might be accused of preventing developing countries from being able to increase long-term public investment as a percentage of GDP in the underlying public health infrastructure. The consequences of these policies have been underfunded public health systems, dilapidated health infrastructures, inadequate numbers of health personnel that have fuelled the push factors driving the brain drain of nurses migrating from poor countries to rich ones—all of which has undermined public health systems and the fight against HIV and AIDS in developing countries.
     Presumably even more drastic consequences might be attributed to our social system of private property and profit accumulation. In its time it has led to slavery, colonialism, war, and widespread poverty. Of course apologists for this social system, and there are indeed many, would be prone to “rationalise away the negative evidence” they encounter on this charge—the very same accusation Reville levels at Marxist intellectuals.
     In any case, Reville fails to, and presumably cannot, demonstrate that Marxism led inexorably to the malign consequences he proposes. The figures he cites, and the attempts to reduce them to the actions of Marxist political agencies, has been regarded by many other academics as either unreliable, invalid, causally suspect, or prone to mere provocation. If Reville wanted to engage in truly objective scientific analysis his article would not display the lopsided approach of which he is so keen to accuse European left-wing intellectuals. He would refer to the significant social gains generated by many Marxist states in the realms of industrial development, social welfare provision and education and their various contributions to anti-colonialism and world peace. Of course this would not sit comfortably with his unscientific, ideological prejudices.
     In Reville’s article ideological prejudice is a comfortable bedfellow with various sloppy arguments. The tendency to cast the European intelligentsia as sympathetic to communism is highly inaccurate. Indeed running throughout the mainstream of the European intelligentsia in the twentieth century was an inherent anti-communism. The founding intellectual touchstones of European sociology throughout the twentieth century, such as Weberianism and Durkheimianism, were decidedly anti-communist. In European economics we had J. M. Keynes, and in European philosophy we had the influential anti-communists F. A. Hayek and Karl Popper.
     Amusingly, Reville concludes his article by recounting his early days as a radical young man. Like most of his class, this well-paid middle-class academic decided to jettison radical world views as he became comfortably ensconced in the ivory tower of academia. Hardly a surprise! As Marx might have put it, surely a classic example of one’s social being determining one’s social consciousness.

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