Here’s a joke I heard years ago in the USSR…
Soviet scientists have brought Karl Marx back to life. The newly-resurrected Marx comes to the Soviet Union, observes what’s going on, and then comes to Central Television and asks for permission to give a one hour speech. “Comrade Marx, we have the greatest respect for you,” – the people in charge of the Central TV tell him, “but please understand that we have central planning, and we cannot give you one hour just like that. The plans for the TV programming are approved five years in advance, and any changes have to have special approval of the Central Committee. You, of all people, should understand about central planning!”
Marx asks for half an hour, or at least ten minutes, or, at the very least, five minutes. He keeps getting the same answer: “Sorry, due to central planning, it’s impossible”.
Finally, after much pleading, Marx is allowed to say one sentence on TV. He takes a microphone and, addressing the entire Soviet Union, says: “Workers of the world, forgive me!”
Back in USSR, we could get into serious trouble for telling this joke! We told it anyway.
Jokes aside, let us ask a question: Should Marx indeed have apologized to the workers of the world? Are the ideas of Karl Marx responsible for the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and what followed: millions of people killed, and millions more reduced to a grim existence? Is Marxism responsible for purges of the thirties, the artificially created famine in the Ukraine, the Gulag and the horrors of day-to-day existence under totalitarianism?
For many people, the answer is an obvious “yes”. Yet, many others believe that things are not so simple. Karl Marx, these people argue, had good ideas, but they were misused and abused by the Bolsheviks. Marx would never have recognized the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union as something he had advocated.
Let us have a respectful debate on the subject. I hope people with different opinions come and present an argument for their point of view. To keep the debate civil, let me briefly repeat the rules:
· First and foremost, remember: if a person doesn’t think like you, it does not mean s/he is a bad person. Absolutely no ad hominem attacks will be tolerated.
· Please, only one person speaks at a time. I’ll make sure that everybody who has something to say will have a chance to say it. Please, wait for your turn.
· If you present something as a fact, be prepared to be questioned about the source of your information. Of course, this does not apply to generally known facts (such as “the Bolshevik Revolution occurred on November 7, 1917”), but if you say “the Bolshevik Revolution was financed by Wall Street”, I or others may ask you where you got your information.
· You cannot just say “This is not true”. Instead, present a valid reason why you think it isn’t true.
· Please, stay on topic. It’s OK to draw parallels with what’s happening now (i.e., it’s OK to compare the Bolshevik Revolution to the Arab Spring), but limit this to making a comparison – do not change the subject to modern controversies. This is a history meetup, and I’d like to keep it this way.
These rules aren’t unreasonable—and they’ve enabled our group to have productive discussions for 3 years now—a record I’m proud of. Let’s continue the tradition of meaningful, respectful discourse.
That’s it! Please bring some snacks to share with your fellow intellectuals—the healthier, the better. To cover the cost of running this meetup, a donation of $2 is respectfully requested.