Marxists under the bed

Sorry to go all Saint George on you but it just so happens I’m re-reading George Orwell’s collected journalism and I’m up to 1944:

It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

My recollection on this is probably faulty (thanks to the recency illusion), but I don’t remember the word “Marxist” being thrown about quite so loosely before about October. In fact I was still a bit worked up about “Marxisant” only about three weeks ago. But now it seems it’s absolutely commonplace to hear Barack Obama described as a Marxist. Today those who only go so far as to call him a socialist seem extraordinarily sober and measured in their criticism.

This is a helpful development in so far as it’s useful in identifying which commentators are probably best ignored for the next four years, if not forever. But it’s another useful word, one that actually used to mean something, that’s now on the verge of being ruined. I would just point out that to call Obama a Marxist is only to enrich our language with a superfluous synonym for “someone who wants to raise the top marginal tax rate from 35% to around 39%.”

Orwell again:

All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.

It was already too late for “Fascist,” and now, at least in the United States, it’s too late for “Marxist.”


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