By Jonathon Mecomber
One quote that is often attributed to Winston Churchill is: “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is twenty, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is forty, he has no brain.” In some ways, this very quote describes my own transition across the political spectrum from revolutionary Marxism to conservatism.
To this day, I still remember the moment when I first learned about the existence of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, or the PSL. It was the day before the 2012 election when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were going head-to-head for the presidency. At the time, I was a politically indifferent ninth grader. Most of my opinions up to that point had mostly been formed by the evening news or the opinions of my parents. In other words, I knew next to nothing about the American political process beyond the big election. To better illustrate my ignorance, I believed that America only had two political parties. Of course, this was all about to change.
As I was browsing through some of the headlines about the upcoming election online, I happened to notice a list of additional political parties. Though it may sound somewhat silly now, my fourteen-year-old-self was shocked that there was apparently a whole other world outside of the typical Democrat-Republican/Left-Right dichotomy that is often presented as the only relevant option come election time. In hindsight, I felt as if I had taken a bite from the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden: I felt shocked, empowered, and even excited about my new knowledge.
As I scrolled through the list of third parties which included Libertarians, Greens, and Constitutionalists, one in particular caught my eye: the aforementioned PSL. For one reason or another, the name struck me unlike any of the others which I had encountered. Within minutes, I was on their website reading through their party platform. Their ideas were extraordinary to me. I was astonished by their statements which, among others, claimed that the United States was an imperialist empire or that all Americans could have affordable housing, education, and health care under a socialist government. With little required to convince me that an idea was logically sound, I became immensely interested in socialist political theory.
Within the next few months, I had downloaded a copy of The Communist Manifesto onto my Kindle and read it thoroughly several times. I perused dozens of internet forums and blog posts in an attempt to better understand the core arguments of Marxism. Before long, I was telling everyone that I possibly could about my newfound passion for workers rights, higher wages, and the impending liberation of the proletariat. I enthusiastically admitted to strangers that I was a fully-fledged Marxist-Leninist and even dressed up as Marx for a school event.
As I told my classmates about my love for the working class and my hatred for the greedy and exploitative bourgeoisie, most laughed in my face (perhaps ironically, many of my peers would now full-heartedly agree with me if I still preached about this today). Despite their mockery, I was determined that with enough persuasion, I could bring about the start of a communist revolution.
However, as I approached my junior year of high school, I began to realize that my ideas weren’t as logical as I had believed. For instance, how could I simultaneously hate the “evils of capitalism” while also benefiting from the immense prosperity that it had brought countless nations around the world? Furthermore, it was often apparent to me that the hardline secularism found in Marxism was directly opposed to the values which I had been taught in my moderately religious family. As I grappled with these and other questions, I had to make concessions that much of what I had in my life was the result of the very things which I ostensibly hated and that eliminating capitalism wouldn’t fix many of the issues that most people experienced at all.
The final nail in the coffin was perhaps the most obvious: that communism has undoubtedly failed in every nation where it had been formally embraced under law. Though there could certainly be an argument that countries like China or Cuba may still be communist, this is really only true under the broadest of interpretations. In reality, communist policies have almost always been completely abandoned as natural market tendencies persevere. Simply put, people don’t like it when they are told what to do with their money. I am no different.
In the years since I have rid myself of Marxist thought, I have slowly progressed more toward a center-right position. Part of this transition was encouraged by the discovery of one of my favorite journalists, Peter Hitchens, brother of the staunch anti-theist Christopher Hitchens who passed away from cancer in 2011. Interestingly enough, Peter had a similar experience to my own. He too was a revolutionary socialist in his younger years, but is now one of Britain’s most popular conservative commentators, making frequent appearances on BBC discussion panels. Peter describes himself as a Burkean conservative today, or one who follows in the tradition of the Anglo-Irish politician Edmund Burke who lived from 1730 to 1797. Though I usually would describe myself today only as a conservative in the general sense, Burkean thought has been of particular interest to me for the past couple of years with its attempt to influence the future with experience from the past.
Looking forward, I don’t expect to always have the same opinions or to always hold the same viewpoints. One of the most important aspects of living is adaptation. In a way, I am actually glad that I was a Marxist as I now feel as if I have a better advantage over the plentiful streams of anti-capitalist rhetoric to be found on campus. Like a computer programmer, I strive to identify flaws in my own logic. If there is a discrepancy, then I will try to either fix my thought process or to abandon it in favor of something else. Though I never expect to reach absolute truth, I presume that proceeding in this manor will allow me to get as close to it as possible.