When certain conservatives attack academics a stock tactic is to accuse professors of being Marxists. It is also common for certain conservatives to accuse critics of capitalism of being Marxists (or Marxist-Socialist). In many cases these accusations are a rhetorical tactic—accusing professors and critics of being Marxists is to signal to a specific audience that these are bad people and should be disliked. The tactic is also often used in an ad hominem attack:
Premise 1: Person A makes claim C.
Premise 2: A is a Marxist.
Conclusion: C is false.
I like to use silly math examples to show that a fallacy is a fallacy—if the logic was good, then it could be used to refute basic mathematical truths. This shows that the logic is clearly bad. For example:
Premise 1: Karl claims that 2+2=4.
Premise 2: Karl is a Marxist.
Conclusion: 2+2 does not equal 4.
The power of the ad hominem is clearly not from the logic, but from the dislike the target audience feels towards the subject of the attack. Those who dislike Marxism will tend to let that dislike sway them so that they reject a claim made by someone accused of being a Marxist. Just as a person who loathes conservatives will illogically reject a claim made by a conservative simply because of their dislike of the conservative. As such, even if I were an envious Marxist, this would not refute any claims I have made, nor would it undercut any of my arguments. As always, claims and arguments stand or fall on their own merits.
Since Marxism is an ideology it is certainly fair to raise concerns that a Marxist would have ideological biases. But it would also be fair to point out that a capitalist would also have ideological biases. As would anyone who has an ideology or philosophical commitment. As such, while Marxists can be accused of bias, the same also applies to anyone who has any ideology that impacts their views. This is why such biases need to be considered when assessing a person’s credibility on a matter. For example, you would be wise to be critical of accepting the claim “capitalism must fail” from a famous Marxist just because they said it. Likewise, you would be wise to be critical of accepting the claim “capitalism is the best” from a famous capitalist just because they said it. But, as always, either claim must stand or fall on its own merits. As such, if I were a Marxist, you would be wise to be critical of how my bias might impact my claims—but accusing me of being a Marxist would not refute any claim I have made nor undercut any of my arguments. The same would apply if I were a devout capitalist.
Most people do not identify as Marxists, so the ad hominem attack is often preceded by the accusation that the person’s secret/real ideology is Marxism. If the target denies they are a Marxist, a common tactic is to assert that is just what a secret Marxist would say. Secret Ideology (or Real Ideology) is a rhetorical technique in which a person accuses another of having a secret, typically bad, ideology such as Marxism or fascism. The accuser often claims a special insight or understanding into the mind of the accused—which is why they somehow know the person’s secret ideology. While primarily a rhetorical device (and hence not an argument) it can also be cast as a fallacy:
Premise 1: Person A asserts that person B has a secret/real ideology.
Conclusion: B has that secret/real ideology.
The error occurs when A fails to provide adequate evidence in support of their claim that the other person has a secret/real ideology. This is not to say that “evidence” will never be provided; but what is offered fails to support their claim. For example, the “evidence” of being a Marxist might be that the person has been critical of the excesses of capitalism while not endorsing any definitive tenets of Marxism. But the accuser somehow “knows” that the accused is secretly a Marxist—apparently through some exceptional epistemic abilities. While the high point of accusations of Marxism was during the Cold War, it has returned to being in vogue—anyone who is critical of capitalism or works in higher education might find themselves accused of being secret Marxists.
The defense against this technique is objectively assess whether adequate evidence exists for the accusation of the secret/real ideology. If not, the claim should not be accepted. It must also be remembered that even if a person has a (bad or good) ideology, this is irrelevant to the truth of their claims and the quality of their arguments. In the next essay I will take a brief look at Marxism and show why I am not a Marxist.