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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Marxist beliefs

Marxism socialism is best understood as a religious creed. While this may seem ironic, since Marx regarded religion as “the opium of the people,? it is nonetheless accurate.

Marxism is a blind faith and devotion to the dogma that socialism, and its highest form communism, is bound to come “with the inexorability of a law of nature.? It is, according to Marx, the final goal to which mankind’s history is leading. (2)

Neither logic not experience can prove or validate this proposition. Indeed, both logic and experience reveal the utter absurdity of socialism-communism as a rational, efficient economic system.  Moreover, Marxian ideology is grounded on a few premises that have long since been logically refuted. All the emphasized phrases are Marxist jargon.

Under capitalism, the capitalists own the means of production, factories, land, capital, labour, machinery, scientific and technical knowledge etcthe proletariat own only their capacity to work. Landlords rule the land, and the peasants are less significant than workers and are trapped in the idiocy of rural life.  The most important features of a society are its economic classes, and a class is defined by the relations of its members to the means of production.

Marx’s premises, reasoning and prophecies are filled with fallacies. First, labor is obviously not the only source of value. Market prices are determined by supply and demand, and the supply of and demand for goods and services is determined by the subjective judgments of individual producers and consumers. Second, there is obviously no iron law of wages. Wages depend on the value of one’s productivity. As labor productivity has risen historically through saving and capital formation, wages have risen dramatically. Third, profit is earned by entrepreneurs for undertaking business ventures and successfully anticipating consumer wants. Profit is both the incentive and signal for entrepreneurs to employ resources (land, labor, and capital) in a way that pleases consumers. Without the profit and loss mechanism, a rational economic world would not be possible. (5) Rather than being exploitative, profit is the essential prerequisite for economic harmony and growth.

It follows that since Marxian economic analysis is based on a few false premises, its conclusions built on them collapse as well. There are no laws of capitalist motion - no contradictions. Rather, under free-market capitalism, as history demonstrates, rising living standards for all people are the norm. Business cycles, unemployment, inflation and monopolies are features within capitalism caused by government (socialist) interferences and special privileges. Ironically, imperialism is a Marxist-Leninist policy that hopes to accelerate the “Day of the Proletariat.?

History is the history of class struggles.  The state is the means whereby the ruling class forcibly maintains its rule over the other classes. Most struggles in history are class struggles, even though the participants profess other goals. For example, protestantism reflects the rising capitalist class.

The successive stages of history include primitive communism characterized by equalitarian hunting and gathering, barbarism characterized by rule by chiefs, slave society with a slave class and agriculture, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and communism.

In capitalist societies, Bourgeoisie (Capitalist/Owner) Proletariat (Wage worker)

New classes usually win power by revolution. Revolutions are violent, because the dying ruling class doesn’t give up power without a desperate struggle.

The capitalist class wins power over the feudal class by a bourgeois democratic revolution. A bourgeois democratic revolution is a good thing in its day, because it gets rid of feudal personal relations and replaces them by a cash nexus.

Capitalism creates the proletariat who have nothing to sell but their labor by bankrupting the artisan classes and the petty bourgeoisie and driving them into the proletariat.

The proletariat wins power by a proletarian revolution. This revolution must be violent, because the bourgeoisie won’t give up power by electoral means.

12. Neither Russia nor China had undergone a bourgeois-democratic revolution when the communists seized power. The communists undertook to build socialism anyway, and some of their rival socialists used the missing bourgeois-democratic revolution to predict that communist power would end badly.

13. Around the end of the 19th century Edouard Bernstein argued that it was possible to win power peacefully by winning elections. This was revisionism and the orthodox Marxist have used revisionism as an epithet ever since. “Revisionism” came to have more general meanings than Bernstein’s actual doctrine, because it could be applied to people who denied Bernstein’s doctrine but who could be accused of not being revolutionary enough.

14. Under capitalism the progressive class is the proletariat which is destined to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism, which will eventually evolve into communism.

15. Historical materialism is the Marxist methodology for interpreting history. The idea is to interpret all relations between groups of people as class relations and to interpret all conflicts as reflections of class struggles. A specific sequence of historical stages is part of the doctrine. It is (primitive communism, barbarism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism socialism, communism). Each stage of history has its own ruling class which uses the state to maintain its rule. Under feudalism the ruling class is the nobility, under capitalism it is the capitalists, and under socialism it is the proletariat. Primitive communism and communism are classless. In some countries oriental despotism happens as a stage distinct from feudalism.

16. The main feature of socialism is public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

17. Under capitalism, workers “tend” to be paid the bare amount required for them to support their families and reproduce. This is because of competition for jobs from the reserve army of labor, i.e. the unemployed.

18. The capitalist sells the product of the workers’ labor at a price proportional to its value, which is the socially necessary labor required to produce it.

19. The difference between what the product sells for and what the workers are paid is surplus value and is appropriated by the capitalist.

20. Because the workers can’t buy the full product of their labor and the capitalists don’t consume all the surplus value, there tend to be recessions.

21. The steady increase in labor saving machinery creates unemployment and drives down wages. This emphasizes the tendency for there to be economic recessions.
22. The tendency to pay the workers bare survival wages leads to the increasing immiseration of the proletariat.

23. The other classes, e.g. artisans and petty bourgeoisie, e.g. small shopkeepers, go broke and are driven into the proletariat. Even the smaller capitalists go broke.

24. In his “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy,” written in the 1840s, Engels asserted that “The middle classes must increasingly disappear until the world is divided into millionaires and paupers. . . . [T]his result must and will come, unless it is anticipated by a total transformation of social conditions, a fusion of opposed interests, an abolition of private property.”
25. Then a socialist revolution occurs. Originally this was supposed to occur first in the most advanced capitalist countries, e.g. Germany, Britain and the United States. It wasn’t supposed to occur first in a backward country like Russia, where a bourgeois-democratic revolution should have happened first.

26. In the first stages of socialism the state is a dictatorship of the proletariat., i.e the proletariat rules the other classes by force.

27. The socialist slogan is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.”

28. The communist slogan is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

29. Communism, which evolves peacefully from socialism, is a classless society under which the state will wither away.


Marx wrote

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, have vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of the co-operative wealth flow more abundantly - only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe upon its banners: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

(K. Marx: Critique of the Gotha Programme)

31. Capitalism normally is replaced by socialism as a consequence of a proletarian revolution.

32. Prior to the overthrow of capitalism the proletariat must develop its own class consciousness. Other classes have their own forms of class consciousness.

33. Class hatred is a good thing and class collaboration is a bad thing.

34. Under capitalism, capitalist ideology penetrates other classes and must be struggled against by the proletariat.

35. Trade unions are good as training grounds for the class struggle, but it is capitalist ideology to suppose that they can make any permanent improvement in the condition of the proletariat. The belief that trade unions can make a permanent difference is a heresy called economism or trade-unionism, although the term may be due to Lenin.

36. The increasing exploitation of the working class leads to economic crises, because the working class cannot afford to buy the products of its labor. These crises get more intense with time. I forget whether the term general crisis of capitalism comes from Marx, but I rather think it comes much later. It refers also to imperialist wars

37. Literature, art and other forms of culture tend to reflect the class ideology of the class to which the artist belongs. However, the ideology of other classes can also affect the artist.

38. The philosophy of Marxism calls itself dialectical materialism.

39. The materialism part is opposed to idealism and holds that the world is to be understood as matter in motion.

40. The dialectical part includes the transformation of quantity into quality, the dialectical process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis and the unity of opposites alias the contradictory tendencies of the thing.

41. There is also a philosophy of history called historical materialism. Its main feature is the interpretation of history in terms of class struggle and historical progression in terms of revolutions in which a new ruling class takes over from the old ruling class.

What Was Attractive about Marxism?
Marxism in general and communism in particular attracted enormous loyalty on the part of millions of people. Millions of people fought in the name of communism, and many of these took part in mass killings on its behalf. Many died on behalf of communism, but I regard the number who killed on its behalf as more significant in evaluating the communist movement. The following are some considerations aimed at accounting for this. I separate them from my main page on Marxism which describes Marxist doctrine.

1. Marxism (though mostly mistaken) has had (and still has) great appeal as a proposed scientific explanation of the development of human society. It appeals at different levels of detail. At the lowest level of detail, a person may only believe that capitalist society is divided into two classes, capitalists and workers, and the former exploit the latter. Many, who believe this do not even take the next step to believing that workers will overthrow the capitalists and not be exploited any more.

Further study of Marxism leads to hearing about surplus value either in a simple form or a more complex form that takes other economic transactions than the payment of wages into account.

We then have Marxist history telling about classes, the state as the instrument of the ruling class, class struggles, and the end of the class system to be accomplished by the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism which will evolve into communism.

This is just a sample of aspects of Marxism that have had intellectual appeal. Marxism has been nicely mixed with Freudianism in some intellectual circles, but I haven’t paid enough attention to say anything about that.

[Perhaps I should point out one place where the intellectual structure becomes inadequate. Einstein said, “Make everything as simple as possible - but not simpler.” There are and have been classes defined by the relation of people to the means of production. However, these have not always or even usually been the most important divisions in society. There have been class struggles, but the majority of conflicts in human society (both in the past and at present) have not been class conflicts. A proper theory of society and its history will be vastly more complex than Marxism, and I think such a theory is not close to being at hand. I do not despair of its eventual development.]

Another embarassment was the increase in working class prosperity in the advanced countries when theory said workers would get poorer and poorer. Lenin’s patch in the theory referred to an aristocracy of labor] and postulated that the poverty was exported to the colonies.
2. The Marxist idea of communism as the goal of human society arouses the same kind of human hope that has been aroused by the Christian and Muslim religions. Millions have killed, inspired by such hopes. Voltaire wrote in his essay on fanaticism, “How can you answer a man who tells you that he would rather obey God than men, and who is therefore sure to deserve heaven in cutting your throat?”

3. It is hard for us to imagine today, the immense despair about human society caused by WWI. Europe was devastated and millions were pointlessly killed. It made many people intellectually desperate and ready to seize upon the promises of communism and the Soviet Union. Giving up on these promises was so hard that many people were ready to believe every possible excuse for Lenin’s and Stalin’s crimes and disasters.
4. The communist explanation of World War I and its enormous destruction as an imperialist war gained millions of adherents for the Leninist variant of Marxism. When the Soviet Union was partly allied with Nazi Germany between the Soviet-German non-aggression pact of 1939 August and the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 June, World War II was called an imperialist war. However, few took the model seriously, though maybe it contributed to the French not defending themselves successfully in 1940.

5. The world-wide depression of the 1930s was explained as an inevitable consequence of the “law” of surplus value and the increasing immiseration of the proletariat. It gave credence to the false claims that the Soviet Union was a prosperous and democratic society.

6. The pro-communist propaganda by journalists who saw what they were determined to see had a large effect. An interesting example is Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China that glorified Mao and the Chinese communists. It so suited the Chinese communists that they had it translated into Chinese. One Chinese in Taiwan told me that he had been converted to communism by the Chinese version of the book. He had since changed his mind. Another example is Walter Duranty who denied the Ukrainian famine of 1934 in the New York Times while simultaneously telling the British Embassy in Moscow about the famine. Since he wrote what the journalistic establishment wanted to read, he got a Pulitzer Prize. There has been some muttering in the New York Times about giving up that prize, but the plaque is still on the wall.

7. The example of hard work and self-sacrifice by individual socialists and communists in the trade union movement won adherents for their doctrines. Missionaries have won adherents for their churches in the same way.

8. It was possible to explain the poverty of the backward countries as consequences of imperialism as defined by Lenin. Politicians in backward countries often still run for office against the colonial rulers of 50 years ago.

9. Revenge against killings and oppression was a powerful motive. Once killing has started, accounting of who killed how many of whom and when is irrelevant. Besides the usual revenge motivations associated with all conflicts, Marxism offered specific justifications for revenge against the class enemy. Marxist propaganda makes much of martyrs and calls for revenge---as does Islam. Since classical Christian martyrology does not call for revenge, it is morally more advanced than Islam or Marxism. [Please distinguish between calls for struggle against current oppression and calls for revenge.]

10. Ideologies that attach blame to an enemy are attractive to those who are inclined to feel guilty. It feels much better when the guilt is transformed into hatred.

11. The demigod image of Stalin was a major attraction of communism for a large fraction of its adherents. Here’s a part of a poem on the death of Stalin in March 1953 by the Chilean Communist poet Pablo Neruda. (It is usually, but not always, omitted from editions of Neruda’s collected poems.)

...We will sail there together, a poet is a fisher-
man and the sea to the distant Captain who
when entering into death left to all the peo-
ples as a legacy, his life. To be men! That is
the Stalinist law!
-We must learn from Stalin
his sincere intensity
his concrete clarity
...Stalin is the moon,
the maturity of man and the peoples.
Stalinists, Let us bear this title with pride.
...Stalinist workers, clerks, women
take care of this day! The light has not vanished.
the fire has not disappeared,
there is only the growth of
light, bread, fire and hope
in Stalin’s invincible time!
...In recent years the dove,
Peace, the wandering persecuted rose,
found herself in his shoulders
and Stalin, the giant one,
carried her at the heights of his forehead,
...A wave beats against the stones of the shore.
But Malenkov will continue his work.

Neruda’s own loyalty to Stalin had motivated him, while a Chilean consul, to give false Chilean passports to a team sent to Mexico to assassinate Leon Trotsky in 1940, who had been a rival of Stalin in the Soviet Union. (That attempt was repelled by Trotsky’s guards.) He also gave a Chilean passport to the Mexican painter David Siquieros so he could flee the country while on bail after taking part in an attack on Trotsky’s residence. Notice that Neruda was hoping for a new maximal leader in Georgi Malenkov, Stalin’s immediate successor as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Malenkov didn’t last long as leader; he was out-maneuvered and ousted by Khrushchev. He survived into his 90s, however.

Besides its appeal to utopian sentiments, the Communist version of Marxism also promoted class hatred of the working class towards the capitalist class. Because the appeal of communism was greater to intellectuals was greater than among workers in many countries, the class hatred was often vicarious. Here’s a nice example of its expression, perhaps by a person not given to violence himself.

Blow the bloody bugle, beat the bloody drum.
Blow the bloody bourgeoisie to bloody kingdom come;
We’ll build a big bonfire, high as the old church spire,
And we’ll burn the bloody bastards one by one.

Eric Hoffer in his 1951 The true believer: thoughts on the nature of mass movements emphasized the certainty that communism offered to its followers. He quotes the 1945 edition of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the official glorification of Stalin (available on the web at marx2mao.org).

The power of Marxist-Leninist theory lies in the fact that it enables the Party to find the right orientation in any situation, to understand the inner connection of current events, to forsee their course, and to perceive not only how and in what direction they are developing in the present but how and in what direction they are bound to develop in the future.

Not all followers were motivated by that claim of certainty, but some were. Suppression of private discussion was incomplete, and many apparently firm followers were relieved by the collapse of the repression both in Germany and in the Soviet Union.
12. Marxism has proved adaptable to power-seekers. Of course, Marxism is not the only ideology with that property.

13. Finally, we need to ask why so many people stuck with communism even after seeing its failures and crimes. Some were implicated in the crimes and profited from them. Others hoped that the Soviet Union would get better in spite of seeing that it wasn’t. Humans have great capacity for wishful thinking.
14. Many people stayed in the communist movement out of fear of the consequences of quitting. (1) If your job depended on Party members, leaving the Party was likely to lose your job. (2) If your family stayed in, they were pressured to divorce you or otherwise separate from you. (3) The Party launched rumor campaigns in which defectors were accused of being drunks, wife beaters and embezzlers. (4) A person might see the crimes of the Soviets but still accept the Party propaganda about the evil nature of the FBI and American police departments.

Currently the green ideologies have some of the same properties as Marxism, but they don’t pretend to give a comprehensive view of human affairs. They become more motivating to their adherents when combined with some of the leftovers from Marxism that provide attractive theories about whose fault it all is. I wonder and fear what would happen if the world-wide green movement was taken over by a leader with the intellectual skill of Lenin and/or the rabble-rousing skill of Hitler.

The collapse of communism and the Soviet empire dealt Marxist ideology a severe blow. It was fortunate that communism collapsed all by itself rather than by external attack. This greatly reduces, but does not entirely eliminate, regarding the Soviet empire as a martyr to capitalism. Nevertheless, I think Marxism will be back as memory of communism fades. Its simple picture of human society would be reinvented even if forgotten. That there is less injustice in the world, especially in the advanced countries, than in previous centuries will delay Marxism’s recovery and reduce the chance that it will ever again come to dominate a country.
Attractions of communist society

The slogan of communism is “From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs”. Under certain circumstances this can work quite well.

1. Within a nuclear family with young children provided the family is not too wealthy. The grownups do most of the work and the children to what they can. If the parents agree, or if the wife has promised to obey the husband and does, then disagreements are settled according to authority. Important property is not accumulated by the separate members of the family.

2. In a small group with good leadership in a dangerous situation for a short time. The short time is needed so there is little question of individuals accumulating resources.

3. When communist ideology dominates a group and it doesn’t have too much of a surplus. The examples that went farthest are the Israeli kibbutzes (or kibbutzim). These were initially farming communities with a few hundred to about 1500 members. They ate communally and initially raised children in children’s houses apart from their parents. A key point is that there should not be internal money within a kibbutz. It worked pretty well, and almost dominated Israeli political life in the beginning, but the kibbutzes came to involve a smaller and smaller proportion of the population. Too many of the children decided the outer society offered more opportunity. Too few of the immigrants to Israel wanted to be kibbutz members. The ideology became stressed when a kibbutz expanded economically and began to depend on hired labor that did not want to become members. Another stress point arose when it became possible to afford cars and other expensive consumer goods. When expensive consumer goods are distributed without money, then the individual has no way of expressing his relative preference for different goods.
Attractions of socialism

The slogan, at least in the Soviet Union, was, “From each according to his abilty; to each according to his work.”

The means of achieving this was public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Socialism rejects the idea that some people should own the means of production and that other people should be their employees.

The faults of the Soviet Union were often explained and excused as relics of the 250 year rule of the Mongols and/or by the practice of swaddling babies. However there have been 21 countries ruled by communist parties, and they share common features not explicit in the doctrines of communism and socialism. These include

1. Dictatorship of the Party and usually of the Party leader.
2. Advancement is achieved by those with the skills of a courtier.
3. As the leaders age, they retain power. Communist countries become gerontocracies. When leaders die, power goes to people who are almost as old.
4. Fake elections with candidates chosen by the Party - usually just one candidate per office
5. No freedom of speech or of the press.
6. Forbidding free emigration. This is necessitated by the stress the system puts on the people. Too many essential people prefer to leave.
7. Internal spying. There are secret police, but also ordinary people are required to spy on each other.
8. A feudal economic system. Which industries and firms grow is determined by politics.

In practice socialism hasn’t been very successful economically, although it is often militarily formidable. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/24 at 08:38 PM
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