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 but religious, nationalist and dynastic 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 to Marxism 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.
In an ideal Marxian capitalist society the workers would be paid the minimum needed to keep them alive and reproducing. Marx and Engels referred to the reserve army of labor, i.e. the unemployed, whose competition for jobs would keep wages at the minimum. However, actual capitalist societies were not ideal for several reasons. First there was sometimes a shortage of labor, and this often made the employers increase wages in competition with each other. This was particularly common in the United States as long as the frontier competed for labor. Second workers had three kinds of bargaining power. (1) Individual. Good workers could often get higher pay. (2) Collective. Workers could combine into unions and threaten to strike. (3) Political. Workers could vote for politicians who would enact minimum wage laws and laws to prevent extreme forms of union busting.
To us, to whom safety has become monotony, to whom the primeval savageries of nature are so remote as to become a mere pleasing condiment to our ordered routine, the world of dreams is very different from what it was amid the wars of Guelf and Ghibelline. Hence William James's protest against what he calls the "block universe" of the classical tradition; hence Nietsche's worship of force; hence the verbal bloodthirstiness of many quiet literary men. The barbaric substratum of human nature, unsatisfied in action, finds an outlet in imagination. In philosophy, as elsewhere, this tendency is visiblep; and it is this, rather than formal argument, that has thrust aside the classical tradition for a philosophy which fancies itself more virile and more vital. - Bertrand Russell in "Our knowledge of the external world", p.10, 1914, delivered as Lowell lectures, March and April 1914
...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. According to one of the Venona decryptions, the KGB in Mexico included Neruda as an agent. See The Venona Story by Robert Benson http://www.nsa.gov/publications/publi00039.cfm.
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 than to 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. Many had been previously relieved by Khrushchev's 1956 exposť of Stalin's crimes.
Marxism has proved adaptable to power-seekers. Of course, Marxism is not the only ideology with that property.
Repeated crises within communism have led to people leaving communist parties. Here's a list: Lenin suppressing the Socialist Revolutionaries. The exile of Trotsky (Mostly his followers quit then.) The show trials of the 1930s in which leading communists were forced to confess being Nazi spies. The Soviet German non-aggression pact of 1939. The iron curtain cutting off communication between people in the Soviet Union and their friends and relatives abroad. The suppression of the Hungarian revolt in 1956. The Berlin wall of 1961. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Maoist Cultural Revolution of 1966. Each of these events caused people to quit the communist movement, sometimes even a majority of a communist party, but always a core stayed on.
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.
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 do 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, the individual has no way of expressing his relative preference for different goods.
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
In practice socialism hasn't been very successful economically, although it is often militarily formidable.Up to: Main Marxism page
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