Marxism, What it is and Why it Failed
February 27-28, 2010 –
This week, I take a step back from the current news flow and focus instead on the recurring failure of Marxism (communism & socialism) as a political and social ideology, and how this ideology caused so much pain, destruction, and death in the 20th Century.
Short primer on Marxism
One of the key tenets of Marxism is that all human history is the history of class struggle where workers – unhappy with their social position – force societies to progress through a series of economic systems, all of which are defined by the means of production. According to Marx, this struggle first manifested itself in slave societies, where slaves had no rights or guarantees, but were forced to work for their owners / the Aristocracy (such as in Greece and Rome). During the middle ages, slave societies gave way to feudal societies, and serfs (no longer slaves) were promised food, shelter, and protection (against invading armies) by the ruling class in exchange for loyal service. According to Marx, this medieval struggle eventually ushered in Capitalism during the 18th and19th centuries. Although the capitalist economic system allowed working class individuals to gain a social and economic footing, they continued to be exploited by the Bourgeoisie (the owning class). It is this continued exploitation that would eventually lead to a communist revolution and the establishment of communist society, where workers would own the means of production and there would no longer be an "exploiting class."
Marx believed that workers are forced to compete with each other over limited economic and natural resources within a Capitalist society. As a result of this competition, workers are alienated from themselves (they do not take ownership of what they produce and therefore can only be themselves away from work) and from each other (they cannot work together with other workers).
Most importantly, Marx argued that human nature changes over time. He believed that as a result of communist revolution, people would change from being self-interested individuals who focus on their own interests and the interests of their families, to being "species beings" — individuals who would only be interested in the good of the community (over their own self interest or the interest of their families).
Marx also argued that capitalist competition creates unemployment and low wages for workers with the living standards and situation of workers growing more and more desperate until the end of the capitalist era. He also theorized that competition between capitalists who owned businesses would lead to absolute victory for some businesses and death to others, forcing the eventual creation of monopolies in each major industry with a resulting extremely small group of capitalist owners with all the wealth and power in society. The desperate workers would then eventually rise up and violently overthrow these owners establishing the class free, communist society.
Marx Plain Wrong About Many Things
Marx’s view of history was limited, flawed, and Eurocentric. The fact is, human history has never been limited to class struggle. As a result, Marx failed to account for individual leadership, individual initiative, ethnic struggle, religious struggle, philosophical development, technological innovation, organizational dynamics and economic advancement, among other things.
Marx’s view of human nature was also wrong. Human nature is a constant in both history and biology. It is natural for individuals to be motivated by self-interest, or an innate desire to provide basic necessities and comfort for themselves and their families, as well as just simply to build and achieve. Contrary to what Marx taught, it is noble for individuals to work hard and provide a safe home sanctuary for their family. Doing so nurtures young individuals and contributes productive citizens to the next generation. Every individual is different, but people naturally want to maximize their own situation in life according to what is important to them. Some want to provide for themselves and their families, make their lives better and achieve. Others seek power or pleasure. Others even just want to maximize their own internal feeling of contribution and sacrifice. No matter what, evolutionary biology teaches us that Marx was just plain wrong because none of us would be here if we or our forbearers did not look out for ourselves. (Isn’t it just a delicious irony that Darwin just blows Marx out of the water?) The truth is that people can never and will never be "species beings." Remember Milton Friedman’s famous rhetorical question, "Where are these angels who are going to order society for us?" The flaws of human nature (the human condition) remain constant, whether individuals work for a government bureaucracy or the private sector. Both biology and history teach us very clearly that the best answer is to decentralize power through freedom and competition, not to centralize it through violence.
Marx also had the economics completely wrong. He simply failed to understand that the human race is incredibly productive, and capable of immense skill growth, innovation, and adaptation. He failed to understand that competition requires collaboration. He failed to understand the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation. He failed to understand that the "economic pie" is not fixed, but growing in size. In short, Marx failed to predict the enormous growth of the middle class and the enormous increase in the standard of living that capitalist economies have created (and continue to create) around the globe.
Finally, Marx failed to understand the benefits of personal liberty and freedom. People are happy when they are free to pursue their own economic, political, personal and religious agendas. But when a political ideology or a government based on an authoritarian or totalitarian ideology removes or restricts these human pursuits, individuals eventually rise up and rebel. I could name hundreds of examples, but think about East Germany in 1989, the Soviet Union in 1991, or Iran today.
Results of Marxism
Marx failed to understand human history and the human spirit. And his ideology provided ruthless dictators with the pretext to kill hundreds of millions of people. Yes, during the 20th Century, Marxism became a neo religious justification for the worst tyranny and human rights abuses in human history. Marx’s followers carried out genocide, caused environmental degradation, destroyed basic human rights & freedoms, inflicted poverty, inflicted death, and inflicted modern enslavement onto their fellow human beings.
In the name of Marxism, twenty to fifty million people were killed in Russia under Stalin, and millions more died in the Soviet Union before and after Stalin’s reign. In the name of Marxism, twenty to sixty-five million people were killed in China under Mao during "The Great Leap Forward" and "The Cultural Revolution." In the name of Marxism, at least 1.5 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge following the fall of Pnom Penn and Saigon. In the name of Marxism, at least four million Koreans have either starved to death or been killed since 1990 in North Korea. And in the name of Marxism, Castro has killed thousands and thousands of Cubans since he seized power in the late 1950s. Even Hitler, although his National Socialist Ideology contained its own brand of racism and nationalism, used elements of Marxism to justify his rule and the killing of many millions.
But milder forms of Marxism (democratic socialism) have also produced hardships in countries around the world, including France, Spain, and Sweden. All three of these countries have experienced slow economic growth, high unemployment, lower standards of living than comparable countries, huge government bureaucracies, limits on personal freedom and fulfillment, declines in relative global authority, and societies increasingly run for the benefit of government workers.
Even Great Britain and the United States had multi-decade dips into socialist policies that culminated in the 1970s with high unemployment, high inflation, no growth, lack of entrepreneurship, and diminished expectations for the future. Fortunately, regular middle class people in Great Britain under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan caused a massive movement back towards economic freedom and capitalism that dramatically strengthened those two countries and eventually spread to the old communist block, China, India and other countries lifting 3 billion people out of the economic misery of Marxist regimes.
The bottom line on Marxism is that at its core it was plain wrong and when it was implemented in any form; it proved to be a disaster!
The United States and Socialism
In spite of these failures, President Obama and the liberal left are trying to force a socialist agenda down the throats of the American people. Lech Walesa, the former President of Poland who spearheaded the movement that led to the fall of Communism in his country, recently voiced his concerns regarding the United States while visiting Chicago this winter. Through an interpreter, he stated that the U.S. does not "lead morally and politically anymore. The world has no leadership. The United States was always the last resort and hope for all other nations. There was the hope, whenever something was going wrong, one could count on the United States. Today, we have lost that hope." When asked if America was moving towards socialism, Walesa replied, "Yes. It looks a little bit like that."
There is no leader alive today in the world with greater credibility on these issues than Lech Walesa and we should heed his warning and make changes before it is too late!
Remembering the Thatcher and Reagan Revolution
To put even more "flesh on this bone," Dr. Paul Kengor, Professor of Political Science at Grove City College and Director of The Center for Vision and Values joins me on the program to discuss the emergence of many socialist policies in the United Kingdom and the United States after World War II as well as the resurgence of economic freedom under Thatcher and Reagan. And together, we consider why – after all of the destruction, economic pain, and death caused by various forms of Marxism over the past 100 years – there are American citizens within the United States who still embrace Marxist political ideals.
I hope you find this program insightful and enlightening. If you know of any friends or family members (perhaps high school or college students) who are enthralled with Marx or socialist political thinking, please direct them to this episode. Remember, you can down load and share the mp3 for free (thanks to my sponsors for making this possible).
I also appreciate your encouragement and support. Please feel free to email your feedback to me at [email protected] or to leave comments on the post at glenmeakem.com. Thanks for listening and thanks for reading.
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