Why Marxism?

A cause to believe in?
The poverty of liberty

2013-03-19 why marxism

I watched an excellent lecture of Bradley Thompson on Marxism
The lecture provides a clear introduction into the stupid & twisted mind of Karl Marx.
Definitely worth watching.
Since the title is open, it ended up with a surprising number of left leaning viewers. I could not resist commenting on one which got a response from the most prolific commenter on the subject.
Following is the exchange, my response to it and in the end, my thoughts about the lecture itself.

Mark Jordan 

Is he talking about Marxism, an economic system, or communism, a political system? He should not be mixing these up in his speech. It is possible to have Communist ideology working in a capitalist economy and to have Marxism within democracy. You have to research in detail how they work if fully deployed CORRECTLY and not just assume that Russia and China were both fully Communist and Marxist, which they were not. They especially were not close to being Marxist.

 Zork Hun 

With all due respect, you don’t have a friendly clue what you are talking about. Russia and China were as Marxist as it can possibly get. As for the split, it does not exist. It is the essence of communism that economics is politics and vice versa. Everything in this lecture is spot on.
I know. I lived it.
in reply to Mark Jordan

 Jonathan Wood 

You, actually, do not have a friendly clue what you’re talking about. One man’s person experience means absolutely nothing to everyone but himself. What you’ve “seen” or “experienced” or “felt” or your “age” or your “ethnicity” or any other meaningless personal attributes do not make you an expert.
China and Russie = Not Marxism, why? THE PEOPLE did not have the power, sooo, not Marxism, duuhhh. Just cause they failed doesn’t make YOU right.
in reply to Zork Hun


My answer to Jonathan:

You are absolutely right. Meaningless personal attributes do not make anybody an expert, but then I did not exactly claim that I am, did I? Mr. Thompson is the expert; all I did was to validate the content and the message of his lecture with my personal experience which is clearly more than either you or Mr. Jordan possess.
This is not to say that I do not have any. “Expertise”, that is.

I was born and raised in a communist country. I went through an educational system that had Marxism as its official dogma. I was a member of the communist youth organizations at every level of my schooling. My circle of friends in my teenage years were the children of the most doctrinaire communist leaders of the country. For reasons that would be too long to explain here, the only opportunity open to me for higher education was the University of Marxism – Leninism of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, which I, of course, graduated from.
Before leaving the country, I worked seven years as a sociological research organizer, interviewer and data analyst talking to hundreds of people myself and analyzing the opinions of thousands more about living in a communist country. (The communists were desperately trying to understand why the system was not working.)
I studied Marx, Engels, Lenin and Lukács plus a number of lesser communist ideologues.
After I managed to get out of there, I read any- and everything I was able to put my hands on about communism. Books about living in a communist country such as “Russians” and experiences of Western communists; books about the political and ideological sleaze that the worldwide communist movement was and still is. The second book I read in French was Solzhenitsyn; the second book I read in English was Solzhenitsyn. Reading them, as reading Raymond Aron, Jean-François Revel, Clair Sterling, Mikhail Bulgakov and George Orwell was mostly validation, but still providing a powerful background to my personal experiences. The third chapter of Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals” is a devastating biography of Karl Marx providing a perfect psychological background to the vileness of his ideas.
Eventually I discovered the Austrian school whose members successfully demolished every single idea dear to Marx and the Marxists.
Böem-Bawerk’s “Karl Marx and the close of his system” demolishes the labour theory of value (this is an excellent introduction to his ideas in MP3 format); Mises’ “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth” clearly explains why socialism is a practical impossibility while Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” clearly demonstrates why communism is immoral and why any attempt to establish it will end in brutal, bloody tyranny.

I could continue for another two pages but this should be enough to illustrate my point. Not only do I have the visceral understanding of the evilness of the system based on my obviously subjective personal experience, I also have the education, work experience and a tremendous body of philosophical, sociological, political and economic work behind any statement I make.

This is what I have. What do YOU have, Jonathan Woods? What makes you an expert? What are YOUR credentials?? What qualifies you to judge mine?
Your reactions show you to be one of the people so aptly described by Mr. Thompson as
“motivated in their day-to-day lives by envy, resentment and hatred,  ………… frustrated, angry, impotent and unhappy”
What do you have beyond lunatic fantasies and the wisdom you so tellingly expressed in your comment: “THE PEOPLE did not have the power, sooo, not Marxism, duuhhh”

The problem with people like you is that you do not even understand the words you use. What is “the people”? What is “the power”? What happens when “the people” have “the power”? Who they have power over? How is the power used? How do “the people” make decisions? (…about who to exercise power over)? How do they make decisions about what to make collective decisions about? If “the people” are not everybody, then how do you decide who are “the people”? Who is in and who is out?
If “the people” agree on everything, then the word power is meaningless. If they do not, then the word “people” is meaningless as we have a system where some ideas will be overruled, where some will have more power then others.

I, like any other human being have to make hundreds of decisions every day. I can hardly keep up with my own; I cannot possibly be expected to have the necessary information about decisions affecting others. Besides, there is a practical problem. How do I communicate with the rest of “the people” about the necessary decisions that need to be made? How can we possibly share all the minute information that is needed to make hundreds of millions of decisions? If we exclude some decisions from the collective decision making, then “the people” isn’t exactly “the people” any more, is it?
“The people” is also a collection of individuals with different abilities, attitudes, needs, wishes, tastes, likes, preferences, aspirations and maybe even ideas. How can we expect to make collective decisions accommodating all of those differences? Assuming that we can is what Hayek calls “The Fatal Conceit

Collective decision making is practically impossible. “The people” is a fiction. “The people” is a collection of individual decision makers who need to somehow organize themselves to delegate some of the decisions. The moment that begins, some will become more equal than others.
Civilization cannot exist without some collective decision making. We have to agree whether we’ll have Ten Commandments or Twelve and what do we do with those who break them. Most of our political discourse (on the philosophical level) happens about finding the best balance between anarchy and dictatorship. Both LOGIC and EVIDENCE seems to suggest that individual decisions tend to produce better outcomes than collective ones, therefore I, and most libertarians favour as much personal freedom and individual decision making as possible.
We could debate what is the best balance, but at this point we can consider it proven that the Marxist idiocy of “people’s power,” the permanent revolution (i.e. the continuous murder of anyone who disagree), the dictatorship of the proletariat can ONLY produce bloody, murderous dictatorships.

Is this the moment when I’m supposed to say Duuhhh???

As for your point, suggesting that you know better what Marxism is than the thousands of scholars in the communist world who spent their entire lives as high priests of the ideology is ludicrous beyond being worthy of comment. When mass murderers call themselves Marxists, I believe them. Self-declared identification works best in my books.

==== ====

I gave Mr. Wood FAR, FAR more attention and respect than he deserves but I did it for a reason.
I wanted to expose and demonstrate the most important question I was hoping to find an answer to when looking at the title of the presentation:

Why Marxism?

I have to say again that I liked it very much and I highly recommend it while I still have to say that it fell short of the expectations I had based on its title. That question was not answered to my satisfaction or rather it was not addressed to the extent I expected and to the extent which the question deserves. I absolutely agree that:

“Marxism’s promises were thoroughly Utopian in scope. It promised to eliminate poverty, inequality, exploitation, class conflict, war and alienation. Communism, Marx argued, would emancipate man from the slavery of capitalism and create a socialist heaven on earth. Marxism therefore provides a kind of secular religion of hope and redemption in a world of declining religious faith.

Marx was also a master psychologist. He understood that there is a class of people in every society who, like himself, are motivated in their day-to-day lives by envy, resentment and hatred. Such people always blame others for their condition and plight, and Marxism speaks directly to such people. It comes to them as a gospel of anger, resentment in victimhood and tell such men why they suffer and from whom. Marxism provides a kind of redemptive hope to those who are frustrated, angry, impotent and unhappy.”

….but I find the explanation a little simplistic. It posits us, the freedom loving good people versus them, the tyranny loving evil bad people. What I got from this lecture was what I already knew: Marxism is evil. What I was hoping to learn more about is its present appeal. How did we end up with the likes of Mr. Wood? How is it possible that we have Universities full of his ilk? Not much smarter, not much more articulate. Just search Youtube for “Marxism.”

Proving Marx wrong is the easy job. Böhm-Bawerk and Mises did it a hundred years ago. Pointing out that Marxism is evil is the easy job. Pointing out that Marxism is a failure anywhere it is tried is easy. What is the hard job is explaining Marxism’s comeback. What is hard is explaining the new Bolsheviks (the 99% and the occupy movement). What is hard is explaining why there is a growing nostalgia for communism in the former eastern bloc.
Explaining Mr. Wood is the hard job. (Understanding him is hopeless.)

Without getting into the details of what I think the answers are, let me make another point that I consider relevant to the question discussed in this presentation. Marxism is not just a destination; Marxism is the road to serfdom, the road paved with good intentions, the road leading to hell. With every step we take in that direction we lose a bit of our morality, a bit of our humanity.
Explaining how and why is the job that is worthy of our effort.

In an upcoming post, I will try to offer – if not answers – then at least suggestions.

4 replies on “Why Marxism?”

  1. This is fine and all, and I will apologize for my know-it-all attitude when it comes to Marxism, especially when it comes to Marxism as a whole, because I definitely lack the knowledge to act as if I’m an expert on the subject.

    My problem really lies in the personification of systems, as well as the “this is how it is, how it always has been, and how it always will be” attitude of many people who are against such systems, because these “things” cannot be “evil”. The people who are corrupt and ruin such systems, they may be seen as “evil”, but the inanimate system itself?

    What is obvious to me, and which therefor makes Socialism, or at least the socialization of parts of the country/government/market, a viable system, are the many examples where it WORKS. People, such as yourself, always focus on the examples of its mistakes and where it has lead to tyranny. Of course these problems and mistakes are to be avoided, but to simple dismiss the system as a whole is to NOT learn from the mistakes of the past.

    There must be DISCOURSE, and debate, an discussion, and people like the man who spoke at the lecture you mention, are simply making a NEW mistake by dismissing the lesson altogether, and avoiding talking about its successes.

    Socialized health-care seems like a PERFECT example of where everyone has the same need and desire for something, and so why not have the people-governed system control it? It works in many countries, you can’t deny that, so why not talk about it here?

    • zorkthehun says:
      Five paragraphs, five points:
      Apology accepted, learn from your mistake.
      It is an interesting question whether anthropomorphizing a system is a good idea or not, I think it is a perfectly valid approach. A system that creates bad incentives, actively encourages bad behaviour, a system that is corrupt and corrupting, a system that builds on immorality and predictably produces terrible outcomes can and should be called evil.
      …but that is exactly the point. We way past the point of focusing on examples. What I say is that the bad examples, the failures are not accidental, they are not mistakes but inevitable consequences of an inherently corrupt and stupid idea. This was basically the point of the lecture we are talking about. Maybe you should actually pay attention to what is said. Read Hayek.
      Margaret Thatcher said that “The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.” Bastiat said that “Socialism is a political fiction where everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” The socialism you see as viable is subject to the constraint defined by Thatcher. When the other people’s money runs out, it always turns ugly.
      But there IS a discourse. You are just not listening. The only reason why nobody talks about the ‘successes’ is because there isn’t any. Unless you want to call North Korea a success story.
      You are absolutely right, Health Care is the perfect example. This blog owes its very existence to an encounter I had with the fully socialized Canadian Health Care system a year ago. I had several posts about how and why socialized health care is bound to be a disaster.
      Read the blog. It may make you wiser.
      • I promise, I am listening. I don’t believe you are, because you’ve obviously made up your mind already. The stubborn mind is not an open, listening mind.

        I seriously thought for a split second that you were talking about capitalism.. being an inherently corrupt and corrupting system, built on immorality, with nothing but bad incentives (profit over people), considering its one big, glorified pyramid scheme. Then there’s the inherent boom-bust cycle capitalism seems incapable of escaping..

        The reason why I don’t see the power of the quotes you listed, at least in part, is due to the fact that they are CONSTANTLY parroted, spewed back and forth, and plastered all over public internet forums, as if they in and of themselves are proof of Socialism’s “evilness”. The other reason they have no power, and more or less mean absolutely nothing to someone like myself, is in large part because they seem to be worshiped like scripture by many people, such as yourself.

        The first, and most prolifically spread quote: “… sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.” After doing some research on Margaret and reading several of your posts, I see where she and you are coming from. I always saw where this side of the debate is coming from, though. Perhaps I just can’t help but grasp why money matter, other than for obvious reasons. Its literally a monetary system setup by humans, given power and value by humans.. its all constructed by humans.

        So why not learn from the mistakes of the past, the successes of the past, and have a fluctuating system? Some social programs, with the upward-incentive focused pyramid.. perhaps like, a diamond-like trapezoidal shape, where the middle class is the large portion, and then there’s very few very-rich, but also very few very-poor? It seems to make more sense than “every man for himself!”

        I mean, I’m glad you got such nice treatment for your toe, but what is an artist supposed to do, especially when money just doesn’t make sense to him?

        And your friend comment-er.. saying the US embraced Obama and his socialist agenda.. I ask, what socialist agenda is that? It seems to me like he really has not been socialist enough.

        • zorkthehun says:
          I am terribly sorry, but I cannot provide a meaningful answer as you did not make a meaningful point.
          Yes, my mind is pretty much made up which does not mean that it is closed.
          I think what I do based on logic, evidence and personal experience. In my post I provided links to many sources and I would be happy to offer more.
          I would LOVE to see a meaningful critique of Mises or Hayek. The left hates “The Road to Serfdom” but unable to argue the points it makes.
          If you think you cannot handle the full version, I can recommend the Reader’s Digest or the audio version. All three can be found for free.
          As for your question: “what is an artist supposed to do?”
          The answer is: Don’t worry, be happy.
          Right next to the notification of your first post was an e-mail in my inbox with this link:

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